Objectives Introduction Ideal conditions for storage and display Storage and display sites Storage systems The best materials for storage and display Supporting objects in storage and display Self-evaluation quiz Answers to self-evaluation quiz


At the end of this chapter you should:

  • know the ideal conditions for storing and displaying mixed collections of objects;

  • be aware of some basic principles that will help you store and display your collections;

  • be aware of the best materials to use for storing and displaying mixed collections of objects; and

  • understand the need for adequate support of objects in storage.


Objects in collections are generally either in storage or on display; and while they are in storage or on display, they can deteriorate. The rate at which they deteriorate and the extent of the damage will depend greatly on the conditions in the storage and display areas.

This section provides general information on (i) the ideal conditions for storage and display; (ii) storage guidelines; (iii) the best materials for storage and display; (iv) the need to support objects in storage and on display.

This information relates to mixed collections of different types of objects, and should be used as a guide only. Specific information relating to the storage and display of particular types of items is contained in the Caring for Cultural Material volumes.

Ideal conditions for storage and display

The following conditions outline the best long- term storage and display environment for most materials; but please note carefully that if the ideals for temperature and relative humidity cannot be met, or are inappropriate, the emphasis should be on providing a stable environment.

Ideally, mixed collections should be stored and displayed in environments where:

  • temperature is constant and moderate: in the range 18–22oC;
  • relative humidity is constant and in the range 45–55%; and
  • light is kept to the minimum necessary for the activity.

Ideally, items should be stored in the dark.
Light is really necessary only when items are being accessed, examined or displayed.

For display, it is necessary to have light. But the lighting levels need to be appropriate for the materials, as some materials are more light-sensitive than others.

For more information

For more information about specific lighting levels, please see the Light and Ultraviolet Radiation chapter in Damage and Decay.

Objects which are not particularly sensitive to light such as sculpture made from metals, earthenware and ceramics should still be protected. Do not expose them unnecessarily to very high lighting or UV levels and never expose them to direct sunlight. Remember also that many objects are made from composite materials and may contain small amounts of sensitive materials.

As light can be so damaging to many objects, it is important to consider carefully the lighting of your display. The following hints help to minimise damage:

  • tungsten incandescent bulbs are one of the best lighting for display because they give out very little UV radiation. But, if you are using tungsten incandescent bulbs, make sure they are not too close to your objects, because they get very hot and can damage the objects. Similarly, avoid placing tungsten incandescent bulbs inside display cases, because they will raise the temperature to unacceptable levels unless the display cases have air-conditioning or mechanical ventilation;
  • fluorescent tubes give out UV radiation and should not be used unless you are using low UV-emitting fluorescent tubes; and
  • light-sensitive items should not be left on display indefinitely. Remember to rotate your exhibitions.

Steps should be taken to protect objects from dust, pollutants, mould and insect attack.

Objects should be protected from direct handling, excessive use and intentional damage.

For more information

For more information about adverse environmental effects and the steps you can take to minimise these effects, please see Damage and Decay. Information on how to protect your collections from direct handling and intentional damage is given in the chapter Access to Collections in Managing People.

Storage and display sites

Careful consideration should be given to storage and display sites and systems. Ideal conditions, including a good storage system in an appropriate site, will give added protection to your collection. If the available facilities or the local climate make it difficult to achieve ideal conditions, then the selection of the site and the maintenance of good storage and display systems are even more critical in preventing damage to the collections.

The following notes are guidelines for selecting storage and display sites; they outline the principles to be followed for protecting your collections.

Wherever possible the sites should be in a central area of the building, where they are buffered from the extremes of climatic fluctuations which can be experienced near external walls or in basements and attics. Basements should be avoided because of the risk of flooding.

The sites should not contain any water, drain or steam pipes, particularly at ceiling level. Heating pipes can cause a lot of damage.

There should be reasonable ventilation. This helps reduce the risk of insect and mould infestation.

Inspect and clean the storage and display areas regularly. Thorough and regular cleaning and vigilance will help greatly in the controlling of insects and mould, and will allow you to take action early if a problem arises.

In order to detect insect infestations early, check objects regularly for signs of infestation: signs such as holes and frass that is, wood powder left by boring insects.

Don’t store items in sheds, or directly on the floor.

Storage systems

Provide layers of storage by wrapping objects in tissue paper and/or putting them in boxes. This approach gives maximum protection from:

  • fluctuations in relative humidity and temperature. This is especially important in areas where ideal temperature and relative humidity cannot be achieved. The multiple layers of storage act as a buffer zone between the objects and the extreme or fluctuating conditions;
  • dust, pollutants and insects; and
  • the damaging effects of light.

Storage and housing systems should have their contents labelled on the outside, so that items can be located easily without searching through and inspecting every similar item.

If stored objects are not in drawers, boxes or wrappers, cover them with cotton or Tyvek covers. These provide protection from dust and unnecessary exposure to light. These covers also provide some buffering against fluctuations in environmental conditions.

Give all objects adequate support, and try to reduce the physical stresses which can cause damage.

Provide easy access. This contributes greatly to the care of objects. Remember—difficult access can often lead to awkward handling as people try to lift too much weight at one time, risking injury to themselves and damage to the objects.

Take care not to stack too many storage boxes on top of each other—this can make access difficult, and can damage collections and cause injury.


Cleaning materials containing bleaches or ammonia should not be used near your objects. Nor should naphthalene, insecticides and fungicides.
These are active chemicals which could cause damage, especially in an enclosed storage environment.

The best materials for storage and display

Objects that are placed within a sealed, secure environment are at risk if that environment contains active chemicals which can affect the object.

Many objects can be affected by other materials in their immediate environment. The following list of good and bad materials—from a preservation viewpoint—can help you choose your storage and display furniture; or to choose the materials to use when making them yourself.



enamelled metal

chipboard, Customwood, unsealed woods, especially hardwoods


PVA glue


protein-based glues, for example, animal glue

acrylic paints and varnishes

uncured paint

inorganic pigments

cellulose nitrate

polystyrene, but preferably not in direct contact with objects


polyester film


cotton and linen

wool and felt

Supporting objects in storage and display

The following diagrams illustrate broad principles. For information on storage and display support systems for specific types of objects and materials, please refer to the Cultural Materials topics.


Self-evaluation quiz

Question 1.

Which of the following statements are true?

a)  Ideally, items should be stored and displayed in an area where the temperature is constant and in the range 25–30oC.

b)  Ideally, items should be stored and displayed in an area where the relative humidity is constant and in the range 45–55%.

c)  Ideally, items should stored in the dark.

Question 2.

When choosing a storage site for your collections, you should look for:

a)  a shed;

b)  a basement with water, drain and steam pipes to ensure that objects do not dry out and become brittle;

c)  an area with good ventilation;

d) an area in a central area of the building, where it would be buffered from the extremes of climatic fluctuations which can be experienced near external walls or in basements and attics.

Question 3.

Of the following materials, which are good for use in the construction of storage and display furniture for books?

glass, uncured paint, PVA glue, enamelled metal, protein-based glues—for example, animal glue—inorganic pigments, chipboard, ceramic, cellulose nitrate, wool, polyester film, polystyrene, felt, polyurethanes, cotton, linen, PVC, unsealed woods especially hardwoods, acrylic polymers.

Answers to self-evaluation quiz

Question 1.

Answer: b) and c) are true.

a) is false. Ideally, items should be stored and displayed in an area where the temperature is constant and in the range 18–22oC.

Question 2.

Answer: c) and d).

Question 3.

Answer: Glass, enamelled metal, inorganic pigments, ceramic, polyester film, polystyrene, cotton, linen, acrylic polymers.