Skip to content
  • 9am–5pm
  • Free general admission
  • Shop

POL-C-042, Version 1.0, 6 December 2012

1. Title

Collection care and preservation policy

2. Introduction

The National Museum of Australia (the Museum) is a major cultural institution charged with researching, collecting, preserving and exhibiting historical material of the Australian nation. The Museum focuses on the three interrelated areas of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture, Australia’s history and society since European settlement in 1788 and the interaction of people with the environment.

Established in 1980, the Museum is a publicly funded institution governed as a statutory authority in the Commonwealth Arts portfolio. The Museum’s building on Acton Peninsula, Canberra opened in March 2001.

The Museum’s collections are primarily exhibited at the main Museum building at Acton, Canberra. Some collection items are included in travelling exhibitions and some are loaned to other organisations, in accordance with loan agreements. The bulk of the collection is not on display and is stored off-site at Mitchell, Canberra where the conservation and registration functions are also located. The Conservation and Registration business units work in close collaboration on the care, preservation and management of the Museum’s collections.

This policy provides the framework for the work of caring for and preserving the Museum collections on display, in storage, in transit, on loan and when undergoing conservation treatment.

Conservation and preservation are concerned with the careful management of change to cultural material.

3. Scope

This policy will apply to the Museum’s:

  • National Historical Collection
  • Archive Collection
  • Museum Collection
  • Repatriation Collection

These collections comprise a wide range of historical material related to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture, Australia’s history and society since settlement in 1788, and the interaction of people with the environment.

The principles of this policy apply to other collections in the Museum, such as the Prop/Exhibition Specialty collection and the Education Collection, however, in practice these collections are not accessioned and/or are not priorities for preservation.

3.1 Description

This policy outlines the high-level principles and guidelines that the Museum follows to achieve its aim of caring for and protecting the collections under its stewardship and preserving the historic, cultural, aesthetic and other significant characteristics of objects.

It was developed with reference to, and is consistent with, the Museum’s risk management framework. It covers all activities across all areas of the Museum that involve collections.

3.2 Purpose

The purpose of this policy is to ensure that collections are appropriately protected at all times and that staff of the Museum understand their roles in caring for and protecting the collections.

3.3 Rationale

3.3.1 The National Museum of Australia Act 1980 Section 6 describes the functions of the Museum. The key parts of Section 6.1 are:

(1) The functions of the Museum are:

a. to develop and maintain a national collection of historical material;

b. to exhibit, or to make available for exhibition by others, historical material from the national historical collection or historical material that is otherwise in the possession of the Museum;

c. to conduct, arrange for or assist in research into matters pertaining to Australian history;

(2) The Museum shall use every endeavour to make the most advantageous use of the national collection in the national interest.

3.3.2 Collection care, preservation and conservation programs support and contribute to the functions of the Museum as outlined in the Act and facilitate access to collections for exhibition, education, enhancing the public’s understanding of our history and for research.

4. Principles of guidelines

This policy sets out high-level principles and guidelines for the care and preservation of the Museum’s collections.

4.1 General principles

4.1.1 Whether through direct work with the collections and/or their environments or by ongoing vigilance, the care of the Museum’s collections is the responsibility of most staff and contractors employed by the Museum. Roles will vary across the Museum’s business units and the broad scope of these roles is defined in this policy.

4.1.2 The collections should be appropriately protected wherever they are and whatever the use to which they are put.

4.1.3 Risk management is integrated into conservation and preservation decision-making to ensure that:

a) risks to the collections are accurately identified

b) conservation and preservation actions are targeted appropriately

c) the controls put in place are effective in the medium to long term

d) conservation and preservation actions provide benefits in proportion to the costs involved

e) there is an ongoing review program to ensure risks are identified and assessed on an ongoing basis and that mitigation strategies continue to be effective

f) work health and safety is effectively managed in all work associated with caring for collections.

4.1.4 Collection care and, more specifically, conservation decision-making must not only involve the consideration of the object and the materials it is made from, but also take account of:

a) significance (e.g. the tangible and intangible heritage values attached to the object, such as its scientific, cultural and historical value)

b) the functionality of the object

c) the uses to which the object might be put

d) the object’s potential life cycle.

4.1.5 Collection care and conservation work must be transparent and staff are accountable for:

a) recording decisions about conservation and preservation actions, to ensure that this information is available for use in the future

b) taking a minimal intervention approach wherever possible and/or appropriate

c) responsible use of resources – both financial and staffing.

4.1.6 The Museum will provide appropriate equipment and training for staff and volunteers to work safely with the collection. Staff, volunteers and the Museum will comply with their responsibilities under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

4.1.7 Sustainability principles will be considered and applied as appropriate in the storage, display and transport of collection items.

4.1.8 Conservation work is based on sound ethical principles and, when appropriate, is in keeping with up-to-date international best practice. In order to achieve this:

a) staff are responsible for maintaining the currency of their conservation knowledge and skills base

b) the Museum will support professional development within the parameters of the annual budget cycle and based on the identified needs of the Museum, the Conservation business unit and individual staff members.

4.2 Categorisation of collections and objects

4.2.1 The Museum’s collections are categorised as follows:

a) National Historical Collection

b) Archive Collection

c) Museum Collection

d) Repatriation Collection

e) Prop/Exhibition Specialty Collection

f) Education Collection

4.2.2 In practice, the National Historical Collection has priority over the other collection categories for conservation and preservation activities.

4.2.3 Conservation and preservation activities should, as far as is practicable, accommodate cultural sensitivities and practices.

4.3 Preventive conservation

4.3.1 The Museum recognises that preventive conservation is the most effective means of preserving the large number and diverse range of materials and object types in the collection. It takes a ‘whole collection’ approach to ensuring collections are protected in the present and for the future.

4.3.2 The aim of preventive conservation is to minimise deterioration and damage to collections by managing risks to the collection.

4.3.3 Preventive conservation potentially draws on knowledge from materials science, building science, chemistry, physics, biology, engineering, systems science and management and requires involvement of almost all staff at some level. Its success depends on collaboration between staff in:

a) Conservation

b) Registration

c) Facilities

d) Security

e) Curatorial

f) Exhibitions

g) Visitor Services

h) Public Programs.

4.3.4 Preventive conservation occurs at all stages of the object’s life in the Museum, and encompasses:

a) provision of stable environments in storage, while on display, in transit and while in use

b) protection from physical damage through appropriate support, housing and handling

c) integrated pest management

d) readiness to respond appropriately to events that put collections at risk through identification and management of risk, including disaster response planning

e) ensuring that all staff and collection users are trained to appropriate levels for their interaction with and/or management of the collection or individual items.

4.4 Risk management

4.4.1 Management of risk is vital in ensuring that collections are given the appropriate levels of care at all times.

4.4.2 The assessment and management of risk is a key part of planning and prioritising conservation and preservation activities.

4.4.3 Alignment with the Museum’s risk management policy and procedures is critical, because collection protection risk is a part of the Museum’s overall risk profile.

4.4.4 Collection-based risk management definitions are provided in Section 5.12 - Risk management criteria - It will be reviewed in association with reviews of the Risk Management Policy and Risk Management Manual.

4.5 Storing collections

4.5.1 All collections benefit from storage in environmental conditions that:

a) limit the onset or speed of chemical reactions that cause deterioration or damage

b) limit physical damage from fluctuations that cause physical changes in materials

c) limit exposure of sensitive materials to chemical and particulate materials that will react with them chemically or physically.

4.5.2 The most appropriate environmental conditions will vary depending on the composition of the individual collection or object.

4.5.3 The maintenance and management of storage environments are shared responsibilities and include:

a) advice on appropriate storage conditions

b) monitoring of environments

c) maintenance of plant and equipment to meet requirements

d) integrated pest management

e) appropriate housekeeping regimes

f) selection and provision of appropriate storage furniture

g) training in handling and collection movement for staff working in storage areas

h) provision of appropriate security for storage environments

i) disaster and business continuity planning.

4.5.4 Storage of collections will be in keeping with storage principles developed by the Storage Working Group.

4.6 Displaying collections

4.6.1 When objects are on display, they are vulnerable to the same risks as when they are stored and may be exposed to additional risks due to:

a) removal from their normal storage environments

b) necessary exposure to light

c) increased handling during exhibition preparation, installation and de-installation

d) local microenvironments within display furniture, and possible exposure to volatile organic compounds from off-gassing if exhibition furniture manufacture lead-in are insufficient

e) possible increased environmental fluctuations and increased dust levels due to the presence of people.

4.6.2 The development, maintenance and management of display environments are shared responsibilities that include all those noted for storage as well as:

a) exhibition project management

b) advice on appropriate support for objects on display

c) micro-fade testing for items on display and advice on lighting based on this testing

d) managed movement of collections between storage environments, conservation and exhibition preparation areas and exhibition spaces, and back again

e) briefing of hosts as to appropriate or inappropriate interaction with exhibits

f) advice for, and contribution to, public programs.

4.7 Moving collections

4.7.1 Movement of collections or collection items, for whatever reason, introduces additional uncertainty and thus increases risk. This is especially the case if the collection items are travelling out of their usual environment.

4.7.2 When collections are being moved they are vulnerable to the same risks as when they are stored and they are potentially exposed to greater risks due to:

a) increased handling – during packing and preparation, in transit and unpacking

b) movement and freight/cargo handling

c) local micro-environments within packing

d) possible environmental fluctuations.

4.7.3 The Museum is committed to planned and documented collection moves carried out by staff and/or inducted contractors with appropriate training in moving and packing collections, and in the use of moving equipment and lifts as required.

a) Planning is vital in any move. The level of planning and the documentation of planning processes and decisions will range in complexity.

b) Sound risk identification, assessment and treatment is required as part of the planning phase of any move.

c) Removing collections from their normal environments may involve compromise on some of the environmental and care standards. Planning should include an understanding of the implications of such compromises and the preparation of options to minimise any risks flowing from them. This may result in a statement outlining ‘non-negotiables‘ and areas where compromise might be achieved if necessary. Decision-making should be based on risk management.

4.7.4 When items are on loan to other organisations, the shared responsibility for the care of the Museum’s collections is covered by a loan agreement.

4.7.5 The Museum is committed to meeting the terms of loan agreements to care for items on loan to the Museum from other organisations or individuals.

4.8 Access to collections

4.8.1 While the principle mode of access is through exhibitions and access visits, the Museum also promotes research, provides outreach programs and runs public programs, all of which can involve varying degrees of access to the collections.

4.8.2 When objects are available for access they are vulnerable to the same risks as when they are stored and may be exposed to additional risks due to:

a) removal from their normal environments

b) exposure to light

c) poor handling

d) vandalism

e) misplacement.

4.8.3 Access to collections must be planned, taking potential risks into account and implementing appropriate mitigation strategies which, depending on the circumstances, includes:

a) supervised access

b) handling training

c) provision of handling aids, e.g. gloves, book supports, object cradles etc.

d) barriers to restrict or prevent handling

e) security provision.

4.8.4 Access other than via exhibitions is controlled by Registration and is managed according to their protocols and procedures, which are aimed at protecting collections.

4.9 Collections in disasters or emergencies

4.9.1 Events that can have detrimental effects on collection items can have serious impacts on business continuity for collections-based organisations and the Museum is committed to minimising these impacts through readiness and pre-planning.

4.9.2 The protection of collections against the threat or actuality of a disaster is dealt with in the following Museum documents:

a) Collection emergency plan

b) Business continuity framework. response and recovery plan – Team collections.

4.9.3 For effective responses to emergencies, and to ensure appropriate action to salvage collection items from a disaster situation:

a) the Collection emergency plan and the Business continuity framework need to be updated regularly, especially staff contact details

b) the Collection emergency plan and the Business continuity framework will be reviewed at regular intervals to ensure the documents remain relevant and that the roles and responsibilities are appropriately assigned and understood

c) salvage training exercises and/or emergency scenario planning events are to be carried out at least annually.

4.9.4 Response to emergencies is a shared responsibility. The primary salvage roles will normally be undertaken by Conservation and Registration, however, depending on the scale of the event and its impact, assistance and support will be required from:

a) Executive

b) Registration

c) Facilities

d) Security

e) Curatorial

f) Finance

g) Public Affairs

h) Exhibitions

i) Visitor Services

4.9.5 In the event of an emergency, care of the collections may require people to act outside their normal roles with guidance from Conservation and Registration staff.

4.9.6 In the event of an emergency, assistance may be required from outside the Museum and provision for this is covered by the memorandum of understanding with DISACT – A Disaster Recovery Resource for Public Collections in the ACT Region.

4.10 Treatment

4.10.1 The Museum is committed to the maintenance of its collections. In support of the preventive conservation programs, Conservation staff also undertake:

a) collection maintenance programs, including rehousing projects

b) treatment on individual objects and groups of objects.

4.10.2 With a few exceptions:

a) Conservators will prepare options and recommendations for proposed treatments or maintenance work with justifications for the preferred option/s

b) the implications of the treatments on the physical and chemical integrity of the object/s, and the impact of the treatment on significance, will be articulated to assist in informed decision-making

c) the treatment approach will be based on minimal intervention and ‘retreatability’

d) decision-making will be recorded as part of the conservation treatment record

e) treatments will be required to preserve significance, be cost effective, and be carried out to high professional standards, however basic the treatment might be.

4.10.3 The effectiveness of conservation actions is a shared responsibility between conservation and the program or project for which conservation work is being done. Conservators may not be able to provide optimum treatments for the collection items or the proposed use of the object, if planning does not allow for sufficient lead-times or if adequate budget is not available.

4.11 Research

4.11.1 Conservation and preservation research is important for the development of the Museum’s approach to caring for collections and for the professional development of its staff.

4.11.2 Before conservation and preservation research projects are approved, they will be assessed against agreed research criteria and must have defined scope, known duration and resource commitments, and must produce results that can be disseminated within and outside the Museum.

4.12 Outreach

4.12.1 As a national collecting institution, the Museum has a role to play in providing information to the public and to other organisations on care of collections. Outreach can take a variety of forms, including answering enquiries and providing advice, workshops, presentations and training programs.

5. Definition of terms

The following definitions represent the common use of the relevant terms in the conservation profession.

5.1 Conservator

A conservator is a professional who has the training, knowledge, skills, experience and understanding to act with the aim of preserving cultural heritage for the future.

Conservators contribute to the perception, appreciation and understanding of cultural heritage in respect of its environmental context and its significance and physical properties.

Conservators undertake responsibility for, and carry out strategic planning; diagnostic examination; development of conservation plans and treatment proposals; preventive conservation; conservation-restoration treatments and documentation of observations and interventions.[1]

5.2 Conservation

Conservation activities are aimed at preserving objects and their significance and may include preservation, conservation treatments, restoration, examination, documentation, research, treatment, preventive conservation, and education.

5.3 Conservation ethics

Conservation practice is guided by conservation ethics which outline conservators’ obligations to maintain the integrity of the objects being cared for in the long term; to take into account the interests of stakeholders, including cultural and religious considerations; to preserve the values that contribute to the significance of the object; to record all actions taken to preserve/conserve the object; and to ensure that appropriate skills and knowledge are employed in all conservation activities.

5.4 Conservation treatment

Conservation treatments consist mainly of direct, or interventive, action carried out on cultural heritage material with the aim of stabilising condition, repairing damage and retarding further deterioration.[2]

5.5 Disaster

A disaster is any unplanned incident threatening the structure or contents of a museum, with the potential to have a detrimental effect on collections, and which is beyond the immediate ability of the museum’s staff and normal management structure to control. A disaster can be a large or small event.

5.6 Documentation

Documentation consists of the accurate pictorial and written record of all procedures carried out, and the rationale behind them.[3]

5.7 Preventive conservation

Preventive Conservation consists of the actions taken to retard or prevent deterioration of, or damage to cultural material by control of its environment. This is done through the formulation and implementation of policies and procedures for the following: appropriate environmental conditions; handling and maintenance procedures for storage, exhibition, packing, transport and use; integrated pest management; emergency preparedness and response; and reformatting/duplication.[4]

5.8 Preservation

The preservation of cultural property through activities that minimise chemical and physical deterioration and damage, and that prevent loss of information. The primary goal of preservation is to prolong the existence of cultural property.[5]

5.9 Restoration

Restoration is the treatment of damaged or deteriorated cultural heritage, preferably with minimal intervention, with the aim of facilitating its perception, appreciation and understanding, while respecting as far as possible its aesthetic, historic and physical properties, and enhancing the interpretation of the original. Restoration may involve the reassembly of displaced components, removal of extraneous matter, and/or re-integration using new materials.[6]

5.10 Significance

‘Significance’ refers to the values and meanings that items and collections have for people and communities. Significance helps unlock the potential of collections, creating opportunities for communities to access and enjoy collections, and to understand the history, cultures and environments of Australia.[7]

5.11 Condition

The condition of collections and objects is framed in terms of risk in normal use, i.e. the usual or most common use for those collections or objects in their life at the Museum. This provides a standardised set of condition definitions that can be applied across the Museum and which relate to the proposed use of the collection or the object. The definitions are as follows:

a) good – no damage and no immediate risk of damage during normal use

b) fair – slight damage and minimal risk of further damage during normal use

c) poor – damaged with likely risk of further damage during normal use due to existing damage or impaired function

d) unfit – significant risk of damage even under controlled display/storage conditions due to existing damage or extreme sensitivity.

5.12 Risk management criteria

The Museum’s Risk management policy and Risk manual outlines the enterprise-wide approach to risk management. The following defines the criteria for assigning different levels of consequence to collection-associated risks.

a) Consequence


Consequence or impact on collections



The object/s will be damaged beyond salvaging and replacement is not possible.

The damage and/or the required conservation treatment will permanently and irreversibly, negatively affect the item’s/collection’s overall significance.


The number of object/s that will be affected is high and cost to replace and/or repair will exceed the annual operating budget.



Permanent impact on one or more of the following would result but may be reduced through treatment: the significance, any of the values that contribute to significance, the functionality of the object and or the object’s availability for display/access.

The cost of remedy or repair may be considerable or have an impact on other programmed work, taking from 50 to 300 hours to complete. Conservation and skills may have to be sought outside the Museum.



Some damage may occur that would require remedial activity and there will remain a permanent impact on one or more of the following: the significance, any of the values that contribute to significance, the functionality of the object and or the object’s availability for display/access.

The conservation treatment can be done within current operating budgets, but would take from 5 to 50 hours and has the potential to have an impact on other in-house work programs.



Minor damage may occur that could be relatively easily remedied or repaired, with no permanent impact on: the significance, any of the values that contribute to significance, the functionality of the object and or the object’s availability for display/access.

Conservation treatment would take no longer than 2 to 5 hours and the skills required are available in-house.



Damage, if it occurred at all, would be of an extremely slight or minor nature or damage may be significant and permanent but the object is not part of the NHC or the Museum Collection or an object or collection on loan to the Museum.

b) Likelihood ratings as outlined in the Museum’s Risk Management Manual.


% Probability

(of risk being realised)

Detailed Description

Almost Certain

76 – 100%

Risk has a high likelihood of occurring even if mitigation is implemented


51 – 75%

Risk has a high likelihood of occurring


26 – 50%

Risk has a moderate likelihood of occurring


11 – 25%

Risk is considered unlikely to occur


0 - 10%

Risk will occur in rare circumstances

c) Risk Matrix as outlined in the Museum’s Risk Management Manual.

Risk Matrix

6. Definition of responsibilities

6.1 Director

Overall accountability to the Minister for the protection of Museum collections.

6.2 Assistant Director, Collections, Content and Exhibitions

Ensures that appropriate policies, structures, responsibilities and procedures are in place to effectively protect the collections.

6.3 Chief Operating Officer

Team Leader of the Command team, for emergencies and for business continuity planning.

6.4 Head of Conservation

Develops policy, procedures, strategic and business plans aimed at protecting, maintaining and treating collections – with a specific conservation focus – and implements policy and procedures, monitors progress, reviews and reports.

6.5 Registrar

Develops policy, procedures, strategic and business plans aimed at protecting, storing, moving and documenting collections – with a specific registration focus – and implements policy and procedures, monitors progress, reviews and reports.

6.6 Facilities

Provides and maintains storage, exhibition and working environments that support the Museum’s aims and duties of collection care, working in close consultation with the Head of Conservation and the Registrar or their delegates.

6.7 Conservation business unit

Manages the preservation of the collections, incorporating preventive conservation, treatment and maintenance of collection items, exhibition support and preparation, research, and outreach.

Provides specialist advice to Museum staff, including those in the Registration business unit, on the preservation of the collections, on acquisitions and their conservation implications and authenticity, and on materials analysis.

Works collaboratively with other areas of the Museum to ensure optimum care of the collections is achieved in treatment and preventive conservation and assists other areas to contribute to the care of collections.

6.8 Registration business unit

Manages the storage, movement and documentation of, and access to, the collections, and in collaboration with Conservation approve exhibition layouts; mounting, installation and de-installation; packing and transport requirements.

Develops and administers loan agreements between the Museum and other organisations and provides advice across the Museum on the terms of these agreements and the conditions required to meet them.

Works collaboratively with other areas of the Museum to ensure documentation, storage and movement of the collections is achieved and assists other areas to contribute to the care of collections.

6.9 All staff

In the course of their daily duties, all Museum staff should be vigilant in being aware of risks to the collections and to changes in condition of collection and report risks and changes to Conservation.

Staff should seek advice and training from the Conservation in order to better understand risks to collections and to more accurately interpret changes to collections on display.

7. References

Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material, AICCM Code of Ethics and Code of Practice, 2000,

European Confederation of Conservator-Restorers’ Organisations, ECCO Professional Guidelines, 2002,

National Library of New Zealand, Collection Protection Framework, 2009,

National Museum of Australia Act 1980

Russell, Roslyn and Kylie Winkworth, Significance 2.0: A guide to assessing the significance of collections, Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, 2010,

Standards Australia, AS/NZS ISO 31000: 2009 Risk management – Principles and guidelines

8. Implementation

This policy will be implemented through:

a) Conservation business plan

b) Registration business plan

c) liaison and agreement between relevant business units across the Museum

d) induction and training

e) development and review of procedures

f) Conservation and Registration work programs.

8.1 Coverage

This policy applies to all activities associated with the care and preservation of the Museum’s collections.

8.2 Related policies

Collections development policy (POL-C-005)

Radiation safety policy (POL-G-032)

Risk management policy (POL-C-019)

8.3 Exclusions

This policy does not apply to the Education Collection or to the Museum Shop merchandise.

8.4 Superseded policies

This policy supersedes:

Former policy title

Version number

Version date

Council approval date

Conservation policy




8.5 Monitoring

This policy will be monitored through the reporting mechanisms for both Conservation and Registration against their business plans and through the agreements reached about shared responsibilities across the Museum for collection care.

Statistics are collected for:

  • preventive conservation related work on:

‒ object treatments

‒ pest treatments

‒ objects assessed and stabilised for storage

‒ environmental data for storage areas for collections

  • exhibitions related work on:

‒ object treatments

‒ objects installed and de-installed

‒ objects condition reported

‒ environmental data for exhibition and transport of collections

These statistics should not be used as a measure of the effectiveness of this policy or related procedures.

Qualitative information collected on an annual basis and reviews of procedures, exhibition debriefs, collection risk registers and lessons learned from projects will all contribute to monitoring the application of the policy and its effectiveness.

This policy is due for review in January 2015.


1 Adapted from ECCO Professsional Guidelines.

2 Adapted from ECCO Professsional Guidelines.

3 Adapted from ECCO Professional Guidelines.

4 Adapted from AICCM Code of Ethics and Code of Practice.

5 Adapted from AICCM Code of Ethics and Code of Practice.

6 Adapted from ECCO Professional Guidelines and AICCM Code of Ethics and Code of Practice.

7 From Roslyn Russell and Kylie Winkworth, 2010, Significance 2.0: A guide to assessing the significance of collections.






Version date

13 July 2012


Council approved

Executive approval date

5 March 2012

Council approval date10 May 2012 


10/1164, 12/227


Public & all staff


Collection care, conservation; preservation; risk management, collections management; research

Responsible officer

Head of Conservation


National Museum of Australia Conservation Policy 1999
Collections Preservation Policy, POL-C-042, Version 0.b, 31/8/10

Review date

January 2015

Related documents

Business Continuity Framework. Response and Recovery Plan - Team Collections

Collections development policy

Collection emergency plan

Conservation - Exhibition procedures

Conservation research and development framework

Door to Store III: A guide to conservation procedures for collection acquisition and assessment

Radiation policy

Risk management policy

Risk manual


National Museum of Australia

GPO Box 1901


Tel: (02) 6208 5000



Approved by Council 10 May 2012
Approved by Executive 5 March 2012

Return to Top