Greening the archive

by Deborah Jenkins, Chair of the European Region, International Council on Archives

The new conservation standard EN 16893:2018

Conservation of Cultural Heritage – Specifications for location, construction and modification of buildings or rooms intended for the storage or use of heritage collections

Archivists have long been aware of the potential for adopting greener practices in the management of their buildings. Witness, for instance, the inspirational design of the Rotterdam Municipal Archive, which has stood the test of time and continues to inspire.  A real step change has come about, however, through the adoption of the EN 16893:2018 standard, ratified in February this year. It is perhaps a bit surprising that its introduction has not caused more comment in the archival community.

This standard focusses on how to construct buildings and areas dedicated to the storage and conservation of heritage collections.

So who is this standard for and what does it cover? This is what the British Standards Institute website says: 

The primary audience is construction industry professionals, including construction companies and architects, working on new, existing, historic and listed buildings and spaces where heritage collections are to be held. This will typically mean museums, art galleries and heritage sites. […]

BS EN 16893 covers many aspects of the design and construction process for housing heritage collections. These include:

  • Sustainability
  • Risk management
  • Environmental strategy
  • Building specifications
  • Hazards identification
  • Air quality/ventilation
  • Infestation by pests/mould
  • Fire protection/prevention
  • Protection against water ingress
  • Lighting provision

Critically, 16893:2018 is based on the notion of passive climate management rather than air conditioning for archive stores. Used alongside other updated standards, more relaxed parameter for both relative humidity (60%-35% RH) and temperature (13-23 C, with an annual average of 18C) are advocated.Another important aspect of the standard is that it is an international one. It has already been adopted in 16 countries. EURBICA, the International Council on Archives’ European Branch will be monitoring its introduction and use in its area.

Thankfully, the days when archivists would anxiously ask each other ‘And how many air changes per hour does your system work on?’ are now a thing of the past.


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