Whilst primary concerns may be about people during this pandemic, collections also have a role to play in preventing the spread of disease. Historic surfaces and museum objects may need to be cleaned or redisplayed to prevent cross-contamination. Disinfecting historic surfaces can be a challenge, and there are a variety of methods you might want to think about. Some museums have considered fogging and UV methods to clean surfaces. Both are not currently recommended for historic materials or spaces that contain them, but fogging has been used in spaces that do not contain historic materials. You can cover objects in the space to be fogged, but you would need to see what chemicals are being used and (if water based) what effect this would have on the relative humidity in your space.
Museum objects on open display that are regularly touched may need to be covered to prevent touching, rather than subjected to regular cleaning. Handling collections may need to be rethought and you might find the need for hand sanitiser in your galleries.
Questions to ask yourself
- Have you kept in touch with your lenders and any museums you are currently loaning material to? You may want to check in and confirm arrangements with donors.
- Have you been able to check the condition of your objects prior to opening?
- You might want to survey your galleries to identify objects/historic surfaces at risk of spreading disease and take steps to mitigate the risk.
- Do your visitors need access to gloves or hand sanitiser?
- Do handling collections need to be put away or dealt with in a more hygienic way?
- Have you considered how signage will impact on historic surfaces and flooring? If you have a historic property, you might want to think about alternatives – such as projecting signage, standing barriers, floor covering and signage applied to mats (beware of trip hazard), pavement decals, or using rubber arrows that don’t need glue.
“Don’t be complacent; hazards will not just go away and ignoring them could result in serious illness or injury.”
Hazards in Museum Collections, SHARE East
Clearing historic surfaces guidance from Collections Trust
South East Museum Development Collections at Risk Grant Scheme
Advice on collections care prepared by conservation consultants Spencer & Fry
Hazards in collections (e-learning) from Museum of London
Hazards in Museums: A Collections Care Guide from ShareEast
Conservation and care of collections during the Coronavirus pandemic from Collections Trust
Collection care in lockdown – things to consider from Collections Trust
Assess and manage risk in collections care from Collections Trust
Caring for Heritage Collections during the Covid-19 Pandemic
A case study on dealing with objects that can be touched:
Cleaning Historic Surfaces
Keeping collections and building safe during lockdown
Museums Partnership Report: Sharing Collections 2018/19