Preventive conservation improves the condition of the collection as a whole rather than focusing on each individual object. By making these overall improvements, individual problems are less likely to happen. The "big picture" approach of preventive conservation involves:
Temperature and Relative Humidity
Artifacts and specimens are best preserved in stable environmental conditions. Frequent changes in temperature or relative humidity can cause materials to expand and contract. This, in turn, can lead to cracks, embrittlement, and other deleterious effects. Conservators monitor the temperature and humidity in galleries and collections storage, and work with Building Operations to stabilize the environment in these areas.
Integrated Pest Management
Insects find their way into every building-and museums are no exception. Wool-eating clothes moths are familiar to most people, but there are also insects that eat wood, leather, feathers, and even paper. As all of these natural materials are present in the collection at DMNS, insect pests would be very happy to make our collection their home. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a multifaceted approach to monitoring and eradicating pests. Each exhibit and collection storage area is checked regularly for damaging insects. Through this strict monitoring program, the Museum can avoid using the harmful pesticides that may have been common in the past. In the rare event that an infestation is discovered, the specimen or artifact can be frozen at a low-temperature to naturally kill the pests.
Light can cause irreversible fading to a variety of colorful materials including dyed textiles, animal fur and feathers, and even some minerals. Conservators consider the light sensitivity of each object before it goes on display, and make recommendations on appropriate light levels. Artifacts that are particularly light sensitive might only go on display for 3-6 months, whereas more durable artifacts could be displayed indefinitely. In a museum, conservators must balance risks such as light damage with the need for displaying important collection items for the benefit of the public.
Mount Making for Exhibits and Storage
When artifacts and specimens are displayed, a supportive structure-or mount-is often created to hold it securely in place. Conservators provide information on the stability of the artifact to experienced mount makers, who then fabricate unique and unobtrusive mounts for display.
Museum objects typically need supportive structures while in storage as well, to minimize the need for handling. These mounts typically involve a box or overall structure to contain the object, and padding to support and keep the object from moving. When objects are transported within the museum, staff can handle the storage box without actually touching the artifact.