Journal Article

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  • Caring for geological collections: unresolved questions
    Royce, K., Baars, C.
    Journal of Natural Science Collections, Volume 8, pages 28 - 38

    Caring for geological collections is neither as simple nor as straightforward as widely perceived. Several hundred mineral species are vulnerable to the effects of moisture, temperature, air pollutants, and light. Some species undergo significant changes when exposed to minor deviations from their stability limits. One example—well documented by geochemists, engineers, and conservators alike—is iron sulfide oxidation; whilst reaction products and pathways are well characterised, the precise causes of deterioration of iron sulfide species within museum collections remain largely elusive. There is even less knowledge about the stability of many other susceptible mineral species—such as realgar or lansfordite—within the museum sector. Published guidelines for managing geological materials are often contradictory and evidence the lack of applicable information on optimal storage conditions and suitable conservation actions. In addition, currently available condition assessment methodologies are not always appropriate for the routine monitoring of large collections, and the results of such surveys are not necessarily reproducible. A new approach is required to answer the numerous questions regarding the care of geological collections, and to establish evidence-based conservation guidance, both of which requires substantial research. This paper introduces a framework for a research agenda that would underpin a robust approach to establish satisfactory conservation practices. This includes defining the extent at which material change constitutes damage, categorising damage, developing a protocol for routine condition assessments, determining adequate storage environments, and rigorously testing the suitability of conservation treatments presently available.

    Keywords: geological collections, stability limits, minerals, environmental conditions, conservation