Collection Care and Conservation at Carnegie Museum of Natural History

The conservation department is responsible for the long-term preservation of the museum’s collection. The department’s conservators perform preventive care and treatment.

This demands close cooperation with the museum’s collection management staff. They study and understand the scientific nature of the botanical, geological, faunal, and anthropological sections of the collection. Conservators bring different expertise. They study and understand why materials deteriorate. And they develop ways to slow this process and reduce damage. In the museum world, this use of materials science is unique to conservation.

Materials science, like other branches of science, relies on data. Conservators collect and analyze data to formulate reasoned responses to preservation problems. This data includes detailed documentation of the condition of various collection items. Conservators also rely on continual monitoring of the environmental conditions in areas where collection items are displayed and stored. This includes buildings, exhibition halls, and even individual display cases.

Natural history collections pose a particular challenge for conservators. Typically, natural history collections range from anthropological materials to ancient and modern animal and plant specimens to geological materials. Each material is susceptible to different risks, and knowing which agents of deterioration threaten which materials is up to the conservator.