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Collections Demography

Collections Demography Colloquium

Modelling in Collection Management

Centre for Sustainable Heritage, University College London, UK

23 May 2013

The one-day colloquium will bring together environmental and material research through the lens of values we attach to heritage. While there is a substantial body of published research on collection materials and environments, there is a significant need to understand the dynamics of change on the level of collections. In the project Collections Demography (2010-2013), we explored new methodologies of assessing the value of objects in the context of different uses of collections, both qualitatively and quantitatively, to understand user expectations in relation to library and archival collection care.

Innovative research was performed to understand the interactions between the environment and paper-based collections, and new quantitative relationships ('isoperms') were developed linking permanence with environmental data and inherent material properties. New research was undertaken to explore the build-up of wear and tear, enabling collection managers to assess the effect of physical use of collections on the accumulation of damage. The dynamics of these processes is captured quantitatively in 'isochrones', describing the expected collection lifetimes. New research was undertaken to understand the effect of climate change on collections, demonstrated on two case studies: Brodsworth Hall (English Heritage) and The National Archives, Kew.

The environmental, materials and value research provided evidence to inform the development of a comprehensive collection demographic model, based on stock modelling. As a key deliverable of the Collections Demography, this tool informs the development of holistic collection management guidelines.


Plenary programme, 9:30am-2:15pm

  • What is Collections Demography?, Matija Strlič, UCL Centre for Sustainable Heritage
  • Values and Heritage, Kalliopi Fouseki, UCL Centre for Sustainable Heritage
  • Quantifying User Attitudes to Collections, Catherine Dillon, UCL Centre for Sustainable Heritage
  • Modelling Change and Damage in Collections, Matija Strlič, UCL Centre for Sustainable Heritage
  • Historic Paper and Environment, Eva Menart, UCL Centre for Sustainable Heritage
  • Environmental Management in Collections, Konstantinos Ntanos, The National Archives (UK)
  • Environmental Change and Collections, Peter Brimblecombe, University of East Anglia

Round Table Discussion: Change and Collection Management

Nancy Bell, The National Archives (UK) – introductory presentation

Gerrit de Bruin, Nationaal Archief (The Netherlands)

Fenella France, Library of Congress (USA)

Moderated by Matija Strlič, UCL Centre for Sustainable Heritage

Collections Demography Workshops, 3:15pm-5:15pm

Workshop 1: The use of interviews in understanding ‘heritage values’

Led by Dr Kalliopi Fouseki, UCL Centre for Sustainable Heritage

This workshop will demonstrate the different types of interviews that can be conducted with users in heritage organizations in order to understand the values that they assign to heritage sites and collections. The workshop will start with an interactive discussion on ‘heritage values’ that will aim to unfold the multiple meanings of this concept. The workshop will then proceed with the presentation of two main types of face-to-face interviews including a) unstructured interviews and b) semi-structured interviews. The participants will be briefly introduced on the method of interviewing highlighting strengths as well as weaknesses and limitations. Examples of 'bad' and 'good' interviews will be demonstrated and discussed with the workshop participants. The process of designing and conducting an interview with the aim to assess values will also be outlined. The participants will have the opportunity to design an unstructured and a semi-structured interview which they will test with their peers. Discussion on their experience will follow.


Workshop 2: Quantitative attitudes research in Collections Demography

Led by Dr Catherine Dillon, UCL Centre for Sustainable Heritage

Thinking about the expected lifetime of a collection may aid collection care decision making, such as environmental controls. This workshop introduces participants to the development and analysis of the VALUE questionnaire (Value and Lifetime – User Engagement). The questionnaire collected quantitative attitude data from the end users of historic library and archive collections on topics relevant to discussions of expected collection lifetime: the values they assign to collections, the future of collections and the care and condition of collections. Values, attitudes towards the longevity of collections, definitions of ‘end of life’ and reasoning about agents of change were found to vary across contexts of use (e.g. reading rooms vs. display on shelves) and also different groups of users. The results were used within the Collections Demography project to inform the use of planning horizons and damage thresholds when modelling collection change. In particular, the results have been used to explore the use of discounting as a decision making aid. This workshop will demonstrate how the VALUE questionnaire was developed and analysed and how the results were applied.


Workshop 3: Everything you ever wanted to know about damage

Led by Dr Matija Strlič, UCL Centre for Sustainable Heritage

This workshop will explore crucial links between value attitudes and material change: (i) what elements of change are most important?; (ii) how do we quantify the extent of change that makes object unfit for a particular purpose?; (iii) how do we quantify the rate of chemical change, or wear and tear? Quantitative surveys of user attitudes to fitness will be discussed, with the associated methodology of data analysis, exploring effects of the type of use and the type of material change. We will explore how wear and tear depends on material fatigue, and whether and how it might be possible to quantify this aspect. Finally, we will discuss the development of new isoperms describing paper degradation, based on environmental as well as material properties, and introduce the term isochrone describing expected lifetimes of objects in the context of collection care.


Workshop 4: Standards and models in environmental management of collections

Led by Konstantinos Ntanos, The National Archives

The workshop will explore how, and whether at all, environmental monitoring data can be used to assess compliance with current environmental standards and guidelines for storage of archival collections. We will touch on the implications of big spaces, big systems and large data sets and discuss differences in different environmental control approaches. After a brief introduction into the sources of current standards and the processes involved (BSI, CEN, NMDC) we will highlight commonalities and discords in the current standards and guidelines, touching on PAS198 and PD5454 in particular. We will see how a collection model can be far more informative with respect to the evaluation of the preservation outcome on a collection level, than a model based on compliance with given RH and T ranges. On the other hand, it may be a lot harder to specify objective assessment criteria, as some of the participants will find out, having attended the above workshops.


Registration for the colloquium and for the workshops is separate.

Please note that the places are very limited.

To book your place at the colloquium, please send an e-mail to Carlota Grossi. Your place will be confirmed as soon as possible.

To register your interest in a maximum of two of the above workshops, please send an e-mail to Carlota Grossi.

The locations of the plenary programme and of the workshops will be communicated in the booking confirmation email. Registration includes refreshments and a light lunch. There is no fee for this event.

We apologise in advance for the limited number of places; however, we will aim to film as much of the programme as possible to make it available on the internet at a later date.

The large collaborative project is funded by the UK AHRC/EPSRC Science & Heritage Programme.


University College London

Principal Investigator:

Matija Strlic, Centre for Sustainable Heritage
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Kalliopi Fouseki, Centre for Sustainable Heritage
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Jinghao Xue, Department of Statistical Science
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University of East Anglia


Peter Brimblecombe
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The National Archives, Kew


Nancy Bell
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English Heritage

Project Partner:

David Thickett
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Library of Congress

Project Partner:

Fenella France
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