Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales operates historic objects from its collections because demonstrating an object in use adds immeasurably to our understanding of its purpose, significance and historic working conditions.
Operating an object may also contribute to its preservation through distributing lubricants and varying stress points and may also help to preserve or rediscover appropriate skills.
This policy draws heavily on Standards in the Museum Care of Large and Working Objects published by the former Museum & Galleries Commission (MGC) in 1994 and current best practice and sets out the main issues to be considered and the procedures that should be put in place before any historic object is operated.
1. Condition Survey
A condition survey that adequately records the component parts and the detailed condition of the object must be carried out in order to determine whether the object is in a condition which will allow operation.
2. Risk Assessment
The likely risks to both the object and to operators and visitors need to be assessed.
For example it may be that any wear and tear or deterioration that is likely to take place will be to components that are designed to wear (e.g. bearings) and thus be considered acceptable. Where replacement of such components is deemed unacceptable it will be necessary to set limits for individual components beyond which wear will not be allowed, i.e. the point at which operation will stop.
The assessment needs to determine whether it is possible to operate the object to modern Health & Safety standards without compromising the integrity of the object.
3. Conservation Plan & Operating Manual
An appropriate conservation or maintenance plan and operating manual should be drawn up both to monitor the object’s ongoing condition and to ensure its correct operation and maintenance. A record must be kept of any work undertaken on the object.
MGC guidelines recognise that present day manufacturers operating instructions and maintenance systems are a good starting point in drawing up an operating manual for a museum object. However, care is needed as they may include directions not compatible with established curatorial and conservation practice and will almost certainly assume the ready availability of spare parts.
The object should only be operated if a sufficient number of trained and competent conservation and operating staff are available.