MODELS OF PREVENTIVE CONSERVATION STRATEGIES IN NORTH AMERICA

Moderator: Dianne van der Reyden, Senior Paper Conservator, Conservation Analytical Laboratory, Smithsonian Institution

(Prepared for Postprints of PREVENTIVE CONSERVATION IN LATIN AMERICA 1993) (See also RELACT's HAP site)

INTRODUCTION

Strategies for preventive care exist in many disciplines, such as health care, ecology, and the library and archives professions. Most of these strategies for preventive care aim to forestall costly interventive care through maintenance programs. Some of these strategies could serve as models for preventive care of cultural heritage materials. Perhaps the best strategic models for preventive care of cultural resources derive from programs designed for natural resources; cultural resources are, after all, as perishable and irreplaceable, even less renewable, than natural resources. Models for linking the preventive care strategies of cultural and natural resources can be found in two European examples. The first example is the "Science and Technology for Environmental Protection" program, initiated by the European Community to fund research protecting the environment, including cultural resources. A second model is the "Delta Plan," initially adopted by the Netherlands to maximize minimum economic resources funding disaster prevention for natural resources, and subsequently adapted to cultural resources. The disaster prevention plan incorporates emergency responses not only to "loud disasters" such as lowland flooding, but also to "quiet disasters" of persistent decay that inevitably destroy cultural resources if left unchecked. Key to the success of the "Delta Plan" is a pragmatic insistence that museums, libraries and archives expeditiously develop mission statements to justify their collections, and conduct assessment surveys to safeguard them. Similar pragmatic strategies have been developed by North American Libraries and Archives Associations, and many other approaches were discussed at the "Seminar on Preventive Conservation in Latin America" by various speakers. Panel 2, on "Models of Preventive Conservation Strategies in North America," featured four speakers who focused on pragmatic approaches to preventive care, as summarized in the seminar abstracts and below:

The first speaker was Carolyn Rose - Deputy Chair of the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), Smithsonian Institution - who began with a discussion on "Preventive Conservation in Museums." Carolyn is also the Senior Research Conservator at NMNH, where she has worked for 20 years. In conjunction with the George Washington University, she began the first course emphasizing preventive care of archeological and anthropological materials. She has been awarded a Medal of Honor from the Duke of Spain for leadership in education and promotion of conservation of natural history materials. In her talk, she emphasized the need for a holistic approach attuned to all those factors which affect museum collections. She outlined a chronology of actions over the last few decades that advanced preventive care, including the 1970's congressionally mandated inventory of the Smithsonian collections, and the formation in the 1980's of programs by the Institute of Museum Services (IMS), the National Institute of Conservation (NIC), The Getty Conservation Institute (GCI), and the Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI). Such programs encourage systematic plans, consisting of stages or phases, including assessment of environment and collections, policy formulation, pest control, emergency preparedness, staff training, and guidelines, etc. She concluded by stressing that preventive care is the responsibility of the entire museum staff and that everyone must be involved in the museum's preventive conservation program if it is to be effective.

The second speaker was Mary Estelle Kennelly - Assistant Program Director for the Institute of Museum Services (IMS) and formerly Program Director for Collections Care at NIC. She discussed the IMS, established by an Act of Congress in 1976, which sponsors the Conservation Project Support Program (CP) and the Conservation Assessment Program (CAP). The CP program funds conservation surveys documenting the condition of buildings, facilities, exhibition and storage areas, to assist in the development of long-range conservation plans and priorities. These plans may then be implemented with supplemental funding by IMS for improvements in environmental controls, surveys of collection condition, etc. The CAP program helps institutions prepare for the CP by funding a two-day site visit by professional architectural and collections conservators. Both these programs are seen as enabling the first step necessary for preventive care, i.e. prioritization surveys of conservation needs.

The third speaker was Toby Raphael - Staff Conservator in the Division of Conservation at the National Park Service (NPS) - who has been a participant and coordinator for several projects in Latin America involving Fullbright and USIA. Toby presented "Collections Care at the National Park Service: Ounce of Prevention vs Pounds of Treatment." He noted that despite a daunting variety of materials in massive collections (many without environmental controls or trained personnel), a well-planned preventive care program can be effective both in cost and use of limited resources if conservators, curators and managers work together to define policies and responsibilities, develop training and pest control, retrofit exhibition and storage designs, etc. Toby discussed the Park Service's shift from interventive conservation to preventive conservation for its 26 million objects through the development of supporting policy, procedures, guidelines and technical publications; basic and advanced training; and site preventive conservation programs, based on the realization of damage caused by improper use, storage and environmental controls. NPS provides centralized preservation assistance with programs focused on conservation needs assessment, storage improvement, curatorial supplies, exhibits conservation, technical preservation publications, and integrated pest management. Toby also discussed division of labor and roles of curators and conservators. For instance, he discussed who should implement conservation treatment and when: 1) when the rate of deterioration can not be reduced adequately by preventive care; 2) when deterioration has cause the object to be extremely fragile; 3) or when treatment is required for exhibition.

The fourth speaker was Peter Waters - Head of Preservation Strategic Planning at the Library of Congress, integrating the philosophy of preventive care into long-term decision making processes. Peter spoke about "Phased Conservation in Libraries." He outlined policies to control and slow the rate of collections deterioration through phased conservation approaches inherent in preventive care, incorporating automatic technology such as computerized box-making, to efficiently care for intrinsically valuable, low use but fragile collections. He cited as an example a collaboration among himself, the Getty Conservation Institute and the Library of The Russian Academy of Sciences, utilizing computer generated microclimate boxes to containerize rare books in the Academy's collection and to establish a preventive care conservation center in St. Petersburg.

IMPLICATIONS

A common first step of the various strategies discussed by the speakers is the assessment of cultural resources by ranking collections based on relative factors such as value (intrinsic, evidential, and/or informational), use (exposure), and risk (condition). By evaluating and ranking collections according to these factors, large numbers of cultural materials can be systematically categorized and prioritized quickly and economically. Three examples illustrate the kind of pragmatic decisions required by this approach. First, under some systems, such as the "Delta Plan," if a collection's material does not support the institution's mission statement (i.e. is not directly evidential or informational), such material may be deaccessioned to an appropriate repository. Second, if the material reflects the institution's mission, but its condition is so poor that to care for or conserve it would require the total preservation resources of the institution, then the material may automatically rank lower in priority (similar to a triage approach in medicine). Third, one library assessment program's primary question is whether a collection has fire protection. If not, the assessment is diverted to a protected collection, so as not to expend limited resources on a collection vulnerable to massive loss. Many initiatives to maximize minimum resources for cultural resources have been stimulated by a growing awareness of the benefits of preventive care, coupled with economic realities. Preventive care programs can include multi-phased approaches to promote awareness of the nature and deterioration of materials in order to enable accurate needs assessment with respect to environment, storage, and treatment. Practical information derived from assessments is then used to formulate procedures for handling and holdings maintenance, as well as target areas requiring conservation research and treatment development. Minimum resources of time, funds, supplies, and personnel can be maximized by preventive care initiatives incorporating policy and guidelines formulation; prioritization and random sampling assessment surveying; fundraising efforts for supplies, equipment and central resource centers; holdings maintenance training of staff, interns and volunteers; and development of treatment and research protocols to address long-term needs. To preserve their unique and irreplaceable collections, institutions must implement sound preservation policies insuring cost-effective preventive care measures to reduce the need for more costly conservation and restoration in the future. Research institutions, museums, libraries and archives can maximized preservation efforts even with minimum resources if low risk, high impact preventive care plans, programs, and projects integrate phased conservation, collections assessment, and collections maintenance procedures as discussed by speakers and illustrated below:

1. PHASED CONSERVATION: A phased approach to preventive care maximizes minimum resources since it enables improvements in access and care of collections through manageable, discrete, but integrated steps intended to inspect, detect, connect, and correct problems. For instance, steps should be taken to inspect collections and environment for needs assessment; to detect problems; to connect problems with solution options; and to correct problems by implementing solutions that might include a) formulating new preservation policies, guidelines and procedures in conjunction with b) assessments of collections, and c) enacting collection or holdings maintenance projects to protect and improve accessibility of collections while d) coordinating short-, mid- and long-range treatment and research needs. For example, preventive care measures that can be implemented immediately and that have low or virtually no cost but high impact on the preservation of collections may include the following phased initiatives:

a) Writing policies and guidelines on

- Handling procedures for staff and users (depending on available expertise, such guidelines can be basic or complex, i.e. incorporating information on environment and the nature and deterioration of materials).

- Appropriate materials and techniques to be used for storage or for exhibition.

- Framing and packing procedures, etc.

- Disaster prevention, preparedness, management, and response.

b) Undertaking assessment surveys to determine collection needs and resource allotments including

- Environmental surveys, which can assess, prioritized, and address the preservation needs of a host facility, its structure, storage and environmental controls (HVAC systems, lighting), security, emergency preparedness, etc. to establish or modify exhibition, loan, use and emergency planning policies; identify needs and costs for short-, mid-, and long-term improvement in protection and accessibility of materials through reformatting, storage and treatment provisions; and development of a schedule for allocation of time and resources.

- Preservation priority surveys, which can prioritized groups of collections by comparing factors such as their relative values (intrinsic, evidential, and/or informational), use, conditions, and risks, etc. (App. 1).

- Random sampling surveys, which can assess and quantify the resource needs of individual collections (targeted by prioritization surveys) by, for instance, evaluating the size, condition, storage housing, and nature of the collection to determine whether new storage housing, etc. is needed, and if so, the type and quantity (App. 2).

- Item-by-Item surveys, which can assess individual needs of collection material for exhibits or treatment scheduling, etc. (App. 3).

c) Initiating collections or holdings maintenance procedures including

- Improving accessibility of collections by preventive care storage or by duplicating or reformatting fragile or damaged material by photocopying, microfilming or making a facsimile, model or replica.

- Cleaning collections lightly where appropriate.

- Reinforcing or supporting damaged materials.

- Removing and replacing harmful materials (such as inappropriate fasteners on paper documents).

- Removing and replacing harmful housing or storage techniques (such as acid envelopes), and rehousing with stable materials and techniques to protect the collection from handling and the environment.

d) Developing short-, mid-, and long-range Preservation Projects including

- Fundraising.

- Training.

- Research and Development.

- Stabilization and Treatment.

2. COLLECTION ASSESSMENTS: To rank or determine degrees of relative priority among many diverse collections in one repository, a prioritization survey can be undertaken in as little as a half hour per collection. Diverse collections are evaluated and compared on the basis of value, use and risk. A sample prioritization worksheet form has been developed by the Research Libraries Group (RLG) for the Commission on Preservation and Access Task Force for Archival Selection (App. 1). The form consists of a series of questions and ratings which when answered and plotted as a matrix balancing value, use, exposure, condition, and risk result in a single number which provides a priority rank for that collection in relationship to the other collections competing with it for funding.

To determine specific action steps initiating a collection holdings maintenance program based on rehousing or storage needs, assessment must be done by item-level surveys. Depending on the size of the collection, the surveys can be item-by-item or samplings, such as be spot samplings (which may however reflect a bias) or random samplings (which should be unbiased and statistically accurate). For instance, to provide information pertinent to rehousing a collection, statistically accurate data can be derived by random sampling 10% of a given collection. Survey time can be as little as one minute per object and still produce a wealth of information. Such surveys can be computerize by using a Lotus 123 spread sheet that can be sorted and queried to provide statistics which can be converted to graph form (App. 2). Information can be gathered about percentage of materials in the collection, relative sizes and housing needs, condition, etc. For the survey illustrated in App. 2, random numbers, generated by a computer and used to select the items, are transformed into descriptors. For instance, the first random number (8.20817) indicates object location by file cabinet (8) and drawer (2); number of inches back (08); and number of items back from there (17). Each category (description, condition, and recommendation) is divided into subcategories (size, type, damage, etc.), which are subdivided into descriptors (full size, ink drawing, planar distortion) that can be further qualified by rankings from 0 (no damage) to 3 (severe damage). Rehousing and conservation priorities and complexities may be rated from 1 (high) to 3 (low). After 10% of the collection is sampled, information can be sorted, i.e. by type cross-referenced to size, conservation priority or any other category. By using cell codes of numbers or letters (App. 2.b), one could query additional cross-referencing such as what percentage of photographs in the collection require full size (i.e. letter or legal size) storage enclosures. This information can then easily be transferred to bar or pie charts for visual comparison of the data. For instance, a bar graph comparing the degree of different types of damage might illustrate that the largest percentage (19%) of the collection suffers from slight planar distortion hindering accessibility, but easily and cost-effectively corrected by preventive care procedures, such as batch humidification and flattening by holdings maintenance staff. On the other hand, only a small percentage (1%) suffers from severe tears that might require more expert, and expensive, conservation treatment.

More extensive object or item-by-item level surveys, as illustrated in App. 3, provide greater depth of information. It should be noted that this sort of survey form can also easily be adapted to a computerized system. To do this, a list of variables is prepared for each descriptor and assigned a number, and the appropriate number is then noted in the descriptor box for each object. For example, under the category "CONDITION", subcategory "SUPPORT", descriptor "Biological Infestation", one could select from enumerated variables such as "0=none", "1=insect (inactive)", "2=mold (inactive)", "3=insect (active)", etc. For another descriptor "Pressure Sensitive Tape", one could select variables for the number of tapes (0=0 tapes, 1=1 tape, 2=2 tapes, etc.) or on the amount of tape (1=1 inch of tape, 2=2 inches of tape, etc.) or the type of tape (1=cellophane tape, 2=masking tape, etc). This information can then be used to generate an estimate, for instance on how long tape removal might take, level of expertise required to do the procedures, and how much it might cost. Such information is useful for documenting cost estimates in grant proposals.

3. COLLECTIONS MAINTENANCE: Many collections or holdings maintenance procedures involve simple handling and housing practices ranging from removing harmful materials, to containerizing or reformatting. If housing or storage materials and techniques are inappropriate and require replacement, then supplies must be purchased. If bureaus have inadequate budgets for supplies, it may be necessary to write proposals for grants or other fundraising opportunities. In addition to supplies to appropriately house some materials, it may sometimes be necessary to acquire equipment to modify supplies. This is because appropriate housing requires matching the needs of the collection (i.e. adequate support, protection from handling and light) with stable housing materials and techniques. Appropriate housing materials (i.e. paper or polyester for documents) can usually be commercially purchased, but appropriate housing techniques often must be custom-made inhouse. Examples of such housing for paper-based collections include fitted four-flap boxes for damaged bound volumes, neutral wrapper sink mats for brittle mounted photographs, or spot-welded polyester enclosures for separate fragments of documents. Such housing may require special equipment and staff training. In order to tailor some techniques to the specific needs of some collections, the special equipment required could, in the case of paper-based collections, include a heavy duty board shears and board bender for making fitted boxes, or a polyester film welding encapsulator. While overall environmental control is essential to long-range preservation of collections, appropriate housing materials and techniques can buffer and provide interim short- and mid-term protection from minor environmental fluctuations.

If a bureau has no personnel available to undertake appropriate preventive care, temporary measures could include securing grants for contracting personnel, writing proposals to attract conservation interns, or training staff or volunteers. Such personnel can be trained in the theory and practice of assessment surveys and holding maintenance procedures. Conservation interns can be further trained to undertake or develop pilot conservation treatment trials to formulate treatment prototypes that can be used to aid resource management by providing cost, time and personnel estimates. In some cases, interns can aid in the formulation of research design to develop and evaluate new treatments to improve accessibility and care of collections through proper handling, processing, support and storaging.

CONCLUSION

To summarize, a multi-phased high impact, low cost preventive care approach which can maximize minimum resources and can be immediately implemented by any institution, may include a) developing guidelines based on an understanding of the nature of hazards and their impact on collections having special value, use and risk factors (i.e. hazards caused by poor storage conditions can lead to damage such as discoloration and planar distortion of paper materials, that can irrevocably destroy the research value of special collections); b) assessment of collections and their risks and hazards, based on research, using innovative and streamlined survey techniques (i.e. prioritization and computerized random sampling surveys designed to assess and statistically quantify the relative value, use and risk of damage occurring in multiple, large and diverse collections); c) collections or holdings maintenance procedures to stabilize and rehouse collections using appropriately designed materials and techniques; and d) development of preservation programs including new conservation treatment prototypes to facilitate resource management and initiate research designed to develop and evaluate new preventive care approaches, in addition to measuring the effects of conservation treatments on properties and aging of materials).

APPENDICES

App. 1: Prioritization Worksheet (RLG)
App. 2: Random Sampling Form (CAL)
App. 3: Item Level Examination Form (CAL)

ENDNOTES