Preservation of Cultural Collections

RIT’s Image Permanence Institute (IPI) — housed in the College of Art and Design — is a research center dedicated to supporting the preservation of cultural heritage collections in libraries, archives and museums around the world.

IPI’s mission is achieved by maintaining an active preservation research program that informs and advances professional-level education and training activities, publications, consulting services, testing services, preservation software and other online resource development. IPI’s research program is supported by grants from federal and private funders as well as revenue generated from products and services.

A visitor at the RIT Image Permanence Institute, looking at a collection of photographs.

Research Areas

A researcher placing liquid on a slide. Image taken by Matteo Bracco.The material nature, identification, stability and long-term care of photographic prints has always been an area of expertise at IPI. Process identification is the first step in understanding and informing the preservation, access and use of photographic print collections and IPI has a long history of training professionals in process identification through seminars, workshops, webinars and print and online resources. Current research is primarily disseminated through Graphics Atlas, a sophisticated web resource that presents a unique, object-based approach to the identification and characterization of prints and photographs.

The underlying goal of this research is to better understand the relationship between photographic materials, process and aesthetic characteristics using primarily visual examination techniques. This approach provides the foundation for preservation and care of image collections.

Learn more about Photographic Print Preservation

IPI devoted years of scientific research and fieldwork to the understanding and preservation of film and media collections in museums, archives, libraries and other repositories. In addition to developing tools for assessing the condition of film collections, IPI research contributed significantly to the preservation field’s understanding of the benefits of low-temperature storage for the long-term preservation of film collections.

In 1997, IPI received a Technical Achievement Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for its development of A-D Strips®, dye-coated paper strips designed to detect and measure the severity of acetate deterioration ("vinegar syndrome") in film and other acetate collections.

Learn more about film preservation

There are a wide variety of collection object types created using digital-printing techniques, including images, manuscripts, books and ephemera, and objects produced by digital print technologies are entering institutional collections at an increasing rate. IPI digital print preservation research focuses on the preservation of digitally-printed images and addressing questions that will help collections staff better understand and care for these materials. While there are many printing technologies for output from computers, IPI has focused on the three most popular forms of image hardcopy: inkjet, dye sublimation and electrophotography.

Learn more about Digital Print Preservation

IPI environmental research initiatives focus on creating tools that help cultural institutions monitor and analyze environmental data to make informed decisions about how to improve the preservation quality of storage environments. Monitoring and controlling temperature and relative humidity (RH) in collection spaces is essential to providing adequate preservation conditions for collections. Recommendations for storage temperature and RH levels are periodically re-examined following the latest advancements in preservation science, and in recent years have been further informed by improved data-gathering methods, and greater interest in sustainability issues.

Learn more about collections environmental monitoring

IPI’s environmental research activities provide practical solutions for libraries, archives and museums to achieve sustainable environmental management strategies that achieve the best possible preservation environment while using the least amount of energy necessary. The process of implementing energy-saving strategies, while maintaining or improving preservation quality, requires a series of carefully defined, risk-managed steps that test individual energy-saving strategies to identify the appropriate final approach for a unique collection, space and mechanical system. More than $1.5 million in research grants have informed IPI’s resources and consulting services in sustainable preservation practice.

Learn more about sustainable preservation practices