Tough Call: When to Call a Conservator

Conservation services are offered by trained professionals in the field of conservation of historic works, artistic works, and cultural property. Conservators specialize in one of three main branches: paper, paintings, and artifacts. Many institutions have conservators on staff, though private conservators and contractors can also be contacted to complete treatments and offer recommendations.

If you do not have a conservator on staff, you may be wondering when you would need to contact one for assistance.

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Photo credit: IAEA Imagebank

Questions to ask before contacting a conservator:

  • Are there any trained staff members onsite that can assist?
  • Conservators can be costly. Is funding available within the budget to hire a conservator?
  • Does the item require treatment immediately to remain chemically and physically stable?
  • Does the collection contain a variety of mixed media (textiles, paintings, wood artifacts, and textual records)?

When should you contact a conservator?

  • If your collection is threatened by an environmental disaster
  • If items have been vandalized
  • If items are going on exhibit or display
  • If items of high priority require treatment for stabilization (historical value, informational value, legal value, evidential value, monetary value, intrinsic value)
  • If items require treatment prior to going on loan
  • If there is a suspected pest outbreak in the collection
  • If you are redesigning your archives’ collection space and require advice on storing items with unique housing requirements

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