Applying Science to the Question of Museum Climate

David Erhardt, Charles S. Tumosa, Marion F. Mecklenburg

An examination of the history and development of recommendations for the climate in museums reveals that there was minimal scientific support for the values and ranges that were selected. The small basis of research that existed was often extended to materials or objects to which it did not apply; decisions that were merely best guesses based on minimal evidence became set in stone; and the rationale for many decisions seems to have been forgotten or twisted around. Many recommendations were based on considerations other than permanence of the objects, such as mechanical limitations of HVAC systems, constraints imposed by the exterior climate or historic building regulations, or costs of implementation and maintenance. It is only relatively recently that research has provided a general scientific basis for determining appropriate values for the museum climate, especially the range in which temperature and relative humidity can be safely allowed to vary. Because the results of this research differed from what had become climatic dogma, it was criticized by some in the field. However, the results have stood up, with no substantive challenge to the data or conclusions, and are increasingly widely accepted.