Preservation needs assessments

The Community Heritage Grants program has funded 338 Preservation Needs Assessments (previously called preservation surveys). In each case, an external consultant was appointed to conduct the assessment. The aim of a Preservation Needs Assessment is to look at the physical condition of a collection, the suitability of current housing and storage facilities and to make recommendations for the development of a conservation program. Before you proceed, you might find the following publications useful:

Managing a Preservation Needs Assessment

1. Finding an Assessor

An experienced, qualified conservator should undertake the Preservation Needs Assessment.  When you’re selecting a conservator, request to see a CV, ask for references from previous clients and where possible, ask to see an example of their previous work. Check that the conservator carries insurance. The following resources will assist you to find a conservator to conduct your assessment:

  • Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material (AICCM)
    AICCM is the national professional body for conservators in Australia. They maintain a list of qualified conservators who are able to undertake Preservation Needs Assessments (in addition to Significance Assessments or other conservation work). Look at the conservators' listed areas of speciality as a guide.
  • 2004, 2005 , 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 CHG Final Project Reports
    Here you will find the names of all consultants who have undertaken Preservation Needs Assessments (and Significance Assessments) for past CHG recipients.  Contact the individual Project Coordinators for advice on how they managed these consultancies.

2. Cost Estimate

A Preservation Needs Assessment usually involves a conservator carrying out a site visit (2 days) to assess the condition of the collection and the environmental conditions of the storage facility.  They then collate the information and produce a report (4-5 days). This will cost in the range of $3500-$4000 (ex. GST) depending on the size of the collection being assessed. Remember to factor in travel and accommodation costs if the conservator does not live locally. Ask for a written quote that details the components such as: on-site visit, travel costs, report writing etc.

3. Preparing for a Preservation Needs Assessment

Before the consultant begins the Preservation Needs Assessment, the following steps need to be taken:

  • Brief the consultant: put together a written project brief which should include the name of your organisation, the project title, date, author of brief, contact details for the organisation.  It should also include some background information about your organisation and the aims of the project.  Ensure that the consultant is aware that the preservation needs assessment is expected to result in a report with an action plan and prioritised recommendations.
  • Understand what the CHG program expects to see in the report - see the Preservation Needs Assessment report summary below. 
  • Physically isolate the collection items or clearly identify them before the assessor arrives. Arrange a suitable working space. Valuable time is lost when objects and documentation cannot be found or working space is inadequate.
  • Gather together all documentation for the collection. Include the CHG application, the CHG offer letter, catalogues, details of provenance of material, and transcripts of interviews about the stories associated with the collection.  Give these documents to your assessor before they visit.
  • Contact people who can provide information to the assessor where necessary and make sure they are available for consultation.
  • Make sure that the assessor has full access to the collection for the time that he or she is conducting the assessment

4. The Report

The Preservation Needs Assessment should lead to a report that enables an organisation to prioritise conservation work and develop a suitable conservation program. AICCM have developed a Preservation Needs Assessment Template. This template must be followed by all conservators preparing a Preservation Needs Assessment for a CHG recipient. If you intend to apply for CHG funding in the future, you will need to submit your Preservation Needs Assessment report. If the assessor requires some funding up-front, only make a partial payment (50%). Retain the final payment (50%) until you’ve had a chance to read the draft report and ensure that it meets your requirements. The final report should include the following information (refer to the full AICCM report template for more detail):

1. Title page Includes the:
  • Name of the organisation
  • Title, eg. Preservation Needs Assessment
  • Author of report
  • Date of report
2. Table of Contents Should include page numbers for quick reference
3. Executive summary A brief introduction to the organisational aims/objectives and:
  • Up to three key recommendations from the assessment
  • Any key issues that will impact on the organisations’ ability to implement the recommendation outlined in the report
4. Key recommendations A summary of the key/major recommendations for further action listed in priority order and cross-referenced to the main body of the report.
5. Policies A summary of policies that impact on the collection.  Are they adequate?
6. Collection  
     Description Includes the types of objects/formats are collected, size of collection, significance, use and alternatives to physical access.
     Condition Looks at the overall condition of the collection and notes what parts of the collection are in poor condition and most at risk.
7. Building Description of the building type, construction materials and any glaring concerns.
8. Environment Surveys the internal temperature, relative humidity, light and dust levels and assesses whether they pose a risk to the collection. Looks for evidence hat the environment is putting the collections at risk.
9. Storage Comments on whether the materials or method of storage pose a risk.
10. Display/exhibitions Provides an outline of the existing exhibitions and display layout of the organisation, including outlying buildings and spaces provided for temporary exhibitions.
11. Housekeeping Examines the cleaning/housekeeping practices used throughout the building and assesses whether they contribute to the long-term care or deterioration of the collection
12. Visitor impact Assesses the impact that current visitation level has on the wear and tear to any part of the collection and/or building fabric.
13. Disaster preparedness Checks whether there a disaster plan or a list of emergency contacts.
14. Training needs
Looks at what training has been given and what is needed for current and future plans.
15. Prioritised recommendations Summary of recommendations from above sections, in a prioritised plan of action. Should indicate those that are urgent (need to be done in 12-24 months) and those that are medium to long-term.
16. Authorship Indicates who has written and contributed to the writing of the report, their positions and qualifications.

For further information on Preservation Needs Assessments, contact the CHG office.