Preventive Conservation

The concept of “conservation” was refined by ICOM-CC by introducing subterms as “preventive conservation”, “remedial conservation” and “restoration”. Today we are looking at “preventive conservation”.

ICOM-CC defines “preventive conservation” as follow:

“all measures and actions aimed at avoiding and minimizing future deterioration or loss. They are carried out within the context or on the surroundings of an item, but more often a group of items, whatever their age and condition. These measures and actions are indirect – they do not interfere with the materials and structures of the items. They do not modify their appearance.”

“Examples of preventive conservation are appropriate measures and actions for registration, storage, handling, packing and transportation, security, environmental management (light, humidity, pollution and pest control), emergency planning, education of staff, public awareness, legal compliance.”

Who can be involved in preventive conservation?

Preventive conservation is a shared responsibility. It does not only concern curators, staff and conservator-restorers but also researchers, users, designers, architects, engineers, technical staff and the public. Policy makers play a crucial role because they can allocate material and financial support to make preventive conservation possible and adequate.

What costs are involved in preventive conservation?

It all depends on the measures taken. Some measures are relatively cheap or cost next to nothing. Others demand a more substantial investment depending on the size of the collection(s). The most far-reaching measures connected to infrastructure and buildings require generally a large budget which is often not possible for the instution concerned. For this kind of projects a strong cooperation between different actors is necessary.

Actions that do not cost much.

Public awareness costs next to nothing. Advising some person, researcher or other, on how to manipulate objects and collection pieces can be done quite easily by a staff member in the reading room or a collection consultation chamber. Where necessary providing gloves for manipulating objects or a cushion to position and support an object can already avoid possible damage.



Foto: use of gloves for protection (Guy De Witte)


Foto: Cushion as book support (Guy De Witte)

Actions that demand a larger investment.

A good way to conserve collection pieces is to wrap them into acid-free materials. Acid-free paper and boxes used should always be made from full thickness acid-free components and for most of the collection pieces buffered as well. Boxes should always be adapted to the objects they will be used for. The complete cost of a packing project will depend, amongst others, from the amount of objects to be packed. We will cover this subject later. For framing prints or documents museum quality Optium Acrylic Glazing is recommended.


Foto: handmade four-flap to mensuren (Guy De Witte)

Measures that demand a very large investment.

We are talking here about the use of compatible displays and show-cases for temperory exhibitions or permanent display in museums. Another example of large investments are accommodating adequate storage rooms. Storage furniture has to be adapted to the needs of the collection, be efficient in use and harmless to objects (and staff).


Foto: storage furniture (Smart Storage Solutions)


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