Objects and collections simply don’t look after themselves. Conservators have been working hard behind closed doors to ensure that objects and collections have remained safe and secure during lockdown.
What is the challenge?
Icon is fully supportive of the social distancing and self-isolation measures put in place to mitigate the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). However, many institutions and organisations have had to close their buildings and sites at short notice, leaving the objects and collections in their care at risk.
Collections maintenance, the operation of vital environmental systems and many other important day-to-day tasks are not fully possible in lockdown conditions, which is increasing rates of deterioration and decay. Without the regular presence of skilled conservation professionals, other immediate threats such as equipment faults and leaking pipes may not be spotted in time to prevent damage.
Addressing this risk can only be achieved by providing the means for key conservation staff to continue to maintain safe and acceptable conditions on sites, and putting in place emergency networks to respond to any potential salvage operations.
What is Icon doing?
Icon has written to leaders across the UK nations calling for advice, investment, advocacy and skills development so that collections are cared for at this challenging time. We have asked those in leadership positions to encourage museums and other institutions to implement interim care measures and to help to disseminate best practice advice on interim collections care at national and regional level. In addition, we have recommended that they consider further measures to financially support small institutions to carry out these tasks.
We are pleased to note that in response to lobbying, DCMS issued guidance on meeting security and environmental conditions for Government Indemnity Scheme participants and general collections purposes on 31 March 2020. This advice note confirms that it is acceptable for staff to visit museums and galleries to undertake security and collections maintenance tasks.
We have reached out to partners, including the Association of Independent Museums, Collections Trust, Museums Association and Federation of Welsh Museums to share our guidance, seek joint advocacy on behalf of collections care and to identify better ways to collaborate so that conservators are supported to carry out their essential duties.
Icon guidance and advice from Accredited conservators
Icon members possess a wealth of technical conservation and collections care expertise and knowledge that we recognise may be of assistance to a wide range of institutions. Our technical guidance and advice from our Accredited members has been prepared to help institutions care for their collections during the pandemic and in the immediate aftermath.
In addition to Icon's resources, a wealth of information and guidance has been published and shared by partners across the heritage sector to help conservation professionals look after collections in lockdown and to prepare for reopening. We have collated a selection of links to useful resources below.
- NMD: Good Practice Guidelines on ReOpening Museums produced with support from DCMS and the Museums and Galleries Working Group.
- AIM and Museum Development Network: a checklist to help museums take a strategic, well informed approach to making decisions on reopening and implementing a safe and effective plan in conjunction with the NMD guidance.
- AIM: Case study videos on how independent museums are reopening to the public.
- Historic England: Guidance on cleaning historic surfaces with reference to Public Health England’s guidance on cleaning in non-healthcare settings.
- Icom: advice for museums on the end of lockdown and ensuring the safety of the public, staff and collections.
- ArtNet: a compilation of guidance on how museums should reopen safely.
- Kids in Museums: Guide to making reopening family friendly
- MDEM: Compilation of current and past museum regulation guidance from DCMS
- Reopening Archives, Libraries, and Museums (REALM) Information Hub: A research project on how long the COVID-19 virus survives on materials providing authoritative, science-based information on how—or if— materials can be handled to mitigate exposure to staff and visitors.
- South East Museum Development Programme: Reopening Museums Toolkit
- Scottish Government: Good practice guidelines for re-opening museums, galleries and heritage attractions during the coronavirus pandemic.
- Historic Environment Scotland: Minimum Operating Standards outlining the requirements that must be met before sites will be able to reopen in line with official government guidelines during the Coronavirus pandemic.
- Museums Galleries Scotland: information, checklists and resources for museums and galleries preparing to reopen their venues
- American Alliance of Museums: Webpage of tips and advice on managing collections during a pandemic.
- American Libraries Magazine: Article on sanitizing collections in a pandemic with suggested further reading.
- Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material: A practical guide to caring for collections for managers of heritage collections that are closed at short notice.
- Canadian Conservation Institute: Caring for Heritage Collections during the COVID-19 Pandemic. An updated version can be found here.
- Church of England: Advice on securing and caring for church buildings for incumbents and churchwardens.
- Collections Trust: List of resources by the Collections Trust and other sector bodies, including a Q&A expert panel on collections care in lockdown, security checklist and key worker template letter. The Collections Trust is also running online events, including a weekly ‘coffee time’ get-together to chat about museum topics.
- English Heritage: Article on how English Heritage staff are carrying on with essential work while sites remain closed.
- Gloucestershire Archives: Blog on collections care during lockdown
- ICOM: Recommendations on the conservation of museum collections.
- ICCROM: Tips and resources on identifying risks, monitoring impacts, undertaking first aid on collections and ensuring the safety of personnel.
- Institute of Museum and Library Services: Presentation and Q&A session on how libraries, archives and museums can help mitigate the effects of the Coronavirus when working with collections.
- Museum Study: Online course to aid cultural institutions to respond to a crisis that interferes with their ability to operate normally, with topics on shutting down and reopening a facility.
- National Center for Preservation Technology and Training: Presentation on disinfecting cultural resources.
- Victoria Stevens ACR: A single spreadsheet summarising resources and guidance that may be of particular help for small or medium sized institutions.
Icon and its Care of Collections Group have published a guide and checklist on 'waking up' collections post-lockdown designed to support organisations holding heritage collections with limited inhouse conservation expertise. You may also find the following helpful:
- Birmingham Museums: Accessible guide to understanding relative humidity.
If you need a conservation expert to support your work, Icon's Conservation Register can help you identify someone with the right skills in your area.