The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 20, Number 3
Aug 1996


Smithsonian Conference on Collections Environment

Over the past years, a group of scientists at the Smithsonian Institution's Conservation Analytical Laboratory (CAL) has engaged in research on the effects of environmental conditions, especially temperature and relative humidity, on the stability of collection artefacts, with an emphasis on the mechanical properties of the constituent materials and the composite objects. There appears to be general agreement that the results of this research have enriched the understanding of the relationships between environmental conditions and object stability, and that they have significant implications for decisions on defining the appropriate environmental parameters for specific collections. Nevertheless, the extrapolation of these research data to actual recommendations for collections environment parameters has led to a great amount of confusion, misunderstanding and even controversy.

The research data generated at CAL do not stand alone, but must and can be evaluated only in the context of results obtained in research at other institutions worldwide, pertaining to a wide spectrum of effects and processes involved in the interaction of collection items with the environment. Such contextualization also must consider the technological means and the cost involved in controlling the environment within specified parameters. It would appear that the presently ongoing series of ad-hoc debates, often addressing only a small fraction of the complex issues at hand, offers little hope of reaching a consensus and common understanding of the state of the knowledge in this area and its implications in actual collections care and management.

The Smithsonian Institution feels that an urgent need exists for an open discussion of the extant issues, in a professional forum of those engaged in the conservation, preservation and care of collections. The Smithsonian therefore announces its intent to organize, in co-sponsorship with the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT), a 3-day international conference on the collections environment, to be held in the fall of 1997 at the Institution in Washington, DC. The internationally recognized conservation scientist Dr. Frank D. Preusser has accepted the program chairmanship of the conference. During the rest of this year, Dr. Preusser will undertake a thorough worldwide review and assessment of research and data pertaining to the subject. Based on the results of this assessment, he will identify the issues that specifically need to be addressed and discussed at the conference, and draft a preliminary program. At that time, a call for papers will also be issued. It is the intention to publish a volume with invited papers, edited by Dr. Preusser, subsequent to the conference.

The Smithsonian Institution hopes and expects that this conference will serve to clarify a large number of the issues that pertain to the subject of the collections environment and will result in a generally accepted understanding of the factors to be considered in the specification of environmental parameters for a specific collection.

For information, contact:

Office of the Director
Conservation Analytical Laboratory
Smithsonian Institution, MRC 534
Washington, DC 20560
301-238-3700; Fax: 301-238-3709

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