New trends in preventive conservation: what can be done about climate, emergencies, and pests?

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Ann Seibert

Article contents:
What, why and how?
Basic premises for preservation
Management of risks to collections
Slowing deterioration and stabilising collections
Selection of materials for conservation treatment
Training of conservators
Selected Bibliography

Recently, most notably in Eastern Europe, but in many other parts of the world as well, large scale losses have occurred in libraries and archives. These losses have come about through civil disturbances and during natural disasters. The effect of these disasters is felt worldwide. Safeguarding paper-based collections against such threats and preventing disasters is a primary preservation activity. Security from vandalism and loss is also a preservation activity. Unless weaknesses in the systems of security and protection are taken care of, most other activities for preservation of the documentary heritage do not make sense.

The principle mission of the Library of Congress is to protect and preserve and to provide access to its vast and irreplaceable collections for the benefit of the Congress of the United States, the public, and scholars from the USA and the world. The mission of the Preservation Directorate is "to preserve and care for all the collections of the Library of Congress". This definition of the mission to include all of the collections, rather than focusing on the 'special' or 'rare' collections, is relatively new and came into being through a process of evaluating what we have been doing over the past few decades, what remains to be done, and how this can be accomplished. All of the staff took part in the process and had an opportunity to voice their opinions based on their own observations of time spent working with the collections at the Library of Congress. It remains to be seen whether this is possible at the same time that the budget is shrinking and the collections are continuing to grow at an accelerated rate, including many new types of media on which textual history is recorded, such as optical disks and electronic formats.

What, why and how?

The key to preservation is understanding what collection items are made of and how and why each material deteriorates. It is important to remember that all of these organic polymeric substances have within them the seeds of their own destruction. There is a term that is often used in paper conservation which is 'Inherent vice' This simply means that there is a significant agent of deterioration in the material itself, inseparable from its structure. Cellulosic and proteinaceous materials are organic, and that implies a finite life span. The best we can do is to slow the process of deterioration — which we can do in a significant way. Texts and cultural techniques have been preserved in various ways since the beginning of communication among mankind. The natural environments of certain regions have shown us ways and we can learn from them.

A paper that has reached the end of its usual life — meaning that it breaks if it is flexed one time, must be retired from use. This means extensive projects to recopy those materials onto a more stable material must be carried out and many of the limited resources used for this.

Basic premises for preservation

The basic premise for preservation of paper-based collections is to develop a sound approach that takes into accounts all of the various agents of deterioration and the level of risk they pose to the collections. This means examining and quantifying both the 'quality' and 'quantity' of the risk so that resources are used to address the needs that have the greatest potential to do the most harm to the collection.

The agents of deterioration are: (1) direct physical forces and their action which can be cumulative or catastrophic, (2) thieves, vandals, and users whose actions can be intentional or unintentional, (3) fire, (4) water, (5) pests, (6) contaminants including indoor and outdoor gases, liquids, and solids, (7) radiation/light including ultraviolet and unnecessary light, (8) incorrect temperature including temperatures that are too high, too low or extreme fluctuation, and (9) incorrect relative humidity including dampness (RH over 75 per cent), relative humidity above or below a critical value and major fluctuations in relative humidity.


The first two agents of deterioration have to do with human interactions with the collections. The people who handle the original material every day have a tremendous impact on the preservation of the objects. For paper-based collections people who legitimately use the collections as scholars, readers, cataloguers, curators, et al., without proper handling or care are included in this category. Training of everyone who handles textual materials, whether in a museum, archive or library, is a primary preservation activity.

It is also critical to integrate preservation sensibilities into all the routine activities of the institution, including registration or processing, transfer of objects, research use and exhibition. We, as human beings, are probably the most active and often the most destructive agent of deterioration. Objects left untouched for centuries have survived intact only to be destroyed in a decade by the way in which they have been treated by humans. Included in this category of human interventions is our work as conservators or restorers when the treatment fails and/or is irreversible. Even with the best of intentions, to experiment on original textual materials represents an enormous risk of loss.


Avoiding loss from fire and water is critical with paper-based and plastics-based collections. Water in large quantities is also a catastrophic event in paper-based collections. Some materials in libraries and archives, such as starch-coated paper, glass-plate and deteriorated photographic negatives, and vellum covered books cannot be recovered if they are wetted. Many other paper-based collections can be recovered if they are wet, but the recovery must begin immediately and be carried out by trained staff in order to recover as much of the material as possible. Within 48 hours of a large collection being soaked with water, given warm and humid conditions, mould can begin to grow and the damage can quickly become uncontrollable and loss significant. It is for this reason that emergency preparedness planning for staff responsible for paper-based collections becomes imperative.

A mould outbreak in a paper-based or film-based collection should be considered an emergency regardless of the source. It can be hard to tell active from non-active mould, but it is preferable to be safe and remove the infected material immediately to an area well-ventilated, away from human contact, as some moulds can be toxic to humans.

At the Library of Congress we do not chemically fumigate any longer due to the toxicity of the chemicals generally used and their inability to prevent future mould growth in the materials. However, we do activate rapid drying in ventilated areas and clean off active mould in a fumehood using a vacuum cleaner once the materials are dry.

Staff must wear gloves, masks and keep as much of the skin surfaces covered as possible during the handling and cleaning of mould-damaged materials, as well as washing hands before consuming any food. For this reason staff should be trained in the handling of catastrophic situations with paper-based collections.


Insect and animal pests like warm, damp, undisturbed places and the presence of food, which can be the books and papers themselves, or can be the dirt and dust left for a long period unattended in the collection storage areas. Many insect rests look for locations in which they can find free water which is also necessary for their life processes. The presence of insects or animal pests should also be considered catastrophic in paper-based collections, since in a relatively short time, an undetected insect or rat infestation can cause considerable loss.

Once again, we do not normally fumigate overall for such reasons, but isolate the materials involved, clean the area carefully, change at least one, if not all, of the environmental conditions above and observe and monitor the area carefully. The materials infested might be fumigated using inert gases or frozen and monitored until it is clear that no insect activity is present.


It is harder to detect and describe the complex forms of deterioration caused by light, atmospheric pollutants, relative humidity and temperature. They often interact with each other on a basic chemical level. For this reason understanding chemical principles is a necessity for the conservator.

The lights in collection storage should be turned off whenever possible and lights in display areas should be filtered against ultraviolet light. Textual material exhibited should be shown at foot-candle levels of 5-15 foot-candles and for short exhibition periods. Usually for paper-based collections a three month period is considered a conservative maximum on an annual basis. Foot-candle range can be measured with meters or with an ordinary 35mm camera. Materials which are being processed or studied should not he left exposed to light unnecessarily either. Staff should be instructed to cover materials which have to be left out.

Secondly, temperature speeds up all chemical reactions. Since the normal chemical reaction of most polymeric organic materials is to breakdown into smaller units, and through chemical reactions to lose strength and flexibility, high temperatures simply speed up these processes. Most studies of environmental effects on cultural materials are now recognising that whatever can be done to keep a stable cool environment is in the best interests of the preservation of cultural materials.


On a more subtle and cumulative level, water interacts with other agents of deterioration and plays a significant role in the deterioration of library and archival materials. Water is needed for chemical reactions such as acid hydrolysis and oxidation which are two of the major causes of deterioration in organic polymeric materials. Hydrolysis is a chain reaction which continues by itself once begun. In the same studies of environment mentioned above, a stable, dry environment has also been shown to be most effective in preserving organic materials.

Relative humidity over 75 per cent combined with warm temperatures can promote rapid mould or fungal growth. High relative humidity with low temperatures can also start mould growing. Mould growth breaks down the bonding capacities of paper fibres resulting in extremely weak paper and causing irreversible staining as well as its possible toxicity for humans. Relative humidities below 20 per cent approximately can cause some organic polymeric materials to become embrittled so that if they are handled or flexed they may break. This then provides an upper and lower limit for safe relative humidities.

For paper-based collections, acidic storage materials are a major pollutant or contaminant. The original materials — those that we want to preserve — in acidic cardboard, or wood behind the paper, also display discolouration and more rapid acidification due to acidic migration. It is critical to remove as much of this acidic material from direct contact with the original materials as possible and replace it with stable or inert materials, such as polyester or polypropylene and 100 per cent cotton fibre paper or cloth. If there is no buffering alkaline material, in the micro-climate of a box or inside a sealed package, the degradation of an already acidic cellulose appears to be speeded up according to recent studies at the Library of Congress. Therefore we use an alkaline-buffered, 100 per cent cellulose fibroid paper inside enclosures to act as a sponge for the acidic components in the original material.

All of the effects of the various atmospheric pollutants on organic polymeric materials are being studied in various parts of the world. Most notably, the Getty Conservation Institute has recently published the effects of various pollutants on pigments and other materials in paintings. The effect of these pollutants on library and archival collections still requires further study. One theoretical example of the effect of pollutants on paper is that sulphur dioxide and ozone can catalyse reactions of hydrolysis and oxidation in the presence of water. Sulphur dioxide, which is present in the air, particularly in regions with heavy industrial activity, or with a great number of trucks and cars without controlled exhaust, can, in the presence of water, become sulphurous acid which attacks cellulose as well as leather. The sulphur component can tarnish silver-based photographic images as well.

Management of risks to collections

In order to understand the steps which can be taken to preserve paper-based collections, one must study both the theoretical aspects of deterioration of the materials, and also test all the assumptions. A great deal can be learned by the examination of the real objects. This is why a conservator's point of view, which often includes a great deal of experience working with the real objects, needs to be included in any discussion of preservation administration and organisation.

There have been many assumptions made in library and archival preservation and conservation by theoreticians and scientists. One is the 'brittle book' crisis and the technology that it has created, based on surveys which indicated that the problem was extensive and fatal to the information the books contained. The first assumption that needs to be tested further in the area of textual collections is that the paper in large parts of research collections has become brittle. This appears to be true, but the percentage depends on the survey technique and questions asked. The second is that all brittle paper is in danger of imminent disintegration. All of us who work with brittle and weak papers know that flexibility does decrease over time, but that the rate of deterioration slows down dramatically, and that there is a long time between the fragile state and complete disintegration, if the object is not handled. The third assumption is that we must decide now what to preserve.

Based on experience, we would do better to think first, and act based on a rational decision-making process. There needs to be a process of evaluating the actual risk posed to the collection by the agents of deterioration that I have already mentioned.


Much useful information can be gained from an overall preservation needs assessment which provides a 'snapshot' picture of the building, the interior environment, management and organization, and a collection description. A very general sampling of the condition of the materials can provide a sense of the general pattern of deterioration. Everyone who works in the institution should be considered as potentially playing a role in the preservation of the collections and should participate in the process of determining how best to preserve the collection. Based on this information and the possible options, one can begin to prepare a one to five year preservation plan. I have done this kind of 'snapshot' view in everything from a single division to an institution, and find it a useful way to begin, with a broad, but realistic view. It is also extremely important experience for a conservator — to see the broad view.

The 'snapshot' needs to include consideration of all of the agents of deterioration and options for handling them. The activities which fit under the framework of preservation planning include making effective emergency preparedness plans, improving security, improving the environment and the storage furniture, cleaning and maintenance schedules, improving materials used in direct contact with the objects, careful handling requirements and user access options including reformatting for fragile items, loan restrictions and exhibition regulations, and finally, stabilisation and treatment at the item level. This is usually called conservation treatment and may be broken up further into treatment courses including various phases. The first phase is immediately carried out to stabilise the object with restoration only following if the object is to be exhibited. The overwhelming number of options calls for good organisation that includes setting priorities for how the risks are to be managed.


Acting responsibly to preserve whole collections requires evaluating resources and setting priorities. Unless your institution is endowed with endless resources, you will need to make decisions in a preservation atmosphere of limited resources. The Library of Congress Preservation Directorate has a budget in the millions, but there are tens of millions of items in the collection. This translates to only pennies available per item, annually, for preservation. Decisions we make on how to spend the resources we have today directly affect the condition of the textual patrimony we leave for generations to come. Decisions must constantly be made to match resources with the most pressing needs.

A first priority, for example, could be to slow the deterioration or stabilise the largest number of items in the collection for the least money. Over the last few decades, the priority has often been to establish a conservation facility in order to provide treatment for single items in the collection and to hire conservators to do this work. This emphasis has meant that in many institutions, preservation planning proceeds directly to choosing a few high priority items for complete conservation treatment, and the overall stabilisation and preservation of the collection gets lost or left behind in the actual details of the plan. Few conservators trained in the traditional ways are equipped to begin immediately to work at the level of planning and organisation that is required to effectively slow deterioration and stabilise the collections, but this is where the emphasis is really needed.

Slowing deterioration and stabilising collections

There are three activities which have been defined at the Canadian Conservation Institute in their 'Framework for Preservation of Museum Collections' which are useful to consider in this emphasis on slowing deterioration and stabilising the collections. The words they use are 'avoid', 'block', and 'detect', which, taken together, can be defined as 'preventive conservation'. These are the activities that prevent the damage from occurring in the first place, so that conservation/restoration is not required. Some typical activities in preventive conservation programmes are described below.


One must begin with avoiding incidents, as well as detection, response, and recovery and treatment. All elements are a part of a well-developed emergency preparedness plan. Emergency preparedness is an attitude which includes activities completed before any incident occurs. This is more important than having a 'disaster plan'. A 'disaster plan' can be a well prepared document, but if it is not an ongoing activity of the institution, there is a strong likelihood that no one will be able to find the document, much less have time to read it when an incident occurs.

Emergency preparedness begins with an examination of the risks specific to the country, geographic area, region, and actual siting of the institution. An inspection of the building and systems, including water detection and fire suppression systems is also critical. Once this examination is completed, an analysis is carried out to determine which risks are most realistic and which will occur most frequently. When analysis is completed, then planning which is appropriate for the risks can begin by making improvements in systems or facilities, and by putting supplies in place for immediate response. Training staff in using the supplies and appropriate response and recovery measures is also a priority.

We are at the stage now at the Library of Congress where we have received management support to purchase necessary supplies for the initial response to water damage emergency, which is our highest risk. We have small boxes of supplies for the immediate response (the first 20 minutes in the case of a small amount of water) throughout the storage areas and most of the staff who work in these areas have received an orientation in using the supplies. We have also completed our first 'mock emergency' drill, with the assistance of the Canadian National Archives and National Library which did experience a significant 'disaster' when a water-pipe burst over an important collection. We are using their experience to create an awareness and provide training for our conservation staff on what would be required of them in responding to and recovering from a similar emergency.

We also have a response and recovery team, which is on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is important to keep learning from your experiences by meeting after any emergency to review what happened and new things that the institution must do to be better prepared for the next experience.


Library and archival collections are also quite vulnerable to thieves, vandals and other human acts of destruction. Included in this category are intentional and unintentional mishandling. Due to the fragility of the material, an untrained person can cause considerable damage. Often library and archival collections are very heavily handled and used compared to museum artifacts, and they are light and portable, difficult to detect when they are missing, and very hard to keep secure. Often the overwhelming quantity can also cause the security issue to be overlooked.

One solution is to consider reformatting items that are a high risk for handling either because they are fragile, or very valuable. Reformatting includes photocopying, photographing, microfilming, and now, optical digitization. Each kind of reformatting has its positive and negative aspects, but all options should be made available and considered. In this way, technologies created for providing access to materials for more people, can be used for preservation. Their preservation role is in protecting the original item from security risks and from handling.

The library has used microfilming for some years. Recently, it has begun exploring wider use of photocopying and binding of brittle books and the use of optical digitization. Both photocopying and digital technologies appear to have great potential in terms of providing a copy of the original which scholars and readers enjoy using. This, in turn, should help to take some of the demand off the originals; this is the main context in which 'preservation reformatting' makes sense.


The Preservation Directorate of the Library of Congress has also been working for some years to create specifications for the materials that we use in storage of the collections. Over the history of the library, we have seen the damage caused by acidic boxes and folders used to hold the original documents, books and photographic media. The new materials used for boxes and folders and in matting of works of art should provide support where the original materials might be weak. They should provide also a beneficial environment by acting as a sponge to soak up natural acidic changes in the original objects. The hope is that there will be an additional benefit of providing a suitable 'micro-environment', which can slow the effect of the more drastic changes in the storage environment and protect the collection from air pollutants. Additionally, they will provide some time before the original material is damaged should them be a water leak or sprinkler discharge. This has been necessary because the library cannot change the environmental conditions in some of the buildings, which are historic in themselves, and we recognise the importance of having a water-based fire suppression system in place in storage areas.

We are currently doing quality-control testing on the materials received from the manufacturers and distributors to ensure that we are getting materials that match the specifications. The intention is to use these storage boxes and housings for at least the next 100 years (almost certainly much longer in fact). This work has led directly to a higher quality of supplies being available to other institutions in the United States and throughout the world.


We also know that we can slow the rate of deterioration for most objects by creating a controlled environment. While some inherent characteristics of all of the organic materials found in library and archival collections are responsible for on-going deterioration, we know that the process of deterioration is speeded up by environmental factors including high temperature and high relative humidity. Optimal storage conditions for library and archival collections would rationally seem to be a cool and dry environment. There has been a lot of controversy worldwide over setting 'standards' for environmental control in cultural institutions. Recently, in fact, the standard-setting institutions have decided that they cannot come to agreement. In the midst of a lack of agreement, the library decided to issue 'guidelines' for the environment to the personnel who manage the buildings and to work with them to achieve this environment. These guidelines are less stringent than 'standards', but give the buildings maintenance staff a goal. Human comfort plays a part in our guidelines because there are staff who work the entire day in the collections' storage rooms. This is not ideal, but it is a fact at the Library of Congress. The guideline recently issued was for a constant 68°F plus or minus and a relative humidity of 35-40 per cent.

Materials that are used less frequently and especially photographic materials and cellulose-based plastics that are deteriorating rapidly (those that have 'vinegar syndrome' which means just what it sounds like — a smell of acetic acid present in the storage container) can benefit from storage at much cooler, drier temperatures. If the materials need to be retrieved for use they are carefully and gradually acclimated to warmer and more humid environments. The library has such storage off-site, but a much larger quantity of such storage is required and the needs in this area seem bound to grow.

One other area of interaction with the building environment in which conservation must remain involved is the housecleaning in a collection and supervising of those who carry out these chores. This is not a task that can be left to untrained personnel, nor is it a task that should simply be left undone, as it so often is. Cutting the less well-trained staff from the budget must not be taken lightly, given that their tasks are crucial to the health of the entire collection.

Selection of materials for conservation treatment


It is important for both conservators and curatorial staff to choose the collections that are priorities for attention. Some of the natural areas to consider when choosing collections to work on include historic or material value, frequency of use, and condition of the materials. If a collection is considered to have not only high value, but high use, and is in poor condition, it will emerge as a high priority. This process is important to avoid being overwhelmed by the needs which will emerge.

Once priorities become clearer in collections that require preservation attention, then it is useful to break down the tasks according to the amount of time required, the staff resources required, the financial resources for materials required, and additional planning and consultation required Some projects will be accomplished immediately with no extra resources, other projects can be accomplished immediately with limited additions of staff time or money. Some projects will require changes in staffing or resources and be medium term (1-3 years, depending on the resources of the institution) and others long term (5-10 years) and require political campaigning. All of this activity is a part of the planning process and all of the requires the consideration of the knowledge base that your institution has, even if that is simply the person who regularly cleans in the collection and knows where the dirt collects the fastest.


Surveying can be carried out at various levels, but normally it includes examining individual items, though perhaps not all items in a collection. The further the survey departs from examining every item in the collection, the more experience and planning it requires to understand the results.

Surveys can be carried out by technical staff, but they should be trained by, and under the supervision of a conservator. We have learned through difficult experience at the Library of Congress that we can spend a lot of time describing conditions and details that are neither particularly precise or pertinent. If there is no treatment option that can address the particular condition described, one needs to think carefully before spending a lot of time gathering the data. And the data gathered need to be capable of being well defined and consistent so that they are useful to someone other than the surveyor.

It may not always be feasible, but a personal goal for me is that item-level surveys, since they require active handling of the individual items, should include, as part of the survey process, basic stabilisation activities. For paper-based collections items, that usually means re-housing in acid-free materials, either in folders, mats or boxes. In this way support is added for handling of fragile materials, the collections are stabilised in terms of bring in a non-acidic environment and the time spent on the survey also provides a real benefit to the collections.


Conservation treatment has undergone many changes over the decades. At the Library of Congress we have had the opportunity to document and observe the results of treatments that have been earned out since the 1950s. In collections where we have had the opportunity to observe the results of treatments completed as recently as the 1950s — only 45 years ago — we have seen many disturbing things, although we trust and know that they were done with the best intentions. This gives us many reasons to be very strict in evaluating our own actions today.

We have observed materials used in repairs and linings that have discoloured, yellowed, become embrittled, and become extremely difficult to remove. We have seen items that received extensive washing or various bleaching techniques become weakened or revert to a mottled appearance. We have seen the results of repairs made with pressure-sensitive adhesives that cause staining that is very difficult to remove. These adhesives also fail to perform the function for which they were designed as the adhesive becomes embrittled and cross-linked. Laminations of cellulose acetate have become discoloured, stiffer with age, and in cases where they were used in books, they have begun to break where flexing occurs. Inpainting that was not done with stable colour materials becomes disfiguring and obvious as ageing causes the colour values to shift.

In other cases where the only treatment given was re-housing the object in a mat or a folder or a box, the acidity from these materials can actually increase the acidity and discoloration of the original if the material that comes in contact with the paper is not of the highest quality.

These observations have made me, as a conservator, very aware of the importance of any decision that I might make to intervene or treat in any way an object. I am aware that when I make a decision to remove something or add something to the original object, I must be very sure that it does not harm the original object.

As a result of this experience, not only at the Library, but in other institutions, there is a new desire to evaluate 'de-restoration' and 're-conservation'. Some of the new principles that come into our practice include 'less is more', and 'only what is necessary'. We need to remember to be always guided by the needs of the objects themselves. As the field of conservation matures, it appears to be becoming more cautious and reserved; more sensitive and humble.


On the other hand, where treatments are necessary, there have been innovations to make the treatments less damaging and apparent. The innovations seem to come mostly in using techniques and materials that allow greater control over treatment of the object, are gentler in their effect on the object, and also less toxic for the conservator. I will mention some of the innovations which have come about recently; because they highlight the principles of greater control, gentler treatments, and lower toxicity. I should add that lowered toxicity is important because the training of a highly skilled conservator is a big investment, and it is worth the effort to ensure a long and healthy career.

The more controlled and gentler treatment techniques include the use of ultrasonic humidifiers for everything from local to overall humidification and washing. This allows less moisture to be applied in a more controlled manner, and the penetration of the moisture in the absorbent paper fibres appears to be more successful. The use of materials like Goretex, to control the application of moisture and solvents has also been very successful.

The use of a greater understanding of the adhesives used in the past and the use of enzymes and less toxic solvent mixes has replaced the use of more toxic solvents and more aggressive removal techniques of old adhesives. Suction tables and suction disks have been developed for the local control of removal of stains.

Finally, through creative design of housing and using inert materials, paper-based objects can be given support without using any kind of adhesive on the original object. This principle has been used in rebinding of books — the so-called 'non-adhesive structures'.

Consideration is always given so that the housing of the item when the treatment is completed will protect the collections in the future from acidic migration and provide the necessary support for handling. When one is confident that the housing can provide the support, this can lessen the need for more extensive treatment of the object.

Training of conservators

I will give my own experiences only as an example of the fact that a conservator's training is broad, and requires depth of experience. I am not finished with my learning, and do not expect to be any time soon.

I have been working as a paper conservator at the Library of Congress for the past five years. I was trained traditionally in the techniques of treatment for rare, unique, and valuable works of art, with a specialisation in paper, which then became through experience a further specialisation in library and archival conservation. I began with a degree as an artist — a printmaker. I also received a Master's degree in Art History. My conservator's training focused on the necessary passing on of skills and techniques developed by professionals with a scientific, historic, and a highly skilled craft approach. I received some training in management issues through working in museum administration and community arts development. This experience has taught me a great deal that is necessary for the preservation of collections.

Much of this has been learned by experience. There is no real substitute for experience, both of objects and of collections and institutions. There is much to be teamed working along with other professionals; this is the reason that the internship time required in the profession is also critical. In the U.S., a minimum period of one year is required, but after five years at the Library, I still depend all the time on the experiences of my colleagues to help me make decisions and carry out projects.

As a conservator in a large institution, it is important to balance the long-term needs of preserving the whole collection with the more tantalising and often personally satisfying task of treating a particular beautiful and rare object. This is only one area of competing interests. Another is having respect both for history and culture, and respect for the sciences. Neither should compete with nor dominate the other.


Within the code of ethics of the profession of conservators in the United States, we have some unusual ethical statements I would like to highlight two which make the field of conservation as it is practised now in the United States and Canada, along with some countries in Europe, in some ways radically different from that of the past. These include the divulging of information to colleagues and clients and the training of future conservators. These are two very radical concepts in a field which grows out of a craft tradition in which secret recipes where guarded and apprentices were practically enslaved to the master.

I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with conservation and preservation professionals in Latin America. I have been involved for five years in helping to address a need for more current information and training in Spanish. The practitioners in conservation in many regions of the world have a very limited opportunity to receive educational and informational resources on the field of preservation in Spanish. Most of those directly involved in collections-care do not speak English or other European languages. Due to political and bureaucratic realities, and historical protection of information by trained individuals, a lamentable lack of training opportunities has existed in many countries in Latin America.

It has become obvious that conservators who work in a difficult political environment must become active advocates for preservation activities in their own countries. One of the activities that is becoming more necessary for the entire field of conservation is fundraising and public awareness programmes to raise support for conservation activities.


I would like to note that what is now called 'preventive conservation' often seems to be what one could also call 'common sense'. This is a recognition perhaps that traditional methods used throughout the world by generations of people in various parts of the world have validity and should be studied to see what can be used now to assist in the preservation of cultural patrimony today for future generations. Often sound preservation methods can be developed out of what is used in the household environment, where a family saves and cares for family documents well.

In concluding this section about various methods of slowing the deterioration and controlling the risks to preservation of collections, it is extremely important to develop as many preservation options as feasible. It is important to consider making improvements in many areas at one time. It makes good common sense not in depend on a single solution to solve all of the problems and put all of the resources into one area. There are no panaceas in presentation any more than there are in medicine.

Once the risks to the entire collection have been assessed and a plan is in place for the management of those risks, it becomes clear that there are some materials that require that more be done to ensure the information or the object itself is not lost to future generations. The decisions that are made here about what objects to treat and how to treat them are just as critical and require the interaction of conservators with the curator and historians of the cultural institutions to determine priorities.

I have attempted to consider the ways in which all of these elements — the history of mankind's documentary heritage, the aesthetics and materials of the object, and the chemistry of the materials and their deterioration — can be managed in order to achieve the goal of preserving textual patrimony collections for future generations to enjoy. It takes passion to balance all of these elements and not let anyone dominate. There is no time for boredom or flagging interest. There is much to be done. This is both the challenge and the opportunity.

Selected Bibliography

There are extensive bibliographies on this subject. Listed here are only the documents I referred to or particularly wish to draw attention to in terms of the topic of this presentation.

The Abbey Newsletter: Bookbinding and Conservation, published six times a year. Ellen McCrady, ed., Austin, Texas, v.1, 1975 to present.

Association of Research Libraries, "Meeting the Preservation Challenge." Jan Islam Merrill-Oldham, ed., Washington, DC. (1988). (This publication also contains The Moral Imperative of Conservation" by James H. Billington, Librarian of the Library of Congress. This is a statement of the value of saving cultural property.)

Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI), "Framework for Preservation of Museum Collections," (wall-chart) 1994.

State Library of Ohio and the Ohio Preservation Council, "Managing Preservation; A Guidebook," (1994) 176p. (This publication includes an extensive and current bibliography on the topics presented which are comprehensive.)

Source note:

This article was published in the following book:
The Conservation and Preservation of Islamic Manuscripts, Proceedings of the third conference of Al-Furqān Islamic Heritage Foundation, 18th-19th November 1995 - English version, 1995, Al-Furqān Islamic Heritage Foundation, London, UK, pp. 93-118.

Please note that some of the images used in this online version of this article might not be part of the published version of this article within the respective book.
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