Part 6: Caring for the collection

Management of heritage collections in local museums and art galleries.

Caring for a collection is about taking actions to protect an object or art work from deterioration, damage, or loss, to ensure its long-term stability, and to extend its useful life. We assessed whether museums had the necessary systems, and were following the proper processes, to care for their collections.

In this Part, we summarise our key findings and raise issues for consideration from our assessment of museum practices in:

  • controlling and monitoring the museum environment;
  • protecting collections by proper use of and access to storage and display areas;
  • managing risks from pests;
  • keeping collections secure;
  • planning for the active conservation and treatment of objects;
  • the role of conservators in the care of collections;
  • the care of collections when moving or relocating them;
  • the care of objects on loan;
  • asset management planning to maintain the condition of buildings and collection facilities; and
  • planning for emergencies.

Key findings

Improvements in standards of collection care not only prolong the life of a museum’s own collections but also give other heritage institutions, in New Zealand and overseas, the confidence to lend objects or art works. This enhances the community’s access to culture and heritage.

Significant expenditure has been made, or is planned, to improve environmental controls and the quality of systems and facilities for displaying and storing some collections. However, our observations in the museums and art galleries we audited point to an uneven standard of facilities. More expenditure is needed to bring all museums to a minimum acceptable level.

Museums need to control and monitor their environments to maintain the long-term stability of their collections. Most had systems and equipment for this purpose. However, in some cases, improvements were needed.

Some museums were in the process of refurbishing storage areas, to improve access and install better facilities for long-term care. Changes to building design require the careful relocation of collections, and planning for re-storage. These changes were being well managed, with appropriate attention given to object care and the varying storage needs of the collection.

However, not all storage and display facilities met accepted standards and more expenditure is needed. Museums were aware of the need for better systems and equipment for environmental control and monitoring, and were seeking ways to make the necessary improvements.

Managing the risks of damage to the collection from pests involves a number of measures for prevention, treatment, and monitoring. Museums were aware of the risks, and a number of measures were in place. However, a more comprehensive approach was needed that covered prevention and ongoing monitoring, to provide the necessary assurance that controls were effective.

Most museums had good security measures in place, with monitoring of public display spaces and controlled access to collection storage areas.

Most collection storage areas were well organised, with objects shelved securely and easy access for museum staff. Improvements were needed to storage areas in some museums, and useful projects were under way to re-house objects.

Comprehensive loan documentation defined the responsibilities of borrowers and their obligations for the proper care of loaned objects. Facilities reports were widely sought to support loan requests and provide assurance to the lender.

Only 5 museums had a current asset management plan, and only 3 plans incorporated all necessary components – risk assessment, service objectives, and performance standards.

Natural disaster, fire, and other events pose significant risks to collections, making emergency planning a vital aspect of collection care. Most museums had an emergency plan, although not all were complete. The others were intending to draw up a plan.

Issues for consideration

The quality of facilities for collection care varies from one museum to another, and consideration needs to be given to promoting more consistent compliance with accepted standards. We observed that, in some museums, limited storage space is, or is becoming, an ongoing constraint to collection growth.

Archives of local history represent a valuable resource for local communities and the general public. These are well used, but are often made of fragile materials. Sustained spending is needed to continue to preserve and ensure continued access to collections for future generations by making use of electronic media for data collection and storage.

Although security measures were generally adequate, some museums should consider the benefits of having a staff presence in their public areas. In some circumstances, this would provide useful deterrence against damage or theft.

Poorly maintained buildings, and failures of facilities, building systems, or services, put collections at risk. More than half of the museums we audited had no asset management plan for the building and facilities in which their collections were housed. In our view, consideration should be given to risks, services, and asset standards to provide the necessary information for scheduling and funding future maintenance and capital expenditure.

The safety of collections is at risk from a variety of events such as fire and flooding. All museums should give priority to comprehensive emergency plans to ensure that they are properly prepared for any contingencies.

Controlling and monitoring the museum environment

Preventive conservation focuses on controlling the environment in which an object is used, handled, stored, transported, and displayed.

Museums need to control their environment in order to maintain the long-term stability of their collections. In accepting an object into its permanent collection, a museum assumes responsibility for all aspects of its care. It has similar responsibilities to care for objects on loan.

The key to effective, long-term preservation of the collection is to create a stable physical environment. An object’s survival is affected by the materials from which it is made, and by exposure to climatic extremes. Rapid changes in temperature or relative humidity can cause some objects to expand or contract, or create an environment favourable for mould. Any such changes shorten the life of the collection. Systems or processes to control the environment are designed to maintain the long-term stability of the collection, by slowing down or preventing the chemical reactions that cause decay.

Being able to meet high standards of collection care may also help a museum attract funding and encourage donations of objects to its collection.

Environmental controls

The 3 principal aspects of the museum environment requiring close control are temperature, relative humidity, and light. The natural deterioration of all materials over time is hastened by fluctuations and extremes of temperature1 and relative humidity,2 and by exposure to light.3 Stable temperature and levels of relative humidity, and controls of light levels, have been proven to slow chemical deterioration.

The environment of the museum should be monitored regularly to ensure that temperature and relative humidity remain within desired limits. The performance of air conditioning systems needs constant monitoring, and some lenders will demand evidence of readings for temperature and relative humidity over a period of time before agreeing to lend objects from their collections.

The main equipment used for environment monitoring is the thermohygrograph. Monitoring records should be examined regularly and summary reports prepared, to provide assurance that temperature and humidity are maintained within set limits.

We asked about each museum’s systems and equipment for controlling its environment, looked through the storage and display areas in each museum, and sought evidence of monitoring.

In most museums environmental controls met accepted standards. Most control systems met the necessary requirements for display and storage.

Systems and equipment used for controlling and monitoring the museum environment differed in complexity – those in the larger museums and art galleries were generally more complex than those in smaller institutions.

Air conditioning systems in some museums are flexible, and can be adjusted for daily changes in the weather or to meet the specific needs of particular groups of objects on display at the time or in a particular storage area. Other museums commonly used portable dehumidifiers to control the environment. In some museums, building design maintains a stable environment for the collection without the need for active controls.

Some museum areas needed better control of light, temperature, and relative humidity. Museum staff were aware of these problems, and were seeking ways, or already taking steps, to make the necessary improvements.

Museums were aware of the need to store some objects from their collections in a special environment.

Monitoring the stability of the museum environment

Museums were monitoring the stability of their environment. Monitoring equipment was widely used to ensure that controls were working effectively, and that a stable environment was being maintained. Where we found evidence of past problems with the museum environment (such as evidence of fluctuations in temperature or humidity), we examined environmental readings to verify that those problems had been resolved, or were being managed. Museum staff were aware of the problems we identified, and adequate monitoring was being undertaken.

Monitoring the exposure of objects on display is an important component of collection care. Best practice requires museums to monitor the exposure of objects in their collection to conditions that may speed up their deterioration. For example, objects or art works made of certain materials are at particular risk if exposed to light for long periods. The systematic assessment carried out by one museum provides a good illustration.

The museum analysed and reported on the risks to objects currently on display, making recommendations where these needed to be replaced and removed to storage. The analysis focused especially on fragile media able to be exhibited for only restricted periods. The report followed a clear methodology for its risk assessment, identified those items most likely to sustain damage in their current display conditions, and proposed a refreshment schedule (or options such as changes to lux4 levels or redesign of the display area) to minimise those effects. Clear criteria were used to determine priorities for action – the level of risk posed by current lighting levels, the significance of the object in the collection, its condition, and its importance to the display.

Proper use of, and access to, storage and display areas

Keeping storage areas clean, well organised, and pest-free, and protecting collections with appropriate packaging, is the most cost-effective way of minimising the risks of physical damage. Suitable shelving and packaging not only support and protect objects from damage, but give staff safe and easy access to the collection.

We looked through each museum’s storage area. Most were well organised with easy access, and museums often had programmes under way to repack objects using inert materials to slow down chemical deterioration. One museum had prudently assessed its projected storage needs and made a significant investment in additional storage capacity to allow for the collection to grow in the future.

In a few museums, we found storage areas that were cramped or provided poor access. We saw evidence of work under way to reorganise storage areas, packaging, and shelving. We were impressed by the dedication of staff and volunteers to these tasks, and with the improvements they had made.

Some storage areas offered limited capacity for future growth in the collection. Museums were aware of this problem, and were taking steps to create more space – including refurbishing buildings, relocating the collection, and applying strict criteria to new acquisitions. In a few cases, parts of the collection were stored off-site. For some museums, limited storage space is an ongoing problem.

We also viewed bays for loading and unloading objects entering or leaving the museums, and equipment for moving objects within the museum building. These were generally adequate and met the museums’ needs.

Managing risks from pests

Pests pose a significant risk to a museum collection. The most common pests are insects and rodents, for which some objects are a rich source of food and nesting material. The dirt and dust that can easily accumulate in display and storage areas can encourage pests and increase the risks of damage.

Managing the risks from pests involves prevention, treatment, and monitoring. A prudent approach to managing the risks posed by pests is likely to have 3 components:

  • prevention (sometimes described as “integrated pest management”), which involves controlling the museum environment through climate control, strict housekeeping, and monitoring;
  • treatment, which involves fumigation with chemicals and other active measures; and
  • monitoring, to check for the presence of pests.

We examined what precautions each museum was taking to manage the risks to their collection from pests. We looked for evidence of a comprehensive pest management programme, with an emphasis on prevention, periodic treatment (where necessary), and ongoing monitoring.

All museums we audited were alert to the risks posed by pests, and most had a pest management programme involving prevention, active treatment, and monitoring. However, not all programmes included all the necessary measures for comprehensive prevention and control.

Good housekeeping is critical to preventing and controlling pests. Regular cleaning of display and storage areas is one simple but vital measure to keep the museum free of pests and to detect infestations. Good housekeeping will also minimise the need for more active and interventionist conservation. This should be a crucial task for museum staff.

Museums were using dust covers to provide some protection. Curators make frequent visits to storage areas in their everyday work, during which they may notice the presence of pests. However, from the job descriptions we examined, museums were not giving the necessary priority to housekeeping as part of regular and systematic monitoring of the collection. Collections staff did not identify this as one of their key responsibilities when we talked to them.

One museum, by contrast, had made housekeeping an important task for its registrars and conservator. It specified the following schedule of duties in the job description –

Routinely check environmental conditions in storage … clean high use storage areas fortnightly … maintain a regular cleaning schedule for all storage areas … check random objects in storage and sensitive objects weekly.

These staff confirmed the importance given to regular cleaning of display and storage areas as part of their work. All museums should consider giving this work similar importance in defining the duties of collections staff.

Prevention also involves stopping pests from entering the museum. Pests can enter the museum on the clothing of staff or visitors, through open doors, and with incoming collection items. Although all museums recognised this risk, only 5 museums had facilities or procedures that, in our view, provided adequate controls. Two museums we visited told us they had encountered problems with rodents. Eradication took one of them 3 months.

Some museums have no designated area where staff can isolate and inspect incoming items. Two institutions – a museum and an art gallery – had procedures that were simple, thorough, and effective, and followed a logical sequence (see Figure 11).

Both institutions had clear means for objects to enter the collection, and the process by which the decision was made to accept an object into the collection was well documented. Part of that documentation was a written condition report that the museum conservator was responsible for preparing for each incoming item.

Figure 11
Example of pest inspection procedures

Figure 11.

Monitoring for pests is a necessary part of any management programme. Traps and bait stations should be used as an ongoing check for the presence of insects and rodents, and we often found these as we walked through museum storage areas. Most, but not all, museums were following this basic monitoring procedure.

Keeping collections secure

We assessed whether each museum had adequate security arrangements for its collection to prevent physical damage or loss through vandalism, theft, or fire.

Varied security measures were in place, including:

  • camera surveillance outside museum buildings and in display areas;
  • restricted access to storage areas;
  • cabinets and display cases locked and fitted with alarms;
  • surveillance of public research and archival centres; and
  • appropriate signage.

Where necessary, we raised with museums any concerns we had identified with the security of their collections.

Special security arrangements may also be needed for particular exhibitions. For example, one museum, as part of its loan agreement with the borrowing institution, insisted on a staff presence in the display area in which objects from its collection would be displayed.

Security can easily be overlooked, and regular reviews reinforce its importance to collection care and the need for vigilance. It is important for museum security to be given the attention it deserves. Being inconspicuous, it is one aspect of a museum’s operations that may easily be neglected. We were told of 2 cases where strict security arrangements came about only after incidents of damage.

Periodic reviews of security should form part of ongoing museum management. This highlights security’s importance and identifies areas of risk. We reviewed reports of security arrangements in the museums we visited. These gave useful weight to the importance of security to collection care, and recommended improvements.

A security presence in museums and art galleries can be a useful measure for deterring unwanted behaviour and complementing electronic surveillance. The greatest risks occur with large numbers of visitors and hidden display areas. Not all museums employ staff or security personnel to provide a presence in display areas, although this role can readily be combined with the function of providing information services to visitors. We recommend that consideration be given more widely to this additional security option.

Planning for active conservation treatment of objects

We asked museums whether they:

  • knew what objects or art works needed treatment to repair damage or halt deterioration to ensure their future stability; and
  • had a remedial conservation programme with clear priorities, budget, and timetable.

Few museums have set priorities for treatment, or have drawn up a programme for remedial conservation. Ideally, all museums should have a programme for treating selected objects in their collections. We found that objects generally received conservation treatment only in preparation for display. Only 2 institutions had identified priorities for conservation treatment, although, in others, staff were sometimes aware of work that needed to be done.

Conservators told us their work was dominated by a variety of collection-related tasks – in particular, inspecting and reporting on the condition of objects when preparing for exhibitions and for the approval of acquisitions and loans. There were only a few specific instances where significant other remedial conservation work was being undertaken.

It was not clear when this work would be done. Only one of the museums we audited had a conservation programme that scheduled forward work, including the remedial treatment of selected objects. It reports progress against the plan monthly, and completes condition assessments as one of the performance indicators against which it reports to its local authority owner. The conservation programme gives an overview of conservation tasks associated with a variety of collection activities, and their effect on staff resources.

We identified no significant risks to the condition of collections from the lack of a conservation programme. An emphasis on protection and environmental controls has led to improvements in the quality of care, although more expenditure is needed. While conservation programming is recognised good practice, our observations of storage facilities and the condition of collections did not identify urgent, or significant, unidentified risks to the condition of objects. Nor were any such concerns raised with us by staff.

Conservation treatment is time-consuming and expensive, making it impractical for many museums to do large-scale conservation work. We did not reach the view that this was putting collections at risk. Museums were actively seeking to improve the conditions for storage and display, with funding support from local authorities and other sources. We observed that more spending is needed to improve facilities in some smaller museums, and this should be given priority. We endorse the emphasis in the sector on protecting their collections through ongoing improvement in their facilities.

Preservation of museum archives

Museum archives contain valuable community records of local history, which are well used by the public. Ongoing expenditure is needed to secure and preserve these records to ensure that they remain available for public access and use. In the collections we examined, local history and community archives were most at risk. These archives often represent an irreplaceable record of local history, and are a rich resource for historians and researchers, as well as local communities. Museum archives are well used and valued by local communities and visitors.

Archives are made up of media such as newspapers and film which deteriorate over time and with use, and include large numbers of photographs and negatives. Many museums faced the challenge of continuing to provide access without exposing such material to the risks of damage through repeated handling. Some progress is being made to transfer newspapers, photographs, and negatives to longer-lasting media (such as microfilm, CD, or DVD) to provide improved public access that is compatible with longer-term preservation. However, funding for such work is often sporadic, and much work remains to be done to preserve and provide better access to these collections.

Role of conservators in the care of collections

Four institutions that we audited employed conservators – the 2 largest museums and the 2 largest art galleries. Others engaged conservators for specific projects, such as to provide advice on storage options or remedial treatment. We discussed with the conservators their role in managing the collections.

Conservators were involved in a variety of collection-related work, including:

  • inspecting objects entering the museum collection for evidence of pests;
  • providing advice on storage;
  • working with building services staff to monitor environmental controls;
  • training museum staff in collection care and object handling; and
  • advising on the suitability of objects for loan or display, and assessing and reporting on their condition as part of that process.

Relationships between conservators and collections staff were close, with evidence of effective collaboration on common matters such as approving acquisitions and loans, and preparing objects for display.

Care of collections when moving or relocating

Continual improvement in storage and display facilities is part of every museum’s ongoing work to meet higher standards of collection care. At the time of our visits, many museums were making changes to their display and storage facilities, had recently done so, or were planning to do so. Careful consideration should be given to the preservation needs of the collection, to ensure that objects are preserved until finally re-housed and that new facilities will provide a stable environment for long-term care.

Situations requiring the movement of collections included careful planning for the care of objects. The movement of collections as part of facilities upgrades was well planned, and considered the need for careful transportation and appropriate re-housing in suitable storage.

We talked to museum staff and looked at plans for new facilities to assess whether they gave adequate consideration to these needs. We were satisfied that they did. The following examples show how one art gallery and 2 museums had planned for such changes.

The art gallery’s plan contained detailed requirements for moving objects to an off-site facility, with specific directions for packing, transportation, and relocation as appropriate to the needs of the different art works in the collection.

The impending relocation of parts of one museum’s collection was, again, supported by careful planning and design, taking account of object type, use, and access. Planning incorporated careful recording of changes in location, to ensure that objects could readily be found during and after the move.

A second museum had engaged a conservator to assess and report on the environmental requirements for housing a recently donated collection of valuable art works. The conservator’s report made recommendations about lighting and other climatic conditions necessary for the proper care of the art gallery’s new collection.

Care of objects on loan

Museums have custodial responsibilities for the care of objects on loan, just as they do for objects in their permanent collections. Loan agreements should specify the conditions under which an item should be handled, transported, displayed, and stored, and its condition should be assessed and reported to the lender.

We examined loan documentation for evidence that museums lending objects or art works were setting loan conditions (such as insurance cover, facilities reports, packing instructions, quarantine) and procedures (condition reporting) that defined clearly the responsibilities of borrowers, and set specific requirements for care in transit and while in the custody of the borrower.

Loan agreements

Loan agreements were comprehensive and contained the necessary requirements for proper care, including details of:

  • how the object was to be used;
  • assurance as to procedures for handling, transportation, and unloading;
  • insurance arrangements;
  • the environmental conditions in which the object should be transported, displayed, or stored (light levels, and controls of relative humidity and temperature);
  • security measures at the borrower’s facilities;
  • preparation of condition reports, and requirements for reporting damage; and
  • copyright.

Condition reports

Condition reports were widely used by lending and borrowing museums to record the condition of an object or art work when it entered or left the institution, and often when it was selected from storage for display. These reports are an important means of monitoring the care of an object when in use, and make it possible to evaluate changes in condition over time.

Facilities reports

Facilities reports give the lender important information about the ability of the borrower to provide appropriate care. Before agreeing to a loan request from other museums, it is common practice to obtain a facilities report from the borrower. This is a detailed document that describes the conditions under which the objects will be cared for by the borrower, and typically provides the lending institution with details of:

  • facilities within the museum building for unloading objects entering the museum, moving objects, and storing and displaying objects;
  • handling and packing practices, including the use of trained persons;
  • security systems and measures for fire protection;
  • controls of the museum environment – in particular light, temperature, humidity, and air quality; and
  • insurance arrangements.

Facilities reports are an important part of the loan agreement, a vital source of assurance for the lender, and an important demonstration of the borrower’s contractual commitments.

Facilities reports were widely used, and were a key condition of loan agreements between institutions.

Asset management planning

Local authorities need to plan for the maintenance and renewal of assets used to deliver services to their communities,5 including buildings that house museums or art galleries. Asset management is the cycle of activities associated with planning for, creating, operating, maintaining, replacing, rehabilitating, and disposing of assets.

Risks to collections from poor building design or maintenance

Poorly designed or maintained buildings place the collections housed in them at risk. Few of the museum collections we looked at were displayed and stored in facilities expressly built for the purpose. They were usually held in older buildings or in general-purpose facilities that had been adapted for museum use. This can create risks not present in a building or facilities built specifically for museum use.

Building failures, such as loss of air conditioning or a leaking roof, pose serious risks to the collection. Many of the museums we visited had, in the past, encountered minor flooding that had threatened parts of their collections, although significant damage had not occurred. This is a particular risk for storage areas located below ground.

Planning to consider risks, services, and standards

Asset management planning for museums and art galleries should consider risks to the collection and the delivery of services, desired levels of service, and the standards to which assets are to be maintained. The outcome of this asset management planning process should be a considered assessment of, and financial forecast for, maintenance and renewal requirements over the life of the building, and of its services and facilities.

Asset management plans based on service levels and collection management standards, and applying the principles of responsible risk management, should provide a framework for each museum’s programme of maintenance and renewal. As part of each audit visit, we asked whether the local authority – or trust – had a current asset management plan for the building occupied by the museum and its associated facilities. We examined each plan to establish whether it:

  • assessed the risks to the collection and museum services;
  • defined levels of services to be delivered; and
  • set performance standards for the assets required to deliver those services.

The results of our analysis for the 13 museums and art galleries we audited are shown in Figure 12.

Figure 12
Analysis of asset management planning

Assessment criteria Total (out of 13)
Had a current asset management plan 5
Had assessed risk to its collection 4
Had defined service levels 4
Had set performance standards for its assets 4

Only 5 of the museums had current asset management plans for the buildings in which their collections were housed. Only 3 of those plans incorporated the 3 important components of risk assessment, service objectives, and performance standards.

Example of a useful asset management plan

The plan drawn up for one art gallery is a useful model for other museums. The plan identifies and assesses the likely consequences of risks to the art gallery, assigning a priority to each. Risks to the collection identified as being high include natural disaster, fire, or flood, and damage through incorrect handling of art works by staff. Existing controls are identified and their adequacy assessed.

The plan lists 10 service criteria, such as quality, responsiveness, capacity, and reliability. For each of those criteria, current, minimum, medium, and high levels of service are defined. Within each of these criteria, actual levels of service include objectives for the management of the art gallery’s collections. These include buying important art works, enhancing access to the collection, expanding storage facilities, and maintaining security and climate controls.

Taken together, the analysis undertaken by the art gallery and its local authority owner forms a useful framework within which to determine investment priorities. Lifecycle management plans outline what investment is needed to maintain assets at the agreed levels of service, having regard to legislative requirements, cultural heritage values, use, and quality of facilities.

The plan documents the current known condition of the building and its facilities, and sets out a strategy for addressing an expected increase in storage and display needs. Explicit standards and specifications identify requirements for the art gallery’s facilities – climate control, security, storage, conservation facilities, and stand-by power. The results of condition assessments are used to draw up a work programme and funding strategy, including ongoing maintenance requirements and planned renewals.

We recommend that museums give priority to drawing up an asset management plan for the buildings in which their collections are housed, and associated facilities. Figures 13 and 14 outline a suggested asset management framework, levels of service, and asset standards.

Figure 13
A suggested asset management framework for museums and art galleries

Figure 13.

Figure 14
Planning for levels of service and asset standards

Levels of service
Storage and display of collection meet museum conservation standards
Increase numbers of visitors by enhancing public access to collection
Ensure compliance with legislation and museum standards
Develop the collection
Enhance the visitor experiences through quality of exhibitions
Use assets efficiently
Generate opportunities to earn revenue
Meet visitor expectations through excellent customer service
Asset standards
Capacity and appearance of displays and other public museum facilities meeting visitor expectations of use and access
Systems for preventative conservation including security and environmental controls meeting requirements for responsible collection care and stewardship
Facilities create opportunities for income-generating activities and encourage support from sponsors, stakeholders to supplement core funding
Facilities enable museum to deliver exhibitions and public programmes to meet visitor expectations
Acquisition plan and funding provide means for collection growth

Planning for emergencies

In any emergency, the first priority for a museum is to ensure the safety of its staff and members of the public on the premises. A secondary priority is to prevent damage to the collection, or, if this is not possible, to respond quickly and effectively by treating damaged objects to prevent further damage or loss. Sound planning is essential to provide the best possible protection for collections in an emergency, and for their recovery and salvage after a disaster such as flood or fire.

Emergency planning also involves managing risks to the collection, and includes:

  • identifying and assessing the likelihood and probable effect of risks to the collection; and
  • identifying those objects in the collection of greatest significance to the museum, and those most vulnerable. It is these objects that should be retrieved or dealt with first when salvaging a collection. In an emergency, a list of priority objects will also ensure that best use is made of limited time and resources.

Defining roles and responsibilities of museum staff in an emergency is another aspect of emergency planning. Crucial roles for protecting the collection include:

  • the building services manager (to co-ordinate building support services and organise materials for salvage);
  • the registrar (to take a record of the damaged objects that keeps track of the collection as objects are salvaged, moved, or sent off-site); and
  • a conservator (to inspect the condition of objects, assess the nature of the damage, set priorities for treatment, and decide on suitable salvage procedures).

We sought evidence of emergency plans containing policies and procedures to protect and salvage the collection in the event of an emergency.

Nine museums had an emergency plan, although 4 of those were not complete. The other museums intended to prepare an emergency plan. This task should be given priority, so that all museums are properly prepared for any contingencies.

One museum had singled out “type” specimens and key collection items for priority salvage, and had labelled them for easy identification in an emergency. This was a prudent and realistic strategy for situations where staff may have time to save only a few objects from the collection.

Electronic records can readily be backed up off-site, providing important security. As already discussed, most museums and art galleries were using electronic collection databases to store records, or were going to do so.

However, paper records such as accession registers and article receipts are not readily copied. In many smaller museums, these could be lost in a significant disaster. For art galleries, digital images of the collection can be an important security measure – especially where only paper records are kept. One small art gallery prudently photographed its collection to provide a safe record for insurance purposes in the event of loss or damage.

1: Changes in temperature result in changes in relative humidity, making temperature control an important aspect of creating a suitable environment for the collection. Temperatures should also be kept as constant as possible, and some objects, such as photographs and photographic negatives, may need to be stored in a cool environment. For most objects temperatures should be maintained between 18 and 24 degrees Celsius throughout the year, with daily fluctuations kept at a minimum.

2: Relative humidity is the amount of water in the air expressed as a percentage of the maximum amount of water the air can hold at the current temperature. High relative humidity can cause damage to a variety of museum objects, and creates an environment where mould and insects can thrive. The level of relative humidity can be controlled by air conditioning, thermal insulation of the building, ventilation, or using dehumidifiers. A relative humidity in the range of 50%–55% (+/- 5%) is a recommended level for the storage and display of most collections.

3: Some materials – such as paper, paint, photographs, plastics, and textiles – are sensitive to excessive light levels, which cause discolouration or, in some cases, disintegration of the fabric. The main measures to prevent such damage are to reduce lighting in display and storage areas, and to limit the length of time objects are on display.

4: Lux is a measure of light intensity.

5: For example, Part 1 of the Local Government Act 2002 requires a local authority to manage the asset implications of changes in services and standards, and set out how the maintenance, renewal, and replacement of assets will be undertaken.

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