Funding is sought by the Image Permanence Institute (IPI) for a major project to create and field-test a coordinated system of computerized resources for preservation management. The results will constitute a significant advance in preservation infrastructure and methods for every type of institution with collections in the humanities, arts, and sciences. The purpose of the system is to visualize and document the effects of environmental conditions on the preservation of collections. It will make expert knowledge and sophisticated analysis tools available to busy collection managers so they can maximize collection life and minimize HVAC operating costs. The system consists of a set of hardware options for gathering temperature and humidity data, a powerful new software application for data analysis, a database of information on the environmental requirements of specific types of objects, and a web site. Each individual record in the database contains environmental limits, text, and pictures relating to only one kind of object. The database not only is a vital part of the data analysis software but also has value as an information source in its own right. Anyone seeking information on storage conditions for specific collection materials can view and search the database on the web site.
To use the system in practice, data on storage conditions can be collected from a variety of electronic devices and then imported into the software application. The collection manager tells the software what types of objects are present in the collection by picking from a list of records in the database. The software then analyzes the temperature and RH data utilizing the parameter values in the database to determine which collection materials are being harmed, in what way, and to what extent. Users of the software can extend the database by creating new database records, or by modifying existing ones and posting them to the web site for use by others. In this way, the system serves as a dynamic means of information exchange. The web site will not contain temperature and RH data, only parameters and information.
The project leverages the results of earlier NEH and Mellon Foundation grants because two system elements (advanced data collection hardware and the application software) were the subjects of previous projects and are already substantially complete. The main activities of the current project will be to integrate the system and create a "critical mass" of several hundred database records covering the principal types of objects in historical, fine art, natural history, library, and archive collections. A series of six mini-conferences of invited collection care experts and conservation scientists will be convened to assist IPI staff in the difficult task of creating the database records. The plan of work also includes further development of the application software and creation and administration of the web site. A key aspect of the project is a field trial of the full system with the participation of 80 museums, libraries, historic sites, and archives. Each will be given data collection hardware, application software, training, and updates to the database as it expands. All participants will be expected to provide feedback and encouraged to contribute new or modified records for the database. Institutions contacted so far have been extremely enthusiastic about the system and the field trial. IPI will continue to support and develop the system after the project ends.