Collection Care

From Wiki

Preventive Care is defined as “actions taken to minimize or slow the rate of deterioration and to prevent damage to collections; includes activities such as risk assessment, development and implementation of guidelines for continuing use and care, appropriate environmental conditions for storage and exhibition, and proper procedures for handling, packing, transport, and use. These responsibilities may be shared by collection managers, conservators, subject specialists, curators and other institutional administrators.”[1]

AIC's Code of Ethics states “The conservation professional shall recognize a responsibility for preventive conservation by endeavoring to limit damage or deterioration to cultural property, providing guidelines for continuing use and care, recommending appropriate environmental conditions for storage and exhibition, and encouraging proper procedures for handling, packing, and transport.”

It is now widely recognized by preservation professionals that no matter how large their budget, resources will always be stretched to cover all collections priorities and so ‘an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure’ i.e. money spent proactively on preventive care is the most efficient way to preserve an entire collection for the long-term rather than acting reactively and paying for conservation treatment to repair damage and deal with deterioration that has already occurred. Taking proper care of even a small to medium sized collection can seem like an infinite job and an active approach to preventive care is the best way to spread finite resources.

AIC's Collection Care Network (CCN) was created in recognition of “the critical importance of preventive conservation as the most effective means of promoting the long-term preservation of cultural property” (Guidelines for Practice of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works, #20) and preventive care information on the AIC wiki aims to support the growing number of conservators and collection care professionals with strong preventive responsibilities and interests.

Wiki contributors: Kelly Krish, Rachael Arenstein, Becky Kaczkowski

Introduction to Preventive Conservation

Tiered Protection.jpg
Preventive conservation can be considered a tiered approach to care, where the building enclosure serves as the outer protective shell and subsequent levels (i.e. the room and storage furniture) provide increasingly intimate layers of protection and support to further shield objects from agents of deterioration. Building conditions, the location of collections within, and the specific nature and collections condition will determine how each layer influences the next and shields collections from one or many agents of deterioration.

What is Preventive Conservation?

Ten Agents of Deterioration

Risk Analysis

Policies and Procedures

Leadership and Advocacy Tools

Collection Management

Labeling Guidelines

Handling Guidelines

Emergency Preparedness & Response

Special Events

Location and Site






Environment: Temperature and Relative Humidity

Environmental Guidelines

Environmental Monitoring

Seasonal Shutdowns


Pollutants and Contaminants

Dust and Housekeeping


Environmental Pollutants and Off-gassing

Monitoring and Materials Testing




Storage Furniture and Supplies

The best practice for storage of most cultural heritage objects is individual containers or mounts, with no contact between objects.

Some useful materials for direct contact with and long term storage close to objects include:

  • Acid-free, buffered paper, board and corrugated board
  • Unbleached muslin fabric
  • Nonwoven bonded polyethylene fabric (marketed under the trade name Tyvek among others)
  • Polyester film (marketed under the trade name Mylar among others)
  • Closed-cell polyethylene foam (marketed under the trade name Ethafoam among others)
  • Closed-cell polyolefin foam (marketed under the trade name Volara among others)

Any materials used should be tested, using tests such as the Photographic Activity Test, the Oddy test, or others, to understand its degradation processes and potential for harm to collections objects. They should also be researched using available literature (including this wiki) and consultation with colleagues.

Certain materials need specialized storage. For example, items with the potential for offgassing should be segregated from the rest of the collection, either with specialized housings or separate storage locations, and buffered paper may cause bleaching of color photographs, cyanotypes and albumen prints. Culturally or religiously sensitive objects may need specialized storage which may or may not align with conservation needs, such as covering items with dyed cloth.

Storage furniture

Coated metal is a good choice of construction materials, which avoids VOCs from wood and rust damage from bare metal. Solid shelves, rather than wire, are preferable to avoid physical damage.

If wood or mesh shelves are unavoidable, use a stable shelf liner to prevent objects from directly contacting the shelf. Allow wood to offgas for as long as possible prior to introducing the objects. High-density (mobile) shelving saves space, but objects on mobile shelving which could fall need to be secured in position. Bottom shelves should be several inches above the floor for flood protection. Large objects should be placed on risers or pallets for the same reason.


Exhibit Cases

Exhibition Standards & Guidelines


Physical Forces

Packing and Transport


  1. Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections. 1994. Guidelines for the care of natural history collections. Collection Forum, 10:32-40.