Green watch: July 2009

Maurice Davies, Issue 109/7, p7, July 2009
Time for change
Last month, the Environmental Guidelines: Opportunities and Risks (EGOR) project brought together scientists, conservators, archivists and museum people, who agreed that guidelines on museum environmental conditions need revising as they were created in a time of apparently abundant energy.

It also agreed that museums need a smarter approach to preservation, based on scientific evidence about how different materials are affected by changes in humidity and temperature.

Museums need to be more explicit about how well they want to look after collections. Should they be trying to preserve things for 10 years, 100 years or 1,000 years? And how much damage is acceptable?

Collections reviews, which are getting a fresh impetus as part of Effective Collections and new approaches to disposal, may lead more museums to think about this.

Museums also need to ask audiences, staff, board members and funders about the value they put on preservation. Unless they
are clear about what they are trying to achieve, it will be hard to decide what degree of environmental control is appropriate.

Another thing that will make it difficult to agree new guidelines is that rather than an organisation owning, publishing and reviewing museum environmental standards, a rather arbitrary consensus has emerged from a range of publications, funders, consultants and lenders to exhibitions. This informality could make change difficult and messy.

Maurice Davies is deputy director of the Museums Association