Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections
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The Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections (SCHC) program helps cultural institutions meet the complex challenge of preserving large and diverse holdings of humanities materials for future generations by supporting sustainable conservation measures that mitigate deterioration, prolong the useful life of collections, and support institutional resilience: the ability to anticipate and respond to disasters resulting from natural or human activity.
Cultural institutions, including libraries, archives, museums, and historical organizations, face an enormous challenge: to preserve humanities collections that facilitate research, strengthen teaching, and provide opportunities for life-long learning. To ensure the preservation of books and manuscripts, photographs, sound recordings and moving images, archaeological and ethnographic artifacts, art, and historical objects, cultural institutions must implement measures that slow deterioration and prevent catastrophic loss from emergencies resulting from natural or human activity. They can accomplish this work most effectively through preventive conservation. Preventive conservation encompasses managing relative humidity, temperature, light, and pollutants in collection spaces; providing protective storage enclosures and systems for collections; and safeguarding collections from theft, fire, floods, and other disasters.
As museums, libraries, archives, and other collecting institutions strive to be effective stewards of humanities collections, they must find ways to implement preventive conservation measures that are sustainable. This program therefore helps cultural repositories plan and implement preservation strategies that pragmatically balance effectiveness, cost, and environmental impact. Sustainable approaches to preservation can contribute to an institution’s financial health, reduce its use of fossil fuels, and benefit its green initiatives, while ensuring that collections are well cared for and available for use in humanities programming, education, and research. Sustainable preventive conservation measures may also aim to prepare and plan for, absorb, respond to, recover from, and more successfully protect collections in the event of emergencies resulting from natural or human activity.
Effective and sustainable preservation strategies must be informed by the nature of an institution and its collections. Applicants should have completed the process of basic preservation planning and environmental monitoring, which might include a general preservation plan, collection inventory, emergency plan, and/or basic assessments of building and storage environments. Using priorities established through this basic planning process, applicants to SCHC should consider how to address long-term collection care needs. Sustainable preservation strategies can take many forms, depending on collection materials, the building envelope, and the local climate. However, interdisciplinary collaboration during planning and implementation of these strategies is essential. In SCHC projects, such teams typically consist of consultants and members of the institution’s staff and can include architects, building engineers, conservation scientists, conservators, curators, archivists, and facilities managers, among others.
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