Sustainable Collections Care Tips

Collections care is inherently environmentally friendly. Better care means longer-lasting artefacts and less cost to the museum and environment. Here are some tips from collections expert Jane Thompson-Webb.

  • Control the light entering a space.
  • Change the type of lighting used. This can give better control, a better quality of light, remove UV and use less energy.
  • Monitor insects. Certain pest species need damp conditions. Their presence may be an early indication that damp is penetrating the building. By responding to this swiftly, serious damage is avoided.
  • Deal with insect infestations in a targeted way and not relying solely on insecticides. It is cheaper, more environmentally friendly and more effective to only treat infested objects rather than the whole space. It’s also important to eliminate the source where possible. Some insects can be eliminated and prevented by modifying the environment without the need for treatment.
  • Vacuum. This does use energy, but is less harmful to the environment than using chemicals.
  • Monitor relative humidity (RH) and temperature and using the information to help manage heating systems and (de)humidifiers. Energy monitoring can be used to show usage by the building and individual pieces of equipment.
  • Be prepared to accept a wider band of RH than 50% +/-5. Most collections accept a wider range. Stability is the key; objects may be damaged by frequent changes in RH. If fluctuation can be minimised, damage and energy use can both be reduced
  • Where possible, heat to control RH rather than temperature. This  is better for the objects – it generally result in temperatures being lower and thus will use less energy. A low level, but constant amount of heat, rather than a day-night cycle, has been shown to use less energy at BMAG.
  • Dust regularly. A microfibre duster removes the dust completely and thus reduces the need for other types of cleaning.
  • Polish less often. Polishing metals removes part of the surface and often involves the use of solvents. Metal polishing cloths are less damaging to the object and the environment. Tarnish inhibitors help to remove the need to polish as do lacquers. Lacquers are potentially environmentally unfriendly, but this may be balanced out by removing the need to polish an object for several years.

Source: Jane Thompson-Webb’s Environmentally Friendly Collections Care seminars, February 2012

For more sustainable collections care advice from Jane Thompson-Webb click here to read Heating (and how to stop worrying!)

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