By Patience Izirein Ozien
The existence of museum depends greatly on its collections which are of inestimable value. A museum is a non profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public which acquires, researches, conserves, communicates and exhibits materials evidence of man and its environment for the purpose of research, education, recreation and entertainment. The museum serves many purposes and functions, the crucial one is conservation.
Conservation is the care given to the collections or objects as a whole to protect them against three major causes of alteration which are environmental, internal and human factors and human factors.
Conservation is the process that seeks to mitigate the effects of all the factors that everyday threaten an objects continual survival. This practice of maintaining objects require the provision of stable storage and display environment in order to minimize further damage or deterioration. Deterioration may be caused by environmental factors.
Museum can really only slow down the process of deterioration. Preventive conservation is typically accomplished by controlling temperature, humidity, light, security, mishandling and other potentially damaging agents.
It’s essential that temperature and Relative Humidity in storage and display areas are to be at a constant level. Temperature, Relative Humidity, Cleanliness and Light levels all affect the environmental conditions in the storage/display areas, but can all be controlled fairly. As objects are often delicate, it is important that handling procedures for moving objects are in place. The same care should be taken with collection documentation both electronic and manual.
The chemical makeup of most materials is such that they are unstable and change with time. Most museum objects begin to deteriorate from the moment they are made that is why preventive conservation comes handy to slow down this process. It’s is advisable to conduct an environmental survey to build a profile of the current environment around the museum building. This survey would entail monitoring the environmental factors through a one-year seasonal cycle and assessing the data to determine factors that requires attention.
Reading of outside weather conditions (temperature and relative humidity) should be done at the same time, monitoring the museum environment against pest infestation and air pollutants should be an ongoing program. Eliminating direct sunlight by installing blinds and curtains on all windows will help to reduce daily temperature fluctuations that affects relative humidity stability. Ventilation using windows, fans and air conditioners is also needed to reduce temperature and relative humidity levels.
As part of the planning process, a disaster preparedness plan should be developed and implemented to eliminate or reduce potential risks to the collection including fire and flood, theft, vandalism and accidental damage.
Curative conservation is used only when the existence of the collection or object is threatened by damaged or total loss.
As for preventive conservation, it is widely acknowledged that it is culturally preferable, as well as, financially advantageous to minimize or prevent deterioration of cultural materials (objects) than to apply remedial conservation after avoidable damage has been sustained.
Curative conservation also transcends to restoration. Restoration is the continuation of curative conservation when it is insufficient to rediscover the original surface of the objects ( without falsification), aiming at returning it to the original appearance of an archeological items as closely as possible and thereby providing a condition in which the artifact or object can be exhibited.
In practical terms handling, storage and management of museum collections (including emergency planning) are critical elements in preventive conservation methodology. Unnecessary and inappropriate handling leads to breakage abrasion and damages therefore it should be avoided. Staff must wear gloves whenever handling objects to avoid contact with oils in their hands.
Planning strategist on conservation practices will enhance and promote its efficiency.
When preventive conservation fails, curative conservation is the best strategy but requires the use of recommended chemicals on recommended objects in order to retain the original cultural value of the objects. But curative conservation requires a museum conservator to minimize the effect of chemical residue on the objects and environment.
Let’s face it, no object is truly “built to last forever,” but when well conserved they can survive for a long time. Developing conservation capabilities and efficiency requires improved skills in conservation practices. Preventive conservation policy plan which provides guidelines for conservation practice and techniques should be created. Proper training of staff for good conservation practice will reduce damage of objects. Using of padded trays for carrying objects separating over crowded objects in storage, isolating infested objects, good management and control of pest infestation and proper monitoring of environmental factors are easily implemented short term measures for conservation in the museum.
Ozien writes from National Museum, Owo