Developing Sustainable Storage for Big Stuff

Creator: Marta Leskard

Date: 2013

Abstract: The Science Museum has more than 95% of its large objects, from the science, technology, industry, communications, transport, space and medicine collections, in storage. Not all are robust, of single material construction; many are susceptible to environmental changes or are fragile; many are composed of materials which have different preservation requirements.

Large objects are stored on a repurposed airfield near Swindon, Wiltshire, in seven 1930’s hangars and one 1990’s purpose-built store (the A-store), spread across the 545 acre site. A site based team, part of the Science Museum’s Conservation & Collections Care section, is responsible for their preservation, treatment, movement and storage.

Environmental conditions on site vary with the hangars at Wroughton, uninsulated and unheated, having excessively high relative humidities for much of the year but the purpose-built store maintaining reasonably stable conditions through low-level heating. Performance indicators developed by the museum are used to assess storage conditions as good, adequate, poor or unacceptable. These are based on the 10 Agents of Deterioration (Robert Waller 1994), and updated environmental standards using seasonal drift parameters for each type of material found in the collections.

Storage areas are graded for the types of collections they house. Goals are set for each area based on materials and types of object; thus, a storage area which houses fragile and reactive objects is expected to perform at 100% in order to achieve best practice (Science Museum Grade 4) while another which holds robust agricultural equipment and buses needs to achieve only 50% overall (Grade 2). Rehousing large objects based on this system enables many of the more fragile or susceptible objects to be stored in more suitable conditions but also reduces reliance on air conditioning and mechanical systems. Resources can be directed at targeted areas, saving money without reducing standards of care.

However, upgrading and developing new storage spaces on site has become essential as, in 2009, it was decided to move the reserve collections of the National Railway Museum at York and National Media Museum at Bradford to the Wroughton site in order to reduce the Science Museum Group’s operating and storage costs. Suitable storage space was also needed for eighty or so large wooden ship models and other objects coming off a Science Museum gallery and twenty-five horse-drawn carriages temporarily housed in an area now destined for conservation work space.

Two projects have been completed to date; a refurbishment of a C-type (MoD steel-framed and concrete) hangar and a new build inside a D-type (concrete) hangar.The refurbishment is a conventional treatment, the new build is an innovative use of traditional building materials. The building treatments will be discussed and compared, based on a year’s worth of data collected by September 2013. Our conclusions and future plans for the Wroughton site and for the storage of the large object collections will be presented at the conference.

Reference: Marta Leskard, ‘Developing Sustainable Storage for Big Stuff’, Big Stuff 2013

DOI Link:

Leskard, Marta. (2013). Developing Sustainable Storage for Big Stuff. Zenodo.
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