Core Documents

Commentaries to the Guidelines for Practice

Commentary 21 - Suitability

The understanding of what constitutes responsible care for cultural property has broadened as the conservation profession has matured. This has led to the recognition that there is a range of possible appropriate treatments for any one cultural property or collection of cultural properties, no one of which is the sole correct treatment. The choice of a suitable treatment results from a thoughtful and informed consideration by the conservator, working in collaboration with appropriate individuals connected with the cultural property.

  1. Rationale
    • To promote an open-minded, flexible approach on the part of the conservator.
    • To encourage consideration of a broad spectrum of possible actions, ranging from no treatment to extensive intervention.
    • To promote treatments that are responsive and appropriate to the condition and needs of the specific cultural property, and to the cultural property in its context.
    • To promote treatments which anticipate possible future developments in the field while addressing the immediate needs of the cultural property.
    • To discourage fad-driven or formulaic treatments.
    • To prevent unnecessary treatment.
    • To encourage consideration of other factors that may have a bearing on the choice of treatment, including limits of personal competence, available resources, owner/custodial/institutional priorities, exhibit or loan requirements, and cost.
  2. Minimum Accepted Practice
    • The primary goal of a suitable treatment is the preservation of the cultural property itself.
    • In selecting a suitable treatment, the conservator must thoroughly consider the following:
      • the physical characteristics, condition, and specific needs of the cultural property;
      • context and use of the cultural property (historical, cultural, institutional, current, and anticipated);
      • the physical environment in which the cultural property will be located and the likelihood of continuing care;
      • the immediate and long-term consequences of treatment, including the effect on possible future examination, treatment, research, and use;
      • the potential risks of treatment to the cultural property weighed against the anticipated benefits;
      • limits of personal competence;
      • available resources, including personnel, facilities, equipment, and funds;
      • safety of treatment personnel, the environment, and the public.
    • A suitable treatment addresses existing structural instability as the first priority.
    • In selecting a suitable treatment, the conservator must first consider treatments that have been published in peer-reviewed literature and are currently accepted practice in the field. In special cases (see Commentary 22, Section D), other treatments may be considered, but they must be tested before general application.
  3. Recommended Practice
    • When resources are limited, the conservator should consider a phased approach to the implementation of a treatment. Each phase may be completed as resources become available. Phased treatment is especially relevant to large-scale or complex projects and large collections.
    • Treatments should be evaluated for suitability upon completion, and periodically over time. This process should be documented to provide information to the profession, and should be published when appropriate.
  4. Special Practice
    • When appropriate (e.g., large-scale projects, unusual applications and situations) testing should be carried out on mock-ups or discrete, representative portions of the cultural property to determine suitability.
    • When considering the treatment of large groups of similar objects (e.g., archaeological finds, archival collections, systematics collection), a representative sample of the group should be treated to confirm suitability, and an untreated control sample should be retained.


Approved by the AIC Board October 1997.