AIC’s 42nd Annual Meeting – Opening Session, May 29, “Sustainable Collections Care on a Budget – A new museum store for Bolton, UK” by Pierrette Squires

With her excellent talk, British conservator Pierrette Squires showed that it is possible to do a major collections move project while still being economically and environmentally conscientious.  Of course, doing so required an enormous amount of careful planning, creativity, and hard work, which Squires outlined.
Situated in northwest England, an area hard hit by the recession, the Bolton Library and Museum Services ( sold the textile mill which previously housed its collections storage.  The staff then had to move and rehouse the collection of over 40,000 objects, ranging from fluid specimens to industrial machines, to a new location in two years and with a tight budget of $1.4 million.  A large part of the success of the project resulted from the conservation team being included from almost the very beginning.  Because of their involvement, the move was inspired by the green values of “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle,” values which contributed not only to environmental sustainability but economic sustainability as well.
The location chosen for the new collections storage was another old factory.  Despite some pollution and asbestos, the building was in good shape structurally.  Working closely with the mechanical engineers, the museum did careful environmental monitoring of the space.  The museum made the unorthodox decision not to install air conditioning, which would be expensive, but instead to use large amounts of insulation.  Other green features of the building renovation included the installation of solar power panels and of Power Perfectors (voltage optimization devices), which save money by buffering energy draw.  Adjustments like these resulted in a 50% reduction in energy costs.
Less expensive alternatives for outfitting the storage area were also sought out.  Rather than using an expensive system designed for museums, cheaper compact storage intended for use in other industries was selected.  Used metal racks and wooden pallets were chosen for storage of larger objects.  In all, 65% of the storage furniture was second hand, saving money and keeping things out of landfills.
The arrangement of collections within the storage area was also carefully planned to maximize the environmental conditions of the building.  For example, more stable objects like geological specimens were placed in areas against exterior walls, while textiles and archaeological materials were placed in areas farther away from the loading dock and thus most protected from temperature and humidity swings.  Fluid preserved specimens were placed in the northern and thus cooler part of the building.
The actual move of the collection continued the theme of sustainability.  Local transport companies were hired to do the actual moving, which saved on gas and contributed to the local economy.  Storage and packing materials were reused as often as possible.  When no longer usuable, materials were recycled.
In conclusion, the move was a very successful project.  Although not all the choices made in the project are applicable to every museum – one wonders about the risk of pollutants from used and wooden storage furniture, the ideas presented in this talk were interesting and thought-provoking.  The talk proved that environmental sustainability and economic sustainability are not opposites but can go hand in hand.

2 thoughts on “AIC’s 42nd Annual Meeting – Opening Session, May 29, “Sustainable Collections Care on a Budget – A new museum store for Bolton, UK” by Pierrette Squires”

  1. Thank you Elizabeth, I am happy to answer any questions about the storage project.
    The only wooden storage furniture we used was re-claimed pallets. The pallets are all food grade and had all been heat treated. The pallets are mainly used to store heavy, often oily, industrial machinery and building stone, not items which would be particularly sensitive to any residual off gassing from the old pallets.
    The second hand storage furniture is all steel pallet racking of the identical type as we would have bought new and cleaned prior to installation so no pollutant concerns there.
    For our more environmentally sensitive collections such as textiles and ethnography all of the storage furniture was new or re-used from our old building and conservation grade materials even if not a bespoke museum system.

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