Museum Mobile Shelving Solutions & the 10 Agents of Deterioration


As museums store an incredible amount of priceless artefacts, artwork and collections, they need reliable and efficient storage solutions for protection against threats such as the infamous 10 Agents of Deterioration.

No matter what a museum specialises in, whether it be a war museum or a fashion museum, they all face threats that put their priceless collections in danger. If a museum is not utilising efficient and effective mobile shelving solutions, their historical and highly valuable items will fall victim to the infamous ‘10 Agents of Deterioration’.

Not only will the right mobile shelving systems maximise their available storage space, but they will also ensure that each of their delicate and vulnerable items remain safe and secure when in storage.

So, what exactly are the 10 Agents of Deterioration and how do they pose a threat to a museum’s precious inventory?

1. Light

Whether artificial or natural, light can cause irreversible damage to a variety of museum items when on display and when kept in storage. To help combat against this issue, this is why many museums utilise darker lighting when items are on display to the public. They also incorporate LED lighting which won’t create damaging UV (Ultraviolet) rays or generate heat.

2. Pests

Delicate items such as ancient books, historical documents, clothing and other textile items can be victims for pests such as mice and silverfish. Pests can be incredibly difficult to detect until damage has already occurred. To prevent against this threat, and many more, museums require efficient mobile storage which can completely seal and enclose items inside when in storage.

3. Temperature

Storing and displaying items in an incorrect temperature will have devastating effects and see the items deteriorate quickly. This is why most museums require a temperature that is constantly regulated at around 21°C. If a museum stores its inventory in an inconsistent temperature over a 24-hour period, even just 2 degrees lower or higher, it will damage and deteriorate materials such as paper, leather, cloth, fabric and other textile materials.

4. Humidity

Just like the temperature, the humidity levels must be constantly regulated as well. Storing valuable artefacts in high humidity will create moisture, which will cause damage such as mould growth and corrosion in metallic objects. However, storing items in low humidity will create a dry atmosphere that will cause items to crack and dry out.

As humidity is a major threat to stored inventory, museums monitor the humidity levels in their storage areas and display areas with hygrometers. Depending on the material of the individual items, museums typically ensure that a consistent humidity level of around 50% RH (Relative Humidity) is maintained.

5. Water

Although an obvious threat, water can create irreversible damage if it finds its way into a museum’s storage system. Water leaks that occur from natural occurrences, spillages and other failures can ‘warp’ and damage any priceless artefact inside.

6. Theft

When selecting the right type of mobile shelving solutions, security is a major concern for museums. Items that are not securely stored when in storage are at risk of theft from intruders and even other members of staff. There are many advanced mobile storage systems that feature mobile bays that can be individually locked according to certain members of staff, have built-in alarms and much more.

7. Physical force

As another major concern for museums, physical force can come from a variety of issues such as construction in certain areas in the museum, vibrations from staff members moving objects to find an item, earthquakes, visitors accidentally bumping into displays and many more.

This is why many museums use storage systems that utilise sliding mobile bays that run along secure low profile tracks on the floor. This allows staff members to easily slide each stack left or right when storing and retrieving items without causing vibrations that can damage the delicate objects inside over time.

8. Neglect

Neglect can come from losing or misplacing information regarding stored items such as names, locations and dates, as well as the items being completely lost themselves. A common contributor regarding item neglect is a lack of preservation and incorrect storage when items are stored.

9. Chemical deterioration

When it comes to the chemical deterioration of stored items, ‘inherent vice’ plays a huge role. This is because many materials will ‘chemically’ break down over time naturally. A main contributor to this is oxidation, which is a major cause of discolouration in delicate and vulnerable materials such as fabric and paper.

10. Fire

Not only can fire be caused due to electrical faults and common accidents, but fire can also be caused by the conditions and environment of a museum’s storage area. Fire will obviously create irreversible damage and destroy priceless items if exposed long enough, but fire will also create threats to other objects.

In the event of a fire, it will create ash, soot, dust and other harmful particles that will spread throughout the storage area to other items, maximising the overall damage caused by the fire. This is just another reason why museums must store their incredibly valuable items in secure protective mobile storage systems.

Having high-quality mobile storage and shelving solutions is crucial in order for museums to effectively secure, protect and store their irreplaceable artefacts and collections. Each museum stores different items that require different storage requirements.This is why museums need to consult with a storage systems manufacturer to ensure that their storage solutions are designed to their exact specifications and requirements.