The Conservation Starter logo with crossed swab and scalpel
The Conservation Starter logo white with crossed swab and scalpel





Do you know what conservation, sometimes known as art conservation, museum conservation, heritage conservation or material conservation is? Do you know about conservators and how we care for treasures and heirlooms? Join me as I explain what conservation is, who does conservation (conservators!) and what we work on. Watch the video to find out more!

Conservation encompasses all actions taken to look after cultural heritage (think of old and treasured items) to make sure it lasts.


Conservation is undertaken by professionally trained conservators to preserve and conserve cultural material. Most public galleries, libraries, archives and museums (known as the GLAM sector) have conservation departments or programs to look after their collections. There are also conservators in private practice that treat private collections and privately owned items.


Conservation works with all types of cultural material – any material that has been made and collected needs to be conserved. Materials can be ancient, such as papyrus and prehistoric tools, to more modern and contemporary materials such as plastics and audio-visual material.


Conservation can take a hands-on approach and this involves the direct treatment of objects to mitigate, prevent or, if it is ethically sound, even reverse changes that have happened to objects over time. For paper items this can include flattening a piece of paper that is crumpled, repairing tears and washing acidic degradation out of paper to ensure it lasts. Conservation uses a lot of weird and wonderful tools and equipment to do this, as well as scientific equipment.


Conservation can also take a really hands-off approach. This is all about preventing damage from happening in the first place (also known as preventive or preventative conservation). To do this, conservators monitor and control the temperature and relative humidity that objects are stored in or displayed in. Relative humidity is the moisture content of the air. Heat and moisture can accelerate chemical deterioration processes. Ageing is after all a chemical process! By controlling the temperature and humidity so it is optimal, cultural heritage will last longer.


Whether taking a hands on or a hands-off approach, conservation is all about managing physical and chemical changes to culture material. If it is anything to do with caring for cultural heritage, conservation and conservators will be involved!

Lucilla Ronai's paper conservation tool box and tools

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