Behind the Scenes of Museum Storage

Although space constraints probably do not come to mind while you’re strolling through the Met or gazing at a painting at the National gallery of Art, it’s safe to say that most museums face the same problem – their collections are way too large for their buildings to accommodate. Museum galleries can only display a small portion of the wonderful pieces they have worked hard to obtain over the years, which benefits neither the public nor the museum itself.

In some museums, this problem has led to the creation of a different kind of viewing experience. Some spaces have been rearranged to serve the dual purposes of storage and display, and keep both show items and storage items on the display floor. These spaces are usually called study galleries or visible storage centers, and are crowded with a plethora of objects that would otherwise remain out of sight. Some objects are kept inside of large cabinets or cases, leaving a sense of mystery for museum goers. The Met, the Brooklyn Museum, and the New York Historical Society have all taken on this less direct form of viewing experience and have decided to allow museum goers to see the scale of their life-long collections for themselves.

The Brooklyn Museum’s Visible Storage Center

In 2005, the Brooklyn Museum opened a Visible Storage Study Center, which was created to serve as a behind the scenes location for the main museum. Of course, the center does not solve the overall storage problem the main museum has, but instead welcomes visitors inside to see items on display like never before. Some rooms are filled floor to ceiling with Spanish colonial objects and items from Peru, Mexico and North America. This center is structured intentionally to encourage learning and exploration from museum goers, and they can go through the museum at their own pace while looking though collections and paging through catalogs. The disorganization of this center brought something new for the public to experience.

A Solution to the Problem

While some museums embrace putting their storage items on display, other museums are combatting their small space dilemma with a variety of storage solutions. With museum collections constantly growing, it’s important to have adaptable, customizable storage options. Hundreds to millions of items in storage need to be accessible to curators so the items on display can be changed. In addition, researchers and educators may request items for study and teaching purposes. Most importantly, restorers need continuous access to items in storage to check their conservation status. Museums use several storage solutions to keep their collections safe and readily available.


Storage Options

Museums work hard to keep their collections safe, which means planning ahead for all potential problems. The proper museum storage has to be able to fight against natural disasters, like earthquakes, and also has to protect items from pests and rodents. Incorrect temperature is also something that can ruin an entire collection if ignored. High-density storage units are great for mitigating all of these problems because they are very adaptable and can be updated at a moment’s notice. Earthquake bars can be used with high density storage, which will prevent jars and objects on shelves from falls and spills. Anti-tip rail systems are also fantastic because they provide stability and reliability for compact shelving in active areas. By using these two methods, collections will remain as intact as possible in the case of an earthquake.


Perforated shelving is the main type of shelving that combats pest issues. This shelving improves ventilation, is easy to clean, and successfully seals up valuable items. The light-colored shelving also aids in pest detection, as rodents and rodent droppings will be easier to spot.

High temperatures are known to speed up the chemical deterioration of unstable materials. High-density mobile shelving can be moved into cold rooms or walk-in freezers if items need cool temperatures. This shelving works perfectly for large, medium, and small sized collections and is very easy to move.

The main feature of high-density shelving is the vertical space it creates. The shelving can be customized to fit nearly any space, allowing curators to take full advantage of the vertical space in their facilities. Structural obstacles, like columns and overhead sprinkler systems are common in museums, and these storage systems are designed to comply with safety codes while still using all of the available space.

Constant Growth

Using these shelving options to store valuable collections is the solution that museums need. Collections are only going to continue to grow, and it is vital that museums create as much space as possible in their facilities. Museums are important to us because they dedicate their existence to knowing our history and appreciating the human race and its accomplishments. By using these storage solutions, we are preserving our past and making more room for our future.

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