Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Practical Shelving Advice

Whether your family collection is stored in an unfinished basement or in a palatial library setting (my favorite is the Beast’s library in the Disney Beauty and the Beast), your collection should not be stored on the floor.  This is a standing order from Laura Hortz Stanton, Director of Preservation Services at the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts.  Laura says:  “Get it off the floor.”

According to Laura, boxes or collection items that are stored on the floor:
1.      Are easy to stumble over, potentially causing damage to the items and to the stumbler.
2.      Are directly in the line of pests, such as silverfish, cockroaches, termites, mice, squirrels, and other collection-devouring vermin.
3.      Are vulnerable to flooding.

The last point particularly hits home with me.  Three years ago, a toilet supply line broke in our second-floor bathroom, causing water damage throughout the house, including rooms on the second floor.  Therefore, I can vouch from personal experience that items on the second floor are no less vulnerable to water damage than items in the basement.  You don’t need three inches of water to cause trouble.  A cardboard box on the floor will happily soak up a drink from a water-logged carpet with potentially ruinous results.

Laura’s standard advice for museums, libraries, archives, and historic sites applies to owners of family collections as well.  Boxes and items should be stored at least four inches off the floor.  This is practical advice, too, because placing the items on shelves decreases the amount of collection space needed in the house.

Sophisticated collecting institutions like large museums and academic libraries often use mobile compact shelving systems that are masterpieces of efficiency.  They look great.  Unfortunately, they’re also beyond the budgets of most family collections…

Prestigious art and history museums often use powder-coated metal shelving, a widely-recognized industry standard for preservation.  It’s a smart investment.  Unfortunately, it’s also an investment beyond the budgets of most family collections…

So here’s what Laura suggests:  Go ahead and use commercial grade shelving.  But since these shelves can get a little tacky, cover the surface of each shelf with a layer of acid-free board or mylar.  Wire shelving is okay for boxes, but be careful not to place objects directly on it.  The wire surface can cause long-term damage.

For larger items that don’t fit neatly on the shelves, Laura still insists they should be elevated off the floor by at least
four inches.  “At the very least, put it on a palette or a riser,”
Laura says.

© 2011 Lee Price

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