The Museum of London as a museum of social history has a wide ranging collection displayed and housed in a thematic chronological format rather than in a typological or art historical arrangement. The museum opened in 1976 in a purpose built building with a full air conditioning system incorporating carbon filters. Externally generated pollutants were first measured in 1977 and regular monitoring has been undertaken since 1984. Recently this has included the monitoring of internally generated pollutants such as hydrogen sulphide and carbonyl pollutants. The museum has a small conservation department that prides itself on its practical and pragmatic approach to conservation. There is a 'can do' culture with an emphasis on problem solving - risk awareness and management rather than risk avoidance.
The museum has devoted considerable time and resources to tackling the 'problem' of indoor air pollution following the now familiar path of avoid, block, detect and respond. It also offers advice and guidance to many local and regional museums, many without conservators. The primary pollution strategy is a combination of material testing, reducing emissions with coating and barrier films and ventilating enclosures to dilute internally generated pollutants with the chemically filtered gallery air. Empirical observations of the objects and metal test coupons demonstrate that we have very few problems - therefore it could argued our methods work. However, it can also be argued that for large mixed collections the attention devoted to pollution is out of proportion to the resources devoted to this issue. At the museum compromises often have to be made that can effect the quality of the control measures or the content of an exhibition.
A rapidly changing temporary exhibition programme, proposals for new galleries and a new financial bidding system coupled with an acceptance of the cost benefit and risk management approach to conservation has ment that a review of our pollution mitigation strategies and standards is required to ensure that we can justify the considerable effort and cost involved.
The work that the museum has undertaken has been of a pracital nature backed up by observations and some monitoring data. The data set is often quite limited and some inferences have been drawn in the past that may not be justified. Some examples of the problem relating to our pollution mitigation strategies will be illustrated together with our potential plans for further work and areas where we can feel collaborative work should be undertaken.
Many of the key questions about internally generated pollutants have been repeatedly raised over the past 30 years such the issue of ventilating or sealing enclosures. There is a considerable body of experience and research that should be used to produce sensible pragmatic guidelines - not necesserily fixed standards or thresholds - but as an essential guide to decition making that is required now. Co-ordinated research into certain key areas is important but the sharing of experiences and research with others cannot wait until some theoretical point in the future when we think we know all the answers as that point will never come.
Andrew Calver, Head of Conservation
Museum of London
150 London Wall, London EC2Y 5HN, U.K.
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