I am going to talk to you about some of the basics of collection storage.
First up, there are some basic principles for collection storage areas:
- Collections should be well sealed and insulated to provide stable environmental conditions and reduce the ingress of dust and insects. There should be no natural sources of natural light, which can cause UV damage over extended periods of time. However, there also needs to be reasonable ventilation to reduce the risk of insect and mould infestation
- Try to avoid having a permanent workstation in the area to help reduce light damage, environmental fluctuations, and dust levels.
- Where possible, storage areas shouldn’t contain water or sewerage pipes as these could leak and cause damage.
- Unfortunately theft and vandalism can occur so make sure objects are stored in places that are solidly constructed and secured with appropriate locks or alarms.
- Preferably, flooring should be sealed concrete. This type of flooring is less likely to emit damaging vapours. It is also easy to clean and not subject to insect infestation.
- There should also be sufficient space for safe and easy access to your items, and keep in your mind your collection can grow over time.
- Importantly, collections should be separated from kitchen facilities. There should also be no eating, drinking or smoking in these areas and they should be regularly vacuumed and inspected for insects.
With those principles out of the way, we can get onto storage materials.
The best type of shelving for museum collections is powder-coated steel shelving with moveable shelves. Metal shelving has the advantage of being strong, durable, and flexible. Avoid baked enamel coated shelving, if possible, as it can sometimes release vapours that damage collections.
Solid wood shelving is often used in collection storage, as it can be cheaper than metal shelving. Keep in mind that wooden shelving can be less flexible, and may not be as strong as a metal system. They can also off-gas acidic vapours, which damage objects over time. If you do need to use wooden shelving, seal it with at least 2 coats of polyurethane lacquer. Allow it to dry for at least 4 weeks before using it with objects.
Wood products such as chipboard, MDF and plywood are often the cheapest option for shelving, but are even more likely to off- gas than solid wood. These should generally be avoided to use as storage, although Formica-covered plywood can be a good option.
If you have limited space
Where space is limited, compactus shelving units can be used. Keep in mind that all items stored in this system should be securely boxed or padded to avoid damage when moved.
Regardless of the shelving chosen, there are some good shelving guidelines that will aid you in creating your storage area.
- Shelving should be securely bolted to the walls, ceiling or floor.
- Avoid placing collection materials directly on shelving. Instead try lining the shelf with thin polyethylene foam sheeting or acid-free cardboard.
- The size and weight of an object should be considered before positioning it on the shelf. Smaller items can become lost or damaged if placed on top shelves. Heavier items may be easier to access on middle or lower shelves.
- Avoid storing artefacts behind each other on a shelf as reaching over artefacts can cause damage. Importantly never stack collection items unless they are being stored in boxes. In fact, all objects should be protected from light, insects, environmental changes and pollutants by boxing or covering.
- Support systems should be designed to fully support fragile objects, and keep flexible items in their intended shape.
- It is best to store items of similar construction and weight together. Where possible, don’t store metal objects with organic materials such as leather and wood as this causes corrosion. Of course many objects are made of mixed materials. They shouldn’t be separated.
- Keep packing systems simple so that objects can be easily removed and replaced and allowed adequate space around objects to prevent squashing. Also make sure that you have enough space to actually get objects off.
- All storage containers and covers should be labelled on the outside to reduce the need to open them in order to find objects. Photographs can be attached to containers or covers for quick reference. Using a consistent numbering system to identify the room, shelf and storage container will also aid in locating objects.
- If you have identified priority objects as part of your disaster planning process, they should be clearly labelled so that they can be easily found in an emergency.
- Unless everything is boxed or covered, it is best to cover your shelves. Tyvek is a good choice for covering shelves, as it is lightweight, waterproof, washable, and allows air circulation.
- Avoid storing objects on the floor as this increases the risk of damage. Large items that cannot be shelved can be placed on pallets and covered with Tyvek.
Following these basic guidelines for storing the items in your collection, really help you to keep the condition that they arrived in and will help your collection to stand the test of time.
Thanks for listening