Conservation in the archival, library, art, and museum community of the Smithsonian is the application of focused attention and techniques to examine, document, treat, and conserve physical objects (not to be confused with other science and research regarding conservation of species and environments).
Smithsonian Institution Archives Collections Care department is home to the Smithsonian Center for Archives Conservation (SIA-SCAC), a treatment laboratory that provides conservation services for the Archives’ permanent collections and extends preservation management and conservation consulting services to our sister archives and special collections within the Smithsonian community.
Conservation, under the Archives’ Collection Care team, responds to collections-related requests from archivists, curators, and collections managers, and performs tasks such as:
- condition examination for acquisition, exhibit loan, or treatment;
- conservation treatment for exhibition, reformatting projects or the long-term stability of objects;
- and analysis and technical examination for research inquiry.
In an archival and library context, these requests may involve from a few items to thousands of items to be considered. In our experience, requests can involve objects in any format that has existed in the history of our own record-keeping: from paper and leather based materials (letters, books, drawings, prints), to photography (negatives and prints on glass, paper and plastic, motion picture film), and modern material (audio and digital format recordings). Generally, the Collections Care department does not treat engravings on stone, clay, or steel, but we may contribute to studies on audio-visual materials, such as engravings on cylinders and discs of varied types, and on the stability of magnetic particles on plastic films.
The Archives supports research across the Smithsonian and the conservation field in general, by hosting Postgraduate Fellows in Conservation who focus on research questions that pertain to the permanence and stability of archival objects and/or conservation treatment. Fellows use the Archives’ collections as research material as is ethically appropriate, and also design sample model sets on which to experiment, often in collaboration and with the support of the scientists and technology available to them through the Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute. These research projects help advance the Archives’ understanding of naturally-aged and vulnerable permanent collections, as well as predict possible outcomes of treatment of these collections in the future. Smithsonian Institution Archives fellows have gone on to publish and present their research in notable forums and publications, and some materials will be posted to our website for download in the future.