Preservation > Introduction


Note: In this survey, "preservation" is considered a process, not a treatment (see Treatment section) as considered in the Secretary's Standards. As such, the NPS definition, below, has been edited and revised to include new construction as part of this process: the continuum of ongoing stewardship (see Stewardship section) and preservation.

"Preservation is defined as the act or process of applying measures necessary to sustain the existing form, integrity, and materials of an historic property. Work, including preliminary measures to protect and stabilize the property, generally focuses upon the ongoing maintenance and repair of historic materials and features rather than extensive replacement and new construction. New exterior additions are not within the scope of this treatment; however, the limited and sensitive upgrading of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems and other code-required work to make properties functional is appropriate within a preservation project." [Editorial changes for this survey.]

Standards and Guidelines for the Treatment of Historic Properties, Secretary of the Interior, National Park Service

"Preservation means maintaining the fabric of a place in its existing state and retarding deterioration."

Australia ICOMOS Burra Charter, 1999, Australia ICOMOS

"Preservation: All actions taken to retard deterioration of, or to prevent damage to, cultural property. Preservation involves management of the environment and of the conditions of use, and may include treatment in order to maintain a cultural property, as nearly as possible, in a stable physical condition. With respect to material valued exclusively for its information content, for example some archival material, preservation may include reformatting."

D. Glossary, Code of Ethics, Canadian Association for Conservation of Cultural Property and of the Canadian Association of Professional Conservators


Ch. 3: Preservation: Getting Started (download PDF format file), Part I, Museum Collections, Museum Handbook, Museum Management Program, National Park Service.

Framework for the Preservation of Museum Collections Wall Chart, published by the Asociaciòn para la Conservaciòn del Patrimnio Cultural de las Américas and the Library of Congress, under licence from the Canadian Conservation Institute. Available at Preventive Conservation and the Care of Collections.

This chart outlines various methods that can be used to avoid or control potential deterioration of museum objects. The rows list nine agents of deterioration (direct physical forces: thieves, vandals, displacers; fire; water; pests; contaminants; radiation; incorrect temperature and incorrect relative humidity), while the columns present three different levels at which the agent deterioration can be controlled. The procedures column outlines actions that can be taken.

Framework for Preservation of Museum Collections, Canadian Conservation Institute.

The Framework for Preservation of Museum Collections outlines various methods that can be used to avoid or control potential deterioration to museum objects. This online version is based on the popular wall chart available from CCI.

The rows list nine agents of deterioration that affect museum objects, and include the type of damage that each can cause. The first five agents (direct physical forces; thieves, vandals, and displacers; fire; water; and pests) are widespread throughout the world. The last four agents (contaminants; radiation; incorrect temperature; and incorrect relative humidity) are of particular concern to museums. The agents are listed in rough order of importance according to their potential for damaging artifacts. Each term chosen describes a destructive agent. For example, "temperature" in and of itself does not cause damage, but "incorrect temperature" does.

"The columns present three different levels at which the agents of deterioration can be controlled: Building Features, Portable Fittings, and Procedures. Building Features and Portable Fittings are listed separately because they usually have different budgets and personnel, and because they are dealt with at different times in the life of a museum. Building Features and Portable Fittings are further subdivided by location of artifacts: on display, in storage, or in transit. The Procedures column outlines actions that can be taken by staff or contractors once the building features and portable fittings are in place.

Source: Large Matrix, Framework for Preservation of Museum Collections, Canadian Conservation Institute.

Jokilehto, Jukka. Management and Presentation of Cultural Heritage Sites.

"A heritage resource, such as a work of art, a building or a site, may be defined on the basis of the specific concepts according to which it was built. It can therefore be conceived as a 'whole' where each part can be described and defined in reference to the design concept. Considering however that a historic resource is also a product of time; it has been exposed to degradation by weathering and use, it may have suffered losses, and it may have been intentionally modified. In many cases, historic structures are not the product of one single period but may have been modified at different times of their ‘life’, incorporating new creative elements and even forming an entirely 'new whole'. The original construction together with later transformations forms the historical integrity of such an historic site; its authenticity can be identified in the genuine historical material and elements that are bearers of testimonies of the past, and can be associated with specific values. At the same time, also traditional functions and appropriate use of heritage sites are an essential part of its cultural significance.

"An important aim of the survey and critical-historical assessment of a heritage resource is to define its character and historical integrity, and to prepare a statement of its significance. The aim of conservation is to guarantee the safeguard of such a heritage resource, and to ensure its integrity for future generations; the purpose is also to prevent that the qualities and cultural values of the resource be prejudiced through improper treatments or management. In particular, the purpose should be to continue traditional types of functions so far as these still exist, or at least to guarantee an appropriate use allowing regular maintenance and upkeep of the property...."

"All managerial, financial and technical considerations applied to retard deterioration that prevent damage and extend the useful life of materials and objects in collections to ensure their availability. These considerations include monitoring and controlling appropriate environmental conditions; providing adequate storage and physical protection; establishing exhibition and loan policies and proper handling procedures; providing for conservation treatment, emergency planning and the creation and use of surrogates."

Benchmarks in Collection Care for Museums, Archives and Libraries: A Self-assessment Checklist (PDF format file to download), re:Source, The Council for Museums, Archives and Libraries, 2002, p. 15

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