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Collections Care Guidance during the Covid-19 Crisis

Conservation specialists Spencer and Fry have pulled together some suggestions on how to care for your museum collections during the Covid-19 crisis.

  1. Please put your health and wellbeing first. Only visit your museum if it is safe to do so and is within the latest government guidance.
  2. Highlighted actions can possibly be carried out at home.
  3. If possible and the current Government guidance allows, a regular check should be made of the museum or historic property to check the collection is okay, and all security and environmental control measures are working. If this requires lone working, put measures in place to make this safe (like notifying someone where you will be, and carrying a mobile phone.)

Check security

  • Check all display cases and stores are locked and keys stored appropriately.
  • Consider moving objects to store for additional security if this can be done safely.
  • Ensure alarms and CCTV are working.
  • Ensure all entry and exit points are secured, including windows
  • Consider signage to point out the site is secured and monitored.



Reduce light exposure on light sensitive objects

  • Close shutters, blinds or curtains to reduce natural light entering rooms with collections.
  • Where blackout is not possible, close books on display, return light sensitive objects to store or cover with Tyvek or other museum safe material.


Check insect pest traps and prevention measures

  • Remove any food and rubbish to reduce possible insect and rodent infestations.
  • Change traps (if not done recently).
  • Quarantine any object with a possible infestation.
  • Check the latest trapping data and research insects found. Plot the data on a plan of the building.


Review Environmental Data

  • Download dataloggers – some systems can be checked remotely.
  • If you are shutting the museum remember to keep on heating if it is controlling the humidity.
  • Ensure that the environmental monitoring system is working and plugged in, ensure anyone who might check on the museum understands that this equipment must remain plugged in during any closure period. Label plugs if necessary.
  • Change silica gel/ prosorb etc in display cases and storage boxes.
  • Empty dehumidifiers if required.
  • Review the last 12 months of environmental data.



Start/ finish or update your Emergency Plan and check appropriate measures are in place.

  • Check all contact details are up to date for staff and suppliers.
  • Check priority cards are up to date.
  • Hold a table top exercise using video conferencing.
  • Check all rubbish is removed to reduce fire loading.
  • Check electrical devices not required for environmental monitoring/ control or security are unplugged. Do not unplug freezers if they are being used for the storage or treatment of objects.
  • Remove any unnecessary flammable items from site, ensure any flammable materials are stored correctly, e.g. in a flam cupboard.
  • Ensure taps and unnecessary water supplies are turned off to reduce the risk of flood (NB heating systems should be left on if controlling the humidity or needed for frost protection.)


Update/ check the inventory and labelling

  • Carry out data management and data cleaning.
  • Label objects.
  • Consider making the inventory digital.


Deep clean

  • Carry out high level/ deep clean.
  • Update cleaning schedules.
  • Plan for how the museum might be cleaned for reopening in line with decontamination guidance.


Update collection care policies

  • Update hospitality guidelines.
  • Update filming guidelines, etc.


Update your Health and Safety policies


Check collection care equipment

  • Audit what you have and if it is in working order.
  • Write a list of equipment required and cost.
  • Consider donating any unopened boxes of PPE to the NHS.


Carry out a benchmark assessment and/or condition check the collections


Commission conservation work

  • Consider sending objects for conservation if access to the object is possible and you can safely pack and transport the object. Some conservators will be able to work in their studios during this time.


Read up on Collection Care/Preventive Conservation


Undertake online learning


Keeping your Buildings and Collections Safe during the Covid-19 Crisis

Priorities for Temporary Museum Closure

Top Priority

  • Make sure that more than one or two people know how your building works and who to contact for what. Set up multiple tiers of backup. Draw on your staff, volunteers, and Trustees to set up systems and communications that will ensure our buildings and collections for the future.

Buildings Insurance

  • Check your insurance company’s minimum requirements for security and maintenance checks, and for building occupation levels and arrange to comply

Building Security and Environment

  • Ensure physical perimeter security
  • Maintain a minimum staffing where possible to ensure alarms and the environment are monitored and maintained as necessary.
  • Where buildings and open sites do not have the benefit of staff on site, the buildings should have alarm systems, possibly CCTV and environmental monitoring systems. These should be transmitted to be received by nominated people who can act should an issue arise. Where possible random checks of the exterior of buildings or open sites are recommended.
  • Visit at least once in each seven-day period to check systems and refresh environmental measures; some insurance policies may require more regular visits. As the lock-down proceeds, staff and volunteers undertaking security and collections checks may need evidence that their trip is essential. Ask the Director or Chair to provide you with a letter outlining the essential nature of your travel.
  • Record checks and visits by who, when and where are made and any action required/ taken to ensure the wellbeing and security of objects. Where it has not been possible to visit a site due to current restrictions, this should also be recorded. These may be required in the event of any later claim.
  • Emphasise to museum staff and volunteers the need to use social media carefully, with no reference to closed/empty buildings (buildings perceived as being empty are already being targeted)

Fire Safety

  • Ensure fire alarms and systems functioning and being maintained
  • Equipment powered down where possible

Buildings and Equipment Maintenance

  • Instigate or enhance daily, weekly, monthly checking systems. (Museum Development Officers can provide example checklists for adaptation).
  • Keep the list of actions for site visits simple and prioritise. Use limited time in the building most effectively.

Collections Care and Access during Lockdown

The UK Heads of Conservation Group has produced the following guidance for museums.

With restricted access, it is important to identify the highest areas of risk across your collections to enable you to focus the time and resources you can deploy.

Identify Risks

The primary risks to collections in the current lockdown scenario include:

  • Pest infestation: collections with known pest issues or which are particularly vulnerable to pests
  • Poor environment: collections susceptible to fluctuations and extremes of humidity located in areas with poor or limited environmental control
  • Dust: organic material on open display or open in storage
  • Light: collections exposed to UV or extreme light levels at risk of fading or degrading from light exposure
  • Building fabric/features: known building issues including areas prone to water ingress, leaky radiators or historic fireplaces that may introduce water, dust and debris to collection areas.

Also consider equipment onsite linked to the care of collections that requires ongoing maintenance (e.g. standalone dehumidifiers/humidifiers and freezers holding collections). These may be high-risk if equipment maintenance is reduced during this period.

Manage and Reduce Risks

When you have identified your high and medium risk collections, focus on identifying methods to manage and reduce the risks.

  • Turning off all lights except for security lighting
  • Ensuring food is either removed from site or held in air-tight containers
  • Where possible, monitoring collection environments remotely via Building Maintenance Systems (BMS) or other environmental monitoring systems, making changes to air handling unit set points/functions via remote controls if temperature and humidity move outside preferred parameters
  • Turning off environmental control systems, either because they are prone to malfunctioning, cannot be maintained, or because with no visitors in the building, adequate conditions can be maintained without using the plant.

Where possible, a regular check of those collections assessed as high and medium risk is desirable. These checks are ideally undertaken by colleagues trained in collections care. For some organisations, it may be onsite security or other colleagues not trained in collections care who undertake checks. In these instances, an overview of the high and medium risk collections should be provided with details of where to focus checks, what to look for and contact details of trained colleagues offsite to report concerns to or discuss potential issues with.

Collections Trust suggest creating a picture check list of the objects or areas that you want non collections staff to check (using smart phones and torches to light the area photographed). The person who checks the objects or area can then take a picture to send back to the collections care person to assess.

In all instances, it is important establish a means to record and share the results of collection checks across relevant colleagues. This will enable you to identify changes in collections and reassess risk areas throughout this period to ensure your resources are always effectively deployed.

The person who leads on collection emergency planning should consider whether response plans need updating for this unique period.

  • Will the plan work if some colleagues are unable to attend site due to the corona virus isolation orders and, if not, can other colleagues be identified as reserves?
  • If the plan relies on the use of an external contractor or assistance from a partner organisation, is that service or support still available?
  • If the plan assumes that equipment, materials and PPE will be purchased or hired at the point of need, is that still achievable, or do alternative arrangements need to be put in place?

Exhibition loan material

Where museums have loans-in, extend the insurance period if necessary. If the loan material is covered by the Government Indemnity Scheme (GIS), follow ACE’s GIS advice on security and environmental controls.

Key sources of information about building and collections safety

Museum Development Officers can access conservation and collections care advice for your museum. MDOs are listed by county on the South East Museum Development website.

Arts Council England offers succinct advice on museum security and environmental checks for Government Indemnity Scheme (but useful more generally).

Safeguarding Museums and Collections, Daryl Holter, Heritage Crime Officer for Sussex Police, March 2020. Comprehensive guidance on securing museums and collections – aimed at smaller museums. Download PDF

Collections Care Guidance during the Covid-19 Crisis, Spencer & Fry, March 2020. Comprehensive guide to resources and ‘best practice’ advice. Download PDF

Museum of London Pocket Salvage Guide provides guidance in the case of an emergency. Download PDF.

English Heritage Insect Pests found in Historic Houses and Museums poster Download PDF

Historic England offers advice on preventing heritage crime includes links to Heritage Watch groups.

Heritage Watch – Alert from Kent Police Security Checklist

Museums rely on their visitors to generate a large part of their income to cover their operating costs, but what if a museum is closed for a long period of time?

Fortunately there are still some ways to look at generating an income.  This document is designed to raise awareness of some of those options and share some of the actions museums in the region are taking including online donations, quizzes, and retail.

Remote Income Generation during Covid 19 Guidance

We are aware that the Covid-19 lockdown measures have put financial strains on every museum.  For some, the loss of income during the busy Spring and Summer seasons threaten the museum’s ability to continue operating in the long-term.

SEMDP are offering free, private surgeries to help you review your museum’s position, talk through the options available to you and help identify the actions you need to take.

The surgeries are delivered as confidential, structured conversations with your Museum Development Officer and/or other members of the SEMDP team.  We have secured pro bono advice on the legal and governance issues you may be facing.

To book a surgery, please contact your Museum Development Officer.

Helpful resources if you believe your museum is within 4 to 8 weeks of closure:

Is my Museum at risk of closure?

If you believe your museum is within 4 to 8 weeks of closure:

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