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Introduction to environmental monitoring

Monitoring the environment of your museum is an essential part of caring for your collections. By keeping track of the condition of your museum, you can plan for the best ways to effectively preserve and protect your collections. Appropriate monitoring will also help you identify problems as soon as they arise.

The museum environment is the climate inside the museum building. A comprehensive monitoring plan involves several different elements of tracking this climate.

What does monitoring involve?

Monitoring involves: 

  • Taking regular readings (ie temperature and humidity)
  • Making notes
  • Maintaining the information for future use
  • Comparing readings over time
  • Comparing readings against agreed/ideal standards
  • Making sense of the data
  • Reporting findings
  • Deciding future needs

What gets monitored?

The important environmental factors in museums are:

  • Light 
  • Ultraviolet (UV) radiation
  • Relative humidity
  • Temperature
  • Pests
  • Pollution

Read our advice guides for comprehensive information on each of these environmental factors. Most of these elements can be monitored by museum staff as part of routine monitoring. UV Radiation requires specialist equipment, and it’s also advised to employ an expert consultant to monitor pollution.

As all of these factors contribute to effective collections care, it’s important to invest appropriately in equipment and consultants when required.

Environment aims

Monitoring only becomes useful to us when we know what we’re aiming to achieve. It’s important that the museum’s workforce understand the environmental needs of their collections and work to maintain these.

Standards in the care of collections

Every object in your museum collection will have slightly different environmental requirements. The environment in an archaeological museum will be different from natural history exhibits or scientific displays for example.

Our advice guides contain extensive information on creating suitable environments for different materials within your collections. 

There’s no defined standard for pest and pollution levels.  Aim to eliminate both of these environmental factors. Regular monitoring of pests and pollution can give accurate information on whether your preventative measures are effective. 

Sustainable environmental management involves strategic planning. When creating ideal environments for your collections make sure to consider:

  • Cost
  • Conservation of objects
  • Impacts on the natural environment (ie carbon footprint)
  • Operational needs of your museum

For further guidance on balancing all these different factors, consult the BSI Specification for managing environmental conditions in collections.

Getting started

There are plenty of resources available to help you in implementing an appropriate and effective monitoring plan. It can also be useful to speak with other museums and find out what plans they currently have in place. If you’re part of a Geographic Forum, these meetings are a good opportunity to have these discussions.

Our advice guides cover specific environmental needs of different materials in your collections.

Further information

Several museum organisations have published guides on different elements of environmental monitoring, including the Collections Trust and the Association of Independent Museums.

National Museums Scotland, Birmingham Museums, and the Museum of London have all gathered information on pest control and identification. 

For more information on collections care, see our other advice guides.


If you have any questions about collections care, please contact our Museum Development Manager - Collections and Interpretation, Jacob O’Sullivan.

Contact Jacob