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Friday, May 30 • 3:10pm - 3:30pm
(Exploring Sustainable Preservation Environments Session) Sustainable Collections Care - Integrated modelling to address the demography of library and archival collections

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The Collections Demography project (2010-2013)1 broke new ground by developing a collection model based on the impacts of material composition, environment and use, and by integrating aspects of how collections are valued by users, for improved decision-making. It is clear that this links closely to the need for institutions to assess the needs of their collections within the current setting of economic, local and global environments, and societal challenges, to proactively address issues of sustainability. International collaborative research involving 6 institutions brought together environmental and material research and integrated this with the societal concept of values we attach to heritage. While there is a substantial body of published research on collection materials and environments, there is a significant need to understand the dynamics of change on collections. In the Collections Demography project the research explored new methodologies of assessing the value of objects in the context of different uses of collections, both qualitatively and quantitatively, to better understand user expectations in relation to library and archival collection care.

A crucial component of the project was a comprehensive public engagement element: interviews with visitors and an attitude questionnaire2, distributed at The National Archives (UK), English Heritage, Library of Congress and the Congress Visitor Center. The analysis of 543 responses provides key data on the reflections of stakeholders on the significance of collections, future care and sustainable use of collections. The results indicated how stakeholders defined the lifetime of objects, and their views on the desired lifetime of collections. This provided important input into the Collections Demography model in view of damage thresholds, and helped to define a suitable planning horizon in collection management.

The collections modelling also built on the solid body of existing research on chemical degradation of historic paper and on the impact of the environment. Innovative research was performed to understand the interactions between the environment and paper-based collections, and new quantitative relationships ('isoperms') were developed linking permanence with environmental data and inherent material properties. New research was undertaken to explore the build-up of wear and tear, enabling collection managers to assess the effect of physical use of collections on the accumulation of damage. The dynamics of these processes was captured quantitatively in ‘isochrones’ that describe the expected collection lifetimes. Additional new research was undertaken to understand the effect of climate change on collections, and demonstrated with two case studies: Brodsworth Hall (English Heritage) and The National Archives, Kew.

The environmental, materials and value research provided evidence to inform the development of a comprehensive collection demographic model, using concepts from economic modelling. As a key deliverable of the Collections Demography, the tool informed the development of holistic collection management guidelines. The collected data informed the collection model of library and archival collections, which are seen as dynamically changing entities. The stock (population) model enables examination and optimisation of different collections management scenarios (with respect to the environment, use or intervention), as suggested in recent environmental management guidance.

Session Moderator(s)
avatar for Michael C. Henry

Michael C. Henry

Architect/Engineer, Watson & Henry Associates
Michael C. Henry, PE, AIA, is Principal Engineer/Architect with Watson & Henry Associates. He consults on sustainable environmental management and building envelope performance for preventive conservation of museum collections. He consults throughout the United States and in Cuba... Read More →

avatar for Fenella France

Fenella France

Library of Congress


Carlota Grossi

Senior Research Associate, University of East Anglia

Catherine Dillon

Research Associate, Centre for Sustainable Heritage, The Bartlett School of Graduate Studies, University College London, UK

David Thickett

Senior Conservation Scientist, English Heritage

Eva Menart

PhD Student, Centre for Sustainable Heritage, The Bartlett School of Graduate Studies, University College London

Gerrit De Bruin

Head of Conservation, Nationaal Archief,The Netherlands

Jinghao Xue

Lecturer, University College London, Department of Statistical Science

Kalliopi Fouseki

Lecturer, Centre for Sustainable Heritage, The Bartlett School of Graduate Studies, University College London, UK
avatar for Kostas Ntanos

Kostas Ntanos

Head of Conservation Research and Development, National Archives, UK
Kostas Ntanos studied Conservation of antiquities and works of art in Athens, Greece, before he completed a 3-year MA at the Royal College of Art in London in Conservation Science. He joined The National Archives in 2005 and has been Head of Conservation Research and Development since... Read More →

Matija Strlic

Senior Lecturer, Centre for Sustainable Heritage, The Bartlett School of Graduate Studies, University College London, UK
Matija Strlic is Senior Lecturer in Sustainable Heritage at the UCL Centre for Sustainable Heritage. He is also Course Director of the new MRes Heritage Science at the Centre. In the last 15 years, he has been involved in more than 30 research projects, focussing on the development... Read More →

Nancy Bell

Head of Collection Care, The National Archives
Nancy Bell is Head of Collection Care for The National Archives, and has led the development of a new environmental standard for cultural heritage collections. She believes in the potential of science research evidence to shape policies and practices affecting cultural heritage... Read More →

Peter Brimblecombe

Professorial Fellow, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK

William Lindsay

The National Archives

Friday May 30, 2014 3:10pm - 3:30pm PDT