Open your “Virtual Doors” – Conservation and Access to Cultural Heritage

Open your “virtual doors” to the public!

This is the call to action for the 3rd annual European Day of Conservation and Restoration (11 October), for which the E.C.C.O. (European Confederation of Conservator-Restorers’ Organisations) invites Conservator-Restorers from all around Europe to give a glimpse into their work via social media.

In this time, when more of our engagement with culture than ever needs to take place from home, the ability not only to access cultural heritage, but also to see the process of its conservation and preservation is important. It raises awareness of the expertise that goes into the protection of, and access to, our cultural heritage.

It is this expertise, held by practitioners in museums, archives, galleries, universities, and of course libraries, that allows us to access, enjoy, learn, and benefit from the world’s cultural heritage – even from home.

Why Documentary Heritage Matters

The value of documentary heritage, stated by UNESCO, is promoting “the sharing of knowledge for greater understanding and dialogue, in order to promote peace and respect for freedom, democracy, human rights and dignity”. Preservation is a key element in realising this potential.

Photographs, manuscripts, books, journals, public records, audio-visual material – the survival of the documentary heritage that is held in the collections of libraries around the world relies on the precise and scientific practice of conservation as much as the paintings and antiquities in the world’s museums do.

As such, Conservator-Restorers have an essential role to play in the implementation of the UNESCO 2015 Recommendation for the Preservation and Access to Documentary Heritage, including in Digital Form.

In the segment Preservation, UNESCO encourages member states not only to carry out practices to ensure the long-term preservation of documentary heritage, but as well to develop awareness-raising and capacity-building measures and policies, such as promoting research and providing training and facilities. 

Conservation and Restoration: A Necessary Precondition for Access

In line with this year’s European Day of Conservation and Restoration theme, experiences with culture and heritage during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic have largely existed in the virtual space.

With the worldwide halting of tourism and restrictions or physical closures of museums, libraries, archives, and galleries, there is hardly an institution that does have an interest in ways to connect virtually their public to their collections.

IFLA has recently shared tips for collection-holding institutions to create digital engagement during this time and beyond. Yet the truth is that the need for online engagement will continue even after COVID-19 is a thing of the past.

Little of this engagement would be possible without the conservation and digitisation of our heritage objects.

The IFLA Guidelines for Setting Up a Digital Unification Project (2019) take collection holders through the steps they must consider when carrying out a project that centres on digitisation. In this practical guide, the very first step of “Managing the project” is Conservation/Preservation.

The guidelines state: “Documents that are not in a fit state to be digitised without damage have to be restored to an appropriate level.”

During the time of COVID-19, when many in the cultural heritage sector are relying on digital collections to connect them with their public, the role of conservators remains a crucial step in ensuring cultural heritage is accessible.

What Can Libraries Do?

As highlighted, our documentary heritage gives us a record of the memory of the world – a look at the past that connects us with one another, to the generations that came before, and, through its conservation, to the generations to come.

Libraries have a critical role to play, both in carrying out this conservation work, and in educating their visitors on what goes on “behind the scenes” to ensure these collections remain accessible.

Public interest in heritage can be increased through allowing a peak behind the curtain.

Libraries can help educate their communities on the work of Conservator-Restorers in their institution through programming both in-person, such as tours of conservation spaces, as well as virtually, though videos, lectures, and other content shared online and through social media.

Preservation and Conservation (PAC) Centres

Over the past year, IFLA’s Preservation and Conservation (PAC) Centres, hosted in libraries around the world, have carried out multiple programmes that connect both the library’s visitors and other professionals with their preservation and conservation work.

PAC Korea, hosted at the National Library of Korea in Seoul, Republic of Korea, hosts an annual Special Stacks Tour during Library Week in mid-April. Registered guests could join tours of the inside area of preservation stacks, which are usually not publicly accessible. They were about the learn about the preservation environment and techniques. By introducing the library’s preservation function to the general public, these special tours promote the importance of materials preservation.

Although PAC North America, hosted at the Library of Congress, USA, could not host the tours and public events that are usually scheduled for Preservation Week this year, the Library held an online series of webinars in its Topics in Preservation series aimed at a professional audience — librarians, archivists and museum staff. Each webinar drew more than 500 attendees from across every U.S. time zone in the U.S. as well as international participants.

Planned Library Engagement in the European Day of Conservation and Restoration

 In the current “stay at home” climate, how is the European Day of Conservation and Restoration being celebrated this year?

 In line with the call to “open your virtual doors to the public”, the E.C.C.O. asked their network to share photos and videos on social media throughout the week to give a glimpse into their workrooms.

We were excited to see E.C.C.O members in libraries sharing examples of the work they are doing to preserve documentary heritage! Have a look at a few examples:


IPCE. Instituto del Patrimonio Cultural de España shared photos of their project restoring the binding of a 16th-century Quran from the collection of Arab-Andalusian manuscripts of the Library of the Instituto Valencia de Don Juan, Madrid.


The National and University Library, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia shared pictures and information detailing their careful restoration of a manuscript from Poljanska valley.


The Chester Beatty museum and library in Dublin shared an online lecture on the condition and treatment of an 18th century Indian manuscript from the library’s collection, including ethical considerations that go into treating original manuscript material.

Watch here [YouTube] 


The Association of Conservators of Antiquities and Works of Art of Higher Education, Greece, shared a glimpse into the Conservation Service of the National Library of Greece and its laboratory hosted at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre.
Watch here [YouTube] 

Thank you to the E.C.C.O. and all the participating institutions for opening your virtual doors and giving us a peak at the work you are doing to preserve and provide access to the world’s documentary cultural heritage!

Get involved! You are welcome to share your library’s conservation and restoration work using the hashtag #EuropeanDayConservationRestoration.