01480 861111 sales@arcade-uk.ltd.uk

On the 29th November Mike West, Arcade UK Managing Director, presented at the ‘Making the Most of your Museum Storage Space’ event at Banbury Museum. This was hosted by the South East Museum Development programme. Mike spoke on the importance of specialist environmental control for archival materials. We share Mike’s key consideration here: Why do archival material need special environmental control?

Preservation is a crucial element in any record programmes to prolong the usable life of important research information. Providing suitable controlled storage environments is key to slowing down the rate of damage and record deterioration. Paper based records are especially fragile, with the introduction of new components in the paper manufacturing process in the early 1800’s which speeds up deterioration. New challenges have also arisen with the emergence of electronic archives such as tape and video, which have different specific environmental control methods required to help protect and preserve. There are many different reasons why records and archives deteriorate. It maybe the nature of the materials themselves, which are inherently fragile and prone to deterioration; or fluctuations and excessive levels in temperature and relative humidity. Exposure to light, air pollution, water damage and destruction from biological agents such as mould or insects can also play a part too. How can Environmental controls help extend the life of archival materials?

Temperature and relative humidity are essential elements to control in the preservation of archival material. If the temperature is too high the archival material will deteriorate more quickly. High relative humidity, especially in conjunction with high temperatures, accelerates the deterioration of materials. High relative humidity can cause some inks to spread and materials that absorb the moisture can swell and warp. High relative humidity can also promote mould growth and encourage insects and rodents, which can all damage records and archives. However if the relative humidity is too low, the air is therefore too dry, materials will become brittle and may crack or split. Constant fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity can also be highly damaging to records and archives, cause materials to expand or contract, or stress and weaken the physical structure of the items. In fact, fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity are more damaging than consistently high or consistently low levels. Typical archive conditions It is essential that the environmental control engineering solution used in the preservation of archival materials provides and maintains a correct set temperature and relative humidity. These set points depend on the material being archived, such as:

  • Typical archive conditions require a temperature between 13-20 degrees C and 35%RH to 60%RH.
  • When looking at paper records only the temperature needs to range between 5-25 degrees C with 25%RH to 60%RH.
  • Photographic, audio visual and electronic media requires a cool storage of 5-18 degrees C 30%-50%RH
  • Cold storage of -15 degrees C to +/- 5 degrees is required for acetate photos, acetate moving film, cellulose nitates, colour photos in all formats and ink jet prints as they are particularly susceptible to the effects of heat.

Arcade UK applies the PD 5454:2012 guide for storage and exhibition of archival material when designing environmental control to help create and maintain appropriate conditions for document storage. Archive control in action – British Film Institute case study Arcade UK were appointed to provide full construction services for a refurbishment project within the Paper Conservation building at the British Film Institute National Archive site. The issues Arcade needed to overcome

  • Leaks in the ceiling
  • Poor temperature control
  • Poor humidity control
  • Mould growth due to poor ventilation

What Arcade did

  • Improved Circulation
  • Sealed up the rooms correctly
  • Improved the control system
  • Prevented the moisture entering the room by sealing the roof


  • Improved environmental control stability
  • Elimination of mould issues
  • Control system works to the design window

Arcade UK has a wealth of experience in environmental control of archival materials and were delighted to be asked to share our knowledge and experience at the Museum Storage Space event. To see how Arcade UK can help your organisation, call us now on 01480 861111 or email sales@arcade-uk.ltd.uk

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