Preventive conservation, a key aspect of a museum’s preservation role.
A museum is an establishment which is open to the public, and which acquires, preserves, studies and exhibits collections of objects related to human beings and their environment, which are therefore part of our heritage.
The museum’s principal mission is two-fold:
. to study and exhibit its collections, i.e. to make them accessible them to the greatest possible number, for cultural and educational purposes.
. to preserve its collections and guarantee their transmission to future generations.
While these tasks are complementary (since the sole purpose of preserving objects is to make them accessible to the public), they can also be contradictory: over-exhibiting a work can damage it, and jeopardise its preservation.
Preventive conservation stems from an awareness of the importance of all the factors which ultimately threaten the survival of the collections. It advocates the introduction of a "better safe than sorry" policy, which has become a central issue for museums over the last few years.
Preventive conservation tackles the causes rather than the effects of the deterioration of objects. It consists of controlling (as far as possible) the factors that can damage the collections, to limit their impact and avoid the need for direct intervention on the damaged object. For example, preventive conservation of metal objects means keeping them in dry storerooms to avoid rusting (and the subsequent control or removal of rust).
Preventive conservation, therefore, seeks to increase the life expectancy of objects by providing them with optimum sanitary conditions. Its aim is only to slow the deterioration process, however, because - as with medical science - time is bound to take its toll.