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Coronavirus Collections Care

What is the challenge?

Icon is fully supportive of the social distancing and self-isolation measures put in place to mitigate the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). However, many institutions and organisations have had to close their buildings and sites at short notice, leaving the objects and collections in their care at risk. Collections maintenance, the operation of vital environmental systems and many other important day-to-day tasks are not currently possible, which is increasing rates of deterioration and decay. Without the regular presence of skilled conservation professionals, other immediate threats such as equipment faults and leaking pipes may not be spotted in time to prevent damage.

Addressing this risk can only be achieved by providing the means for key conservation staff to continue to maintain safe and acceptable conditions on sites, and putting in place emergency networks to respond to any potential salvage operations.

What is Icon doing?

Icon has written to leaders across the UK nations calling for advice, investment, advocacy and skills development so that collections are cared for at this challenging time. To date, we have written to the following bodies urging that they acknowledge the current risks to collections in closed or partially closed institutions: 

  • Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
  • Welsh Culture, Sport & Tourism Directorate
  • Scottish Culture, Tourism and Major Events Directorate
  • Historic Environment Scotland
  • Museums Galleries Scotland

We have asked those in leadership positions to encourage museums and other institutions to implement interim care measures and to help to disseminate best practice advice on interim collections care at national and regional level. In addition, we have recommended that they consider further measures to financially support small institutions to carry out these tasks. We are pleased to note that in response to lobbying DCMS issued guidance on meeting security and environmental conditions for Government Indemnity Scheme participants and general collections purposes on 31 March 2020. This advice note confirms that it is acceptable for staff to visit museums and galleries to undertake security and collections maintenance tasks. 

Icon members possess a wealth of technical conservation and collections care expertise and knowledge that we recognise may be of assistance to a wide range of institutions. We are consequently collating a library of technical guidance to help institutions care for their collections during the pandemic, including comprehensive guidance on collections care during the lockdown period developed by the UK Heads of Conservation Group. 

We have reached out to partners, including the Association of Independent Museums, Collections Trust, Museums Association and Federation of Welsh Museums to share this guidance, seek joint advocacy on behalf of collections care and to identify better ways to collaborate so that conservators are supported to carry out their essential duties. 

Information and support for conservation professionals

  • American Alliance of Museums: Webpage of tips and advice on managing collections during a pandemic.
  • American Libraries Magazine: Article on sanitizing collections in a pandemic with suggested further reading. 
  • Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material: A practical guide to caring for collections for managers of heritage collections that are closed at short notice. 
  • Church of England: Advice on securing and caring for church buildings for incumbents and churchwardens. 
  • Collections Trust: List of resources by the Collections Trust and other sector bodies, including a Q&A expert panel on collections care in lockdown, security checklist and key worker template letter. The Collections Trust is also running online events, including a weekly ‘coffee time’ get-together to chat about museum topics.  
  • English Heritage: Article on how English Heritage staff are carrying on with essential work while sites remain closed. 
  • Gloucestershire Archives: Blog on collections care during lockdown
  • Historic England: Guidance on cleaning historic surfaces with reference to Public Health England’s guidance on cleaning in non-healthcare settings.
  • ICCROM: Tips and resources on identifying risks, monitoring impacts, undertaking first aid on collections and ensuring the safety of personnel. 
  • Institute of Museum and Library Services: Presentation and Q&A session on how libraries, archives and museums can help mitigate the effects of the Coronavirus when working with collections.
  • Museum Study: Online course to aid cultural institutions to respond to a crisis that interferes with their ability to operate normally, with topics on shutting down and reopening a facility. 
  • Sophie Rowe ACR and University of Cambridge Museums: Article with personal reflections on collections care during a crisis. 
  • Spencer & Fry: Collections care guide for museums and historic houses with links to further resources. 
  • UK Heads of Conservation Group: Comprehensive guidance on collections care during the Coronavirus lockdown period. 

What if I don’t have a conservator? 

Icon and its Care of Collections Group have also published a guide and checklist on 'waking up' collections post-lockdown designed to support organisations holding heritage collections with limited inhouse conservation expertise.

If you need a conservation expert to support your work, Icon's Conservation Register can help you identify someone with the right skills in your area.



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