Guideline 6.3

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Guideline 6.3:
Each object’s condition and vulnerability assessment is summarized in writing and clearly documented.

Why is it essential to clearly document the object vulnerability and condition assessments?

Clear documentation of the Object Vulnerability and Condition Assessments is essential for the following reasons:

Developing the Conservation Requirements. The condition assessment is critical for determining whether an object is in stable enough condition to go on display. And the object’s vulnerability rating is essential for setting the conservation requirements that will ensure the object is protected while on display. The exhibit conservator should therefore communicate his/her findings in detailed written reports using clear and unambiguous descriptions.
Documenting the object’s history. An object’s condition assessment and vulnerability rating will become a permanent part of the exhibit object’s documentation. Documentation of the object’s condition helps establish a baseline for object deterioration, allowing a conservator to estimate the rate of deterioration or to reconstruct when damage may have occurred. An object’s condition is seen as symptomatic of how it has been cared for and protected over time and if it has inherent preservation problems.
Establishing accountability. Clear documentation of object condition is also essential for establishing accountability. For example, documentation should be detailed enough to determine whether an object’s poor condition was preexisting or whether it was incurred during exhibit or transportation to another site.

What information should the written Object Assessment include concerning object condition and treatment?

The Assessment can include a range of information but should include the following:

Whether an object is too unstable or fragile to be exhibited under the existing exhibit plan.
Whether an unstable object could be stabilized through conservation treatment
Whether an object will require conservation treatment and how much treatment would be necessary.
A summary of treatment needs. This can be used by the exhibit project manager and appropriate curatorial staff for planning and budgeting purposes. A specific treatment proposal, detailing the required conservation treatment, will be developed for each object at a later exhibit phase.

How should object condition be documented?

Documentation should provide a precise and unambiguous picture of an object’s condition and conservation requirements. The various methods of documenting object condition are described below:

Avoid relying on one-word descriptions of condition such as good, fair, or poor. These are too vague and broad to identify an object’s state of preservation without a longer, narrative explanation.
Checklists that cover a range of object characteristics have been devised for many different types of collections. These checklists allow for consistent and systematic descriptions of object condition and are especially effective for work on site because they can be filled out quickly.
Narrative descriptions are generally not sufficient to record an object’s condition unless the assessor has highly developed descriptive skills. However, narrative descriptions have the advantage of requiring no special equipment and no photographic or artistic skills. A written narrative can also be incorporated into a database more easily than photographs or sketches. They therefore provide a useful complement to other forms of recording.
Photo imagery, x-rays, etc. are useful in condition reports since these can compensate for the lack of a quantitative vocabulary to describe object condition.

How should object vulnerability be recorded?

The system used to rate object vulnerability can be “general” or “specific”:

Rating an object’s General Vulnerability: This is a rating system that refers to an object’s degree of vulnerability to display. For example, object vulnerability can be rated as extreme, high, moderate and low. Here, “vulnerability” refers to the likelihood of damage from exhibit and does not evaluate the dangers from any specific source (see sample worksheet).
Rating an object’s Vulnerability to the Nine Sources of Deterioration: This approach rates objects with specific reference to the nine primary sources of deterioration. A number system can be used to rate the objects with reference to each of the nine sources. For example, an object rated as “1” with reference to relative humidity would have no vulnerability to relative humidity, while an object rated “4” would be extremely vulnerable.
The advantage of this approach is that it identifies the specific hazards from which an object needs protection. A collection of corroded iron tools, for example, would get a high rating for vulnerability to relative humidity but a low rating for ultraviolet light exposure. This would alert the exhibit team to focus resources on relative humidity protection rather than stringent light controls (see sample worksheet).

Sample Forms

  • Exhibit Object Vulnerability Assessment: Rating Exhibit Object Vulnerability to the Sources of Degradation
  • Exhibit Object Vulnerability, Condition & Treatment Assessment: Conservation Needs for Objects Going onto exhibit
  • Exhibit Object Condition Assessment: Rating of the Material Conditions of the Proposed Exhibit Objects