Behind the Lens: Preservation Surveys 

Wed, 02/07/2024 - 09:54

Welcome to Behind the Lens, where we invite you to peer inside the inner workings of DHPSNY Planning & Assessment services to gain a deeper understanding of the assessment process and outcomes. You’ll also hear first-hand accounts from participating sites, offering their personal experiences and perspectives. 

We’re excited to kick off the series by spotlighting Preservation Surveys. Preservation Surveys are a crucial step in safeguarding valuable historical collections, as participation in this service lays the groundwork for preventive care and long-term preservation planning. 

What is a Preservation Survey? 

A preservation survey reviews an institution's policies, practices, and conditions that affect the preservation of collections. The primary focus is to address preventive care and mitigate deterioration and damage. The product is a written report detailing conditions and making recommendations for improvements. It identifies specific preservation needs, recommends actions to meet those needs, and prioritizes those recommended actions into short-, medium-, and long-term goals.

I knew the Preservation Survey would be important, but was surprised by the number of ways we have subsequently used it in our work. The survey included a preservation plan, a list of preservation priorities, and an assessment of specific needs with Fort Ticonderoga’s collections. One of the most useful formal products from the survey was a succinct list of short-term, medium-term, long-term, and ongoing goals. Some smaller goals were easier to accomplish and integrated into departmental staff annual work plans. The list has been especially useful as we seek support for longer-term goals.

— Miranda Peters, Fort Ticonderoga Association Director of Collections

Why does my institution need a Preservation Survey?

First and foremost, Preservation Surveys guide ongoing preservation planning to safeguard your institution's collections. While they can be a roadmap for the regular work of the collections staff, they can also be useful for educating the administration and board about collection needs and creating or guiding preservation policy at the highest levels.  

Another significant advantage of a Preservation Survey is its role in fundraising for collections care. Many institutions rely on grants and funding opportunities to support their preservation initiatives. Having a comprehensive Preservation Survey report strengthens their case when applying for grants and demonstrates a commitment to responsible collections management. 

Since we were moving our historical collections to the new History Discovery Center and wanted to focus more staff time on collections management and preservation, it seemed perfect timing for us to explore this opportunity. Based on the priorities identified in our DHPSNY survey report, we submitted two proposals for outside funding for preservation supplies and, in both cases, received the funding.

 — Dori Gottschalk-Fielding, Seymour Public Library Director of Development

How does the Preservation Survey process work?

A DHPSNY Preservation Specialist will be your guide throughout the process. We'll send you a pre-survey questionnaire and dataloggers to record environmental data. You'll return these, attaching any relevant policies and procedures, to give DHPSNY an idea of your particular goals and challenges. Your assessor will then spend a day on-site, meeting with members of the your organization. You’ll tour the Preservation Specialist through your collections, both on exhibition and in storage, and discuss your particular concerns. Depending on your organization, others that might be part of the conversation include collections staff, administrators, facilities staff, or volunteers. View the Preservation Survey timeline.

What does a Preservation Survey look at?

The survey process covers a wide range of aspects, including environment, housekeeping, pest control, fire protection, security, emergency preparedness, collection storage, handling, exhibition, and conservation treatment. Through the pre-survey materials and site visit interviews, the Preservation Specialist will assess preservation needs in these areas and priorities for action.  

The DHPSNY Preservation Survey has had a tremendous impact on the lives of our collections. The Lake Placid Olympic Museum is currently undergoing major renovations, and we had to move everything out of collections storage and archives into a temporary space for two years. The survey report is a blueprint for what we will strive for in our new collections space and work on preserving items properly before they return to their future home.

 — Alison Haas, Lake Placid Olympic Museum Director

What is included in the final report?  

The resulting report outlines specific materials needing immediate attention, recommends remedial actions, and sets up short-, medium-, and long-term preservation goals. There is an Executive Summary that is useful for sharing with administrators, boards, and granting agencies. Collections staff will find the Goals section helpful for planning purposes and the lengthier Findings & Recommendations section for all the details. We also include resources for additional information on topics covered in the report. Our preservation professionals can often share creative and affordable recommendations and solutions to your preservation problems.  

How much does a Preservation Survey cost?

There is no cost to your institution for DHPSNY’s services. DHPSNY is a program of the New York State Education Department, with services provided by the Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts. Your selection to receive this service covers funding for staff time and travel to complete the assessment as well as prepare the final report. 

Is my institution eligible for a DHPSNY Preservation Survey?

Eligible institutions are nonprofit cultural institutions in New York State that hold historical records and/or library research materials and operate programs to preserve and make them accessible to the public. Local governments in New York are eligible for Preservation Surveys. Previous awardees ranged from small-town historical societies and museums to large, nationally recognized nonprofit archives. 

Application materials for DHPSNY Planning & Assessment Services are accepted year-round and reviewed three times a year. 

Apply by Friday, March 8, 2024, to be considered for the spring 2024 application review period. 

Visit our Preservation Surveys page to learn for helpful tools for navigating the application process, including frequently asked questions and sample applications.

If you're unsure which service to apply for or whether your institution is ready, we encourage you to reach out to us! DHPSNY staff is available to answer your questions at or 215-545-0613 ext. 337.



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