Environmental conditions for the safeguarding of collections: A background to the current debate on the control of relative humidity and temperature

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Publication Type:

Journal Article


Atkinson, Jo Kirby;


Studies in Conservation, Volume 59, Number 4, p.205-212 (2014)


Conditions of relative humidity (RH) and temperature within museums and buildings holding collections of cultural heritage objects are often maintained around a strictly controlled set point of about 50 ± 5% RH and 20 or 21 ± 2°C to provide safe, stable conditions for hygroscopic artifacts. It has recently been proposed that these ranges should be relaxed to values that are less energy-intensive to maintain while still being safe for the objects in the collection, with the aim of reducing both carbon footprint and energy use. It is also suggested that conditions should be determined by the needs of individual objects and by the local climate of the region, rather than applying overall values across the museum as a whole. This proposal has led to much discussion within the conservation community. The suggested values, a stable humidity within the range 40–60% RH and a stable temperature within the range 16–25°C for most objects, apart from the most vulnerable, are derived from the results of experimental research on the responses of individual materials to particular conditions of RH and temperature, as well as observations of the behaviour of cultural heritage objects in their own environments and on loan. This paper describes briefly the historical and scientific background to the present discussion.