Museums play a crucial role in the collection, preservation, research and exhibition of a wide range of objects ranging from ancient artefacts to priceless works of art. These institutions serve as custodians of invaluable cultural heritage, safeguarding their collections for the benefit of present and future generations. However, museums face many challenges, including financial constraints, ethical issues and the risks posed by climate change and other environmental factors.
This guide will discuss how museums can protect their collections from environmental risks and the changing environment.
Threat: Rising Temperatures & Humidity
- Fluctuating Temperatures & Unstable Relative Humidity: Rapid temperature fluctuations and unstable humidity levels can cause irreversible damage to artefacts. Extreme weather events related to climate change can accelerate building deterioration, posing a threat to the objects housed within.
- Unsuitable Storage Conditions: Temperature fluctuations create an unsuitable environment for artefacts stored indoors, leading to deterioration and damage if the temperatures aren’t steadily maintained.
- Continuous Monitoring: Museums should continually monitor temperature and humidity levels in their repositories. The ideal temperature range for preservation falls between 16°C and 20°C, with a relative humidity level between 40% and 60%.
- Risk Management Policies: Regularly review and update risk management policies and procedures in line with the most recent standards.
- Employee Training: Ensure employees are well-trained and understand the risks associated with temperature fluctuations.
- Off-Site Storage: Consider off-site records management storage if your museum’s facilities do not meet recommended standards. This can help protect valuable collections from the impacts of climate change.
- Raise Awareness: Increasing awareness of how climate change affects museum collections can have a positive impact on future adaptation efforts and collect support for necessary preservation measures.
Threat: Ultraviolet Radiation
- Colour Fading and Material Weakening: Ultraviolet light can cause irreversible damage to paper, books, photographs, artwork, leathers, and other fabrics. This damage includes the yellowing of paper, fading, changes in photograph colours, and weakening of material fibres.
- Controlled Light: Exposure to natural light and artificial light must be controlled and kept to a minimum to prevent colour fading and deterioration of collections.
- Archives Boxes: Store collections in acid-free archive boxes when not in use and store within a dark room.
- UV Screening Filters: If windowless rooms are not an option for displayed collections, apply UV screening filters to windows to block harmful UV rays.
- Light Metre: Use a light metre to measure the level of visible light in lux (lumens per square metre) – it’s recommended sensitive items should not exceed 50 lux.
Threat: Flooding & fire
- Significant Damage: Flooding and fire can lead to significant irreversible damage to collections.
- Fire Suppression Systems: Install automatic fire suppression systems in all repositories to mitigate fire risks.
- Storage Placement: Avoid storing collections at floor level or close to external walls, as well as in basements or flood-prone areas.
- Risk Assessments: Conduct regular fire and flooding risk assessments to identify vulnerabilities.
- Education: Educate museum staff on the risks associated with fire and flooding, including procedures.
- Material Damage: Pests can cause damage to materials by eating through them, causing staining and deterioration by harmful residue which they leave behind.
- Staff Training: Educate museum staff on how to recognise signs of pest activity and prevention measures.
- Monitoring Systems: Regularly maintain and inspect pest monitoring systems to catch infestations early.
- Sealing: Ensure that doors and windows are well-sealed to prevent pests from entering repositories.
- Cleaning: Carry out regular cleaning in repositories using appropriate methods to deter pests.
- Quarantine: Isolate any collections suspected of being infested to prevent further spread.
- Specialist Training: Provide archivists with specialist training in pest prevention and management.
Threat: Poor Collection Care & Handling
- Accidental Damage: Improper care and handling of collections can lead to accidental damage.
- Archival Packaging: Use suitable archival packaging materials to preserve collections whilst not on display.
- Safe Handling: Follow safe handling practices when handling collections and packaging to ensure protective coverings remain intact.
- Use of Nitrile Gloves: Nitrile gloves are recommended for handling collections as they create a strong barrier between the skin and the object being handled. They are tear-resistant and do not leave residue on the objects.
Preserving museum collections in the face of climate change and environmental challenges is a responsibility that requires vigilance, preparation and a commitment to ongoing learning. By implementing these tips and adapting to changing conditions, museums can continue to protect and showcase our shared cultural heritage for generations to come.
For more information as to how DeepStore can help you in preserving cultural heritage, get in touch with our friendly team today. Call us at 0345 056 5759 or fill out our simple online enquiry form, and we’ll be in touch.