Materials Working Group
The Materials Selection and Specification Working Group (MWG) is a community of collection care, conservation, natural and applied science, as well as allied professionals united in developing guidelines and best practices for selecting, evaluating, and disseminating materials used in collection care.
Goals & Objectives
During the two-year exploratory period the MWG's goals are to:
- Create a working group of allied professionals representing relevant fields, materials, and institutional types
- Develop a proposal for an approach that will support end users in the selection of materials for long-term collection care.
- Develop a proposal for a resource ‘bank’ that will support and be of interest to the broad spectrum of constituents the MWG intends to serve.
- Identify potential partners with related initiatives within organizations and institutions to support shared goals.
This will be accomplished by:
- Working collaboratively to address the complex nature of materials selection in the field of cultural heritage preservation;
- Identifying and developing best practices in materials selection to advance preventive care in institutions of all types and sizes, locally, nationally, and globally;
- Providing resources relevant to a wide user base to support collection care initiatives involving materials selection;
- Working with related professional groups to further complementary goals in materials selection.
The first meeting of the MWG was held on February 8-9, 2018, sponsored by the Smithsonian’s National Collections Program, Museum Conservation Institute and National Museum of Natural History. Two meetings have been held since, November 1-2, 2018, and November 7-8, 2019; both were held in New York City.
This group developed out of discussions at the 2017 annual meeting of the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC) which focused on effectively making resources available to describe and recommend best practices in choosing materials for storage, transport, and display that suit the required demand and are long-lasting and non-damaging. As discussions proceeded over the next few months, it was quickly realized that many related, parallel efforts were actively pursuing similar goals. Some examples include:
- Conservation and Exhibition Planning: Material Testing for Design, Display, and Packing, sponsored by The Lunder Conservation Center and the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation, 19-20 November, 2015
- The Museum, Archives and Library Materials Working Group held at the Smithsonian Institution, NMNH, 7 March 2016
- The Technical Committee for Materials – Association for Preservation Technology International annual meeting, Ottawa, 13 October, 2017
The MWG proposal for an exploratory group under AIC's Collection Care Network was approved by the AIC Board in May 2018 with a two-year exploratory charge. The MWG will underscore the directive in the AIC's Guidelines for Practice to "recognize the critical importance of preventive conservation as the most effective means of promoting the long-term preservation of cultural property" and further the museum professional’s ability to “select methods and materials that, to the best of current knowledge, do not adversely affect cultural property or its future examination, scientific investigation, treatment, or function”.
At the 2018 inaugural meeting three sub-groups were set up to direct initial activities:
- Materials Selection & Specifications
- Materials Testing & Standards
- Resources & Dissemination
Each subgroup developed a mission statement as well as Short (1-2 years), Medium (3-5 years) and Long-Term (5+years) Goals listed below. The MWG is led by a volunteer Steering Committee chaired by Rebecca Kaczkowski, Museum Conservation Institute, Smithsonian Institution. The point person for each subgroup is listed in Italics below.
Materials Selection & Specifications
Develop an approach (decision-making process) to help end-users in the selection of appropriate materials, including specifications and/or guidelines.
Short Term Goals
- Survey and post key resources from parallel initiatives or projects
- Develop Case Studies that present the process and interaction of the various stages between materials selection and specification
- Develop Fact Sheets – Materials resource information on obvious materials well known to the field (for both appropriate and inappropriate materials)
Medium Term Goals
- Continue work on case studies and fact sheets
- Determine and implement best method for obtaining community feedback (develop a listserv, product rating mechanism, etc.)
- Highlight potential research projects
- Identify and present upcoming trends that impact material selection (sustainability, technology, etc.)
- Education – identify topics that the community should understand better when considering specifications (i.e. things to test, when to spec., etc.)
Long Term Goals
- Continue to encourage community to identify and use of good appropriate materials and manufacturers or suppliers to make/supply good appropriate materials
- Continue to build awareness
- Jennifer Bosworth, Exhibits Conservator, Freer/Sackler
- Luci Cipera, Conservator, Canadian Museum of Nature
- Carolyn Leckie, Conservator, Canadian Museum of Nature
- Antje Neumann, Supervisory Conservator, National Museum for African American History and Culture
- Andrew Robb, Head, Special Format Conservation, Conservation Division, Library of Congress
Materials Testing & Standards
Identify and refine methods for evaluating materials and to improve means for their implementation and interpretation for the end-user within the collections care community.
Short Term Goals
- Identify core group of tests and materials (focus on methodology and protocol rather than results, conduct round-robin testing)
- Determine partnerships - Partner with European and UK groups (e.g. IAQ meeting in Cologne 2018, ASTM, ISO)
- Write case studies – select a few (three to four) materials that are commonly used yet problematic (i.e. give conflicting results – such as polyethylene foam, expanded PVC). Determine how best to discuss and present materials, tests, and results
- Develop standardized protocols for tests
- Coordinate research between labs
- Evaluate low tech vs. high tech methods (increased confidence with increased test levels) and present results
Medium Term Goals
- Continue work on case studies and protocols
- Work with Resources & Dissemination group on how best to present data, information, and interpretation on AIC wiki (or other online platform)
- Determine how best to test interactions between materials
Long Term Goals
- Broaden outreach – develop an international consortium that will expand beyond the existing group
- Work to create a practical guide for end users
- Eric Breitung, Research Scientist, Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Chris Maines, Conservation Scientist, National Gallery of Art
- Catharine Hawks, Museum Conservator, National Museum of Natural History
- Susan Heald, Textile Conservator, National Museum of the American Indian
- Emily Kaplan, Objects Conservator, National Museum of the American Indian
Resources & Dissemination
Gather, package, and disseminate data, information, and best practices to aid in choosing materials for storage, exhibition, and transport for the benefit of collecting institutions and cultural heritage communities.
Short Term Goals
- Begin information gathering
- End-users focus group interviews
- Survey to the broader field
- Develop an initial online presence
- Begin developing content on the AIC wiki
- Shared annotated bibliographies in Zotero
- Link to currently available resources
Medium Term Goals
- Outline a proposed site/resource profile and information architecture
- Estimation of costs
- Identify funders
- Potential grant writing
- Begin/continue to produce content
Long Term Goals
- Launch an online portal/tool
- Ensure continued development and sustainability
- Lisa Elkin, Chief Registrar and Director of Conservation, American Museum of Natural History
- Rachael Arenstein, Conservator, A.M. Art Conservation, LLC & e-Editor, American Institute for Conservation
- Mary Coughlin, Assistant Professor and Director of Museum Studies Distance Education, George Washington University.
- Lisa Goldberg, Conservator, Goldberg Preservation Services, LLC & Editor, AIC News
Members of the MWG Subgroups are continuing their work via virtual meetings, throughout the year. The next annual working meeting has been tentatively scheduled to take place November 3-4, 2020 at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Washington, DC. For more information on the group, how to get involved, or to spread the word on the group's activities, please download the group's flyer.
The resources and sites below contain useful information on materials used for storage, exhibit and display.
Additionally, the MWG Resources and Dissemination subgroup has created an annotated bibliography on the Zotero platform to collect resources focused on choosing materials for storage, exhibition, and transport, for the benefit of collecting institutions and cultural heritage communities. The library can be found here, and any questions or comments can be addressed to the Zotero administrators via email.
- Materials Testing and Materials Testing Results Tables on the AIC wiki
- Image Gallery of Damage from Improper/Unsuitable Materials
- Mountmaking on the AIC wiki courtesy of the Mountmakers Forum
- Exhibition Standards & Guidelines
- Storage Techniques for Art, Science and History Collections (STASHc) Materials, Tools & Supplies page
- Conservation & Art Materials Encyclopedia Online (CAMEO) by the Museum of Fine Arts Boston
- Preservation Self-Assessment Program (PSAP) by the University of Illinois
- Preparation, Art handling, Collections Care Information Network
- Image Permanence Institute
- OSCAR: Online Sustainable Conservation Assistance Resource by the Association for Preservation Technology (APT)
- Prēserv'Art by Centre de Conservation Québec