The new Ludlow Library and Museum Resource Centre, completed in 2002 is an important development for Shropshire County Council museum and library services.
First planned in 1995, this unique facility was designed and built to allow for the long-term care of some of the Museum Service’s most important collections. It now provides secure environmentally controlled storage and importantly allows greater public access to the collections through dedicated education and research rooms as well as more exhibition space for objects.
Conservation theory of the Museum Resource Centre
The Ludlow Museum Resource Centre has been designed to house the geology, biology, social history and ephemera collections as well as fine art with Ludlow associations. Space for future expansion has been allowed in all storage areas to enable selective collecting to continue in future.
The entire building was planned using the “Framework for Preservation of Museum Collections” developed by the Canadian Conservation Institute. This is based on ten agents of deterioration that are listed in the approximate order of importance in their potential for damaging collections.
The 10 agents are
So how have the risks been minimised?
1. Physical forces
The danger to specimens from bruising and crushing has long been recognised at Ludlow, however, the resources available in the past were limited. Specimens were previously stored on a layer of cotton wool in individual card trays within old shirt boxes. Larger specimens were stored in whichever container could be found to fit.
Since 1995, the service has sought grant aid and has invested its budget in a series of standard sized containers for specimens. Teams of volunteers have worked at the museum to re-pack the collections into lidded specimen boxes with either plastazote foam or tissue paper packing. By 1999, the geology collection had been completed (over 2,000 storage boxes and 35,000 specimens), since then biology collections have been completed and history collections are nearing completion.
Certain objects require more specialist storage solutions and work has progressed to re-store the mollusc collection, the bryophyte, fungi and economic botany collections as well as the entomological collections.
Seven and a half years of work on improving collection storage means that specimens can now be moved in their new storage containers and that costly temporary packaging is not needed. The sizes of the new collection drawers and shelves have been carefully designed to accommodate the storage containers and enable the most efficient use of space.
2. Thieves and vandals
The new resource centre is designed to national security guidelines for museums in a series of security zones; collections storage areas will be the most secure. Collection storage areas are windowless and walls are of extremely solid construction.
Behind the scenes tours will be a regular occurrence and the centre has been designed to allow easy visible access to the two main stores and lab area, to avoid accidental damage to collections.
Collection storage areas are protected by an Inergen fire suppressant system, this system combined with a state of the art fire detection system and the massive construction of the stores, should ensure that the risk to the collection from fire is minimised. The fluid collections, a potentially flammable element of the collections are separated in a dedicated store.
4. Water (flood)
The building has been designed with no water pipes or water based systems inside or over the collection stores. Toilets and sinks are all in the non-collection parts of the building.
The Inergen fire suppressant system means that water is not needed to extinguish any fire within the stores.
5. Biological agents (pests)
All organic elements of the museum collections will be frozen to –30 degrees centigrade for seventy two hours to kill any pests – the main risk to collections at Ludlow being the museum beetle, Anthrenus verbascii. As collections leave and re-enter the building in future, they will do so via the quarantine bay and walk-in freezer facility that forms part of the museum equipment.
An integrated pest management system is in place and will be transferred to the new building to ensure that the risk from pests is minimised and action can be taken immediately using the walk in freezer if a problem is noted.
6. Contaminants (pollutants)
Specimens are now stored in lidded boxes or protected by dust covers. Roller racking bays are fitted with dust seals to enable bays to be closed to reduce dust ingress.
Stores are no longer used as working spaces, so ingress of dust with collection workers will be reduced. Stores have no windows and doors are some distance from the outside, so dust ingress should be minimal. Walls and ceilings are painted and floors fitted with vinyl floor covering, to prevent dust from concrete from causing a problem.
Paint finishes and floor coverings were specified to be of conservation grade. Neutral pH paint will prevent the build up of an acidic environment during the paint drying period.
Carbon dioxide levels caused by people breathing during tours of the stores could become a problem, so the air conditioning system has been equipped with CO2 detection system.
The air intake for the air conditioning is at roof level away from the car park, to prevent particulates from entering the system, it is also equipped with micro-filtration to remove any air-borne pollutants.
7. Radiation (light and UV)
Stores are designed without windows and the light fittings in the stores effectively minimise UV emissions. Lighting in stores will turn off automatically to prevent exposure to light when not in use. Most specimens are also stored in lidded containers, so risk from both over exposure to light and UV has been removed.
Areas in which the collections are used such as the education room are on the north facing side of the building, so light levels will be even and no direct sunlight will enter these areas.
8. Incorrect temperature
The massive thermal bulk of the collection storage areas together with the lack of windows and exterior doors will create a very stable temperature that is backed up by an air-conditioning facility.
The climate in the stores will be monitored via an independent telemetric monitoring system in addition to the building management system operating the air conditioning.
9. Incorrect relative humidity
The stable temperature should in turn ensure a stable relative humidity. The air conditioning will enable the correct RH to be generated in each store. Until a stable RH is achieved, it will not be possible to return the extremely sensitive Shropshire Mammoth bone material to the county – this material needs to be stored at a steady 50% relative humidity – otherwise it will crack, warp and be destroyed.
10. Custodial neglect
By investing in this collection resource centre, Shropshire County Council have demonstrated their commitment to collection care. As a part of the move preparation, a detailed inventory of collections was undertaken, which in turn will be expanded to complete the full computerized catalogue of the collections – a further 8 to 10 person years of work is needed in this area. This web site forms a part of our plans for greater access to the collections.