Core Documents

Commentaries to the Guidelines for Practice

Commentary 25 - Documentation of Examination

  1. Rationale
    • To record information obtained through direct observation and testing concerning the materials, structure, history, current condition, and environment of the cultural property.
    • This record:
      • preserves information that may be obscured or lost through use, during treatment, or over time;
      • establishes a benchmark against which to assess change of the cultural property through use, during treatment, or over time;
      • articulates the need for conservation measures (e.g., treatment, preventive care);
      • serves as a reference for additional study or decision making (e.g., acquisition, exhibition, loan, site management planning, scholarly research);
      • facilitates communication about the nature, care, deterioration patterns, and use of the cultural property.
  2. Minimum Accepted Practice
    • While the form of the record of examination may vary as appropriate (e.g., laboratory notes, annotated photographs, checklist, work log), it must include:
      • information required in Commentary 24, Section B;
      • data obtained through direct observation and testing (distinguish clearly between observation and interpretation);
      • notation of accessory materials or associated elements (e.g., components of cased photographs, dependencies/outbuildings, stretchers and frames, mounts and fixtures, original housings);
      • the purposes and circumstances of the examination that place the record in context;
      • methods of examination and testing.
    • If examination is in preparation for treatment, the record of examination must also document in written form:
      • present condition, especially those aspects that are to be addressed by the treatment;
      • evidence of past treatment, including references to documentation of previous conservation activities related to the cultural property.
    • If examination is in preparation for treatment whereby the appearance of the cultural property may change, the record of examination must also include dated graphic documentation that illustrates:
      • present condition, especially those aspects that may be altered by the treatment (e.g., before-treatment photograph).
  3. Recommended Practice
    • All examination records should include:
      • graphic documentation (e.g., photographs, diagrams, drawings, architectural plans) necessary to illustrate condition and relevant details accurately;
      • information that uniquely identifies the cultural property (see Commentary 24, Section B).
    • Graphic documentation should include:
      • size scales, as appropriate.
    • Photographs should include:
      • color and gray scales;
      • a light direction indicator;
      • photogrammetric and point-of-view indicators, if required.
    • The conservator should endeavor to consult all available documentation of conservation activities related to the cultural property.
  4. Special Practice
    • Certain situations may require less documentation of examination. Nevertheless, documentation must always identify the cultural property being examined, and must include the name of the examiner and the date of examination.
    • These situations include:
      • Emergencies that may require intervention before examination can be fully recorded. Some record (e.g., audiotape, videotape, field notes) should be made at the time of intervention so that accurate documentation can be made when circumstances permit.
      • Examination of large groups of similar objects/elements (e.g., archaeological finds, library collections, systematics collection) for which documentation may be for the group as a whole. Unique conditions of individual objects/elements should also be documented.
      • Surveys, when representational documentation and/or group reports may be used. If all objects/elements in the surveyed collection or site are not examined, the sample size and methodology for selection (systematic, random, haphazard) should be stated.
      • Examination of an object/element made of many similar components (e.g., book, feather cloak, balustrade), when documentation may be for the object/element as a whole. Unique conditions of individual components should also be documented. For example, for books, photographic documentation may include: binding, title page or colophon, a representative opening in the text, and representative damage.
      • Examination of components (e.g., windows of a building, wheels of a railroad engine) of a large, complex cultural property, when documentation may be limited to representative examples, but the representative examples must be located and identified.
      • Examination of cultural property in situations of heightened risk (e.g., transport, loan, or proximity to construction zone), when documentation may concentrate on features that may change or conditions that may cause concern.
      • Routine maintenance, where limited examination (e.g., visual inspection) is carried out in preparation for routine activities (documentation of examination may not be necessary in such cases).


Approved by the AIC Board October 1996.