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Museums: The Numbers are Stunning

Museums: The Numbers are Stunning

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) recently released the results of the Heritage Health Information Survey , a broad national study assessing the preservation and conservation efforts of U.S. collecting institutions. Among the findings:

  • There are more than 31,000 collecting institutions in the U.S., including museums, libraries, archives, historical societies, and scientific collections.
  • Care and preservation efforts have improved radically, with 84% of institutions assigning staff and/or volunteers to this area.
  • Collecting institutions hold 13 billion items, from furniture to soil samples to photographs.
  • The quantity of loose paper documents in collections could fill 347 Olympic-size swimming pools .

Those last two statistics are truly remarkable, and they point to the critical value of proper storage for these enormous collections. The wide range of collected items, in every shape and size imaginable, calls for customizable storage – adjustable shelves, partitioned drawers and bins, media-appropriate racks and flat files .

The storage systems must be flexible, too, adapting to changing needs as items move from storage to public display, or vice versa. Additionally, they should support the work of conservators by using non-reactive finishes, deterring pests, and functioning in climate-controlled settings.

The right storage systems conserve space as well as conserving collections. Institutions’ budgets are already hard-pressed, and expanding a building’s footprint to add more storage area is often simply out of the question. A high-density mobile storage system saves up to 50% of floor space, and multi-level shelving or a vertical carousel can save up 80% of floor space (see this video  about how one museum expanded its storage capacity without expanding its storage space).

Storage providers are already ahead of the curve of collecting institutions’ storage needs, offering an array of space-saving, protective, and customizable storage solutions for all those 13 billion items. With the help of an experienced storage consultant, conservators can look after their collections properly, now and in the future, as their collections grow far beyond the current numbers.