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Subject: Condition survey

Condition survey

From: Barry Knight <barry>
Date: Monday, March 15, 1999
In Conservation DistList Instance: 12:57, Tuesday, January 12, 1999,
Iona McCraith <iona.mccraith [at] archives__gov__on__ca> writes

>The Archives of Ontario is planning a collection condition survey
>for our holdings of government and private textual records, which
>consists of about 28,000 cubic feet of paper and bound volumes.

At English Heritage, we have carried out a number of different kinds
of surveys for different purposes, and I thought our approaches
might be useful to you.

To give you the background, English Heritage manages over 400
historic sites, of which 130 or so contain collections of one sort
or another, ranging from fine art to archaeology to WWII guns.  We
also have half a dozen large stores, mostly containing
archaeological material.

In 1993-96 we carried out a sampled audit of all our collections,
with the aim of obtaining a more accurate idea of the nature and
extent of the collections, and to give us a snapshot of their
condition.  We commissioned a team of generalist conservators to
visit every site across the country and survey the collections,
using the criteria originally established by the Museum of London.
We intend to repeat this after ten years to see how the general
condition has changed.

One of the outputs from this general audit was the realisation that
some collections in some parts of the country appeared to be in
worse condition than others.  We have therefore been undertaking
thematic audits of particular collections (for example, works of art
on paper) to see whether this impression is borne out in practice.
These have been 100% audits carried out by specialist paper
conservators, as opposed to the general audit, where at most 10% was
sampled by generalist conservators.  These audits have been very
useful to our curators since they have given a detailed picture of
the condition of one part of the collection, together with an
indication of the amount of conservation required.  This has enabled
much more accurate estimates of the costs of conservation to be
made, and has thus helped in prioritising work.

The other kind of audit we have undertaken is project-focused: where
a new exhibition is planned a quick survey is carried out of all the
objects in the collection with the potential for being displayed.
This enables curators to identify the most important items for
display, and the conservators to assess the amount of conservation
each item would require.  Informed selections can then be made, on
the basis of the comparative costs of treating each object, and,
often more crucially, the  estimated total time required for
conservation.  This has enabled conservation to be delivered on time
and within budget.

All of these audits have been designed in MS Access to a fairly
common format: the information required for each audit is very
similar.  We intend to make further details available on our own
web-site <URL:>, but I can supply the
information to anyone who is interested.

Barry Knight
Collections Conservation
English Heritage

                  Conservation DistList Instance 12:74
                 Distributed: Thursday, March 18, 1999
                       Message Id: cdl-12-74-009
Received on Monday, 15 March, 1999

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