Preventive Conservation

Shannon Brogdon-Grantham, 2014-2015 graduate-Fellow conservation intern, downloading environmental data from a datalogger in the archive vault.

Preventive conservation, as the name suggests, focuses on preventing damage to, or deterioration of, collection materials. Through the implementation of preventive conservation policies and procedures the Center preserves its collections and reduces the need for conservation treatment. 

Preventive conservation responsibilities include:

  • Ensuring appropriate environmental conditions for collection materials

Photographic materials require cool temperatures, and stable relative humidity conditions to prevent deterioration. To achieve this the conservation department oversees an environmental monitoring program that records and interprets temperature (T) and relative humidity (RH) conditions throughout the building. In addition to T and RH, light levels are monitored in the exhibition gallery and print viewing room to ensure safe display conditions for collection materials in storage, while in use by researchers, and while on display. 

  • Defining proper handling and use procedures for collection materials

Photographic materials are at greater risk for damage when being handled or placed on display. Most of the photographs in the Center's collection are composed of thin laminate structures on paper supports that can be prone to tears, creases, and abrasions if improperly handled. Handling damage is prevented by limiting collection access and through establishing safe handling procedures and guidelines for collection use.

  • Creating safe storage, packing, and transport requirements for collection materials

Photographic materials must be stored and packed for transport using high-quality, archival materials to prevent chemical deterioration and/or physical damage. While in long-term storage it is important that all housing materials including mat boards, folders, envelopes, and boxes that come into contact with, and are in close proximity to, collection materials that pass preservation standards such as the Photographic Activity Test (PAT) and International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards for photographic materials. When collection materials travel for exhibition purposes they have to be protected from extreme weather conditions, the movement and vibrations associated with travel, packing and unpacking activities.

Additional preventive conservation activities include emergency preparedness planning, condition assessments of collection materials, and collaborating with colleagues in the imaging studio on digitization projects.

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