Ethical issues in conservation

This page provides information pertaining to professional ethics, with a focus on ethical issues relevant to the conservation/preservation of museum, archive, and library materials.

Codes of Ethics
Articles, talks, etc.
Related material

Codes of Ethics

American Alliance of Museums (formerly American Association of Museums)
Code of Ethics for Museums 1991, amended 2000
Characteristics of Excellence for U.S. Museums
What are Ethics?
A Code of Ethics for Curators, American Association of Museums Curators Committee, 2009
Standards and Best Practices Guidelines, Committee On Museum Professional Training

Code of Ethics for AAM
Guidelines on Exhibiting Borrowed Objects
Guidelines Concerning the Unlawful Appropriation of Objects During the Nazi Era<
Guidelines for Museums on Developing and Managing Business Support
American Institute for Conservation
Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice
Commentaries to the Guidelines for Practice
1968 Murray Pease Report: Code of Ethics for Art Conservators

American Cultural Resources Association (ACRA)
ACRA Code of Ethics Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct

American Institute of Chemical Engineersi IAChE
Code of Ethics

American Library Association (ALA)
ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom
Code of Ethics of the American Library Association
Committee on Professional Ethics

Responsible for "[augmenting] the Code of Ethics by explanatory interpretations and additional statements, prepared by this committee or elicited from other units of ALA. When units of the association develop statements dealing with ethical issues, a copy will be sent to the Committee on Professional Ethics for review so that it may be compared to the existing ALA Code of Ethics in order to determine whether or not conflicts occur.")

ALCTS Statement on Principles and Standards of Acquisitions Practice
ACRL Code of Ethics for Special Collections Librarians

"'Standards for Ethical Conduct for Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Librarians' first appeared in 1987 and was designed to amplify and supplement the ALA Code of Ethics. A second edition of the Standards was approved by ACRL in 1993. This version, recast as a simplified 'Code of Ethics for Special Collections Librarians' with commentary, was approved by ACRL in October 2003."

The earlier version included the following note:

"These standards were published in College and Research Library News (C&RL News) 54:4, April 1993; also issued in a separate printing, June 1994)"

Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA)
Code of Ethics

Archaeological Institute of America
AIA Code Of Ethics, 1990

British Columbia Association of Professional Archaeologists (BCAPA)
Standards of Practice
Code of Ethics
Code of Conduct

Canadian Archaeological Association
Statement of Principles for Ethical Conduct Pertaining to Aboriginal Peoples

Canadian Association for Conservation of Cultural Property and Canadian Association of Professional Conservators
Code of Ethics and Guidance for Practice

Council of Virginia Archaeologists
Statement of Ethics

European Confederation of Conservator-restorers' Organisations (ECCO) European Confederation of Conservator-restorers' Organisations)
E.C.C.O. Professional Guidelines

Dutch association of professional restorers (VeRes)
VeRes Code of Ethics

International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS)
Ethical Commitment Statement for ICOMOS Members. Revised Nov. 2002
Australia ICOMOS Statement on Indigenous Cultural Heritage
See also Charters and other documents with ethical ramifications
International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF)
Code of Ethics

Institute for Archaeologists
IfA Codes, Standards and Guidelines

Institute of Conservation (Icon)
Professional Guidelines

"Promoted by the European Confederation of Conservator-Restorers' Organisations and adopted by its General Assembly , Brussels 1 March 2002

"Please note that since Icon ceased to be a member of ECCO in September 2007, Icon and its members no longer conform to the part of Section III(ii) indicated by asterisks."

International Council of Museums (ICOM}
ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums
Text available in English, French, and Spanish

"ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums was adopted in 1986 and revised in 2004. It establishes the values and principles shared by ICOM and the international museum community. It is a reference tool translated into 36 languages and it sets minimum standards of professional practice and performance for museums and their staff."

The Conservator-Restorer: a Definition of the Profession

Register of Professional Archaeologists (ROPA)
Code of Conduct
Register of Professional Archaeologists

Society for American Archaeology (SAA)
Principles of Archaeological Ethics

Society for Historical Archaeology
Ethics Statement, Adopted 21 June 2003

Society of American Archivists
SAA Core Values Statement and Code of Ethics
Tate Ethics Policy

World Archaeological Congress
Code of Ethics

Articles, talks, etc.

American Chemical Society
Lu Allington-Jones
The Phoenix: The Role of Conservation Ethics in the Development of St Pancras Railway Station (London, UK). JCMS Vol 11, No 1, 2013

Ethical Guidelines to Publication of Chemical Research (PDF)

"The guidelines embodied in this document were revised by the Editors of the Publications Division of the American Chemical Society in January 2000."

Jonathan Ashley-Smith
Jonathan Ashley-Smith has provided the text of four talks, dealing with ethical issues and related matters concerning the restoration, exhibition, loan, transport of works of art.

Let's Be Honest

Talk presented at the IIC conference, Preventive Conservation: Practice, Theory and Research. Ottawa, Canada September 15th 1994. This talk is considerably different to that published in the preprints of the Conference, available from IIC, 6 Buckingham street, London,WC2N.

Definitions of Damage

Text of a talk given in the session When conservator and collections meet at the Annual Meeting of the Associaton of Art Historians, London, April 7-8, 1995. Not published.

Consider the Benefits, Calculate the Risks

Talk given at a joint meeting of ICOM-CC, the conservation committee of the International Council of Museums and ICEE, the International Committee for Exhibition Exchange, in a session called Exhibition or Destruction, ICOM general meeting. Stavanger, Norway, July 5 1995. Unpublished.

A Consistent Approach to a Mixed Collection

Text of a talk given at the British Museum during the Conference Restoration: Is It Acceptable? 24-25 November 1994. This text is substantially different to that published in the preprints, BM Occasional Paper 99, The British Museum, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG. ISBN 0 86159 099 6. Offprints of the writtten text are available from the author on request.

Slides from some talks given at playback 1996

Kory Berrett
Conservation Surveys: Ethical Issues and Standards JAIC Volume 33, Number 2, 1994

George Brock-Nannestad
The Rationale Behind Operational Conservation Theory, 2000 (PDF)

Presented at Conservation Without Limits, IIC Nordic Group XV Congress 23-26 August 2000, Helsinki, Finland and printed in the PREPRINTS (Editor Riitta Koskivirta) pp 21-33

Abstract: The recent field of audiovisual restoration and preservation had no expressed ethics of preservation. A search for existing approaches in conservation of art, paper, monuments, and in the Memory of the World programme showed very little useful consistency in relation to conservation theory. Instead of trying to make a separate new ethic, it was more useful to consider a framework which would function in any preservation environment. In order for such a framework to be useful, rather than merely philosophical, it must be able to assist decision makers in prescribing coherent actions.

Operational Conservation Theory does precisely this: it is based very firmly on the structure of information present in any object (even a landscape!), in the form of visible and latent information. The information is both of a scientific (technical) nature and of a perception nature. Another constituent of Operational Conservation Theory is the life-cycle of an object in which there is a gradual transfor-mation from utility into "mere" information value.

Connie Brooks
Ethical Considerations in Videotape Preservation

Getty Conservation Institute
Ethical Dilemmas in the Conservation of Modern and Contemporary Art. Lecture (video)

The Legal and Ethical Consideration of Mural Conservation: Issues and Debates

Blaubeurener Empfehlungen: Empfehlungen fär die Restaurierung und Konservierung von Archiv- und Bibliotheksgut
(Blaubeurener recommendations: Recommendations for the restoration and preservation of archives and library)

Hans-Christoff von Imhoff
Aspects and Development of Conservator-Restorer's Profession since WWII -conservation, issue 8, February 2009

Institute of Museum Ethics
Institute of Museum Ethics

">The Institute of Museum Ethics maintains that ethical issues underpin all aspects of work in museums—from governance to education, registration to exhibitions, finances to operations and visitor services."

"Whether in day-to-day decision-making or forging an overarching mission, museum ethics are about an institution's relationship with peoples—individuals and groups in the communities a museum serves as well as its staff and board members."

"We define museum ethics through principles related to individual and institutional behavior, such as integrity, accountability, loyalty, honesty, and responsibility. We provide the tools to identify operative ethical principles, and we keep abreast of issues in the field as well as larger societal changes in order to anticipate the emergence of circumstances that might have an impact upon ethical practice in museums."

"The Institute also holds that museums should encourage understanding and promote social justice. As a result, we support the exploration of how institutions can use the past to address present concerns, facilitate dialogue among diverse groups, and empower marginalized communities, locally and globally."

International Network for the Conservation of Contemporary Art (INCCA)
Theory & ethics

"... includes guidelines, models and articles discussing ethical considerations (decision-making processes) as well as theoretical issues in the conservation of modern and contemporary art"

Frank Matero
Ethics and Policy in Conservation. Conservation Perspectives: GCI Newsletter. Spring 2000

Richard McCoy
No Preservatives:The Science and Ethics of Contemporary Art Conservation: A Discussion with Tom Learner

Gays S. Mcgowan and Cheryl J. Laroche
The Ethical Dilemma Facing Conservation: Care and Treatment of Human Skeletal Remains and Mortuary Objects JAIC 1996, Volume 35, Number 2, 1996

Abstract: The ethical treatment of corporeal materials is confounded by the dual cultural and scientific values ascribed to human bone. The cultural concerns for the sacred significance of human remains often come into direct conflict with scientific investigation. The authors have been involved in a number of difficult situations between the professional communities who have responsibility for the scientific investigation of human remains and the lay communities who have been concerned for the sacred and spiritual aspects of these materials. This paper addresses a variety of professional approaches to the treatment of human skeletal materials and the need for interdisciplinary cooperation among the professions that study and care for these materials. It also addresses the need for AIC to recognize human remains as a discrete material deserving of considerations that are distinct from any other materials we treat as conservators.

National Academy of Sciences
On Being a Scientist: Responsible Conduct in Research, Second Edition (1995) Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy

Ann Shaftel
Intent, In Tents and Intense

deals with issues of artists' intent with regard to thangkas:

Abstract: The concept of Original Artistic Intent is difficult to apply to Tibetan thangkas. Thangkas are composite objects produced by painters and tailors with differing intents, skills and training. Iconographic specifications, regional and doctrinal differences in style, changes in form from harsh treatment and altered mountings all complicate the issue.

Jack C. Thompson
On Restoring Sacred Objects,

Discussion of the ethical issues involved in restoration of Jewish sacred scrolls, performed by a non-Jew, examining the issues from the standpoint both of Jewish law and professional practice Specific cases of a Sefer Torah and a Megillat Esther are discussed.

Society of American Archivists
Case Studies for Ethics 408 Session: Case Studies in Privacy and Confidentiality

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Protocols for Libraries, Archives and Information Services

Denise Thomas
The Code of Ethics and the Conservation of Art on Paper>

Cornelis L. Van Horne
Ethical Considerations of the Conservator in Private Practice

The Western Association for Art Conservation frequently publishes articles about the ethical implications of conservation practice. The following is just a selection
Dear Xylene
Sept 1989
January 1990

Caroline Black
Conservation Ethics: An Informal Interview
Caroline Black, interviewer; Bill Leisher, Tatyana Thompson, Scott Schaefer, interviewees.

An informal interview with Bill Leisher, Head of Conservation, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Tatyana Thompson, Painting Conservation; and Scott Schaefer, Curator of European Paintings and Sculpture, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Interview conducted by Caroline Black, Newsletter Editor.

Leslie Kruth and Hal Kruth
The Question of Copyrighting Art Restorations

One of the more unusual presentations at the AIC meeting in Philadelphia this year was given by Reid Mandel, currently a law clerk to a Justice of the Supreme Court of Minnesota. He explored the use of copyright laws to address one of conservation's more troubling problems--the protection of a work of art after it leaves the conservator's hands.

Chris Stavroudis, Wendy Brandow, and Leslie Kruth
Confidentiality of Records: Perceptions and Reality

The notion of confidential conservation records is familiar to everyone. Some conservators feel that condition and treatment reports, like doctors' records, are confidential. Others feel that to maintain the professional nature of conservation, and to best protect the artwork, the free exchange of information, access to such records should never be denied. The legal realities are surprisingly straightforward. The perceptions of the issue within the profession, however, are not.

Elizabeth C. Welsh
A New Era in Museum - Native American Relations

Following years of hot debate and efforts to recognize a wide spectrum of viewpoints, the federal government passed legislation in November 1990 that will change practices in most U.S. museums and other institutions that have collections of Native American, Native Alaskan or Native Hawaiian cultural materials and human remains.

Discussion of concerns and of experiences pertaining to this new legislation--H.R. 5237, The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act--will help conservators approach this new era intelligently.

Elizabeth C. Welsh, Catherine Sease, Basil Rhodes, Steven C. Brown, and Miriam Clavir
Multicultural Participation in Conservation Decision-Making

On September 30, 1991, at the WAAC Annual Meeting in Seattle, a panel addressed the topic of multicultural participation in museum collection care. The presentations that were made, along with a selection from the questions and answers that followed, are published here in edited form. Panelists' addresses are on the last page of the article.

Charters and other documents with ethical ramifications

Related material

The following items may not focus entirely on ethical issues, but contain at least significant component of relevance

Simon Pockley
Blinding the Duck (Aboriginal Representation, Censorship and Restriction On-line)

`Blinding the Duck' explores some of the complex issues arising from the use of images of Aboriginal people and material in `The Flight of Ducks' (a participatory new media documentary built around a collection of objects from a camel expedition into Central Australia in 1933).

This work was one of the first on-line works to be formally ( archived by the National Library of Australia. There have now been calls to dismantle the work.

G. Thomas Tanselle
Texts and artifacts in the electronic era

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