Collections professionals are the quiet heroes for cultural preservation.
Every day, all over the world, millions of collections professionals spend their days taking care of art and cultural collections. Many of these people have the title conservator, most don’t. It’s a diverse group in terms of background, experience, title, and skill level.
In the midst of diversity, collections professionals share a single mission – ensuring that our shared cultural heritage is around for future generations. It’s a mission that often happens quietly, outside of the public eye. It’s an important mission.
Collections professionals focus on stable environments
Agents of deterioration are any environmental conditions that threaten a collection. When most people imagine damage to a collection, they imagine catastrophic events like fire, flood, and theft. And while these events are eye-catching, the everyday wear and tear of temperature, relative humidity, light, and vibration is equally damaging over the long run.
So cultural preservation professionals focus on creating stable environments using environmental monitoring tools – sensors and software. By understanding current conditions along with the diverse range of objects in a space, collections professionals can take action to anticipate and resolve unstable environments. This work is part of any good preventive conservation program.
Collections professionals are uncomfortable with the status quo
In our hundreds of conversations with collections professionals, we’ve heard that conservation-focused environmental monitoring is harder than it should be. We’ve heard three themes repeated over and over again.
Monitoring is time-consuming
Collections professionals are frustrated with the amount of time it takes to gather and to organize their data. Most sensor solutions are “disconnected data loggers”, which means someone has to manually collect the data one sensor at a time.
We’ve found that for disconnected data loggers the average conservation professional spends about 1 hour per sensor per month collecting and organizing data. For a collection with 10 galleries, that’s a hidden cost of $2,400 per year.
The real-life impact is that professionals don’t collect their data as often as they should, meaning they often aren’t aware of unstable environments until well after the fact.
At Conserv we’ve figured out how to deliver a wireless monitoring experience without relying on WiFi. If you’re interested in reading more, Nathan wrote a great article about why most collections don’t have wireless monitoring tools.
Monitoring solutions aren’t conservation-focused
Collections professionals are extremely creative in adapting solutions from other industries to meet their needs. The most popular environmental monitoring solutions in the market today are produced by companies that do a million other things besides conservation.1
The real-life impact is that only highly trained collections professionals can transform environmental data into a meaningful understanding of how to better protect their collection. For the overwhelming majority of collections professionals without extensive training, environmental monitoring solutions aren’t very helpful.
At Conserv, we’re building an environmental monitoring solution that supports both the highly trained conservator and the less experienced accidental conservator.
Monitoring isn’t a good value
We’ve already noted that most environmental monitoring solutions are time-consuming and difficult to use for the vast majority of collections professionals – a group that is working with limited resources, in both time and money. These solutions have not been built for cultural preservation purposes.
No surprise then that most collections professionals say that environmental monitoring is too expensive. It’s simply not a good enough value for many collections. The real-life impact is that most of the world’s collections are unmonitored.
At Conserv, we’re building an environmental monitoring solution that does more than competing solutions and costs less.
Conservation professionals deserve better stuff
At Conserv, our mission is to empower collections professionals everywhere to do more.
We would consider it a huge win for Conserv to deliver monitoring solutions to 10,000 collections that are currently unmonitored or under-monitored. Collections professionals are doing important work, and we’ll be there to support them.
1 With the exception of the Image Permanence Institute – a group that has inspired us and that has been very focused on better conservation-focused, environmental monitoring tools since the 1980s.
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