Conservation FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is conservation?
Conservation is the examination, documentation, treatment, and preventive care of cultural property in order to provide long-term preservation of the object.

2. What is the difference between conservation and restoration?
The goal of a restoration treatment is to return the object to its previous appearance (or how the object was thought to appear). Although restoration may be part of a larger conservation treatment, it is not necessarily the first priority of the conservator. Rather, the first priority of a conservation treatment may be the stabilization of the object, a process that should always seek to maintain as much original material as possible. Conservation professionals adhere to a code of ethics.

3. What is preventive conservation?
Preventive conservation means taking measures to reduce damage to an object through environmental factors—such as light, humidity, pollutants, and temperature—to which an object may be vulnerable. Preventive conservation seeks to stabilize an object in its current condition.
Preventive care includes:
• monitoring the light, temperature, and humidity levels;
• implementing an integrated pest management (IPM) program;
• testing air quality;
• providing adequate exhibition housing to protect from contaminants;
• and providing adequate storage housing to minimize handling and lower potential risk.

4. How does museum lighting affect the art?
Preventive conservation includes monitoring the environment in which the objects are displayed. Many objects—especially textiles and works on paper—are vulnerable to damage from light sources. By keeping the light levels low, the museum lowers the risks to the objects and extends the life span of the objects.   

5. How can I care for my own objects?
The American Institute for Conservation (AIC) provides recommendations for storage and care based on the material of the object. 

6. How does one become a conservator or a conservation scientist?
For conservation studies, there are four recognized graduate-degree plans in the United States and Canada, as well as various international degree programs; please see the American Institute for Conservation (AIC) page on becoming a conservator for more information. For an introduction to entering the field of conservation science, see Getting Started in Conservation Science.

7. How does one find a conservator?
The American Institute for Conservation (AIC) has many useful tools and information regarding all conservation. Their “Find a Conservator” link will help you find a conservator who meets your needs, including location, medium, etc.

8. What about appraisals?
It is recommended that only a designated appraisal expert be consulted for an appraisal value. Conservation professionals can provide more information about an object but are not qualified to assign monetary value to a piece. For more on appraisals, see the Hirsch Library’s FAQs.