The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 16, Number 7-8
Dec 1992

The Challenge of Keeping Artifacts in Historic Structures

Important collections of books and records are often stored in important old buildings, especially in Europe. Even some buildings constructed originally to house collections are subsequently designated historic structures. In either case, laws, donors' stipulations and social priorities often limit the structural changes that can be made to provide an adequate environment for the books and records within (although other structural changes may be made for the purpose of restoring the building), while a strong historical connection between the building and the artifacts or a lack of alternative housing may rule out a move to a better location. As a result, collections may be threatened by leaky roofs, high and variable temperature, mold, insects, poor handling and inadequate security.

This dilemma is faced not only by archives and libraries, but by museums, historical societies, and historic preservation organizations. One of the few available guides for people who have to face the dilemma in their work is the National Trust Manual of Housekeeping (Allen Lane, London, 1984), which contains a chapter on books and documents by Nicholas Pickwoad.

A more general guide, the "New Orleans Charter for the Joint Preservation of Historic Structures and Artifacts," was published in the AIC News for November. It is in the form of a resolution, produced by the Association for Preservation Technology (APT) as a result of symposia at its 1990 and 1991 meetings, and endorsed by the boards of APT and the American Institute for Conservation (AIC), as well as by the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers. It is reproduced below in full.

New Orleans Charter for the Joint Preservation of Historic Structures and Artifacts

Arising from a concern for the coexistence of historic structures and the artifacts housed within them;

Recognizing our responsibility as stewards to provide the highest levels of care for the structures and other artifacts placed in our care;

Recognizing that many significant structures are used to house, display and interpret artifacts;

Recognizing that historic structures and the contents placed within them deserve equal consideration in planning for their care;

Recognizing that technologies and approaches will contin-ue to change; and

Recognizing that those involved in preservation are part of a continuum, and are neither the first nor the last to affect the preservation of historic structures and artifacts;

We, therefore, adopt these principles as governing the preservation of historic structures and the artifacts housed in them:

  1. Institutions' statements of mission should recognize the need to preserve the unique character of both the histor-ic structure and artifacts.
  2. The preservation needs of the historic structure and of the artifacts should be defined only after study adequate to serve as the foundation for the preservation of both.
  3. Requisite levels of care should be established through the interdisciplinary collaboration of all qualified professionals with potential to contribute.
  4. Appropriate preservation must reflect application of recognized preservation practices, including assessment of risk before and after intervention, and the expectation of future intervention.
  5. Measures which promote the preservation of either the historic structure or the artifacts, at the expense of the other, should not be considered.
  6. Regarding public use, the right of future generations to access and enjoyment must outweigh immediate needs.
  7. Appropriate preservation strategies should be guided by the specific needs and characteristics of the historic structure and artifacts.
  8. Appropriate documentation of all stages of a project is essential, and should be readily accessible and preserved for the future.
  9. The most appropriate action in a particular case is one which attains the desired goal with the least interven-tion to the historic structure and the artifacts.
  10. Proposed preservation strategies should be appropriate to the ability of the institution to implement and maintain them.

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