Caring for Museum Collections

Code: AHVS488D
Apply this course towards: Collections Management, Cultural Resource Management, Visitor and Community Engagement

Course description

This course provides an introduction to preventive conservation. During the 14 weeks of this course, we focus on identifying and quantifying the environmental factors or agents of deterioration that affect collections, and on developing strategies that mitigate those factors. We build our understanding of the materials that make up a museum collection, both in how they degrade and in how they react to their environment and the objects around them. As well, we explore strategies for evaluating conservation requirements for the safe exhibition and storage of museum collections. Finally, we explore the role of an integrated planning and a risk management approach to collections care.

Learning objectives

  1. Understand the ethics of conservation and the basic tenets that govern the conservation profession.
  2. Have a working knowledge of the terminology used by conservators and conservation scientists.
  3. Appreciate that cultural sensitivity is integral to provide collections with proper and respectful care and that collections care is often a partnership.
  4. Understand the principles and practices of conservation and a conservator's role within an institution or with collections.
  5. Recognize the history of conservation and the evolution of taking a preventive rather than an interventive approach to collections care.
  6. Be familiar with the various conservation resources and professional institutions available to support conservation.
  7. Understand and identify the range of agents of deterioration that can affect museum collections and the techniques used to measure and quantify them.
  8. Be familiar with a risk management approach to collections care, identify and assess the risks affecting the collections in your care and develop mitigative strategies for dealing with these risks.
  9. Be able to document the condition of museum objects (e.g. condition reporting).
  10. Be aware of the physical and chemical nature of the materials that make up museum collections and how materials degrade.
  11. Understand basic requirements for the safe exhibition, storage and transportation of museum collections, as well as strategies for museum security, disaster planning and integrated pest management.


  1. All participants must have a professional of voluntary role in a cultural organization, which will serve as their 'partner organization' for completion of course assignments. Participants are expected to either be working or volunteering at a museum or to arrange to partner with one. Participant involvement with a "partner museum" is an important component of the course as it will allow participants to anchor the course material in a real scenario and carry out course learning activities and assignments. It is important that participants let a prospective partner museum know that they are not involved in any critique or formal evaluation of their operations. Rather, participants can explain that all of the course participants will use a real institution as their "partner learning laboratory," to understand real life issues, priorities and challenges of caring for museum collections. Participants will essentially be acting as a collections care consultant. It is the responsibility of the participant to ensure they can complete all course assignments and contribute meaningfully to all course discussions by drawing on their role and experience. Please contact the course instructor if you have questions about your partner museum.
  2. Regular access to a computer with a reliable internet connection.
  3. University-level research, writing, and critical thinking skills.


Susan Maltby

What participants are saying

"Very applicable to my job. I've definitely benefited from what I've learned here and been able to apply it to my everyday duties."

"[The course] surveys a diverse range of conservation concerns and how to manage them within a collection."

“The course identified great collections care resources that I will continue to use in my career."

"The main strengths of the course were the quality of the resources that were provided and the knowledge of the instructor."

"[Instructor Sue Maltby] was excellent at making the material practical to our work situations."


Online format using the learning management system (LMS), Brightspace, over a 14-week period, requiring approximately 12-14 rigorous hours of coursework per week.

Students login to the course and communicate with the instructor and fellow students via the Brightspace course site. This course follows an asynchronous delivery model.

This course will use online text-based notes and/or PowerPoint presentations, forum-based discussions, individual and individual assignments, and print and online readings/resources. In addition to completing assignments and activities, participants are expected to contribute meaningfully and frequently to forum-based discussions weekly. The mode of contact with the course instructor is via email or online forums.

Attendance, participation and decorum

Whether registered as a credit or non-credit participant, you will be expected to:

  • login to the course website on a regular basis throughout each week
  • participate in class activities, and thoughtfully and articulately contribute to course forum discussions by reflecting upon assigned readings and professional experiences
  • submit course assignments on scheduled course deadline dates
  • notify course instructors of any personal leaves throughout the term that will affect class participation well in advance
  • notify the instructor of any situation that will compromise the timely submission of an assignment or activity to work out alternate arrangements well in advance of due date
  • provide work throughout the course that is effectively organized and researched, professionally presented, and well-written
  • interact with colleagues, program staff, and course instructors in a respectful and positive manner at all times

Note: if a student has not signed into the course site by 100% tuition refund drop date, the Program Office reserves the right to withdraw the student from the course. Participation in online courses is mandatory and online interactions are the most important part of the course learning experience. As such, “catching up” at such a late date without prior approval—and make-up scheduling by the instructor and/or program—is impossible


The textbook for the course is Conservation Concerns: A Guide for Collectors and Curators. Bachmann, Ed. Washington: Smithsonian Books, 1992.

The textbook is available for purchase from the UVic Bookstore starting December, 2018.

Other readings will be available on the course website.

Privacy Considerations

In some cases, participants and the course instructor may discuss examples that reflect an actual situation, institution, or community. In order to create an environment where all feel free to discuss and learn from situational issues, it is asked that everyone respect the confidential nature of the institutions and communities being discussed.

While the site is password protected, note that email and course discussion forum groups are never entirely confidential and are subject to freedom of information and privacy legislation. Your use of these communication tools should reflect the public nature of the media.

We ask that you respect the copyright of any and all course materials and note that these are circulated and shared for the purposes of this course only. Further reproduction is strictly prohibited.

Personal information at the University is protected by the BC Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) and the University's Protection of Privacy Policy.

Disclosure of personal information to vendors, systems or services storing or accessing that information outside of Canada is restricted by s.30.1 of FIPPA.

Instructors may use a variety of educational technology in a course including internet-based technologies, or web-based applications, cloud services and social media. The use of technology is intended to enhance and/or deliver students' education and is part of a students' engagement at the University. Some of these technologies may collect, use, disclose, and store student and instructor personal information outside of Canada.

In some courses, instructors may require students to use educational technology and social media which stores personal information outside of Canada, in such cases, instructors will try to provide options (such as using an alias to register).

If students do not want their personal information stored or accessed outside of Canada, in certain rare instances, courses may not be available to them. If the course is required for the completion of a degree, alternatives will be provided.

Course Credit

1.5 units at UVic or may be taken on a non-credit basis.

PLEASE NOTE: If you have not already been admitted to UVic, you cannot take this course(s) for credit. Program Application Deadlines are as follows:

September entry:  July 1
January entry:  November 1
May entry: March 1

However, if you had applied to the program before the application deadline, you will be permitted to register in the course(s).

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