Cold Storage to Manage Risk in Museums

Risk Management in Museums

Planning for Cold Storage Preservation

Coolers and freezers provide the best possible preservation environment for film and a variety of other materials, so they’re essential components of most museums’ risk management strategies. Cold storage is expensive to build and operate, though, so it’s important to understand the needs of various materials in your collection and carefully plan for the move to cold storage.

How to Plan & Implement a Move to Cold Storage

Cold storage is expensive storage. You can keep building costs and operating costs down by planning carefully and making the most of every square inch. Here’s how to plan your cold storage space.

1. Assess Collection

Identify materials that need cold storage and sort by items that need cold storage, frozen storage, or typical archival storage. Measure the amount of space required to store items that currently need to be maintained in cold storage and frozen storage, and add curators’ estimates for future space needs.

What needs to be stored in cool or cold conditions?

  • Negatives (glass plate negatives, sheet film, roll film)
  • Slides (or any type of transparency)
  • Motion picture film and videotape
  • Microfilm and microfiche
  • X-ray film
  • Photographic prints
  • Cellulose nitrate film*

NOTE: Cellulose nitrate film is flammable and has additional fire code requirements in addition to cold storage. Learn more about how to identify cellulose nitrate in our cold storage planning guide.

museum risk management adjustable shelves

2. Develop a usage policy / procedure

Describe how researchers and others will request access to stored materials, who will be entrusted with access to cold storage areas, where and how materials will be acclimated as they are brought into and out of cold storage, and where and how researchers will be allowed to study materials after they’re brought out of storage.

3. Determine where items will be stored

Smaller collections can be stored in refrigerators or freezers, but be sure to use models that maintain a constant temperature. Medium-sized collections can be stored on shelving or museum cabinets housed in small walk-in coolers. Larger collections are generally stored in compactors housed in purpose-built cold rooms and walk-in freezers.

museum risk management cold room optimize space

Planning is Key

Although cold storage is expensive, it doesn’t have to be out of reach for your institution. Careful preparation and planning can help build a system that ensures materials are preserved for future generations — and that provides room to grow in the future.

museum risk management cold collection

4. Create a plan for moving to cold storage

Work with vendors to coordinate delivery and installation dates, and determine who will be responsible for scanning (if desired), cataloging, acclimatizing, and moving items. Determine procedures to monitor temperature and relative humidity, and prominently post contact information for vendors in case of equipment malfunction.

5. Optimize space within the cool room or freezer

Adjust shelving to avoid wasting space between shelves, and use compactors (high-density mobile shelving) to consolidate materials. The more items you can store, the more you’ll save, both in initial building costs (due to a smaller footprint) and in ongoing energy costs (a full cooler or freezer operates more efficiently).

See how the Denver Museum of Nature and Science optimized their cold storage space.

museum risk management cool compact shelving

Your Partner in Collections Care

Imagine having someone on call who could help uncrowd your collections, optimize your space, and create an environment that promotes preservation and access. You do actually have someone to help out: your local Spacesaver consultant offers a wealth of expertise in dealing with collections storage issues.