Written Documentation (PCC)

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In the broadest sense, conservation documentation consists of written and pictorial records of examination, sampling, scientific investigation and treatment of an object or collection. Such documentation is considered to be an integral part of a conservation professional's legal and ethical obligations as articulated in the AIC's Code of Ethics and Guidelines of Practice.1 The emphasis of this chapter is on those aspects of written documentation that form part of the practicing conservator's daily work, namely records of examination and treatment. Related topics such as photographic documentation2 and collection surveys are beyond the scope of this chapter and are mentioned only to convey the broad range of activities which fall under the larger subject of “conservation documentation.”

Written documentation is defined here as a collection of facts and observations made about an object or collection at a given point in time. Written documentation may take a number of formats according to circumstances, the type of object, the intended use of the document, whether an individual object or a collection is being discussed and will reflect the individual preferences of the professional conservator. In all cases the conservator should bear in mind the inherent inadequacies of written documentation to completely describe an object and supplement when practical and possible with photographs and other pictorial forms of communication.

The proper use of the terms report and record was discussed during the process of revision of the Code of Ethics and Guidelines of Practice (hereafter COE & GOP).3 In the proposed COE & GOP, the manner in which the two terms are used reflects the general distinction made by most conservators; that is that record implies the broader, sometimes less formal form of the information whereas, report implies a condensed, editorialized, focused and sometimes but not necessarily more polished form of the record. In article 27 of the final revisions of the GOP the distinction may be made as follows. “During treatment, the conservation professional should maintain dated documentation that includes a record or description of techniques or procedures involved, materials used and their composition, the nature and extent of all alterations and any additional information revealed. A report prepared from these records should summarize this information and provide, as necessary, recommendations for subsequent care.” It should be emphasized that the record and report are not mutually exclusive and in practice they are not always separate activities.

Original Compilers: Holly Krueger, Sarah Melching, Kitty Nicholson
For a full list of the original contributors to this page, see the section below on History of this Chapter below.
Wiki Contributors: Susan Cobbledick, Katherine Kelly, your name could be here

Copyright 2018. The Book and Paper Group Wiki is a publication of the Book and Paper Group of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. It is published as a convenience for the members of the Book and Paper Group. Publication does not endorse nor recommend any treatments, methods, or techniques described herein. There is an ongoing project to update the BPG Wiki. We welcome contributions and feedback. If you would like to get involved in this effort, please contact the wiki team at [email protected].

Purpose

* To provide an accurate, complete and permanent written record of the condition of an object or collection at a given point in time.
* To provide information helpful to the establishment of present and future preservation criteria and to add to the profession's body of knowledge.
* To provide a record of technical analysis undertaken and interpretations of that analysis.
* To record material and techniques used in treatment.
* To substantiate changes which result from time, manner of storage, handling and treatment.
* To increase appreciation of an object's aesthetic, conceptual and physical characteristics beyond the conservation profession.
* To record information of historical significance.
* To provide a record upon which a contract for services can be drawn and which can be used to avoid misunderstanding and/or unnecessary litigation.

Factors To Consider

1. Intended Use

Both the immediate and future intended uses of the document should be kept in mind when deciding on format, degree of detail and areas of emphasis. For example, if preparing a preacquisition examination report, one may focus on the extent of treatment and/or maintenance which may be required, anticipated special housing concerns, exhibition restrictions, evidence of the object's treatment history, etc. If an object is being examined to determine its suitability to travel, one may emphasize the types of conditions which would be most affected and any treatment which may be advised to mitigate the inherent risks involved with loans and travel. In many ways, the documentation should satisfy the test of reasonableness given the intended purpose that the exam or report is serving.

2. Intended Audience

Written documentation is prepared for both conservators and a broad range of non-conservators. If a report is prepared for a non-conservator, particular care should be taken to communicate the information clearly, accurately and with a minimum of jargon. In such cases, more attention may be given to explaining and defining terms used. Withholding and/or oversimplification of available information should not be the goal, but rather effective communication for the intended audience. Reports can be valuable educational tools and can provide an opportunity to increase appreciation of both cultural property and the conservation profession.

3. Resources

The amount of financial, time and personnel resources that are available may influence the degree and/or emphasis of written documentation. Resource restraints may make extensive documentation of a single item inappropriate, wasteful and not as ultimately useful as commenting on the collection as a whole.

4. Format

Written documentation may take a variety of forms ranging from handwritten treatment notes to lengthy narrative reports. In general, examination and treatment reports tend to fall within two broad categories, defined here as checklist and narrative. In practice the distinction between the two is less defined and a combination of the two styles is very common.

A. Checklist Style
A checklist consists of a list of categories or descriptors against which an object or group of objects is evaluated. It is especially useful when efficiency, consistency and economy of space are of high priority. An examination and condition report, treatment proposal and treatment report can all be in checklist form. The checklist report, especially one documenting the condition or treatment of many objects may be accompanied by a summary page which provides an overall description of the nature of the collection, its curatorial priority, any abbreviations used on the form, philosophy of treatment approach, etc. A checklist form can be very useful for documenting the minor treatment of a collection of similar objects, or for batch treatment. Checklist forms are not necessarily cursory and can be designed to record any level of detail deemed appropriate to the circumstances. Many conservators find a checklist form useful for its prompting aspect. Some use a checklist form to compile the raw data from which a narrative style report can be easily and quickly generated.
The checklist standardizes the response. This allows for compilation of findings and collection assessment in terms of frequency of particular conditions or treatments. Because it is a categorical response, certain subtle qualities of an item may be more accurately described in a narrative report. (RF)
B.Narrative
Some conservators prefer to use a narrative format for written documentation as it generally allows for more directed and detailed discussion of object specific phenomena. A narrative report can be generated from a list of stock phrases which are word-processed for final presentation. It may be easier to explain and educate in this style of report. This form is most often used for documenting a single item or for objects of high intrinsic value.

5. Future Access4

This section describes existing professional guidelines and principles regarding preservation of and access to written documentation. It also discusses the range of conservation professionals' practices for managing treatment records. In contrast to other sections of this chapter, information is presented in narrative as opposed to outline style because currently there is no standard practice for managing written documentation.

The AIC Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice states that examination and treatment documentation is an essential part of professional practice and recommends the permanent retention of such records. Underlying this recommendation is the assumption that treatment records have a long-term value beyond the immediate needs of examination and treatment. Reasons for long-term preservation are:

  • to aid in the care of cultural property by providing information helpful to future treatment
  • to add to the conservation profession's body of knowledge
  • to provide a reference that can assist in the continued development of knowledge in conservation, art history, and historical studies
  • to protect against litigation and misunderstanding between client and conservation professional

Conservation professionals have a responsibility to preserve their own original records, preferably as part of an organized and systematic records management program. Laboratories within institutions that have staff archivists or records managers should follow the guidelines established by their institutions. Documentation of treatment done by conservators in private practice for institutions should also be incorporated into institutional archives for permanent retention. Conservators in private practice or within institutions without a records program will need to establish their own procedures for the maintenance of inactive treatment records and, if the practice or laboratory closes, for the disposition of these records.

Preservation of records is not an end in itself. It has as its ultimate goal the provision of access to these records in the future. To insure continued access, the Code states that copies of examination and treatment must be given to the owner, custodian, or authorized agent, who should be advised of the importance of maintaining documentation along with the cultural property that has received treatment. Further, the Code states, “The conservation professional should strive to preserve these records and give other professionals appropriate access them, when access does not contravene agreements regarding confidentiality.” This principle was confirmed and expanded by the AIC Archives Task Force in 1988 in their Statement on the Preservation of Conservation Treatment Records:

The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works advocates the preservation of and access to records of conservators in private practice and those working in institutions.
Significance. Conservation records document the physical condition and treatment history of cultural patrimony; they possess long term research value beyond the years spanned by the career of the individual conservator. These records should remain permanently accessible so that future treatments can be based on all available knowledge. Such information will improve the quality of treatment, contribute to research into conservation techniques and materials, and assist historical studies.

To facilitate access, the AIC appointed an Archives Placement Liaison who serves as a clearinghouse on archival issues and helps place records of retired conservators into established archival repositories where they can be preserved (see section 5.4.1, Conservation Records Archive).

The question of access is linked to the issue of legal ownership of the content of records. Does the conservator (like an architect) own his records and have the right to provide access to his/her files? Or does the client (like a medical patient) have a right to the content of his/her records and restrict access? For conservators working within custodial institutions, the issue of ownership is not a problem, but for conservators in private practice or in regional centers that serve many clients, this issue could cause obstacles to releasing any information from their files to researchers treating similar objects in the future. Given the desire of the conservation profession to share information about treatment procedures and to conduct research on the long-term effectiveness of treatment, such restrictions would hinder the advancement of conservation. A compromise that protects the confidentiality of the client relationship while allowing the conservator ownership of the content of the records would be most desirable.

As part of their study, the AIC Archives Task Force requested that the AIC Legal Counsel investigate the issue of ownership of records from the point of view of access in an archives. His conclusions are relevant to conservation documentation in general. Doug Adler's Memorandum to Archives Task Force (June 18, 1987) concludes:

The authority supporting the conservator's ownership rights and the authority supporting the art-object owner's rights, while indicative of the respective proprietary ownership interests in the treatment reports, are inconclusive as to who actually owns the records: the conservator or the art/objects owners. It is impossible to predict with certainty the legal ramifications of a conservator's claim and donation to an archival conservator (i.e. archives repository). Courts could give ownership to either party, given the present state of the law. In light of these circumstances, then, our advice is to adopt a practical solution to the dilemma.
We recommend a written contractual release. The conservator could secure his rights in the records by a signed statement by the art-object owner that releases any and all rights to that might exist under the law. At the same time, the release would guarantee protection of the owner's name and other sensitive information related to the records, should the conservator decide to donate them to an archive.
This solution, moreover, adequately protects both interests involved. It gives the conservator ownership of his treatment records so that he may donate them to a repository. It also protects the art-object owner from public scrutiny of the sensitive matters of his possessions. Accordingly, obtaining a written release would be the most realistic legal method of protecting the ownership rights of all parties involved.

In practice, most conservation professional uphold the tenets of records preservation advanced by the Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice. Conservation professionals in various types of practice — in private practice or employed by custodial institutions or regional centers — create and retain records of examination and treatment. Conservation professional advise clients to retain copies of documentation with the cultural property that was treated, though their methods of communication vary; some counsel owners orally, others in writing. Records management policies and practices vary and can be informal.

In contrast to the consensus about creating and preserving documentation, legal ownership of treatment documentation is a concept that few conservation professional consider in their work, and written documentation is seldom regarded as property that is potentially proprietary. It follows that access to written documentation is inconsistently administered. When questioned, many conservation professionals identify the owner of the cultural property as the owner of the associated documentation. Still others, particularly conservators in private practice, recognize the concept and seek legal ownership of their treatment documentation through contractual agreements with clients.

As the Archives Task Force's Final Narrative Report points out, the conservation profession would benefit if its members were to take a consistent approach toward the issue of ownership because of its implications for long-term access to treatment documentation by future conservators, scientists, and scholars. The AIC should continue to promote an awareness and understanding of this issue through open communication with the membership. Further, it should work toward developing practical guidelines to assist conservation professionals in securing their rights in their records, as well as in managing them effectively and responsibly.

6. Permanence of Written Record or Report

A. Consideration should be given to the permanence of the written documentation conservators produce. To the extent practically possible documents should be produced on good-quality paper with permanent media and maintained in conditions consistent with the storage recommendations of paper-based collections.
B. Consideration may be given to off-site storage of copies of written records as a disaster mitigation effort where the ability to read these formats can be maintained.
C. Computer Storage of Documentation/archive should be considered for several reasons.
1. Ease of duplication for storage at other site.
2. Saving of paper and filing space.
3. Improvement in records access.
4. Greater ease of dissemination.
5. There is concern for the safety and preservation of machine readable data. There should also be concern for the storage, safety and cost associated with storage and retrieval of paper records. They are subject to fire, flood and aging and because of the great cost of duplication/storage at another or several sites, loss can mean complete loss of information. With machine data, it is easy and relatively inexpensive to make duplicate copies for storage at multiple sites. Magnetic media is vulnerable and must be recopied routinely to maintain it. Newer optical methods are now available for archiving data and this offers greater security. In any case, it is interesting to note that more 200,000 pages of text can be stored on a single 3" x 4" x 1/2" DAT tape or more than 30,000 pages on a single CD. (RF)

Content of Report

This section contains the kinds of information a conservator may use to describe an object and, if applicable, its housing, in examination and treatment reports. Generally, the information is presented in the order in which it would actually appear. Most conservators begin with a list of identifying characteristics and continue with a description of the object or collection and its components, an assessment of condition, a treatment proposal or other recommendations, and a treatment report. The exact arrangement of information within this basic sequence will vary according to individual preferences and needs.

1. Examination Report Content

2. Treatment Report Content

Examples of Examination and Treatment Reports

The 1994 print edition of the Paper Conservation Catalog (see History of This Chapter below) included examples of condition and treatment documentation forms from various institutions, including the Library of Congress, Winterthur Museum and Gardens, National Museum of American Art, National Gallery of Art, and NEDCC. They are not reproduced here, but are available online in the Appendix to the Written Documentation chapter (1994, PDF). More recent forms are listed below.

1. Rare Book Conservation Form, Katherine Kelly

2. Book Condition and Treatment Form, Susan Cobbledick

Special Considerations

1. Conservation Records Archive

Please note: This text is from the 1994 print edition of the Paper Conservation Catalog. It reflects a task force initiative that, as of November 2016, has not been sustained. The issue may be revisited in the future by AIC in the hopes of reviving the topic, or finding a new solution to archiving in the digital era.

AIC recognizes the long-term value of conservation records to improve the quality of future treatment, contribute to the studies of conservation techniques and materials, and assist historical studies. In 1987–88, the AIC Archives Task Force studied the feasibility of establishing a single archive to preserve the records of retired conservators in private practice. The members concluded that it would be more effective to create a Conservation Archives Network of repositories representing different geographic regions and different conservation specialties. As a result of the study, AIC appointed an Archives Placement Liaison who serves as a clearinghouse for information about the location of conservation records.

The AIC Archives Placement Liaison also provides assistance to conservators or their heirs who wish to place papers in an archive. Based on her experience, the Liaison will suggest an appropriate repository and help the donor make the initial contact. The actual process of negotiation and transferral is the responsibility of the donor. Contact AIC Headquarters for the name of the current Liaison. It also appears in the front of the AIC Directory under “AIC Delegates and Liaisons.”

AIC urges that institutions with conservation laboratories maintain and preserve treatment records as part of their permanent archives. Institutions that have work done by conservators in private practice should incorporate these treatment records into their archives for permanent retention. Access to these records should be given when it contributes to research or assists in the treatment of similar objects. (NCS)

Documentation Terminology


1. Original glossary from this chapter of the PCC

This glossary is written for paper conservators, related professionals, and other persons who read written documentation created by paper conservators. The glossary's intent is to define specialized terminology used in condition and treatment reports which is not defined in general dictionaries, either adequately or at all. While a completely standardized vocabulary does not yet exist in the field, this glossary is an attempt to gather terms in general use and their meanings. Some terms are more widely used than others, and usage may vary according to individual conservators. Not included in the glossary are terms describing artist's techniques and media which have been well covered in a growing body of literature, such as William Ivins, How Prints Look, Felix Brunner, A Handbook of Graphic Reproduction Processes, Paul Goldman, Looking at Prints, Drawings and Watercolours, etc.

2. AIC Wiki Lexicon Terms


3. Descriptive Terminology for Works of Art on Paper

Guidelines for the accurate and consistent description of the materials and techniques of drawings, prints and collages. Published by the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

4. Interdisciplinary Multiligual Dictionary

Conservation Terms in English, Polish, Dutch and French

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1 The AIC membership is to vote on the most recent revision of the COE and GOP in the summer of 1994. It was used as a guideline in preparation of this chapter but it should be kept in mind that it was not officially adopted at the time of publication of this chapter.
2 Photographic documentation is treated thoroughly in other publications, specifically Dan Kushel, “Photodocumentation for Conservation: Procedural Guidelines and Photographic Concepts and Techniques,” available through the AIC.
3 For a more in-depth discussion see the Ethics and Standards Committee Supplement Number 4, AIC News, March 1992.
4 4 This section was prepared by Maria Holden and Nancy Schrock with editorial assistance provided by Karen Garlick
5 Please see Spot Tests



History of This Chapter

BPG Wiki
In 2009, the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (FAIC) launched the AIC Wiki with funding assistance from the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT), a division of the National Parks Service. Along with catalogs from other specialty groups, the published Paper Conservation Catalog and the unpublished Book Conservation Catalog were transcribed into a Wiki environment.

In 2016, the BPG Wiki Coordinators reformatted this chapter by removing the numbered outline format, renaming sections, and improving internal links. The "Glossary of Terms" was moved to the BPG Lexicon Terms page. This page was the subject of a October 2016 BPG Wiki Call for Content.

Paper Conservation Catalog (print edition 1984-1994)
Prior to the creation of the AIC Conservation Wiki, this chapter was created in 1994 as Chapter 5: Written Documentation (PDF) of the 9th edition of the Paper Conservation Catalog, (print edition 1984-1994) by the following:

Compilers: Holly Krueger, Sarah Melching, Kitty Nicholson
Contributors: Craigen W. Bowen, Irene Brückle, Jane Douglas, Robert Futernick, Margaret Holben Ellis, Karen Garlick, Michelle Hamill, Claire Hoevel, Maria S. Holden, Harold Holland, Jane E. Klinger, John Krill, Cella Manea, Sue Murphy, Maria Pukownick, Pamela Y. Randolph, Nancy Carlson Schrock
Editorial Board: Sylvia R. Albro, Sarah Bertalan, Antoinette Dwan, Holly Krueger, Elizabeth Coombs Leslie, Catherine I. Maynor, Catherine (Kitty) Nicholson, Kimberly Schenck, Ann Seibert, Dianne van der Reyden, Terry Boone Wallis


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