SPNHC Req. For Comments (584 lines)
anamaria at GARNET.BERKELEY.EDU
Fri Sep 17 21:34:55 CDT 1993
The following Working Document, an insert in the August 1993 issue of SPNHC
Newsletter, was scanned by me and is posted with the permission of Co-chair,
P. S. Cato, of the Sessional Committee. *word* means that word is
underlined in the original report. The due date for comments on this
working document (i.e., draft) is October 31, 1993. I assume blame for any
discrepancies between this text and the original.
Museum Informatics Project
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"WORKING DOCUMENT - JULY 23, 1993
SESSIONAL COMMITTEE ON COMMON PHILOSOPHIES AND OBJECTIVES (SPNHC)
GUIDELINES FOR COLLECTION CARE IN NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUMS
REQUEST FOR COMMENTS
Collections are the lifeblood of museums. The acts of collecting,
preserving, documenting and studying objects are the cornerstones of
the museum domain. The Society for the Preservation of Natural
History Collections is dedicated to promoting strong institutional
investment in the preservation of collections in the fields of
anthropology, earth sciences, and life sciences, as well as
associated library and archival materials. These collections document
our cultural and natural history and are an irreplaceable scholarly
and educational resource for future generations.
Given the high public profile that museums enjoy today, the frequency
and diversity of collections use, and the sophistication of
information technology and conservation research, management of
collections has been transformed dramatically. More than ever, there
is a need to balance wise use of collections with sound conservation
practice. In an effort to promote this, the Committee has been
charged with developing guidelines for managing and caring for
natural history collections. The purpose of the guidelines is to
advocate an institutional framework that advances professional
standards of management and care of collections. The basis for the
framework is *preventive* conservation and recognition of primary
institutional responsibilities for use, management and care of
specimens. To be effective, these guidelines must involve lively and
critical input from collections managers, curators, conservators,
researchers, registrars, and administrators, as well as comment from
other professionals in allied fields.
The attached draft has been generated, revised, and re-worked
extensively over the last two years within a committee structure in
SPNHC. Versions have been sent to members of the Conservation
Committee, Resources Committee, and SPNHC Council for several rounds
of comments. The attached draft is provided for your review and
comments. Please answer the questions below and/or mark directly on
the guidelines and return them by October 1 [sic], 1993. The guidelines
will be revised based on comments received, and the next version will
be circulated by the end of November, 1993, to individuals who may
not be SPNHC members and other professional groups with interest in
the topic. A revision based on this last round of comments will be
made available for discussion at the joint 1994 meeting of the
Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections with the
Association of Systematics Collections in St. Louis. The goal is to
present to SPNHC Council in 1994 for endorsement a document that will
provide a useful basis for understanding collection care and
management for those institutions that are responsible for natural
--Committee: P.S. Cato (Co-chair), B. Webb (Co-chair), D. Duckworth,
J. Klein, B. Moore
WE NEED YOUR OPINIONS!
PLEASE ANSWER THE FOLLOWING and/or MAKE YOUR COMMENTS DIRECTLY ON THE
RETURN BY OCTOBER 31, 1993 TO:
Paisley S. Cato,
Virginia Museum of Natural History,
1001 Douglas Ave.,
Martinsville, VA 24112.
Thank you for your input.
1) Is the information relevant and applicable to the disciplines you
are familiar with (anthropology, biology, geology)?
2) Is the information relevant and applicable for your institution
relative to the functions of management, research, conservation, and
3) If you would improve a statement or section, how would you
4) Has anything been omitted?
Working Document - July 23, 1993
SESSIONAL COMMITTEE ON COMMON PHILOSOPHIES AND OBJECTIVES (SPNHC)
GUIDELINES FOR COLLECTION CARE IN NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUMS
A. Inherent value of specimens:
Specimens in natural history collections exist because of their
potential for use; the majority are to be used for scientific research.
Specimens are collected as a sample of a region's natural and cultural
environment (past and present), then often prepared in some fashion so
as to make them useful for research, exhibition, or educational
programming. Subsequent preparation, or sampling may be necessary to
fulfill the goals of research or legitimate educational uses. A single
specimen may be used for a variety of scientific methodologies.
B. Balance between use and preservation:
Associated with the responsibility of ongoing research is the
obligation of the institution to maximize the value of each specimen
for future use. This applies not only to the data associated with each
specimen, but also to the physical and chemical integrity of the
specimen. Thus, it is critical that the demands placed on natural
history specimens for current research and educational use are balanced
with issues of preservation of the specimens for future needs.
C. Caring for collections of specimens:
Most natural history collections contain thousands, if not hundreds of
thousands, of individual elements that require care. An individual
specimen may contain hundreds of related elements. Thus guidelines for
collection management and care must take into consideration the
prospect of large quantities of specimens and numerous elements per
A. Collection management and care of natural history materials is
governed by respect for the scientific, historic, physical, cultural,
and aesthetic integrity of the specimen or artifact and its
associated data. Concern for its future should include protection
against unnecessary damage, loss, or alteration that might affect its
future research, educational, or exhibition potential.
B. Collection management and care should meet the highest
professional standards; they must be compatible with and enhance
access to collections for the intended scientific and educational
uses of the specimens or artifacts.
C. All processes for collecting, preparing, and sampling, as well as
the maintenance and curation of specimens or artifacts should be
analyzed relative to the goals of use and preservation to insure that
techniques and materials are thoroughly documented, follow sound
preservation practices, and fulfill the desired objectives for the
specimen's intended use.
D. Every effort must be made to minimize the level of risk facing
specimens and artifacts as a result of storage and use (e.g., by
appropriate storage units, adequate security, careful screening of
on-site users and borrowers, standards for methods and materials used
in packing and shipping).
E. Conservation and preservation treatment should meet the highest
professional standards. Generally, the preferred approach for natural
science research specimens or artifacts will involve preventive
conservation. The least intrusive methods are preferred because it is
not possible to anticipate the future uses of specimens that may be
enabled by advances in technology. Physical or chemical modifications
to the specimen may adversely affect the analytical potential of
technological advances. In addition, many treatments must be tested
over time to understand more fully their effects.
F. Documentation should meet the highest professional standards and
follow recommendations established by disciplinary groups
(Fitzgerald, 1988; Garrett, 1989). Media used for documentation
should be preserved according to professional archival standards.
G. Techniques and materials as much as possible should not compromise
the physical or chemical integrity of the specimen or artifact, and
should not impede future treatment or retrieval of information
through scientific investigation. Techniques and materials selected
should be those that are the most stable and have the greatest
longevity, and added materials should be reversible whenever
possible. Any exceptions considered necessary must be fully justified
H. It is unethical to modify or conceal the true nature of a specimen
or artifact through restoration. The presence and extent of
restoration should be detectable, although it need not be
conspicuous. Methods and materials used must be fully documented.
I. Destructive sampling of specimens or artifacts must be justified
by the quality of the information gained, and procedures should be
established to prevent unnecessary sampling. Sampling must be fully
documented and approved in advance by individuals designated with
such authority (Cato, 1993).
III. Goals for the institution
A. A museum has the ethical and legal responsibility to ensure that
collections in its custody are "protected, secure, unencumbered,
cared for, and preserved" (American Association of Museums, 1992). To
fulfill this charge, it is essential that institutions take steps to
mitigate the use of scientifically unsound preparation and other
treatment techniques, poor environmental conditions, and negligent
handling to protect the physical and chemical integrity of specimens
for present and future needs. Guidelines for professional management
and care should be applied not only to research collections, but also
to education and exhibit collections. Institutions should implement
systems that ensure preservation of documentation as well as that of
B. Priorities must be established for the care of the institution's
collection as a whole as well as for individual specimens and
artifacts of particular research, historical, aesthetic, or
educational value. Values of individual specimens vary, resulting in
the need to prioritize management and care activities. As stated by
Michalski (1992), "practical conservation of collections is not the
cessation of deterioration, it is the minimization of total damage
rate, across the whole collection, across all agents [of
deterioration], and with finite resources." Priorities must be
developed in conjunction with findings from a conservation assessment
performed by a conservator.
C. Each institution should develop a set of collections policies and
procedures that provide a written framework for collection
management, care, and use. It is essential that each institution also
provide the resources (e.g., time, money, personnel, space,
facilities) needed for the long-term preservation and documentation
of the collections under their responsibility.
IV. Staff Responsibilities
A. Collection care is an institutional responsibility that is shared
by all staff in an institution having the responsibility for
specimens and artifacts. The governing body retains the ultimate
responsibility for collection care, but the director and staff must
have sufficient authority as well as the resources for implementing
adequate measures. The assignment of direct individual authority and
responsibility for various aspects of collection care is dependent on
an institution's infrastructure, but these assignments must be
clearly stated in the institution's collections policy and
appropriate job descriptions. Preventive conservation is the
responsibility of all staff including, for example, building and
grounds staff, security staff, and staff responsible for receptions
and development functions.
B. Collection care is primarily the responsibility of staff members
directly involved with specimens and artifacts: curators, collection
managers, curatorial assistants, conservators, registrars,
preparators, and technical assistants in these areas. Other
departments that use specimens and artifacts, such as education and
exhibition departments, are also directly responsible for the care of
specimens and artifacts that are used for education or exhibition
C. Collection care personnel should have appropriate training to
fully understand all aspects (legal, ethical, environmental
conditions, etc.) of situations presented to them, the limitations of
their own expertise and authority, and the consequences of any
decisions and/or actions they may take or recommend. Every effort
must be made to consult with appropriate specialists to ensure that
all aspects of management, preservation, and use are considered
before authorization for actions may be given.
D. There should be a cooperative dialogue among curators, collection
managers, registrars, conservators, and collection users concerning
all aspects of collection care. In the event that there is only one
individual responsible for all collection care activities, every
effort should be made to build a network of associates and
consultants to broaden the base of available expertise.
E. Treatments should reflect the most recent conservation
information, and new developments based on sound scientific
methodology should be encouraged. Treatments should be undertaken
only within the limits of staff competence and facilities.
Interventive treatments are performed only with the consent of an
informed individual or individuals so authorized by the institution,
and may require consultation with conservation experts outside the
F. It is the responsibility of knowledgeable staff to identify
clearly specimens and artifacts that are inherently hazardous or have
been made so through preparation or fumigation practices. Staff
should take corrective actions to implement appropriate safety
G. Documentation is the responsibility of all individuals who come in
contact with or use specimens or artifacts. All techniques and
materials used in collection management, care, and conservation must
be fully documented.
H. Curation is the responsibility of individuals with sufficient
disciplinary expertise and knowledge of the most recently available
scientific literature to provide reliable identifications and
I. Collection management is the responsibility of individuals trained
in museum philosophy, theory and practices, including those processes
defined within these guidelines: collection, preparation, sampling,
preventive conservation, maintenance, and documentation. Responsible
staff should have training in a relevant disciplinary specialty but
are not necessarily taxonomic specialists. Training in the management
of personnel, facilities, and information systems promotes better
J. Conservation is the responsibility of trained conservators.
Conservation and preservation personnel should have appropriate
training and experience to undertake appropriate conservation and
preservation techniques. Conservators should meet professional
training requirements and should adhere to professional ethics and
guidelines such as those defined by IIC-CG and CAPC (1989) and AIC
K. All collection staff should keep abreast of the most recent
literature and upgrade their skills in their areas of responsibility
according to the highest professional standards for collection
management and care. It is the institution's responsibility to
provide sufficient resources to pursue actively educational
opportunities for collection staff and adequate training for
V. Use of collections
A. Whenever possible, use of collections should be carried out in
ways that are compatible with preservation objectives. However,
research objectives may necessitate such intervention as destructive
sampling, but only when the potential for gaining knowledge by such
means justifies sacrifice of the specimen or artifact, and the
knowledge will be shared with the scientific community. These
procedures must be undertaken in a controlled manner with approval by
a qualified individual or individuals as authorized to do so.
B. Preservation of a specimen or artifact is paramount and must be
balanced carefully with use. Certain specimens or artifacts may be
considered too rare, delicate or significant for exhibition or loan
(e.g., type specimens, specimens of extinct species, historically
significant specimens, or specimens in poor condition). Preservation
should also include original data, documentation, and records of
specimens affected by destructive sampling.
C. Exhibit design and production must incorporate the long-term
preservation requirements of specimens and artifacts used in
exhibits. Appropriate collection care staff should be viable members
of exhibit planning and production teams.
D. Educational programming that uses specimens and artifacts should
convey to the general public the need for managing and caring for the
items according to professional standards.
E. Some specimens and artifacts in natural history collections are
inherently toxic or have been made hazardous through preparation or
fumigation techniques. Specimens and artifacts should be used in a
manner that protects the health and safety of staff, researchers,
volunteers, and visitors.
A. Accessioning - formal process used to accept legally and to record
a specimen as a collection item (Malaro, 1979); involves the creation
of an immediate, brief and permanent record utilizing a control
number for the specimen or group of specimens added to the collection
from the same source at the same time, and for which the institution
has custody, right, or title.
B. Artifact (human) - a human-made item, often manufactured or
created from naturally-occurring materials and made for use in a
C. Cataloging - creation of a full record in complete descriptive
detail of all information about a specimen or group of specimens,
cross-referenced to other records and files; includes the process of
classifying and documenting specimens in detail.
D. Collecting - the process of sampling the natural or cultural world
using a variety of techniques that are dependent 'on (1) the organism
or material being obtained and (2) the research methods that are
likely to be used on the collected sample.
E. Collection - (1) a group of specimens or artifacts with like
characteristics or a common base of association (e.g., geographic,
donor, cultural); (2) an organizational unit within a larger
institutional structure (e.g., a collection within a university
F. Collection Care - the responsibility and function of an
institution with collections that involves developing and
implementing policies and procedures to protect the long-term
integrity of specimens and artifacts, as well as their associated
data and documentation for use in research, education and exhibition.
G. Collection Management - the responsibility and function of an
institution that fosters the preservation, accessibility, and utility
of the collections and associated data. The management process
involves responsibilities for policy development and implementation
including: specimen acquisition and collection growth; planning and
establishing collection priorities; obtaining, allocating, and
managing resources; and coordinating collection processes with the
needs of curation, preservation, and specimen use. These
responsibilities may be shared by collection managers, subject
specialists, and other institutional administrators.
H. Conservation - the science of stabilizing a specimen, artifact, or
collection by retarding those factors that contribute to its
deterioration by physical and chemical means. This involves
activities such as preventive conservation, examination,
documentation, treatment, research, and education (AIC, draft, 1993).
I. Curation - the process whereby specimens or artifacts are
identified, classified, and organized according to discipline-
specific standards using the most recently available scientific
literature and expertise; a primary objective of this process is to
verify or add to the existing documentation for the specimens and add
J. Deaccession - the formal process used to remove permanently a
specimen from the collections (Malaro, 1979).
K. Deterioration - "in a museum object [deterioration] can be defined
as change in its material state from new. Damage, on the other hand,
is the consequent loss of attributes or value: aesthetic, scientific,
historic, symbolic, monetary, etc." (Michalski, 1992).
L. Documentation - supporting evidence, recorded in a permanent
manner using a variety of media (paper, photographic, electronic,
etc.), for the identification, condition, history, or scientific
value of a specimen, artifact, or collection. This encompasses
information that is inherent to the individual specimen and its
associations in its natural environment as well as that which
reflects processes and transactions affecting the specimen (e.g.,
accessioning, cataloging, loans, sampling, analysis, treatment,
etc.). Documentation is an integral aspect of the use, management,
and preservation of a specimen, artifact, or collection.
M. Maintenance - routine actions that support the goals of
preservation of and accessibility to the collection such as
monitoring, general housekeeping, providing appropriate storage and
exhibition, and organizing a collection.
N. Object - a material, tangible item of any kind.
O. Preparation - the procedures used in the field or in the
institution to enhance the utility of an organism, object, or
inorganic material for a specified use. The resulting specimen may
represent only a portion of the original organism or material or may
be otherwise altered from its original state. Procedures should be
compatible with intended uses and conservation objectives, should be
methods of preservation, and should be documented.
P. Preservation - often used synonymously with conservation; in most
conservation disciplines, preservation involves preventive measures,
such as correcting adverse environmental conditions, and maintenance
procedures; in natural science conservation, preservation also
includes treatments carried out initially to prepare specimens.
Q. Preventive conservation - a facet of conservation that involves
taking steps to prevent deterioration and damage to collections to
ensure their long-term preservation; includes such activities as risk
assessment, development and implementation of guidelines for
continuing use and care, appropriate environmental conditions for
storage and exhibition, and proper procedures for handling, packing,
transport and use.
R. Registration - (1) the process of assigning an immediate and
permanent means of identifying a specimen or artifact for which the
institution has permanently or temporarily assumed responsibility;
one facet of documentation; (2) as an institutional function,
includes the logical organization of documentation and maintaining
access to that information.
S. Repository - a collection administered by a non-profit public or
private institution, that adheres to professional standards for
collection management and care (e.g., Alberta Museums Association,
1990; Lee et al., 1982; American Society of Mammalogists, 1974) to
ensure that specimens acquired will be professionally maintained and
remain accessible for future use.
T. Sampling - process of taking a portion of a specimen or artifact
for analysis. The analysis maybe destructive or nondestructive to the
U. Specimen - an organism, part of an organism, or naturally-
occurring material that has been collected for a specific purpose,
that may or may not have undergone some preparation treatment. It may
exist in its original state, in an altered form, or some combination
of the two. A specimen may be comprised of one element or many
related pieces. It may be composed of one physical or chemical
component or represent a composite of materials.
V. Stabilization - treatment of an object or its environment in a
manner intended to reduce the probability or rate of deterioration or
W. Treatment - actions taken to stabilize, physically or chemically,
a specimen or artifact; includes stabilization techniques such as
preparation, cleaning, mending, and consolidation.
X. Voucher - a specimen and its associated data which physically
document the existence of that organism at a given place and time.
This definition is more broadly based than that put forth by Lee et
al. (1982) in recognition of the potential for specimens held in a
collection for use as substantiating evidence.
BIBLIOGRAPHY AND REFERENCES ClTED
AIC Committee on Ethics and Standards, 1979. Code of Ethics and
Standards of Practice. American Institute for Conservation of
Historic and Artistic Works, Washington, D.C.
____. 1993. Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice, DRAFT.
American Institute for Conservation and Historic and Artistic Works,
Washington, D.C., 4pp.
____. 1991, 1992. Ethics and Standards Committee Supplements, 1-5.
AIC Newsletter [supplements that provide background and discussion
relative to revision of AIC Code of Ethics; Sept., 1991; Nov., 1991;
Jan., 1992; March, 1992; May, 1992].
Alberta Museums Association. 1990. Standard Practices Handbook for
Museums. Alberta Museums Association, Edmonton, 333 pp.
American Association of Museums. 1992. Code of Ethics. AAM,
AAM Curators Committee. 1983. Code of ethics for curators. Museum
AAM Registrars Committee. 1984. Code of ethics for registrars. Museum
American Society of Mammalogists. 1974. Revised minimal standards for
systematic collections of mammals. J. Mammalogy, 59(4):911-914.
Brunton, C.H.C., T.P. Besterman and J. A. Cooper. 1985. Guidelines
for the Curation of Geological Materials. Misc. Paper No.17,
Geological Society, London.
Burcaw, G. E. 1983. Introduction to Museum Work. American Association
for State and Local History, Nashville, 202.
Case, M. (ed.). 1988. Registrars on Record. American Association of
Museums, Washington, D.C. 257 pp.
Cato, P.S. 1993. Institution-wide policies for sampling. Collection
Forum, 9(1): 27-39.
Dudley, D. H., I. B. Wilkinson and others. 1979. Museum Registration
Methods (third edition, revised). American Association of Museums,
Washington, D.C. 437pp.
Fitzgerald, G. R. 1988. Documentation guidelines for the preparation
and conservation of paleontological and geological specimens.
Collection Forum, 4:38-45.
Garrett, K. L. 1989. Documentation guidelines for the preparation and
conservation of biological specimens. Collection Forum, 4:38-45.
ICOM Code of Professional Ethics. 1990. International Council of
IIC-CG and CAPC. 1989. Code of Ethics and Guidance for Practice for
Those Involved in the Conservation of Cultural Property in Canada
(second edition). International Institute for Conservation - Canadian
Group and Canadian Association of Professional Conservators, Ottawa,
Lee, W.L., B.M. Bell and J. F. Sutton (eds.). 1982. Guidelines for
Acquisition and Management of Biological Specimens. Association of
Systematics Collections, Lawrence, 42pp.
Malaro, M. C. 1979. Collections management policies. Museum News,
Michalski, S. 1992. A Systematic Approach to the Conservation (Care)
of Museum Collections. Canadian Conservation Institute, Ottawa, 15
pp. + appendices.
Museums & Galleries Commission. 1992. Standards in the Museum Care of
Archeological Collections. Museums & Galleries Commission, London.
____. 1992. Standards in the Museum Care of Biological Collections.
Museums & Galleries Commission, London, 55pp.
____. 1992. Standards in the Museum Care of Geological Collections
(draft). Museums & Galleries Commission, London."
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