The Decision Support Tool for museum professionals

How does AGATO work?

Phase # 1 User's input

In four steps, users of AGATO will be requested to describe the types of materials present in the object, how these materials occur, in which condition they are currently and which factors in the immediate environment could be potentially dangerous.

The user can upload a picture of his object and add notes onto this image. During the input process, this image is a support for the user in keeping an overview of the information entered.

Step 1. Materials identification

Users are asked to name the materials present in their mixed-media objects, starting from the most prevalent material, then the second most prevalent, and so on until the least common material. Alternatively, the materials can be named according to their relative importance for the object in its context, starting from the most important material, then the second most important, and so on until the least significant. Illustrations of different types of materials in mixed-media objects and links to material identification aids available online facilitate their identification.

At the end of the process, the list of materials present in the object will be shown to the user for confirmation before moving on to the next step.

Step 2. Materials occurrence

Then, the user will be asked to specify how the materials identified co-occur in the object:

in direct contact with another material or enclosed in a space together (but not in direct contact with the other material). The goal is to identify all possible situations of material-material interactions existing in the object: mechanical stress and/or migration of components within the materials and chemical reactions or transfer at the interface upon direct contact; migration of volatile/off-gassed compounds through the headspace, followed by their deposition, absorption and subsequent reactions.

For materials that occur in direct contact with each other, the user will be asked to name them in pairs and specify the type of contact between the two materials (e.g., inlay, joint, glued, nailed, sewn, etc.). The underlying/support material will be named before the other material sitting on top of it.

If materials are not in direct contact with each other but enclosed together in one or more compartments of the object, the user will be asked to name all the materials inside each compartment. Such closed or semi-closed compartments can be, e.g., vials, domes, cases, drawers, and other closed niches that are part of the object itself.

At the end of step 2, the list of pairs of materials that occur in direct contact with each other and the materials that occur enclosed together (not in direct contact) in each compartment will be displayed for checking and confirmation by the user.

For each type of occurrence inputted by the user, there will be a field where he/she can enter the corresponding notes and images. This kind of documentation can be particularly useful in the case of large and complex objects with multiple types of material occurrence.

Step 3. Materials condition

Users will be asked to score each 'material occurrence' identified in STEP 2 for its current condition, using the verbal scale: Good – Fair – Poor. For materials that occur together but not in direct contact, each material will receive an individual score. Materials that occur in more than one way will be scored for each type of occurrence. In pairs of materials that occur in direct contact with each other, each material will receive one score.

This kind of information is relevant since current condition determines the degree of susceptibility of the materials (and the object) to further damage.

  • Good: no or only minor signs of deterioration/change (e.g., minor fading of colours, minor soiling, minor corrosion, etc.) can be observed in the material (exceptionally well-preserved, new or recently restored objects);
  • Fair: moderate to noticeable signs of deterioration/change can be observed in the material (e.g., moderate to noticeable fading of colours, soiling, stains, corrosion, embrittlement, abrasion, insect damage, etc.), but it is currently stable (no ongoing deterioration) and still maintains its structural integrity;
  • Poor: significant losses and/or signs of advanced deterioration (e.g., total or almost total fading, extensive soiling, corrosion, embrittlement, weakening, delamination, warping, breakage, insect damage, etc.) can be observed in the material, which might already have lost its structural integrity (likely to collapse or break when handled).

Step 4. Environmental hazards

In addition to inputting information to characterize the object (its materials, how they occur and their condition), users will also be asked to identify potentially dangerous factors in the immediate environment where it is kept. This identification will be structured according to the 10 agents of deterioration, by using simple YES/NO questions.

Phase # 2 Knowledge base query

The information provided by the user will be used to search the knowledge database for known (and well-documented) material-environment and material-material interactions. Apart from documentation of mixed-media objects, technical and scientific literature (heritage science, materials science) and laboratory experiments carried out within the ArtGarden project will be used as sources for this database. Relevant data and pertaining references will be returned to the user.

Phase # 3 Output to users

The output of the tool is a series of standardized warnings with illustrated examples, references, and recommendations to mitigate each risk documented in the knowledge base for the combinations of materials-occurrence-condition-environment inputted by the user.

The 'risk warnings' are ordered by material, starting from the most prevalent/significant until the least common/relevant material in the object, as inputted by the user. For each material, the warnings are ordered from the typically most relevant (biggest) risk until the least relevant (smallest) risk, taking into account how the material occurs in the object, its current condition, and the expected loss of value resulting from each type of material-environment and material-material interaction. Risks will be labeled according to the corresponding agent of deterioration. Risks that result from material-material interactions will be clearly identified so that the user knows exactly to which specific co-occurrence(s) in the object they are associated.

The risk reduction recommendations will be developed and labeled according to 5 Phases of control: AVOID, BLOCK, DETECT, RESPOND, RECOVER. These are a logical sequence of actions to mitigate risks by (preferably) avoiding their cause, blocking, detecting and (when necessary) responding to the presence and damaging action of the agents of deterioration, and recovering from any eventual damage/loss suffered by the object if everything else fails. The main focus of the tool will be on preventive conservation measures, i.e., AVOID, BLOCK, and DETECT. A simplified overview of all risks and recommendations for the object will be presented at the end to summarize the results of the output. In this summary, risks will be ordered from largest to smallest for the object as a whole. This ranking will be based on whether the entire object or only some of its materials (and which ones) are expected to be affected by each risk, and the loss of value to the object as a whole estimated in each case. Risks that typically result in total or almost total loss of the object (e.g. theft, fire) will appear first. Risks expected to cause significant damage to multiple materials present in the object, including those of higher prevalence/significance, will follow. Risks estimated to cause only small damage to one or few materials of low prevalence/significance in the object will appear as the last ones.