Climate change – including more regular extreme weather events such as heatwaves, droughts, floods, cyclones and wildfires – is threatening to deteriorate and damage museum collections.
The physical risks of climate change must be considered by museums that are responsible for the protection and preservation of collections for the cultural and social benefits of future generations.
This guide looks at how museums can protect collections from the impact
of climate change and the changing environment.
Threat: Rising temperatures and humidity
- Climate change leads to extreme weather and temperature fluctuations, causing buildings to deteriorate more quickly, therefore posing a threat to the artefacts within.
- Temperature fluctuations and unstable relative humidity create an unsuitable environment for artefacts stored indoors, leading to deterioration and damage if the temperatures aren’t steadily maintained.
- Continually monitor temperature and humidity levels in repositories.
- The ideal temperature range is 16°C-20°C.
- The ideal relative humidity level needs to be between
- 40% and 60%.
- Review and update risk management policies and procedures.
- Ensure employees are trained and understand risks of temperature fluctuations.
- Consider off-site records management storage if your facilities aren’t up to the recommended standards.
- Increasing awareness of how climate change affects museum collections can have a positive impact on future adaptation efforts.
Threat: Ultraviolet radiation
- Ultraviolet light can cause irreversible damage to paper, books, photographs, artwork, leathers, other fabrics and delicate materials.
- Damage includes yellowing of paper, a fading and change in colour of photos, and weakening of material fibres.
- Exposure to natural light and artificial light must be controlled and kept to a minimum to prevent colour fading and deterioration of collections.
- Store collections in acid-free archive boxes, when not in use, kept in a dark room.
- Apply UV screening filters to windows if unable to use windowless rooms for collections on display.
- A light meter can be used to measure the level of visible light in lux (lumens per square metre). It is recommended that the lighting for sensitive items should not exceed 50 lux.
Threat: Flooding and fire
- Flooding and fire pose a significant risk to collections, as the damage is usually irreversible.
- Install automatic fire suspension systems in all repositories.
- Avoid storing collections at floor level and within close proximity to external walls.
- Avoid storing collections in basements or areas where there is a risk of flooding.
- Conduct fire and flood risk assessments.
- Educate members of the collection team on the risk of fire and flooding.
- Pests damage materials by eating through them, causing staining and deterioration through the harmful residue they leave behind.
- Educate collection team members on the signs of pest activity.
- Regularly maintain and inspect pest monitoring systems.
- Ensure doors and windows are well sealed.
- Carry out regular cleaning in repositories with the appropriate methods.
- Quarantine any collections suspected of being infested to prevent further spread.
- Provide archivists with specialist training.
Threat: Poor care and handling
- Improper care and handling of collections can lead to accidental damage.
- Use suitable archival packaging materials to help preserve collections while not on display.
- Ensure protective coverings remain intact when handling and packaging collections.
- Nitrile gloves are recommended for handling collections, as they create a strong barrier between the skin and the object. They are tear resistant and do not leave residue on the object.
Chris Heywood is the commercial director at DeepStore