Caring For: Collections

As long as objects have been collected, there has been a need to care for them.

The Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) helps heritage clients by providing information, service, training or expert advice on caring for and protecting their collections. The CCI Notes series, available free online, has a wealth of information to assist heritage professionals. Technical Bulletins and other print materials available for purchase also deal with a variety of topics related to caring for collections.

CCI's "Framework for the Preservation of Heritage Collections" identifies the 10 agents of deterioration that affect museum and archive collections, and offers advice on control measures for dealing with them. Additional online resources include "Six Steps to Safe Shipment" and "Corner Pads for Double Case Packages" – to guide you in the safe shipment and transportation of objects in your collections.

Emergency advice is also available to Canada's heritage community in the aftermath of a fire, flood, earthquake or other catastrophe. If your collection has been damaged, or you need emergency advice, please contact CCI.

CCI's document "Mould Outbreak — An Immediate Response" is a useful tool that outlines a general course of action to deal with a mould infestation in a heritage collection —archive, library, museum, or gallery. It is intended as a guide to help with immediate decisions and first steps to control the infestation and to protect people and the collection.

Framework for the Preservation of Heritage Collections – The Ten Agents of Deterioration

CCI developed the Framework for the Preservation of Heritage Collections which outlines the ten agents of deterioration that affect museums and archives. This Framework, the first holistic approach to preventive conservation, identifies threats that are specific to heritage environments and encourages prevention at the collections level first – avoid, block, detect – then respond and treat. This integrated approach to conservation has more recently led to developments in risk assessment.

The Framework lists the agents of deterioration in rough order of importance according to their potential for damaging artifacts. The first agents - Physical Forces, Thieves and Vandals, Dissociation, Fire, Water, and Pests - are widespread throughout the world, and their impact affects individuals and communities beyong heritage institutions. The remaining agents - Pollutants, Light, Ultraviolet and Infrared, Incorrect Temperature, and Incorrect Relative Humidity - are, however, of particular concern to museums and archives.

Top of page

Controlling the agents of deterioration can be done at three levels, through building features, portable fittings, and procedures. The first two (building features and portable fittings) usually have separate budgets and personnel, and tend to be dealt with at various times in the life of a museum. They also depend on the location of artifacts (and whether these are on display, in storage, or in transit). The third control, procedures, includes actions that can be taken by staff or contractors once building features and portable fittings are in place.

Control measures are further divided into five stages -- Avoid, Block, Detect, Respond, and Recover/Treat -- listed in decreasing order of preference. For instance, if an agent is successfully avoided, it will not have to be blocked, detected, responded to, or recovered from. If, however, an agent of deterioration cannot be avoided or blocked, then the other stages must come into play. The first four stages constitute preventive conservation. The last stage of recovery or treatment involves repair, conservation, and restoration of the affected artifact. CCI clients may be eligible for conservation treatments and services. Calls for treatment requests typically occur in October.

It may not be necessary or feasible for every museum to implement all of the control measures. Each institution must decide on the most effective combination for its particular collection, purpose, and resources.

You can learn more about each of the agents of deterioration and related CCI content online or purchase the printed version of the Framework for ease of use and quick reference.

Still need help with the care and conservation of your collection?

Explore CCI's Tools for things like measuring light damage, maintaining relative temperature and humidity, packing and shipping artifacts appropriately, and dealing with waterlogged wood.

Heritage institutions or professionals can request a service, register for training, or contact CCI for conservation advice or assistance. CCI's mandate is to support the Canadian heritage community in preserving Canada's heritage collections so they can be accessed by current and future generations.

Contact CCI for specific questions or concerns about your institution's collection.