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Subject: Heritage Health Index

Heritage Health Index

From: Mary Rogers <mrogers<-a>
Date: Tuesday, December 6, 2005
Report identifies urgent need for environmental controls

    The first comprehensive survey ever to assess the condition of
    U.S. collections concludes that immediate action is needed to
    prevent the loss of millions of irreplaceable artifacts held in
    public trust. Improper storage conditions and the lack of
    realistic disaster planning top the list of chronic problems.

    Heritage Preservation, the country's leading conservation
    advocate, in partnership with  the Institute of Museum and
    Library Services (IMLS), a federal agency, details these and
    other findings in A Public Trust at Risk: The Heritage Health
    Index Report on the State of America's Collections.

    Key findings of the report include:

        *   80% of U.S. collecting institutions do not have an
            emergency plan to protect collections with staff trained
            to carry it out

        *   65% of collecting institutions have experienced damage
            to collections due to improper storage

        *   190 million objects are in urgent need of conservation

        *   The most urgent need at U.S. collecting institutions is
            environmental control.

    "A Public Trust at Risk concludes that only very few collecting
    institutions in the U.S. have enough funding to ensure the
    safety of their collections. Heritage Preservation urges private
    donors and public officials nationwide to lead new efforts to
    preserve the nation's collected heritage, in light of this and
    other of the report's findings,"

    says Debra Hess Norris, Chairperson of Heritage Preservation and
    Chair and Professor, Art Conservation Program, University of

    The Heritage Health Index survey is unique in examining the
    state of preservation across the entire spectrum of collecting
    institutions, large and small, from internationally renowned art
    museums and research libraries to local historical societies and
    specialized archives.

    The report chronicles the preservation needs of 4.8  billion
    artifacts held in U.S. collections, among them rare books,
    manuscripts, photographs, prints, maps, films, videos, sound
    recordings, digital materials, sculptures, paintings, drawings,
    textiles, flags, airplanes, furniture, toys, shells, animal and
    plant specimens, fossils, and prehistoric pottery shards.

    "I cannot think of an area of public life supported by as little
    reliable data as that of our nation's collections-up until
    today," says Lawrence L. Reger, President of Heritage
    Preservation.  "Now, with an accurate picture resulting from the
    Heritage Health Index, leaders in the private and public sectors
    can make better informed decisions about issues of stewardship."

    The product of extensive planning and a year-long implementation
    process, A Public Trust at Risk: The Heritage Health Index
    Report on the State of America's Collections was made possible
    by major support from the IMLS and the Getty Foundation, with
    additional generous grants from The Henry Luce Foundation, The
    Samuel H. Kress Foundation, The Bay and Paul Foundations, The
    Peck Stacpoole Foundation, and The Gladys Krieble Delmas

    "Collections are the foundation of everything that takes place
    in museums, libraries and archives," says Mary Chute, acting
    director of the IMLS.  "They are vitally important, in part
    because objects take on unanticipated and surprising meanings
    over time. For instance, a botanical specimen we know little
    about today may yield clues to the cure of a disease tomorrow."

Environment is the Worst Enemy

    The Heritage Health Index finds that the conditions in which
    objects are stored often pose the chief threat to collections.
    Data shows that collections in a quarter of American collecting
    institutions are vulnerable to all three of the greatest threats
    to delicate objects-fluctuations in temperature, light, and
    humidity-because these institutions report having no
    environmental controls to protect collections.

    Sixty-five percent of the collecting institutions in the country
    reported that parts of their collections have been damaged in
    the past due to improper storage.  Nearly as many reported that
    they store a large part of their collections in areas that are
    overcrowded and therefore susceptible to damage.

    In A Public Trust at Risk, Heritage Preservation shows that
    millions of historic documents, photographs, and other objects
    are kept in areas where they are vulnerable to flooding,
    over-heating, light, and infestation by insects. Many are
    crowded onto shelves, where condition problems go undetected.
    Others are stored in acidic containers and, thus, vulnerable to
    a slow decay brought about by leaching acids and other

    Says Reger: "The Heritage Health Index was conducted during one
    of the great waves of museum building and expansion in U.S.
    history. Yet the data shows that we still have a long way to go
    to provide safe facilities for collections, not just in museums,
    but in libraries, historical societies, and other collecting
    institutions. As trustees, government officials, and
    institutional leaders plan capital projects, we urge them to
    ensure that the basic needs of collections are addressed."

Collections Vulnerable to Swift and Catastrophic Loss

    Emergencies are inevitable facts of life, from major disasters
    like Hurricane Katrina to more quotidian occurrences like
    leaking water pipes. Yet A Public Trust at Risk found that fully
    80% of American collecting institutions do not have an emergency
    plan with staff members trained to carry it out. Extrapolating
    from that statistic, Heritage Preservation estimates that more
    than 2.6 billion objects are at risk from disaster striking
    their home institutions.

    "The high percentage of museums, libraries, and other
    collections without an emergency preparedness plan is one of the
    surprises of this report, and a cause for alarm," says Reger.
    "Every collecting institution should have an emergency
    preparedness plan that includes its collections, and staff
    should be trained to implement the plan.

    "We know that in a disaster, after seeing to personal safety,
    shelter, and food, people turn to the things in life that they
    care about most-their family pictures, mementos, and prized
    possessions. In a similar way, public collections reflect the
    shared memories and aspirations of the nation, and must be
    guarded," he concludes.

Staffing and Funding

    The survey found that 80% of institutions nationwide have no
    paid staff dedicated to collections care. Without trained
    personnel, it is difficult to address many of problems
    identified by the survey.

    Many collecting institutions are not sure what is in their
    collections or what condition they are in. 70% of organizations
    nationwide do not have an up-to-date assessment of the condition
    of their collections.

    "Staffing need not remain the problem it is today. Not every
    collection requires a full-time professional conservator, but
    staff can be assigned and trained to oversee the basics of
    caring for holdings," concludes Chute.

    Underlying the pervasive problem of staffing--and, indeed, all
    the problems cited in the Heritage Health Index--is the report's
    finding that only 40% of organizations in the U.S. regularly
    allocate funds for care of their collections. This being the
    case, small problems can become expensive ones, for a dollar
    spent on a safe environment is repaid several times over by the
    money saved on conservation treatments.

    "Care of collections need not be a drain on resources.
    Conservation is a subject that can engage the public, encourage
    participation in an institution, and attract financial support,"
    says Chute of the IMLS. The Smithsonian American Art Museum
    discovered that its audience was curious about conservation
    through a series of surveys and focus groups. Now, when the
    museum reopens in Summer 2006, its Lunder Conservation Center
    will offer visitors a behind-the-scenes look at how art is

    Norris pointed out that while the survey's findings are
    alarming, significant progress has been made in the past twenty
    years, due in part to attention at the federal level and from
    several national foundations. "Had this survey been conducted in
    1984, the results would have shown an even worse situation."


    More than a hundred collections professionals helped to develop
    the Heritage Health Index, which was completed by the staff
    members of 3,370 museums, archives, historical societies,
    libraries, and scientific research organizations throughout the
    country. Responders ranged from small, regional collections,
    like the Hooker County Library in Nebraska, to the largest and
    most prestigious in the nation. These include the Smithsonian
    Institution's museums and centers, all the units of the National
    Archives and Records Administration (including presidential
    libraries), the Library of Congress, The New York Public
    Library, the American Museum of Natural History, the Harvard
    University Libraries and Art Museums, the Metropolitan Museum of
    Art, The J. Paul Getty Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Art
    Institute of Chicago, the University of California, Berkeley
    Libraries, and major National Park Service sites. The RMC
    Research Corporation of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, collected and
    tabulated data and consulted with Heritage Preservation on data

    A Public at Risk: The Heritage Health Index Report on the State
    of America's Collections has been placed online in its entirety
    at <URL:>.

                  Conservation DistList Instance 19:29
                 Distributed: Tuesday, December 6, 2005
                       Message Id: cdl-19-29-003
Received on Tuesday, 6 December, 2005

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