Study Shows Museum Storage Areas Worldwide Render Artifacts Vulnerable to Theft, Destruction

Posted on November 4, 2011


UNESCO and ICCROM have released the results of a worldwide study on the security of museum collections, revealing disturbing trends.  The study examined collections in 136 countries, and showed that 25% of museum storage areas are so overfilled that one can not get from one end of the room to the other.  In one in 3 museums, it is not clear who exactly is responsible for the storage area.  And in one in 10 museums, thefts are reported as a major problem.

These are alarming numbers given that 90% of museum collections are not on display and kept in storage.  Mr. Gaël de Guichen, special advisor to ICCROM explains:

This is the first time we have a clear picture of the situation. In my 40 years of service at ICCROM, which has taken me all over the world, I estimated that about 60% of museum storage was in unacceptable conditions. With this data, we have a clearer picture of the problem areas. Most importantly, we have confirmation that this is not a developed vs. developing country issue: all countries find themselves in the same situation.

Improperly stored objects are at risk of both damage as well as theft.  I’ve heard anecdotal stories about archaeological artifacts being stored in terrible conditions, especially by government agencies.  I remember one story in particular where an entire fleet of boxes dated to the 1960s, and they had used glue to hold the labels on so they’d all fallen off.  In each unlabeled box was a pile of dust, as the objects it once contained had simply decayed given the atmospheric conditions of the storage facility.

In reaction to the survey responses, ICCROM and UNESCO started up an online tool for storage reorganization called “RE-ORG”. ICCROM is also looking for funding to launch an international program to help address the crucial needs of museum storage.

Read the full article: Museum collections at serious risk, a new survey by ICCROM and UNESCO shows