Collection care at The National Archives

29 March 2012

The British Standards Institute has published a new environmental standard in collaboration with The National Archives, which aims to address the challenge of long-term cultural collection care that does not require excessive use of energy.

Reducing reliance on fossil fuels

The National Archives has worked with leading experts in the fields of environmental management, cultural heritage and conservation to produce 'PAS 198:2012 - Specification for managing environmental conditions for cultural collections', the first standard on environmental conditions for the cultural industry (and not archives alone).

The standard answers the national museum directors' call for cultural heritage institutions to reduce reliance on fossil fuels while meeting their responsibility to preserve collections, and is greatly welcomed both in the UK and internationally.

Nancy Bell, Head of Collection Care at The National Archives, said: 'This publication is a watershed for collection care as it engenders a more mature debate about how we preserve the UK's rich cultural assets while accepting we have a global responsibility to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and accepts there isn't a prescriptive, one size fits all solution. This approach is a fantastic example of bringing arts, humanities and science together using research to answer practical questions.'

Protecting cultural heritage

Objects in collections are often complex structures, made up of materials which react in different ways to different conditions such as pollution, light, humidity and temperature. Although deterioration cannot be prevented altogether, it can be significantly slowed down through good management of the collection environment.

By pooling the sophisticated knowledge and experience of collections that already exists such as understanding of lifetime, material science and risk assessment, PAS 198 will help organisations make their own judgements about the conditions that will help prevent deterioration or damage to their collections.

The standard has identified knowledge gaps and is now able to drive forward a research agenda that will lead to improved standards to protect cultural heritage.

Carbon savings at The National Archives

Last year we undertook a research project that demonstrated how energy use could be cut significantly without damaging our collections, which has already informed changes to the way we operate our repositories and has contributed to the 13% carbon saving we have achieved so far this financial year. Read more on how much energy we use.