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Shelving is a versatile storage solution. The best is powder-coated metal shelving with moveable shelves. Baked enamel is a second choice. Painted shelves are not recommended. For some storage problems, wire shelves may be preferred to solid shelves. If wood is considered, such as in furniture storage systems where there is a metal frame holding a wood shelf, use sealed wood such as formica-covered HDO or MDO plywood.

Bolt shelving to walls, ceilings and floors to make them as stable as possible. Add lips to shelves so artifacts don’t roll or walk off.

Shelves should fit the collection; close together and narrow for smaller items, deeper shelves for larger items. Avoid storing artifacts behind others on a shelf. Reaching over artifacts may cause damage.

Don’t stack collections. Shelves are excellent for items stored in boxes. Solid boxes can be stacked.

See our information on Boxes.

Covering Shelves
Dust and light damage can occur to items stored on shelves. Do not place collections in bags or lay covers over items on shelves; the weight and movement of covers or bags can damage artifacts. Many museums attach covers to the shelving. Clear polyethylene sheeting, cotton sheets or washed muslin are common. Polyethylene is see-through and water resistant, but attracts dust and does not filter light. Muslin or cotton sheeting is lighter, cheaper, provides light protection and can be washed when it gets dirty. It does not protect from water leaks.

Methods of attaching dust covers vary. It will depend on the skills of your staff and volunteers. Some museums use velcro, others use ties. Covers can open with tie-backs, roll up on a rod or pull up like blinds.

Artwork storage shelves
Slotted shelves vertically store small to medium-sized framed artwork in good condition. Usually constructed by the museum, these shelves have vertical dividers every ten to twelve inches. Attach the dividers to the shelves during construction or try a creative alternative: use tension rods, placed vertically.

Each slot holds two framed works. Frames are stored vertically, their full weight on the bottom of the frame. The artwork is slid in and out of its storage slot. This can damage the bottom of a frame. Use white polyethylene foam to pad the bottom of each storage slot.

Make shelves deep enough so artwork does not protrude into an aisle.

Artwork in slotted shelves need to have screw eyes and picture wire removed from the back of the frame. Store artwork face to face and back to back separated by acid-free cardboard or foamcor.

Courses we recommend:


MS201: Storage for Infinity: An Overview of Museum Storage Principles (Only once in 2013)
              Course Description & Info     Instructor: Lori Benson
              Student Login    Price: $475
              Mar 4 – Mar 29, 2013      [Learn More]   


MS202: Museum Storage Facilities and Furniture
              Course Description & Info     Instructor: Lori Benson
              Student Login    Price: $475
              May 5 – May 30, 2014      [Learn More]   


Links to related information on other sites:


Fixtures Group, Santee, CA

Dust Covers for Open Steel Shelving (Conserve-O-Gram 4/2) – (An Adobe PDF file) conserveogram/04-02.pdf