Choosing Materials for Storage, Exhibition & Transport

From Wiki

Wiki Contributors: Jennifer K. Herrmann, Rachael Perkins Arenstein, Lisa Elkin, Lisa Goldberg, Mary Coughlin

Why is the Choice of Materials Used for Storage, Exhibition and Transport Important?

The materials that we use to store, exhibit and transport our cultural heritage collections has a profound impact on their long-term preservation. Preservation professionals aim to use materials that will not emit harmful volatile compounds and will not interact adversely with the items they are in contact with. There are a number of factors that should be considered including:

  • The material and type of art/artifact
  • The material and use of the housing material
  • The environment in which the materials will be used or in contact

We tend to look for long-term stability in materials used for storage as it is assumed that the collections will be contained or in contact for a long period of time. Different materials may be required for keeping collections safe during transit. Although packing material or crates may be in use for a relatively short period of time, they may be subjected to demanding conditions. Presenting collections in aesthetic and interesting ways can require an even wider range of materials for exhibition needs.

What Happens to Collections Stored/Exhibited/Transported in Unsuitable Materials?

When materials age badly or are incompatible with the collections they are in contact with, they can cause damage that may range from minor to severe. The MWG has created an Image Gallery to document the kind of deterioration or damage caused by inappropriate or incompatible materials.

What Resources Are Available To Provide Guidance On What Materials Are Most Appropriate for Use?

There are a number of useful resources to guide selection of materials but the choices faced by collection care professionals can seem daunting. AIC's Materials Selection & Specification Working Group (MWG) is a community of collection care, conservation, analytical science, and allied professionals united in developing guidelines and best practices for selecting, evaluating, and disseminating information about materials used in collection care. Learn more about the work and participants in MWG and use the resources selected below as the group continues to work towards developing an online resource to aid institutions of all resource levels in making the most appropriate choice for their needs.

Key Resources

Conservation & Art Materials Encyclopedia Online (CAMEO) is a searchable information resource developed by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The materials database contains useful chemical, physical, visual, and analytical information on historic and contemporary materials used in the production and conservation of artistic, architectural, archaeological, and anthropological materials.

Use for: checking material properties

The Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) has published more than 35 Technical Bulletins, free online, containing useful and relevant information for conservation practices, research, or reference, to assist heritage professionals and institutions in the care and preservation of their objects and collections.

Use for: a general understanding the issues as well as specifics on materials that have been tested

AIC's Materials Testing wiki pages describe various ways to analyze materials for identification and evaluation, including Oddy Test, Photographic Activity Test, microchemical testing, and multispectral imaging.

Use for: checking if a materials has been tested by the preservation community and if has been considered for temporary or long-term use

The IRUG Spectral Database is an ongoing compilation of IR and Raman reference spectra of artists' and cultural heritage materials contributed by individuals and institutions in the international cultural heritage community and academia, which currently contains over 2,128 peer-reviewed spectra. Material types represented are carbohydrates, minerals/inorganic pigments, mixtures, natural resins, oils/fats, organic dyes/pigments, proteinaceous materials, synthetic resins, unclassified materials, and waxes.

Use for: identifying unknowns

Preparation, Art handling, Collections Care Information Network (PACCIN)’s Material page is a compendium of materials commonly used to wrap, pack and protect art and artifacts. Each material entry has a detailed article providing information on how the materials can be used and how they react, both positive and negatively. PACCIN's forum is a searchable forum to view and participate in discussions on materials used for packing for moving and storing artwork.

Use for: getting a sense of how cultural heritage professionals feel about the use of something and any changes in observations or accepted material use.

British Museum Oddy testing report site contains the link to the published database of material test results, including Oddy and pH tests to help with decisions on determining if materials are safe to use with objects inside showcases, packing crates or storage areas.

Use for: Good for checking if something has been tested and if it passed/failed.

Storage Techniques for Art, Science and History Collections (STASHc) details storage solutions for a wide variety of collection types.

Use for: information on common materials found in conservation, with a cross reference of brand names, manufacturers, and suppliers.

The U.S. Library of Congress shares useful information on preservation, conservation, preservation science including specifications, digital preservation, collections care, and emergency management. Also noteworthy research projects are described.

Resources for Paper, Photographic and Film Collections Searchable website for guidance and fact sheets relating to preservation, conservation, digitization, emergency planning, fundraising, and surveys for different types of collections (paper, photographs, objects, textiles, audiovisual, etc). Collection of research and ideas from many individuals and institutions, about iron gall ink and ink corrosion serving as a valuable resource of knowledge and knowledge sharing. The website provides information, skills, and tools needed to care for digitally printed collections. It is designed with a curriculum-like structure giving description of major digital printing technologies, identification methods for various digital print types, descriptions of deterioration characteristics for different digital print materials, and research into stability best preservation for digitally printed materials. Includes a glossary of terms. is a resource for best practices in film preservation, providing guidelines the preservation of all types and formats of film materials. It addresses the requirements for preserving black-and-white and color film and nitrate, acetate, and polyester-based film, as well as specific issues for motion-picture film, sheet film, still roll film, microfilm, and aerial film, including the management of collections containing a variety of media types. The focus is primarily on storage, condition surveys, and the development and implementation of best-fit environment-based strategies.

The Graphics Atlas presents an object-based approach for the identification and characterization of prints and photographs. The visual comparison tool is very useful. This website is designed to show the variations and similarities in 283 digital prints made with different processes, different materials (colorants, inks, toners, paper types, film, brands), and at different times. The use of the same image (the enlarged area of a human eye at approximately 30x magnification) allows the characteristic qualities of different process-material-printer combinations to be examined and compared to each other.

Additional Resources for Research

Journal of the American Institute for Conservation homepage, with links to how to access the journal. Read JAIC open access articles on CoOL
Great for open access electronic publication for scientific research for the preservation of cultural heritage!

Conservation Online (CoOL) promotes collaboration and is a helpful freely accessible authoritative and trusted platform to generate and disseminate resources for colleagues working to preserve cultural heritage worldwide. Jump to CoOL's search page.
Use for: getting a sense of how cultural heritage professionals feel about the use of something and any changes in observations or accepted material use. PACCIN’s Material page is a compendium of materials commonly used to wrap, pack and protect art and artifacts. Each material entry has a detailed article providing information on how the materials can be used and how they react, both positive and negatively. Good for getting a sense of how cultural heritage professionals feel about the use of something and any changes in observations or accepted material use. The website of Library and Archives Canada (LAC) includes publications, archival records, sound and audio-visual materials, photographs, artworks, and electronic documents. Related page: Online publication of conservation related research

Health, Safety, Indoor Air Quality Sites and Sustainability Resources Information on third party product testing from an industry perspective for indoor air quality, low chemical emissions, sustainability, recyclability, and other certifications useful for choosing products during renovations, building, painting, cleaning, etc. Conservation information can be gleaned from understanding the different certifications (especially low chemical emissions), when combined with composition knowledge.
Good for searching for low VOC products.

GREENGUARD product certified search site: Information on indoor air quality as influenced by carpets, cushions, and adhesives used in homes and businesses. CRI launched its Green Label program to test carpet, cushions and adhesives to help specifiers identify products with very low emissions of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).
Good for searching for low VOC carpet, adhesive, cushion products.

CRI product certified search site: Information on life-cycle-based, multi-attribute standards and certification of products and services that can prove they meet strict criteria for human health, reduced environmental impact and excellent performance. Operating as a nonprofit since its founding in 1989, Green Seal has certified thousands of products and services in over 450 categories, and is specified by countless schools, government agencies, businesses and institutions. Good for searching for low VOC products. Greenseal product certified search site: Information on products guaranteed to meet high standards for indoor environmental quality and/or resource conservation. Focused on making it easy for school personnel and design professionals to select, specify, and document building materials that meet strict criteria; CHPS Pre-Approved Products have been reviewed and certified by CHPS to meet the requirements for Low Emitting Materials*, Recycled Content, Certified Wood, Environmental Product Declaration (EPDs) and/or Product Health Information Reporting (e.g. HPDs).
Good for searching for low VOC products.

CHPS new listing of low emitting, recycled content, certified wood, or rapidly renewable products are contained in the CHPS Pre-Approved Product page at Use the Sustainable Minds Transparency Catalog to identify products that meet our requirements for product transparency declarations (EPDs or HPDs). ( Website describing green building, the practice of designing, constructing and operating buildings to maximize occupant health and productivity, use fewer resources, reduce waste and negative environmental impacts, and decrease life cycle costs. Good for understanding LEED definitions. Low emitting materials credit information:

The goal of the NIBS–IEQ Products & Materials Committee was to develop procedures and guidelines to aid people in making informed material selections in order to construct a building that will be accessible to persons with multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS) and/or electromagnetic sensitivities (EMS). Large amount of information on indoor air quality, as related to health, environmental, and building issues. European website - Eurofins "Indoor Air Comfort" (IAC) – with information about product certification tool to show compliance of a product with low VOC emissions criteria. There are two levels:

  • Standard level "Indoor Air Comfort - certified product" shows compliance of product emissions with the criteria of all legal specifications issued by authorities in the European Union and its Member States.
  • Higher level "Indoor Air Comfort GOLD - certified product" shows additional compliance of product emissions with the criteria of many of the voluntary specifications issued by most relevant ecolabels and similar specifications in the EU.

Bibliographic References

The Materials Selection and Specification Working Group (MWG) has created an annotated bibliography on the Zotero platform to collect resources focused on choosing materials for storage, exhibition, and transport, for the benefit of collecting institutions and cultural heritage communities. The library can be found here, and any questions or comments can be addressed to the Zotero administrators via email.

AIC Resources

Institutional Resources

Standards & Specifications Organizations