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Introduction to environmental monitoring

Overview

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 preserve and protect every item in your collection. Successful monitoring will also help you spot problems the moment they arise.

The museum environment is the climate inside the museum building. A comprehensive monitoring plan involves several different elements of tracking this climate. From start to finish, monitoring involves:

  • Taking readings
  • Making notes
  • Repeating regularly
  • Maintaining the information for future use
  • Comparing readings over time
  • Interpreting readings against agreed 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, while it is usual to employ an expert consultant to monitor pollution.

As all of these factors make a big impact on collections care, the costs of equipment and conservators is worth the cost to prevent future damage to valuable items.

Environment aims

Monitoring only becomes useful to us when we know what we are aiming to achieve. So museum managers and curators need to understand the unique needs of their collections.

Standards in the care of collections

Every item in your museum collections will have slightly different environmental requirements. This is why the environments in an archaeological museum will be different to natural history exhibits or scientific displays.

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

There is no defined standard for pest and pollution levels. For the highest quality in your museums, aim to eliminate both of these environmental factors. Regular monitoring of these factors can give accurate information on whether your preventative measures are effective.

Sustainable environmental management involves strategic, informed choices that balance a number of variables such as cost, conservation of the objects, impacts upon the natural environment and the operational needs of the institution. For further guidance on balancing all these different factors, consult the BSI Specification for managing environmental conditions in cultural collections.

Getting started

If the extent of monitoring required in your museum appears a little daunting at first, don't worry! There are plenty of resources available to anyone wanting to implement a monitoring plan in their museums. Start by talking to other museum managers with successful plans. Then, read this selection of advice guides from Museums Galleries Scotland, which cover the specific 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, Share Museums East and the Association of Independent Museums.

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

These books and brochures may also be useful:

Contact Us

Museums Galleries Scotland are happy to answer any further questions you have on environmental monitoring. Contact us here