In addition to preventive conservation, Conservation Services provides highly specialized condition assessment, analysis and treatment of collections. Condition assessments are carried out on all new acquisitions, prior to, during and after loans and exhibitions of objects, and any time an object undergoes conservation treatment. Condition reports involve a detailed examination of the materials and manufacturing techniques of the objects, including photo documentation to track changes over time.
Conservation treatments are carried out to stabilize the condition of objects when they are actively deteriorating. An example of this would be a First Nations basket that has collapsed inward and requires humidification to make it pliable enough to reshape before a custom-made internal support is fashioned. Collections may require conservation treatment in preparation for exhibit or loan. Even if the object is physically and chemically stable, it may need to be cleaned to improve its appearance or paint losses may need to be toned in so that an artwork is more aesthetically pleasing. Often these types of treatments are not necessary when collections are in storage, but are only required for better interpretation of the object while on exhibit. Rarely is an object restored to an original, pristine condition, as the history of use is important to its interpretation. Everything that conservators do to an object should be reversible, in case better techniques are developed in the future, or information comes to light that makes the treatment less desirable.
Conservators are also scientists, using microscopes, spot tests and basic analytical equipment to identify the nature of materials or the processes of deterioration. In the three Royal BC Museum conservation laboratories, plastics can be identified to separate those that are sure to deteriorate quickly, such as cellulose nitrate film. Pesticide residues can be detected to ensure health and safety around natural history specimens. Textile fibres and pigments are analyzed under microscopy to assist the curators in determining their identity and even their source or maker.
The activities of Conservation Services is not confined to the existing collections, but rather our conservators play an active role in collection acquisition and in the broader collections development. From assessing the condition of potential acquisitions or donations to studying the deterioration of various plastic compounds to providing environmental needs for future storage, our conservators play an active and necessary role in the daily life of the Royal BC Museum.