Creating and improving stores
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 can be kept in a museum store. It’s important your store is designed to effectively preserve your collections.
Requirements for a store
- Light controlled
- Regularly monitored
- Built from chemically stable materials
- Safe and secure
Choosing a space
- 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’re using an attic or 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 members of the public may need to access stored collections. It’s important that stores are safe to use and easy to access.
Tips for making your collections accessible:
- Don’t store non-collection items such as display cases or shop stock in your collections store.
- 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 and map 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 having a separate research space with comfortable lighting and furniture.
Consider how the store will be lit and environmentally controlled. Avoid costly adjustments later by considering these things in advance.
Daylight is not needed in stores and can be excluded entirely.
The intensity of daylight fluctuates and is difficult to control, potentially causing damage to your collection. Windows can also cause fluctuations in temperature and humidity, so plan new stores without windows and cover up windows in existing stores.
Alternatively, you can use black-out blinds or heavy curtains to block out daylight. You can also cover sensitive items with packing material to offer protection against light.
For guidance on appropriate levels of artificial light, read our guide on conservation and 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, doors, 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.
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 (in order to keep out pollutants)
Clean and dry stores
All stores should be clean and dry to prevent the onset of mould, pest infestations, and damage from pollutants.
Make your store watertight
Leaks and flooding can devastate entire collections. Design your store to ensure that no water can get in. Set your storage space away from water services and drainage, and take particular care that stores are not located beneath bathrooms.
Regular maintenance schedules on all radiators, drains, and pipes will help to prevent water-related issues. Take full building surveys every five years to thoroughly check the condition of the building.
Keeping your store clean
Tips on how 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 by isolating the source and treating affected items to prevent the problem escalating.
Prevention is better than the cure, so anticipate pest problems by:
- Creating a quarantine area for newly acquired and potentially infested items.
- Using insect traps to monitor the presence of insects.
- Preventing birds from roosting.
- Sealing all doors and windows to the store.
Planning for infrared radiation is essential when designing a lighting system for museums and galleries. Consult professional museum designers and conservators before investing in lights. Ensure that every lighting system meets museum standards.
Safety and security
Safety for human use
Stores should be designed with human usage in mind. All equipment, from steps to heating, must meet relevant standards and be operated according to manufacturers’ instructions.
Common sense safety measures include:
- Training all staff in the correct usage of store equipment.
- Ensuring that shelving units are not unrealistically higher than human reach, , and providing steps for out-of-reach items.
- Avoiding packing boxes so full that they become too heavy to handle.
- Storing heavy or large items on lower shelves.
- Using steps, trolleys, or baskets as appropriate and ensuring individuals have support of another colleague when handling large or awkward items.
- Observing health and safety rules for lifting, handling, and carrying large, heavy, or awkwardly-shaped items.
- Keeping stores clean and tidy.
- Keeping aisles clear to avoid trip hazards.
Ensure appropriate security measures are in place to protect valuable items within the store. Keeping windows covered provides some level of security. Here’s additional measures you can take:
- Create a secure room or safe for valuable items.
- Use storage furniture which can be locked, such as drawers.
- Keep stores locked when not in use.
- Only allow visitors to access the store when accompanied by an authorised colleague.
- Only give access to cleaners after training.
We recommend that every museum and gallery has an Emergency Plan for their entire museum, including storage.