Environmental Guidelines Update

National News Categories: 
Publish date: 
12 Mar 2019
Author: 
Amanda Pagliarino, Coordinator – Environmental Guidelines Project

In December 2018 the AICCM National Council ratified the AICCM Environmental Guidelines for Australian Cultural Heritage Collections and endorsed the Heritage Collections Council Guidelines for Environmental Control in Cultural Institutions (2002). This followed a year of public consultation, a national industry survey, conference presentations including AICCM and MGA national meetings, publication of a peer reviewed paper in the AICCM Bulletin, and regular updates published in industry newsletters. Both of these guidelines are now published on the AICCM website.

Ongoing Work

The AICCM guidelines were a topic of discussion at the recent Preventive SIG conference, ‘Managing Risks to Collections’ 18—20 February 2019, Melbourne and have been well received. The current (brief) Environmental Guidelines webpage was published in January to inform members of the ratified and endorsed guidelines, ahead of the PSIG conference.

I have adjusted wording of the AICCM guideline provisions to provide clarity and reduce ambiguity, and consequently presented the following version at the conference. I am currently working on a new version of the Environmental Guidelines page, which will cover the guidelines and context in greater detail. Please look out for this update in late April.

Three projects have been developed through the Environmental Guidelines Project and have been put forward to the University of Melbourne as possible student theses. These include two institutional case studies and a project to develop logic models to support decision making around environmental guidelines.

The Issue of Borrowing/Lending

The Collection Environment survey produced an interesting, but not unexpected, result relating to borrowing and lending of collection material. The survey showed that while the (interim) AICCM guidelines had been adopted for collection display and storage by 42% of respondents, more than half of that group reverted to the use of narrow conventional guidelines (50 or 55%RH ±5 and 20 or 21ºC ±2) when lending from their collections. This seems to suggest that the practice of lending objects between organisations is still controlled by the notion that the best care plan for objects on loan is one of narrow environmental uniformity.

You could also say that uniformity = convenience. However, there is nothing more inconvenient than the power going out. To reflect back on the ‘Managing Risks to Collections’ conference, keynote speaker Dr. Penny Whetton presented climate change modelling for Australia that highlighted the risks of increasing extreme weather. Energy security, electricity outages and load shedding are real consequences of changes to our climate – as recently demonstrated in Melbourne during the January 2019 heatwave.

As a first step in addressing the issue of loans, a proposal to adopt AICCM and Bizot guidelines for loans has been raised with the Council of Australian Art Museum Directors with the support of a number of Heads of Conservation. This proposal is due to be discussed at the forthcoming CAAMD meeting in March. The proposal that has been drafted for consideration acknowledges that it will be necessary to adopt a new approach to our practices. Instead of relying on strict uniformity there will be times when we will need to engage in discussion and negotiation to reach agreement on suitable measures for managing the environment for sensitive loans.

AICCM Environmental Guidelines for Australian Cultural Heritage Collections (2018)

Climate type

Temperature range

RH range

Temperate

15‒25ºC

45‒55 ±5%

Total Temperate RH range

 

40‒60%

Subtropical/Tropical

15‒25ºC

50‒60 ±5%

Total Subtropical/Tropical  RH range

 

45‒65%

Provisions:

  • It is recommended, where possible, that relative humidity remain within the core ranges of 45‒55% (Temperate) and 50‒60% (Subtropical/Tropical) for the majority of time. Short term, ±5% fluctuations of ≤24 hours into the outer limits of the total RH ranges are acceptable.
  • It is recommended, where possible, that temperature remains with the specified range. Short term, ±4ºC fluctuations of ≤24 hours within the total temperature range are acceptable.
  • It is recommended that where seasonal adjustments are applied that the temperature and relative humidity remain within the total ranges.
  • Temperature and relative humidity parameters for preservation of cultural materials will differ according to their material, construction and condition, but constant conditions maintained within the parameters described above are generally acceptable for most objects in stable condition.

 

HCC Guidelines for Environmental Control in Cultural Institutions (2002)

Climate type

Temperature range

RH range

Temperate

18‒24ºC

45‒65%

Hot Dry

22‒28ºC

40‒60%

Hot Humid

22‒28ºC

55‒70%

Provisions:

  • It is recommended, where possible, that levels of temperature and relative humidity, should, on a daily basis, be kept within the boundaries given. If this is not possible then it is necessary to minimise periods at high or low levels, and fluctuation in temperature and relative humidity.

Other considerations:

  • An increase in temperature will increase chemical reaction rates, which will affect materials prone to auto-catalytic and self-perpetuating deterioration.
  • Diurnal variations in temperature are small in hot humid climates and large in hot dry and temperate climates. Large diurnal variations in temperature and relative humidity are more likely to damage objects composed of restrained layers through the action of expansion and contraction.
  • Above 70%RH, there is a reasonable probability of fungal growth, corrosion of unstable metals and crizzling of unstable glass.
  • Below 40%RH, there is a reasonable probability that organic materials will begin to desiccate.
  • Few materials respond to rapid, wide fluctuations of relative humidity that are less than 1hr in duration.
  • Wet season cycles, where around 80% of the annual rainfall occurs over a few months, will cause extreme daily relative humidity levels sufficient to cause damage to materials, requiring a range of precautions to be considered.