Delaware’s museums and libraries could lose our cultural heritage, as nearly 190 million historical items* have become endangered. Thanks to generous funding by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), stewards of Delaware’s precious heritage collections can learn how to catalog, preserve, and manage them, both or future use and present accessibility.

Policies for Institutions

Compiled by Laura Hortz Stanton, CCAHA And Tom Clareson, Lyrasis


Mounting exemplar preservation policies has been seen by the Delaware Connecting to Collections Implementation Grant Project Partners as a way to provide institutions in the state with high-quality preservation information. Model mission statements, disaster preparedness and recovery plans, environmental control policies, security plans, and exhibit policies have been identified and selected by the Project Partners and can be circulated widely among Delaware cultural heritage institutions, to serve as models for each repository to develop their own set of preservation policies. This “documentation of practice” can assure sustainability of preservation at the institutions, and help to move preservation from a set of disparate projects to a continuous, sustained program. Through preservation policy development, the cultural heritage community in Delaware can overcome one of the biggest concerns noted in both the survey questionnaire and the on-site visits during the Connecting to Collections Planning Grant program.

Background on Preventive Conservation

The International Council of Museums Committee for Conservation defines preventive conservation as “all measures and actions aimed at avoiding and minimizing future deterioration or loss.” Preventive conservation encompasses almost all of the collections care activities that collections managers, curators, registrars, archivist, librarians and other stewards of cultural collections do on a daily basis. Environmental management, cataloging, processing, pest control, and housekeeping are just a few of the topics that fall under the auspices of preventive conservation.

Almost every activity fits under the preventive conservation umbrella can and should have a corresponding policy or procedure. Understanding the scope and intricacies of preventive conservation are key to developing policy and procedural documents that support preventive conservation goals and can be effectively implemented.

A Preventive Conservation Primer Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts, Preservation Resource, 2011 This preservation leaflet gives an overview of many of the aspects that are encompassed by preventive conservation.

A policy that addresses procedures for accessing the collections and outlines rules for who, under what circumstances, may use the collections. Access policies often outline different levels of access for staff, faculty, and outside researchers.

  • University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee – This access policy; outlines who has both physical and intellectual access to the collections. They also provide links to regulations of the archives/reading room rules.

A document that establishes policy regarding accessioning; deaccessioning; collections authority; collections access; staffing; materials placed in institutional custody; the level of necessary care; record keeping and documentation; and insurance coverage.

  • Atwater Kent
    A very complete policy that is clear, concise, and well-written
  • Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs
    The Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs has developed a Collections Policy that includes information on their collections committee, acquisitions, deaccessions, loans, ethics, and policy compliance. They have developed a separate Collections Procedures document, which gives more detailed information and specific procedures for many of their collections management functions.
  • Delaware Historical Society 
    A compilation of several types of policies (collections management, collections development, procedures, access policy)

A document that outlines what the Special Collections and Archives will collect and the breadth and scope of the collections. A collections development policy can also be used to identify and outline gaps in the collections and designate areas for concentration in future collecting.

  • University of Maryland Health Sciences and Human Services Library
    A good policy that has information on scope of collecting, formats collected, and selection criteria. Also has details on collecting by specific collection type.

A policy or procedural document that outlines the protocols for selecting collections materials for digitization or reformatting, as well as technical specifications for digitization and preferred equipment. The document should also provide information on access to digitized materials and systems that are in place for data migration, as it becomes necessary.

  • Yale University Libraries
    Includes information on selection criteria, prioritization information, and references to similar policies from other leading digitization programs.
  • Harvard Weidner Library
    A good example for workflow, selection criteria, and binding specifications; this work focuses particularly on preparation of digital facsimiles.

A document that identifies areas of collections risk and identifies methods of mitigating those risks and plans for response to those potential emergencies that cannot be mitigated. The plan includes response protocols, contact information for staff and vendors, and prioritize collections salvage.

  • Conservation Online
    The American Institute for Conservation has many excellent emergency plan examples on Conservation Online. Included is the plan for the University of Delaware Libraries
  • Another excellent emergency preparedness and recovery plan, from the Minnesota Historical Society, is listed in the AIC document (PDF) on Conservation Online

A document that details the members of the environmental management team; environmental set points; HVAC system capabilities; a systems maintenance schedule; environmental monitoring methods and protocols; and protocols for making adjustments to systems.

  • Components of an Environmental Management Policy for Collections
    Many institutions in the United States are just starting to implement policies to guide environmental management practices. This CCAHA handout in intended to help guide institutions in developing a policy.
  • Sustainable Preservation Practices for Managing Storage Environments
    Not a policy per se but this web site, developed by the Image Permanence Institution, contains a great deal of excellent information on the subject. Users are particularly directed to the video clips and PowerPoint presentations included on the website.
  • National Archives and Records Administration
    Archival Storage Standards Includes information on suggested facilities conditions, environmental quality standards, fire detection systems, and other helpful preservation practices.

A document that establishes the conduct that is expected of the parent institution and its staff in relation to the collections in order to avoid conflicts of interest and impropriety. Many institutions include this as part of their Collections Management Policy. Many professional organizations have Ethical Standards documents, including the International Council of Museums (ICOM), the American Association of Museums (AAM), the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH), American Library Association (ALA), and the Society of American Archivists (SAA). Other model statements include:

  • Science Museum of Minnesota
    In their statement the museum addresses collections issues as well as broader institution-wide ethical considerations.
  • AAM Curators Committee- Code of Ethics for Curators
    Contains good information on conflict of interest.

An exhibition policy should outline guidelines for the preservation, care, and maintenance of collections materials while on exhibition. The policy outlines how materials will be selected for exhibition; length of time materials will be exhibited; acceptable light levels for collections specified by materials type; information on mounts and supports; security for collections while on exhibition; and housekeeping in exhibition spaces.

  • Chicago Historical Society
    The Chicago Historical society has a comprehensive policy that touches on conservation, environment, exhibit case design, and gallery maintenance.

Handling Guidelines Institutions should, ideally have two sets of handling guidelines – one for staff and one for researchers/users. The guidelines for outside users is more general in nature and details information regarding food and drink near collections, use of gloves, and acceptable writing implements and photographic equipment to use near collections. The guidelines for staff should be more detailed and should include who on staff may handle collections materials; prerequisite training for handling collections; collections transports; information on when collections are restricted for use/exhibition; and detailed handling guidelines for materials by type (framed artwork, ceramics, textiles, papers etc.).

  • Chicago Historical Society
    The Chicago Historical Society has comprehensive handling guidelines for its staff. The Information in list format, which makes it easy to read and reference. The procedures Address appropriate clothing, preparation for handling collections, general handling guidelines, collections transport, reporting damage, and specific handling instructions by collections type.

A housekeeping policy includes information on frequency of cleaning in collections and exhibition areas; acceptable products to use around collections materials; information on prerequisite training for those staff members charged with housekeeping duties; and procedures for carrying out specific cleaning tasks.

  • Minnesota Historical Society Historic Housekeeping Handbook
    This housekeeping handbook is long but is a good resources for historic houses and historic sites. The handbook gives specific information on cleaning historic interiors.
  • UC San Diego Stacks Cleaning Guidelines
    A short but comprehensive sample of general stacks cleaning guidelines. This is a good resource for libraries or other institutions that may be enlisting the help of volunteers or student works to assist with housekeeping projects. The document also links back to the full UCSD Preservation Guidelines document.

A policy that establishes guidelines and procedures to govern the approval process for incoming or outgoing loans of archival materials and rare or valuable library materials. This document is separate from any interlibrary loan policy, as the criteria for the loan of special collections materials is often more strict. Many institutions include this as part of their Collections Management Policy.

  • Yale Peabody Museum
    This policy is interesting and useful because the institution addresses the issues of loaning to external institutions as well as to internal loans to students and researchers.
  • ACRL Guidelines for Borrowing and Lending Special Collections Materials for Exhibition
    These guidelines, developed by the Association of College & Research Libraries, provide a good overview of many of the considerations surrounding the loaning of special collections materials.

A strategic planning document that outlines the preservation needs of the collections and identifies specific projects related to those needs with assigned staff responsibility and timeframes.

  • Arizona State Museum (ASM)
    In their preservation plan the ASM addresses all the different facets of preservation in a museum setting, lists past accomplishments, establishes priorities, and links priorities to the institutional strategic plan.
  • Preservation Planning
    Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts, Preservation Resource, 2011 This short article discusses the process of developing preservation plan for a collecting institution.