ECPN’s Follow-Up to the Spring Webinar on Preventive Conservation-- Q&A and Additional Resources

By Jen Munch posted 09-28-2018 13:35


ECPN’s recent webinar Lights, Camera, (Preventive) Action! Careers in Preventive Conservation,took place on April 26, 2018 and featured Dr. Joelle D. J. Wickens, Jessica Pace and Jamie Gleason. For biographies of each speaker, please see the previous blog post announcing the webinar. The full recording of the webinar is available on AIC’s YouTube Channel. Several questions from viewers could not be addressed during the webinar due to time constraints; however, the panelists have generously answered them here.


Like setting up a treatment lab, what basic equipment, materials, and resources do preventive conservators need to do their job? Is there a list of items already out there?

Jamie: Unlike some other specialties, you can get by without a lot of fancy equipment. Experience and expertise are the keys to success. That being said, there are a few things that might be nice to keep handy. Light, temperature, and humidity meters are all very useful. Data loggers can help monitor storage and display conditions. Those conditions can sometimes be controlled with (for example) silica gel or VOC scavengers. A good camera is a nice luxury, but you could probably get by with a smartphone camera.

Jessica: I don’t know of any existing lists, but preventive conservation doesn’t require as much equipment as many other types of conservation practices. I find that the equipment that I most frequently use are my Elsec environmental monitor, dataloggers, personal protective equipment (PPE), tape measure, phone (for documentation and notetaking on site), and laptop. I also find it useful to have a chest freezer for remediation of insect-infested and moldy materials. A smaller portable HEPA vacuum can be handy for working in various locations within a building or on multiple sites. We also have a lot of materials for constructing housing, but that might vary depending on the institution. In terms of resources, I work closely with vendors like Talas for custom housing and Polygon for some remediation projects.

Joelle: The tools I use daily are my soft skills of communication, negotiation, compromise, and priority setting. The tools our team needs on a regular basis are pest traps, environmental monitoring equipment, materials for the construction of storage housings, pest eradication tools (freezer, CO2 chamber, oxygen scavengers), silica gel, housekeeping tools, and collection emergency response equipment. As far as I know, there isn’t a list that is readily available but maybe we should add one to the AIC Wiki.

I noticed that the upcoming IIC congress is themed on preventive conservation. Can you comment on the progression of this topic becoming more prevalent in recent years? How can we keep the momentum going?

Jamie: Many institutions are realizing that it’s much more cost effective to prevent damage to collections than it is to try to deal with damage after it occurs. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, or something like that? Conservation treatments may make for more exciting visuals, but preventive conservation is a much more sustainable approach to preservation. A well-rounded conservator should be versed in preventive conservation strategies, not just interventive techniques.

Jessica: I think that institutions are recognizing the need for preventive conservation as they continue to contend with the cost of maintaining collections and with the impact of our activities on the environment.  Alongside this, there has been a great deal of progress in developing preventive techniques and in making that knowledge accessible to a broad community in the form of web-based content [Ed: see the links at the end of this post] and also more formally in preventive curricula within conservation programs.

To keep the momentum going, I think that we need to avoid silo-ing, remain cross-disciplinary in our approach to problem solving, and also to continue working toward making art conservation a widely understood practice. In my practice, I try to make that happen by training non-conservator colleagues in basic preventive conservation techniques, such as handling and rehousing collections, selecting housing materials, and identifying mold and pest activity on collections materials.  

Joelle: As far as keeping the momentum going, one thing that has helped, and I hope will continue, is AIC’s effort to include preventive conservation and collections care in the theme of its annual meetings. This has helped with visibility and brought to the forefront how many AIC members are interested in and committed to preventive conservation. If we continue to identify preventive conservation as a financially and environmentally responsible way of achieving conservation, we will link it to current issues that are demanding attention. Also, keeping the routes into the preventive conservation field numerous and diverse and expanding the vision of where and how preventive conservation is practiced.

What do you foresee being some of the most important and pressing preventive preservation concerns for collections in the United States in the future? Do you have any thoughts on how we can train a new generation and prepare for addressing these concerns?

Jamie: The preservation of modern and contemporary art poses many unique challenges, some of which can be best addressed through preventive conservation. Artists continue to push boundaries by adopting new materials and technologies, and it’s sometimes difficult to keep pace with them. The deterioration of plastics for example is often irreversible, and our best hope for preserving objects like these lies in slowing the rate of their deterioration. The proliferation of time-based media has also been challenging for cultural institutions to grapple with. Forming strategies to preserve ephemeral materials and documenting their condition (and their deterioration) is becoming more important than ever.

Jessica: I think that climate change and shifts in government policy and funding are going to be major concerns for many US institutions, not only with respect to preventive conservation. In response, we should train conservators (emerging and “emerged”) to advocate for our profession and to strengthen our relationships with allied professional groups. We should also train emerging conservators on how to do advocacy, grant writing, and disaster response.  

Joelle: One of the biggest challenges may be balancing the needs of preservation and access. Looking at objects behind barriers is an experience that leaves more and more people unsatisfied. As museums face this reality and work to stay relevant, conservators will be asked to find ways to make objects more available. We need to train a new generation of preventive conservation specialist to understand institutional priorities and help them adapt preventive conservation approaches to support these priorities.

Do you have any tips or points of view regarding preventive conservation and art handling (wrapping/ transporting and hanging)?

Jessica: This question is pretty broad, so I’m just going to address my experience working with art handling and transport services, which we do often at NYU Libraries. Communication is so critical in these transactions. It’s important to make sure that the handling requirements are clearly communicated (how many items are being moved, their dimensions and weight for heavy objects, etc.). If you are making the housing, ensure that boxes are clearly labeled. Housing should be designed with the type of use and user space in mind. If they are packing the objects, then be sure to have conversations ahead of time to make sure you’ve worked out exactly how and with what the object will be packed. I recommend having a conservator or collection care specialist present to oversee the packing and transport, especially when using a new art handling firm. Prior to move day, do a walk-through of the path that will be used for transporting the item to the truck to make sure that there are no obstacles. If the path takes you through busy shared spaces, you may want to coordinate with facilities or other departments. Step in and ask questions anytime you feel uncomfortable or uncertain about how something is being treated.

Thank you to Joelle, Jamie and Jessica! ECPN is grateful to each of the speakers for participating in this webinar and for generously sharing their preventive conservation expertise.

For further information on preventive conservation topics, please see the following 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 and to support the growing number of conservators and collections care professionals with strong preventive responsibilities and interests.

  •     AIC’s Connecting to Collections Care (C2CC) online community connects staff and volunteers at museums, archives, and libraries with each other and with solid information about collections care. Resources on the C2CC website include a discussion forum, free webinars and tools to help smaller cultural institutions in the care and management of their collections.

  •     AIC’s Wiki on Preventive Care is an evolving and growing resource of preventive conservation definitions, information and tools. It is developed and maintained by preventive conservation specialists belonging to the American Institute for Conservation.

  • The Preparation, Art Handling, Collections Care Information Network (PACCIN) is dedicated to building a network of individuals interested in sharing the practical information and resources that help hands-on collections care professionals to better protect and preserve the cultural property in their care. PACCIN hosts an online forum and email listserv, in addition to regional workshops and international conferences.

ECPN always welcomes feedback on our webinar programming. If you have any comments or suggestions, including ideas for potential future webinar topics, please leave a comment on this post or email