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Museums, Science & Technology Museum, Art Collection

Breaking Down Agents Of Deterioration

How the right storage solutions can help mitigate damage and preserve history.

March 19th, 2024 - 4 min read

The primary focus of any heritage institution is to preserve collections. Which, with the right systems and processes in place, can provide immeasurable value for curators and patrons and ensure historic artifacts are maintained for generations to come. Without these necessary precautions in place, priceless items could be irreparably damaged.

Below, we’ll focus on the leading ten agents of deterioration – which have been identified by industry professionals as the most devastating of potential threats – and how Spacesaver and our nationwide network of local distributors support collections professionals in planning, installing, and maintaining systems that protect collections from these harmful agents.

Direct Physical Forces

Sudden shock, vibration, or long-term pressure that can break and deform objects. Some common causes include system operation and nearby construction projects.

How to Mitigate
  • Anti-tip rail systems are designed to provide stability and reliability for compact shelving in seismically active areas.
  • Anti-tip bars prevent objects on shelves from accidental falls and spills.
  • Closed rivet nuts on cabinets allow cabinets to be attached to one another for additional stability.

Ensuring Nothing’s Shaking

The California Academy of Sciences

Spacesaver engineers worked with California Academy of Science staff to design compact mobile storage solutions to accommodate specimens preserved in liquid. Special care must be taken when storing such specimens, particularly in seismically active areas like San Francisco. Bin fronts, or “earthquake bars,” finish the front edges of the open upper shelves to prevent spillage or breakage in the event of an earthquake, and partial doors enclose lower shelves.

Risk Management with Mobile Storage

Want to increase storage capacity and collections safety at the same time? Our versatile High-Density Mobile Storage Systems have you covered.


Collections care best practices protect from pollutants that are airborne, transferred by contact, or intrinsic to the collection (contaminants from the collections themselves that may require ventilation). Common examples of pollutants include dirt, soot, volatile components from plastics and wood, and residual pesticides.

How to Mitigate
  • Spacesaver cabinets and shelving feature non-off-gassing paint to avoid chemical contamination.
  • Keeping collections inside sealed cabinets helps keep objects away from potentially harmful airborne pollutants.

Squashing Pollution

Chicago Field Museum

At the Chicago Field Museum, Spacesaver Museum Cabinets are used to keep entomology collections protected from contamination. The cabinets feature fumigant-resistant elastomeric gaskets for a secure door seal, a 3-point latch to ensure the cabinets are airtight, and non-off-gassing paint to prevent chemical deterioration.

cal science museum specimen collection
field museum entomology cabinet
university museum collection secure cabinets

Thieves, Vandals, & Displacers

Objects can be stolen or maliciously damaged by individuals, or simply misplaced by museum personnel.

How to Mitigate
  • PIN code access
  • Physical locks
  • Key card access
  • Audit trail to track who has accessed collections

Increasing Security

Intelligent Lock Options

We’ve installed mechanical and electronic locks on cabinets and compactors at many museums as a final line of defense against theft of valuable objects. Leveling up the security of your systems, smart locks with the ability to provide an audit trail can be installed to track who last accessed the cabinet in case of a missing object.

Risk Mitigation Guide

See how our proven museum storage solutions can help ensure your collections stay on-site, and in sight of your patrons and staff.

Incorrect Temperature

High temperatures speed up the chemical deterioration of unstable materials, while low temperatures can cause hazing and cracking. The “right” temperature can vary widely depending on the collection and its contents.

How to Mitigate
  • Smaller collections are recommended to use upright refrigerators or freezers.
  • Medium sized collections are recommended to use shelving or museum cabinets housed in walk-in coolers.
  • Large institutions are recommended to use compactors housed in cold rooms and walk-in freezers.

Pictures Perfect

Denver Museum of Nature & Science

The Denver Museum of Nature and Science recently built a cooler and a freezer to house its image collection. Film, photographic prints, and other materials had previously been stored in various locations around the museum, and staff wanted to consolidate the collection in climate-controlled spaces. When a major gift enabled the construction of a new wing, a local Spacesaver representative worked with museum staff and the architect to create a compact cold storage solution that would protect the collection, save space, improve organization and efficiency, and comply with applicable codes.


Floods, leaky roofs, or slow drips from pipes can damage collections irreparably.

How to Mitigate
  • Steel compactors can raise shelving 4”-6″ to help avoid shallow floods.
  • Metal shelving stands up to water better than wood or particle board.
  • Cabinets should have waterproof caps, rather than seams in the top.

Leveling Up

Ivy League University Art Gallery

“I would say, in terms of disasters, the age-old wisdom that 90% of floods are four inches, so make sure your bottom shelf is off the floor. Make sure that you don’t have a reservoir of infestation under your cabinet, it’s off the ground for flood, for water, and for pests – that you can clean and inspect it.” – Deputy Director of Operations at the University

museum collection climate control storage
museum cabinet water test results
museum cabinet burn workshop testing results


Fire in itself can cause irreputable damage to collections. However, and just as damaging, is the resulting smoke and soot’s ability to destroy and stain objects. By utilizing sealed museum cabinets, you can provide a higher degree of protection for materials stored within, even if the room around them is covered in the fire’s remnants.

How to Mitigate
  • Powder coat finish
  • Cabinet gasket seal
  • Corrugated panel

Beating the Heat

Cabinet Testing

The 920 Series: Preservation Cabinet was sent to a federal agency for a burn workshop in the fall of 2018. Although the side of the cabinet reached approximately 900 degrees Celsius (1650 degrees Fahrenheit), items in plastic bags inside the cabinet were unaffected by smoke and soot. Additionally, no water from sprinkler discharge penetrated the cabinet.

Burn Workshop

Going beyond flame protection, see how our museum storage cabinets mitigated damage from all fire factors.

Other Contaminants


Radiation from light waves can fade and embrittle your collection’s sensitive materials. Employing cabinet doors with annealed glass provides better visibility and UV protection for your materials.

How to Mitigate
  • UV Protected Glass
  • Block Out Windows
  • Sliding Art Racks


Pests will do anything to find a way into storage systems in order to nest in and eat organic collections. Additionally, the development of mold can consume and stain organic material in improperly tempered conditions.

How to Mitigate
  • White paint for easier detection of infestations
  • Seal interior and exterior doors, ductwork, and baseboards with door sweeps and caulk
  • Easy-to-clean interior configuration
museum mammal science collection storage
museum storage solutions humidity control
oversize museum cabinet large collection organization

Dissociation & Neglect

When collections storage best practices are not maintained, objects can be separated from their records or other items in the collection.

How to Mitigate
  • Organizing as much of a collection in one physical space as possible
  • Utilizing cabinets, drawers, widespan shelving, and hanging racks to accommodate several sizes of objects to be stored in close proximity while maintaining easy access.

Relative Humidity

As different collections have different requirements, there is no one correct relative humidity level. Low relative humidity can lead to drying and cracking, while high relative humidity can encourage mold growth.

How to Mitigate
  • Sealed cabinets can help maintain more constant climate condition.
  • Consult HVAC specialists, especially if your collections are housed in a historic building.

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