Institute of Archaeology


Conservation's Catch 22

Conservation and collections care in museums are deeply affected by pressures to provide greater access to heritage objects for people now, but at the same time to make sure that objects survive for future users. This highlights a paradox which could be called conservation's "Catch 22"

  • Access to heritage objects brings social benefit
  • Greater access brings greater social benefit
  • Greater access brings greater damage
  • Greater damage brings reduced social benefit

The aims of the AHRC/EPSRC research cluster established in 2009 to investigate this subject area were to

  • explore the nature of the paradox that increasing access may ultimately reduce access;
  • understand both conceptual and practical risks and benefits of providing increased access to objects
  • evaluate the effects on current collections-care policies and practice
  • provide a platform for future research

The core activities consisted of three workshops (in March, April and June 2009) a conference (in September 2009) and a blog.

These events, and the blog, involved specialists in conservation, museums, cultural heritage, materials science, engineering, anthropology, haptics and virtual technology. All events were hosted by UCL Institute of Archaeology.

Related outputs

  • The activities of the research cluster generated widespread debate and brought together communities, from both inside and outside academia, who do not often gather in one room (specialists in conservation, museums, libraries, cultural heritage, anthropology, materials science, engineering, haptics and digital imaging, and many students). The debate has shown how important this topic is and how wide the interest and concern. An important outcome is that the cluster has generated a network of professionals who we hope will contribute to further research.
  • Workshop and conference materials are available on the project website.  For the duration of the project an RSS feed and JISCmail mailing list were available as well as the project blog. 


  • AHRC/EPSRC Science and Heritage Programme