Every morning when I turn on my computer, one of the first things I fire up is our environmental monitoring software so I can have a look at the temperature and relative humidity (RH) across our storage areas.
Every institution caring for any kind of cultural heritage collections makes it a priority to monitor environmental conditions such as temperature and RH (an expression of the amount of moisture in the air) where their collection is stored or displayed. This is because incorrect temperature or RH (too high or too low) can cause or accelerate the breakdown of materials, not only the paper and parchment support of documents but also other materials important to the portrayal of information, such as inks and the dyes used in colour photographic prints.
Monitoring environmental conditions has got to be, on the surface, one of the least interesting or celebrated parts of a conservator’s job, since it requires looking through and assessing long lists of numbers (we have over 180 different sensors in our storage areas), however, this kind of in-depth monitoring has proven truly invaluable to us here at The National Archives. We not only keep track of existing environmental conditions, but also collect data that will enable retrospective analysis. This data allows us to develop a better understanding of our building here at Kew so we can provide the best preservation environment possible for our records while at the same time ensuring that our solutions are sustainable. Iâ€™ve highlighted a couple of the projects that weâ€™ve been busy with over the last few years below, including links to papers weâ€™ve written that go into greater detail about the specifics of what weâ€™ve done. Continue reading »