Preventive conservation

Every object may not need a remedial conservation treatment but may benefit from preventive conservation.  It aims to minimise or prevent deterioration of individual objects or whole collections.  We may be able to help slow down future deterioration by helping you to improve the environment of storage and display areas, pest control, housekeeping and emergency precautions.  Or we can provide the object with improved support or packing, suggest how to improve its handling, and address any other relevant issues that can help you prevent damage and deterioration of the object.

Improving the environment in which objects are stored and displayed can promote the preservation of large numbers of objects in preference to just few.  It also helps reduce the cost of remedial work on a collection in the long run.  In the first place, in museums and other large collections preventive conservation activities would preferably take preference over remedial conservation.     

We provide surveys of museums, galleries, historic houses and collections to determine the factors that might impact on collection stability and preservation.  We can advise as to what preventive conservation action might be needed to improve the situation.

Some examples of preventive conservation include:

  • Monitoring storage, display and transit environments so that it is known what objects and collections experience in terms of levels and variations of temperature, relative humidity and light exposure.
  • Control of temperature and relative humidity levels to those considered appropriate to the collection group and its materials, with the aim being to prevent physical damage, corrosion of metals, and growth of mould.
  • Control of visible light levels and exposure times to prevent fading of and damage to sensitive organic materials such as paper, watercolour pigments, textiles, feathers, etc.
  • Reduction of ultraviolet radiation (UV) light levels to the minimum, ideally zero, as UV is very damaging to organic materials and serves no useful purpose in display or storage of museum collections.
  • Enclosure of items where appropriate in suitable protective buildings and systems to protect from environmental variation and atmospheric pollutants such as sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides, ozone and fine particulate pollution as is often found especially in urban areas.
  • Display cases, display materials and storage and packing materials should ideally be made from acid-free materials that will not generate gaseous pollutants such as acetic acid, formic acid and formaldehyde, all commonly produced by wood and wood products.
  • Housekeeping activities that control levels of dust and dirt in the environment around museum objects and collections in order to keep items as clean as possible.
  • Provision of integrated pest management programmes to monitor and control pest species such as for examples clothes moths, carpet beetles and woodworm.
  • Object handling rules that ensure that items are appropriately handled; for instance some collection materials such as polished metals benefit from being handled with gloves to prevent finger-marking, tarnishing and corrosion; for others, such as glass and ceramics, the use of gloves may increase the risk of accidental damage.
  • Good recording and digitisation of collections may assist in the conservation of items and collections; for instance if a facsimile of a fragile book is made by scanning each page, the need to handle the original will be much reduced.