A conceptual model and practical solution for conservation documentation

John R. Watson


This paper explores the potential of database technology to organize, guide, facilitate, and improve conservation documentation. The example developed by the author, CDS-Documentation (CDS-D), is now published by Conservation Data Systems. The program serves not only as a practical out-of-the-box archival report generator for objects conservation, but also serves as a conceptual model for future documentation software.

Whether documenting conservation of historical objects, fine arts, or natural history specimens, and whether the works are in two or three-dimensions, simple or complex, the building blocks of documentation are the same:

  • Project information (object owner, object name, accession number, etc.)
  • Components (subdivisions of the object for organizing the following elements of documentation)
  • Description (dimensions, materials, construction, coatings, etc.)
  • Past interventions (restorations and earlier conservation)
  • Condition issues (specific condition problems) •
  • Actions (future, present, and past tense: what, if anything, is proposed or was actually done about each condition issue)

These six building blocks link to each other in one-to-many relationships, and can be built up as needed to fit the size and complexity of the project. Thus, one object can have several components, each with optional description and past interventions, and perhaps several condition issues. Each condition issue prompts one or more actions, including, for example, a proposed treatment, actual treatment, or a decision not to treat. Two other building blocks can be linked as needed to any of the others:

  • Images (digital images, slides, radiographs, sketches, etc.)
  • Analysis (type, method, sample description, results and interpretation)

Database technology handles this type of modular data structure in ways not possible with word processors. CDS-Documentation shows how software can guide conservators toward documentation that complies with our published guidelines. It can arrange any amount of information for any complexity of project in highly organized reports that can be printed on archival paper or captured as digital files to be linked to collections management systems. By exploiting the potential of computer automation, documentation software saves time, improves thoroughness, and provides every possible automation amenity for recording information.

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2005 | Minneapolis | Volume 12