The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 21, Number 1
May 1997


Review

Paine, Crispin, ed. Standards in the Museum Care of Photographic Collections. Museums & Galleries Commission, 1996. 76pp. (Available from the Commission, 16 Queen Anne's Gate, London SW1H 9AA; £16 UK, £20 outside UK.)

Reviewed by Gary D. Saretzky
Archivist, Monmouth County, New Jersey

This well-designed booklet is the seventh in a series of standards published by the Commissions & Galleries Commission on various aspects of museum work; most of the standards for photographic collections are applicable to archives and libraries. The contents were compiled by a British "expert group" drawn primarily from museums in England, Scotland, and Wales, with consultation from a distinguished international array of conservators, curators, and administrators.

Forty-four standards for care of photographs are presented, divided into fourteen topical chapters. Six chapters concern managing collections: acquisitions; curatorial work and conservation; documentation; access in the museum; lending; and museum research. Eight deal with protecting collections: from theft, fire, and flood; disaster planning; storage and handling; protection from dust, dirt, pollutants and pests; buildings and environmental controls; and protecting people from photographic collections.

It would be hard to disagree with any of the forty-four standards. Most of them are rather obviously desirable. For example, two standards state that "storage areas must be kept clean and tidy" and that "harmful biologically active agents must be eliminated from collections." The main value of such standards is to those who are developing or evaluating in-house manuals.

After each of the fourteen sets of standards, the booklet provides guidelines and notes. These contain very specific suggestions with more practical application than the standards themselves. Under guidelines for loan, for example, it states that, "If a copy of a photograph is supplied for reproduction use, scholarly or otherwise, it should be lent rather than sold to the user. . . ." The more specific the suggestion, the greater likelihood that some readers may find them inapplicable to their own institution. For instance, the cleanliness guidelines recommend the use of "large loop-piled doormats (preferably 3m x 3m)" at the doors to the storeroom. This may be impractical where wheeled carts frequently pass in and out of the storage area. In general, however, the guidelines and notes contain many useful suggestions based on recent research, including Mark McCormick-Goodhart's recent work on temperature and relative humidity recommendations for storage.

At the end of each set of standards, sources of advice and help are listed, including publications, and organizations. As can be expected, these listings tend to make reference to British publications and organizations, but a number from the U.S. and other countries are cited as well. Telephone and fax numbers are provided, but it would have been helpful to list e-mail addresses as well.

Several useful appendices appear after the standards section. They include a sample loan form and conditions for borrowing, reproduced from the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television, and a summary of recommended storage conditions for different types of materials. Compilations of publications and organizations cited elsewhere in the publication are also provided in the appendices. Publications of this length are not intended to cover all aspects of its subject in depth. Nevertheless, this one succeeds in distilling most of the essential steps needed for the care of photographs and provides sources for those needing more details. It can be useful for both collection managers and consultants as a quick reference guide when planning programs, preparing manuals, and advising others.

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