AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting- “Assessing Risks to Your Collections” Workshop with Robert Waller, May 8th, 2012

I had the wonderful opportunity to participate in a workshop at the beginning of the 2012 AIC Conference with Robert Waller entitled, “Assessing Risks to Your Collections”. I decided to attend this particular course because many museums struggle with creating preservation priorities for their collections and this task is daunting to both small and large museums. Risk assessment tools can assist in identifying priorities for collections care and a museum can in turn invest strategically in projects to protect collections from hazards both in the present and future. I hoped to gain an understanding of risk management tools to better assist future preservation planning in my own museum and to relate the information I gained to the members of the Museum Association of Arizona, a museum organization that helped support my registration.

The workshop began at 9am and, in regular workshop fashion, participants began to introduce themselves to the group.  This, of course, enabled participants to get comfortable with one another in order to start the business of learning about risk assessment. There was a large constituency of Latin American Scholars present at the workshop, as well as other international attendees from places like Haiti and Korea. Attendees were also diverse in specialties which included photographs, objects, paintings, textiles, as well as different levels of education including some pre-program students, but all of course had an interest in the preservation of cultural heritage.  I was fortunate to have been in a group of both intelligent and friendly people that were willing to discuss and work together on all of the exercises.

Robert Waller introduced the overall objective and methods he would be using in order for participants to quickly learn the materials in this intense one day workshop. He was patient in describing each step, but also moved the workshop along to get in as much information as possible in such a short amount of time.  The main goal of the workshop was to demonstrate the Cultural Property Risk Analysis Model. By identifying risks to collections using this tool, museums can target resources more efficiently through strategic planning.  More specifically, the workshop enabled participants to:

  • Identify risks – by ”agent of deterioration” and “type of risk”.
  • Define risks clearly.
  • Assess the magnitude of defined risks.
  • Evaluate data and present information to stakeholders.

Systematically plan risk mitigation strategies by:

  • Identifying means of control – methods and levels.
  • Evaluating costs/risks/benefits of mitigation strategies.

The workshop was extremely interactive(not for the shy)and participants learned through a variety of means including lectures, demonstrations, brainstorming in small groups, group presentations, exercises, practice, and discussions. Small prizes were utilized to further motivate the groups (my group got chocolate!!). A well composed manual with a shiny protective cover was given to all participants. The manual consisted of all the course content exercises, references and a glossary of terms which I know will be a good resource and was much appreciated.

One of my favorite exercises was estimating the magnitude of risk to the display cases at the Albuquerque convention center. Each group was assigned their own case which encompassed a variety of materials and preservation issues. The groups worked together to calculate the magnitude of risk by using all of the steps worked out in class. We had to define the specific risks in our case, determine the fraction of susceptibility, the loss in value, the probability of occurrence, and the extent to which the susceptible is affected. This exercise really helped me put together all of the components discussed in the workshop lectures. Working with the other participants was also very valuable as they had differing opinions and it was necessary to work together to come to a consensus, much like in a real life scenario working with other museum colleagues. This gave participants a realistic view of what is involved in performing a risk assessment and gave a level of comfort in using what was learned.

In the end, I feel like I have a much better grasp of assessing risks to collections and will be able to more effectively communicate these risks in a way that will be useful to facilitate strategic preservation planning. This model of comprehensive analysis of risks can provide a guide for appropriate actions in order to effectively mitigate the rate of loss to a collection. All of the information provided during the workshop will be very useful to me and I hope to use these strategies in the near future and share them with my colleagues.