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Thursday, May 29 • 4:30pm - 5:00pm
(Collection Care Session) The Future of Risk Assessment) Developing Tools for Collections Care Professionals

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Over recent decades, risk assessment programs have played a role of increasing importance in the preventive conservation of cultural property allowing institutions to evaluate risks of all types in a quantitative fashion and then address them through a comprehensive, rational preservation plan. The risk approach is particularly valuable as cost-effective, sustainable choices concerning collections preservation are increasingly required that are based on well-documented, quantifiable needs. Frameworks such as Waller’s Cultural Property Risk Analysis Model (CPRAM) provide museum professionals with guiding principles that can be used to develop a program customized to meet specific institutional mandates or goals. However the process of creating and implementing a program based on a generalized model remains a challenging endeavor and can often inhibit collection care professionals from adopting and applying the approach in their institutions.

Since 2005, staff at the American Museum of Natural History have pursued the ambitious goal of evaluating the entirety of the museum’s collections ¬— over 30 million specimens and artifacts in storage and on display, as well as library and archival material supporting the collection. The AMNH risk assessment program is derived from the CPRAM model, modified to address the unique needs of its diverse collections. The AMNH methodology draws heavily on extensive background information acquired through inventory and interview. This information is used to thoroughly characterize the nature of materials under assessment, and to establish statistics describing details concerning collection storage, use and documentation. These details then act as fundamental criteria used in risk estimation.

Both the strength and the challenge in this approach is the enormous amount of data that must be collected and managed. Use of templates, questionnaires, and database systems facilitates this process. A statement of significance is developed for each collection, recording a concise summary of its key values and importance to the institution and acting as a reference point in risk evaluation. Other tools, such as illustrated rubrics, can be used to establish consistent rationale and limit bias in the determination of potential loss in value imposed by each risk assessed.

The methodology in use at the AMNH has bolstered strong results that can be compared through time and across collections, and as such it has helped to ensure that all vested parties feel ownership of those findings. Still, the approach is institution–specific, leaving much to be done in the field at large if risk assessment is to be adopted as a standard approach to collection care planning. Specifically, conservators and collections managers need tools, much like those developed at AMNH that will not only organize and analyze information but will guide an evaluator through the complex risk process. These tools must be applicable to the wide range of collection holding institutions and must be readily accessible. AMNH collection care staff are working toward these goals but will call to the fields of conservation and collections care for support and involvement.


Beth Nunan

Associate Conservator, American Museum of Natural History
Beth Nunan is an Associate Conservator in the Natural Science Collections Conservation Lab. She received her MA (2009) with a Certificate of Advanced Study from the Art Conservation Program at Buffalo State College. Her responsibilities at the American Museum of Natural History include... Read More →

avatar for Julia	Sybalsky

Julia Sybalsky

Senior Associate Conservator, American Museum of Natural History
Julia Sybalsky is an Associate Conservator at the AMNH, where she began working in January of 2010. She was an important contributor in the recently-completed renovation of dioramas in the Hall of North American Mammals and the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall. Julia's work supports... Read More →
avatar for Lisa Elkin-[PA]

Lisa Elkin-[PA]

Chief Registrar and Director of Conservation, American Museum of Natural History
Lisa received her MA in art conservation from the Buffalo State College and since 1994 has been working as a conservator at the AMNH, first as assistant and associate conservator in the Anthropology Department, and since 2001 as Director of Conservation for the natural science collections... Read More →

Thursday May 29, 2014 4:30pm - 5:00pm PDT
Garden Room