Creating Sustainable Strategies for Managing Collection Environments Posted March 24, 2017 by Marlow Hoffman

A multi-year initiative from the Getty Conservation Institute addresses questions about safe and sustainable environments for museum collections. Read this excerpt from The Iris: Behind the Scenes at the Getty.

Conducting a condition assessment on the Eames House Collection with the help of Lucia Atwood (left) and Kelsey Williams (center) of the Eames Foundation. Understanding the environments in which collections are housed and the potential risks they may be exposed to is critical to their long-term preservation. Photo: Evan Guston

Managing Collection Environments is a multiyear initiative that addresses compelling research questions and practical issues pertaining to the control and management of collection environments in museums. To mark a new nine-month training course for professionals offered as part of the project, senior project specialist Foekje Boersma introduces the research questions the initiative seeks to address and explains why determining a “safe” museum environment is more complex than it appears. —Ed.

Those responsible for the care of cultural heritage collections are always aware of the impact of the physical and ambient environments on collections’ long-term preservation. Materials susceptible to moisture such as wood, paper and other hygroscopic materials will be affected by extreme and prolonged climatic conditions: high relative humidity (RH) results in swelling of the material and may cause mold growth, whereas extreme low RH causes shrinkage and cracking.

Beginning in and throughout the twentieth century, conservation professionals tried to establish what exactly constitutes a safe collections environment. “Safe” being conditions that result in the least amount of damage over time. Scientific research, together with their observations in the field, increased our understanding of the agents of deterioration and their workings, but were based on specific typologies of collections, museums or climate. By the second half of the twentieth century, many museums around the world nonetheless followed what was regarded as the safest path to managing the climate in museums, by controlling indoor conditions to a fairly narrow temperature and RH band. As these parameters became universally accepted and implemented by collecting institutions, and as air-conditioning technology advanced, they became more rigid over time, resulting in a one-size-fits-all approach to environmental management. This approach did not consider local climates, building and collection specifics, and available resources.

To read the full article from The Iris, please click here.