Stores are an essential part of most museums. It's unlikely that your whole collection will be available to the public at any one time - when an item isn't on display, it goes straight into storage. As your items will be left in these stores for extended periods of time, you need to think carefully about how you design or improve your stores to best care for your collections.
The advantages of stores
Keeping some of your collection in storage can bring huge benefits to your museum.
Storage is essential in managing museums because:
- You can regularly change the items on display in your museum, thus keeping the public engaged.
- It allows space to expand your collection.
- Researchers can access important items that are otherwise unsuitable for display.
- You can protect items against the harmful effects of light, temperature and humidity fluctuations, dust and other stresses that result from displaying them.
Requirements for a store
This guide will cover the different qualities that a basic storage space requires. A store should be:
- Light controlled
- Regularly monitored
- Built from chemically stable materials
- Safe and secure
Choosing a space
If you have control over where your store is located, here are some things to consider:
- Try and place it centrally within the museum, with as few external walls as possible to make environmental control easier.
- Services such as water and drainage should not be positioned in, above or near the store.
- Stores should be separate from display areas, offices and workshops.
- If you have to use an attic of basement, take extra measures to ensure control of temperature, humidity, light and pests. This work may incur significant costs, so consider building a separate store space.
Museum staff, researchers and even the public may need to access stored collections throughout the year for various reasons. Although we recommend that that stores are separated from offices, workshops and display areas, you should plan how stored collections will be accessed.
Here are our tips for making your collections accessible:
- Don't fill up valuable store space with non-collection items such as display cases or shop stock.
- Corridors are not adequate storage spaces.
- Don't place items on the floor - use shelves, cupboards and other systems.
- Keep all aisles and paths clear.
- Clearly mark your storage system so items are easy to find.
- Keep box sizes regular so you can make the most of available space.
- Place a table in the store for processing and examining items.
- Consider using a separate space with more comfortable lighting and furniture for researchers.
When designing a museum store, consider how the room will be lit and environmentally controlled to best care for museum collections. Anticipate these elements in advance to avoid costly adjustments later on.
Daylight is not needed in stores and can be excluded entirely.
The intensity of daylight fluctuates and is difficult to control, potentially causing damage for sensitive items. Windows can also cause temperature and humidity fluctuation so plan new stores without windows, or block off windows in existing stores.
Where this cannot be achieved, say with listed buildings, use black-out blinds or heavy curtains. Alternatively, store sensitive items with sufficient protection such as packing material.
For guidance on the appropriate amount of artificial light, read our guide on museum standards of lighting. Remember to anticipate ultraviolet and infrared radiation when designing a lighting system. The lights only need to be on when people are accessing the store.
Monitor environmental conditions
One of the most important elements of collections care is environmental monitoring.
Below are three ways to maintain a favourable environment for collections:
- Undertake a building survey once every five years to ensure the store is in good condition.
- Immediately address and rectify any problems that arise from the survey, such as damp or pest problems.
- Ensure that walls, door and ceilings have good insulating properties, or low U-values, to make the store a fully insulated cell with stable conditions.
Choose materials wisely
Some materials are chemically unstable and can irreversibly damage collection items.
Here are some materials to avoid when planning your store:
- All PVC-based materials
- Wood or wood-based products such as medium-density fibreboard (MDF)
- Foam or rubber-backed carpets and PVA carpet adhesive
- Carpets, which can host pests
- Exposed brick, concrete and metal
- Paint or plaster to keep out pollutants
Clean and dry stores
All stores should be clean and dry, thus preventing the onset of mould, pest infestations and damage done to collections by pollutants.
Make your store watertight
Leaks and flooding can devastate entire collections. Design your store in advance to ensure that no water can get in. Set your storage space away from water services and drainage, particularly making sure that stores are not located beneath bathrooms.
Regular maintenance schedules on all radiators, drains and pipes help to prevent and water-related issues. Take full building surveys every five years to thoroughly check the condition of the building.
Keeping your store clean
Use these methods to exclude dust and dirt from your store:
- Cover up gaps and cracks in tiles, floorboards, around doors and where walls meet the ceiling.
- Fit filters to air-conditioning units.
- Finish the surfaces of concrete floors, walls and ceilings.
- Maintain a regular cleaning rota of store rooms, dusting and vacuum cleaning on a monthly basis.
Pest infestations should be dealt with immediately, isolating the source and treating affected items to prevent the next generation from emerging.
Prevention is better than the cure, so anticipate pest problems by:
- Stopping birds from roosting in attics
- Sealing all doors and windows
- Creating a quarantine area for newly acquired and potentially infested items
- Using insect traps to monitor the presence of insects
Safety and security
Safety for human use
Stores should be designed with human usage in mind. All equipment, from steps to heating, must meet British Standards and operated according to manufacturers' instructions.
Many safety issues are based on common sense:
- Train all staff in the correct usage of store equipment.
- Ensure that shelving units are not higher than the reach of an average person or provide steps for higher items.
- Avoid packing boxes so full that they become too heavy to handle.
- Store heavy or larger items on lower shelves.
- Use steps, trolleys or baskets as appropriate and work with other people on larger and more awkward items.
- Observe health and safety rules for lifting, handling and carrying large, heavy or awkwardly shaped items.
- Keep stores clean and tidy and never store anything in the aisles.
Stores often contain some of a museum's most valuable treasures, so appropriate security measures should be put in place. Design considerations such as blocking up windows already increases the security of a store, but you can take many additional measures to protect your collections.
- Create a secure room or safe for the most valuable items.
- Use lockable storage furniture.
- Keep stores locked at all times when authorised people are not accessing the items.
- Allow visitors into the store under guidance only.
- Only give access to cleaners after training.
We recommend that every museum and gallery has an 'Emergency Plan' for their entire museum, including storage. Take a Museums Galleries Scotland course to help anticipate threats and guidance on how to deal with issues that may arise.
To learn more about museum storage, you can read advice guides by both Museums Galleries Scotland and the Collections Trust.
If you are planning on 'open access' to your stores, either for the public or researchers, put procedures in place to keep your store safe. You can contact Museums Galleries Scotland for advice on how to open your stores to the public. Alternatively, send us a message if you have any other questions about planning your storage space.