You are on page 1of 22

Guidelines for Museums

Dr. Jesus T. Peralta

Character of a Museum
The collection of most small museums is an admixture of many things. While
there is nothing wrong in collecting many classes of items, this practice has to
be given some thought if there is a choice. There have been many instances
where after some time, a collection is needed to be rid of items which had
become incongruous in terms of class or quality. It might be practical to define
at the outset the objectives of the museum so that the collections can be made
to support these objectives. In effect, one has to define the character of the
museum. This character will help the curator determine, for instance, what type
of structures and facilities are to be made available in terms of study, storage,
conservation, and exhibition. There are general category museums like the
National Museum, and specialized museums as the Metropolitan Museum of
Manila, the Museo ng Bahay Pilipino, and the Central Bank Money Museum. The
need of the community is at times one of the factors determining the character
of a museum.

In most cases, the museum curator is confronted with a conglomeration of

objects the choice for which he had no control whatsoever. Optimistically,
the items collected are originally from and reflect the community where the
museum is located.
A collection may be built and augmented in a number of ways:

1. field collection
2. donation
3. purchase
4. exchange

When an object in the collection is acquired, the most important consideration

is that information accompanies the object. The information should include
data on the object itself and socio-cultural milieu. Although the collection
item itself is a primary data source, and accompanying data merely secondary
source, there is nothing more frustrating for a curator than to have an object
with nothing but the fact of its existence in his hands. One cannot be too
detailed in obtaining data on the collection item like the following:

• name of the object

• the ethnic group of origin
• place of origin
• description
• material (s) used
• functions
• name of parts
• function of parts
• manner of use
• definition of user (s)
• who / how produced
• accompanying ritual (s)
• ownership
• distribution

It is imperative for a museum to documents its collections, which at the very
least is composed of a list of the various items. The list names the objects
and states how many of each there are. There are various forms of museum

1. Accession Record/ registry

2. Catalogue
3. Photographic record
4. Database
1. Accession Record/Registry

A very important consideration is that each object must bear a number which
corresponds to the list. The number must be marked on the subject itself. This
is called the accession number, which is usually coded. The code is usually
devised to suit the purpose of the museum. This should contain the most basic
information about the object e.g. the year of acquisition, the provenance, a
succession number:


The example represents 1992 as the year of acquisition; Ifugao as the ethnic
group from which the object came; and the object is the 25th item acquired
that year from Ifugao. The following must be remembered about accession

1. It should not attempt to code all the information.

2. It must be short.
3. It must be written permanently on the object.
4. The number should be written small, but legibly.
5. It must be written on the discreet part of the object where it is not
likely to be rubbed off; and where it is not too obvious, specially
when displayed.
6. It must not be repeated on another object.
7. It should be structured to follow the classificatory system of the

Sometimes, fieldmen use a field number which they use to identify these
objects until these are brought to the museum where the permanent accession
numbers are assigned.

The Accession Record of a museum contains the basic information about the
items in the collection among which are:

1.1 Accession number

1.2 Date of acquisition
1.3 Name of object
1.4 Provenance
1.5 Brief description
1.6 Recorder
1.7 Notes
The accession records constitute the museum register.

6395 Object quiver (native name - kubokub)
Tribe Negrito
Locality Balangkawitan, 3 hrs E. of Ragai, Camarines
How obtained by purchase from Lucas
Collector J.M. Garban, Jan. 1913
Cost 40 cts. e
6396 Object guitar (native name -- gitada)
How obtained

Fig. 1 Segment of page from a National Museum registration record.

2. Catalogue

Each of the accessions should have an individual catalogue cards. The card
should contain all the information about the object:

2.1 Accession number

2.2 Date of acquisition
2.3 Recorder
2.4 Name (s) of object (common, local, foreigner, etc.)
2.5 Provenance
2.6 Collector
2.7 Manner of collection (purchased, donated, etc)
2.8 Description
2.8.1 Dimensions
2.8.2 Material (s)
2.8.3 Physical description
2.8.4 Function (s)
2.9 Acquisition value
2.10 Condition
2.11 History
2.12 Publication (s)
2.13 Location in storage/exhibition
2.14 Photographic/negative number
2.15 Sketch or photo of the object
2.16 Notes
National Museum
Catalogue No ______________
Old Acc. No _______________
English Name ______________________________________________
Vernacular Name ___________________________________________
Ethnic Group Collected From _________________________________
Own Name ________________________________________________
Popular Name ______________________________________________
Locality ___________________________________________________
How Museum Obtained ______________________________________
Value of Material ____________________________________________
Collector’s Name ___________________________________________
Date Collected _____________________________________________
Date Received _____________________________________________
Recorder __________________________________________________
Date Recorded _____________________________________________
Storage Location ___________________________________________
015688 (Over)
Fig. 2 Front of a National Museum catalogue card.

3. Photographic Record

Where expedient each object of the collection should be photographed,

preferably upon acquisition. Photographs should include a scale to indicate
the size of the object, and the accession number. At least, contact prints of the
negative strips should be made. The contact prints should be filled with the
negatives. The contact print and negative of each object should be identified
with the accession number of the object. When the condition of the object is
not normal, damaged portions should be clear on the photographs.


Fig.3 An ethnographic record photograph

4. Computer database

With microcomputers and database software now readily available with

minimal capital outlay the setting up of inventories becomes relatively easy.
Making backups and hard copies or printouts of all files is absolutely a must.
One must not rely solely on computer database files. Storage disks like hard
disks are notoriously unstable and short-lived. It should be noted that computer
database files only supplement the ordinary manual system of documentation,
which is the primary system.

While computers are nice to have around, these also require people who know
how to make them work. Training and keeping personnel in this field are
constant problems. Unless the museum is handling a tremendous amount of
data, which, among others need to be analyzed, then a manual system might
be more practical.

The application programs locally available to create databases are DBase IV and
FoxPro. Another, Superbase, is rather slow but had graphics capabilities, i.e. the
image of the collection item can be stored or displayed with the data.

Structure for Database : B: Ethnoinv.DBF

Number of data records : 5346
Date of last update : 04/12/90
Field Field Name Type Width Dec Index
1 Ethn_group Character 30 Y
2 Artif_type Character 30 Y
3 Eng_name Character 30 N
4 Vern_name Character 30 N
5 Provenance Character 20 N
6 Acc_num Character 15 N
7 Datecollec Date 8 N
8 Collector Character 30 N
9 Acquiprice Numeric 10 2 N
10 Total value Numeric 10 2 N
11 Condition Character 30 N
12 Notes Memo 10 N
13 recorder Character 30 N
14 Last_update Date 8 N

Fig. 4 Sample of a computer database structure.

Physical Facilities
The facilities a museum requires correspond basically to the various steps in
the processing of specimens or collection items. The ideal certainly is to have
adequate space in the museum premises to carry out all the functions. Where
the ideal does not exist, provisions should be made for vital functions to be
carried out.

1. Fumigation/ Cleaning

A collection item that has just come in and is newly registered ordinarily undergoes
treatment. The final phase of treatment is cleaning of the item or object just before
it is placed with the rest of the collection.The reason is that it might be infected with
fungus, wood borers, etc., which may contaminate other items in the collection.
Fumigation is imperative. In the absence of fumigation chambers, other means can
be resorted to, as illustrated on page 30, depending on the type and size of objects.
(discussed more fully under the Conservation Section)

2. Storage

Most small museums do not have provisions for storage. Storage space is
imperative not only as the usual little closets and rooms reserved for office
equipage and facilities but also and more so for collection items. A museum
continually collects even though exhibition space is usually limited. Rotation of
exhibitions require space for keeping items not on display.

The storage area should be near enough to the curator and the exhibition area
that it services. The following are among guidelines to be strictly observed:

• No one should hold office in the storage.

• No food or drink should be taken inside the storage area.
• Only fumigated/cleaned specimens should enter the storage.
• Everything that goes in and out of the storage should be recorded.
• Items should be stored systematically easy retrieval.
• No smoking inside the storage room.
• Only authorized personnel should be allowed inside the storage room.

Storage System
Collection items should be classified while in storage. The items may be
grouped according to type of items, e.g. baskets, clothing, agricultural tools; or
by ethnicity, e.g. Tagalog, Ilocano, etc.; or by material e.g. wood, metal, etc. For
conservation purposes, storing by material is recommendable since it is easier
to treat, for instance, textiles as a group instead of individual pieces scattered
all over the collection.
The key, of course, for retrieval is through a cross-indexed file combined with a
systematized storage. An item when taken out should be returned to the same

If available, acid-free paper should be used to line shelvings. The shelving

section should be identified so that each item has its own particular slot.

If the object is removed, a piece of paper noting the removal of the object, the
date, where the object was taken, the purpose and by whom, should be put
in its place. This is apart from the logbook, which records the entry and exit of
items. The following are some do’s:

• Stack materials with no objects touching them or placed on top of another.

Allow air circulation between objects.
• Do not roll or fold materials. Textiles can be rolled around a tube.
• Keep area free of dust.
• Use gloves in handling specimens. There is acid on your hands.
• Use both hands in holding specimens. Handle items as gently as possible as
if all these are very fragile. Restored objects are specially fragile. Check on
which is the safest place to hold.
• Allow only trained personnel to handle items.
• Use only soft illumination in the storeroom.
• Allow adequate ventilation to maintain an even temperature in the room.
• Fumigate the room periodically.
• Provide fire-fighting and firescape facilities.

Curators should take a keen interest in visitor profiles in order to make the
museum effective in a community. The population of museum visitors shares
general characteristics. Among these are:

• The art audience is from a narrow segment of the population, generally

white collar and well-educated.
• The sexes are just about evenly represented.
• Museum visitors at least have some college education.
• People tend to go to museums with others.
• Many are repeat visitors.
• Museum attendance vary seasonally with the least during the summer
• The museum visitor spends an average of five minutes in an exhibition, and
less in an art display.
• The average visitor’s attention span is about thirty seconds per exhibit in a
science museum.
“The majority of the public appears to be gaining little or nothing other than
trivial impression of the exhibits” (Zyskowksi, 1968).
• Only a small percentage of visitors make use of printed guides.
• Education and place of residence are important determinants of museum
• Museums actualize the experiences of the visitors.
• While adding to knowledge, museum exhibits tend to amplify feelings.
• Some form of visitor participation is advantageous in maximizing the effects
of a museum visit. There are beliefs, however, that visitors expect to remain
passive, preferring to be left on their own.
• Education is the best predictor of museum attendance.
• The museum visitor has a wide variety of interests and backgrounds.
• The museum visitor has limited time.
• The museum visitor is physically exhausted after a visit and often
overwhelmed by too much sensory inputs.
• The average museum visitor is not anxious for more information or
educational materials on museum collections. Most people do not read
display labels. Keep children in mind with respect to labels.

In sum, museums provide different services for different people. Visitors have
different personal interests, thus a museum visit cannot be structured. A
museum should therefore aim to provide a wide range of opportunities for
their visitors to choose from, making the museum experience unique for each

The primary concern of many museums is display of the collection items.

Limitations of space call for well organized exhibits and periodic rotation. Most
museums tend to display everything at once.

The exhibition gallery should be well-ventilated, dust-free with some means to

control light, temperature, and humidity. This would mean that the gallery be
an enclosed hall with no windows through which direct sunlight could enter.
Windows, too, can get in the way of the placement of exhibition facilities and
visitors traffic flow.

No general lighting for the hall is needed but a large number of outlets should
be well and conveniently distributed throughout the room; on the base of the
wall, the flooring, or the ceiling, would be recommendable. This would allow
tapping of power as needed.
It is advisable for small museums to opt for display structures that are
generalized, that is, designed to accommodate different kinds of objects with
varying sizes. There are three types of display structural facilities needed:

1. Shadow boxes
2. Pedestals (glassed or unglassed)
3. Display panels

Display facilities should be highly adaptive to various needs. In case of shadow

boxes, the glassed portion should be deep and high, which could accommodate
a number of related objects rather than just one. Some means of providing
adequate ventilation for the displayed object must be made, specially if high-
intensity lighting is to be used which will increase temperature inside the
showcase. Of course, specially valuable objects warrant a special case.

Where storage space is a problem, the bottom part of display cases can be
utilized for storage if constructed as such and provided with access.

Pedestals, to save on space, can be made into sizes that can nest inside one
another. There must be some means to lock the glass tops to the bases. It is
better to have a large pedestal holding a small object than vice versa, so large
sizes are better. Large ones also are more stable.

Sufficient number of assorted sizes of small boxes to be used as individual

pedestals of smaller objects inside a display case should be available.

Display panels should be dismountable so that these can be stored in as small a

space as possible. To last longer, perforated panels are recommended because
things can be laid out on them without the continual use of nails. It is preferable
that the panels are double-faced.

All materials change through time. Conservation merely retards the rate
of changes to perpetuate the condition of an object. In general, rapid and
frequent changes in the physical environment of an object will lead to its
earlier deterioration. A relatively stable environment without the extremes is
therefore ideal for conservation of museum objects. the Philippines is fortunate
in being in the tropics where the fluctuation of climate is not to the extremes.
The difference in annual temperature is not that pronounced. In fact, the
difference in temperature between day and night is greater. The problem is
more with respect humidity for our environment has plenty of this. Countries in
temperate regions have greater museological problems due to the fluctuation
of environmental conditions to the extremes.
Attacks of insect and fungi, are constant threats. The most common insects that
are the bane of museologists are wood borers, silverfish, cockroach, termites,
moths, and bookworms. The museum should be fumigated periodically. Non-
residual fumigants are preferable.

To avoid the growth of fungi, extreme temperature changes and dampness

should be avoided. Thymol crystals can be used to inhibit the growth of moulds.
This must be used with care. It should not be used near oil paintings, painted
woodwork, etc. because it can soften many paints and lacquers.

Even clean air contributes to the decay of specimens due to its oxygen content.
Atmospheric pollution aggravates the situation for museums particularly with
respect to carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and the soot
from insufficiently burned fuel from motor vehicles. Dust is dangerous for
this provides the nuclei for water condensation and the start of chemical and
physical reactions. Nearness to sea poses dangers of the corrosive effects of
salt. The only effective control of air pollution is air conditioning. Where this is
not possible free air ventilation with filtration may be used.

If the temperature range can be managed then this should be kept within the
range of 20ºC ± 2ºC as most collection items will not deteriorate as quickly
at these temperatures. A simple room thermometer will do to measure the
temperature. In the absence of air conditioners, electric fans or other forms of
ventilation will suffice.

A relative humidity of 50-55% is recommended. If the relative humidity goes
above 65% and the temperature is also high, moulds will develop and destroy
many objects such as textiles, pigments and paper. Hygrometers are used to
measure relative humidity. In the absence of these, one can more or less feel
increased humidity by a feeling of heat, oppressiveness and stickiness of the

Electric fans which can circulate air continually during hot and humid weather
can help arrest the development of such fungi since these prefer dark, damp
and warm places to be able to grow. Dessicants in small dishes inside display
cases can help. Charcoal and silica gel substitute in small storages to keep stable
temperatures and relative humidity.
Light has a deleterious effect on certain materials like pigments, inks, dyes,
paper, textile and the like. It should therefore be controlled. Natural light has
both ultra-violet and infra-red rays. Ultra violet rays can cause chemical changes
on some objects while infra-red light or heat can effect physical changes.

Ultra-violet filtering plexiglass can be used in frames and cases instead of

glass. Fluorescent lights can also be covered by these filters. There are lighting
facilities like Philips TL-37 which have ultra-violet filtering components.

To control infra-red rays the amount of light falling upon an object should be
limited. Spotlights give off excessive heat.

The amount of light that falls upon an object should receive serious
consideration. Maximum luminance is measured in lux units. A 100 watt
tungsten incandescent bulb has an illumination of 14 lux at a distance of 1.5
meters, at 30 degrees angle. Using this as comparison, the following are the
maximum illuminance recommended for museum objects:

50 lux: Textiles, clothing, watercolors, tapestries, prints, drawings, manuscripts,

wall paper, dyed leather, natural history collections like botanical and zoological

150 lux: Oil and tempera paintings, undyed leather, horn, bone, ivory, and
Oriental lacquer work

300 lux: Stone, metal, glass, ceramics, jewelry, enamel, wood

Objects should be exposed to lighting only for minimum periods.

Emergency Conservation
1. Wood

1.1 Remove dust or dirt with soft brush. Clean stubborn dirt with cotton
swab and distilled water, moving in one direction only.
1.2 Replace missing parts. Cracks can be filled in with sawdust with methyl
cellulose. Sandpaper to remove excess.
1.3 Insect attack can be controlled with fumigation or the use of insecticides
by spraying, injection or brushing.
1.4 If wet or water-logged, keep wet and soak in water to remove soluble
chloride that might have come from the soil or sea water. Call expert
help from the National Museum.
2. Copper and Copper Alloys

2.1 Mechanical cleaning should be done on the surfaces using dental tools,
fine chisels and scalpels.
2.2 Degrease by using acetone to remove other impurities and greasy
2.3 Do not remove entirely corrosion products since these may contain
2.4 Distilled water can be used to wash away corrosion or soluble chlorides.
2.5 Aggressive cuprous chlorides are removed using 5% oxalic acid solution
and soft brushes.

3. Iron

3.1 Do not wash or scrub iron objects. Water will accelerate the corrosive
3.2 Objects found wet or affected by sea water must be kept until expert
help is obtained. An inhibiting solution of 2% sodium hydroxide may be
used in packing it.
3.3 Consult experts.

4. Textiles

Textiles are dedicate and need extra care and handling.

4.1 Photograph and document details, e.g. materials, weaving techniques,

dimensions, condition, etc. before treatment.
4.2 Test for fastness of dyes.
4.3 Test for strength of fibres.
4.4 Vacuum clean gently.
4.5 Flatten folded portions and creases.
4.6 Roll on board with acid-free paper, e.g. Japanese paper.
4.7 Store in a clean, well-ventilated room with good environmental controls.
4.8 Avoid intense light.
4.9 Store in wooden cabinets lined with starch-free cotton or polyester.

5. Ceramics and Glass

Ceramics (earthenware, stoneware, porcelain) and glass are generally stable

and require only simple hygiene.

5.1 Mechanical cleaning is generally sufficient.

5.2 Ceramics and glass from underwater sites may have in them harmful
chlorides, which need to be removed by soaking in distilled water for
long periods.
6. Basketry and Mats

These are prone to degradation since the materials are organic.

6.1 Know the kind of plant materials.

6.2 Mechanical cleaning using cotton swabs and distilled water with
ammonia to remove oil and grease, and dirt.
6.3 Organic solvents like alcohol, acetone, toluene and petroleum may also
be used. Test for the appropriate
solvent. Use the weakest.
6.4 Marks, tapes, adhesives should be removed.
6.5 Condition the fibres by relaxing these so they can be reshaped without
6.6 Store baskets and mats in relatively dark, cool ventilated areas. Non-air
tight plastic bags may be used. Do
not place one on top of another. These should not sag under their own
6.7 Mats should be rolled or stored flat like textiles.

All museum collections should be protected from:

1. Mishandling by personnel
2. Theft
3. Fire
4. Water
5. Vandalism

Staff members should be taught how to hold or carry an object of different

kinds, e.g. painting, sculpture, ceramics, baskets, etc. Training is needed in
opening a book, stacking paintings, taking materials out of a frame, carrying
an object from one place to another; the use of tapes, the acidity of bare hands
and so on. In fact, in-service training is indispensable in the handling of all types
of museum objects in all possible situations or processing steps in the museum.
It is fatal to assume that people automatically know how to handle objects.
Mishandling is one of the greatest factors that contribute to the deterioration
of an object, and this is an area where museums tend to be most guilty.
The museum should be secured from theft. The threat can come from within,
outside and the security system itself. All means of entry, including from the
roof, should be studied and secured. Control over keys to locks of entrances
should be an ongoing concern, including the duplication of these. The
selection of security personnel and how they would be disposed should be
well considered. Bonded security firms should be preferred but their personnel
should be trained for the needs of a museum.

If there is a possibility for the installation of an alarm system, then this should
be done. There are many systems available but the selection must be suited to
a particular situation and need. Infra-red sensing devices that create invisible
curtains can be more effective than the photo-electric cell devices that use
beams of light. It should be kept in mind that burglar alarms give a false sense
of security. It should be remembered that alarms must also be secured.

Fires are always possible. Preventive measures are ideal besides being the
cheapest. Possible sources of fire should be checked periodically like the
electrical wiring, presence of flammable materials like volatile fuels, chemicals,
waxes, oil soaked cloth, etc. Fire extinguishers should be distributed in key
areas, and personnel should not only know where these are but also how to
use them. The staff should also know and be trained on what to do in case of
fire. Fire drills should be held regularly. Foam and water-type extinguishers can
do more damage to collection items than anticipated. Extinguishers that do
not leave residues should be preferred.

Water can be as dangerous to collection items just as fire and should be avoided.
Storage areas should be above ground level to avoid ground water and floods.
As much as possible there should be no water pipes in storage areas. Water can
also come from leaking roof gutters or ill-placed pipes. Always be aware that the
presence of water is damaging to collection items so that even in conservation
processes it must be used with care.

Vandalism is a problem that can be prevented or minimized by the visibility

of security personnel. An understanding of this can be considered in the
layout and placement of objects, e.g. roping off sensitive areas; the use of glass;
placing susceptible objects near security areas. Usually, an exhibition layout
that exposes the visitor to view at all times is highly preventive.
Recourses for a Museum
1. General cleanliness of the storage, exhibition and curatorial areas should
be constantly maintained.
2. Control of environmental conditions.
3. General security from theft, fire and water.
4. Maintenance of a registry and documentation, including the
documentation of the conservation processes used in any object.
5. Periodic fumigation preferably by trained personnel.
6. Emergency conservation.
7. Use of white cotton gloves in handling specimens to protect these from
the acid and oils of the skin.
8. Use of water-soluble adhesives.
9. Mounting and storing of objects in acid-free containers, including photos
and negatives.
10. Use of professional conservation help when necessary. The Chemistry
and Conservation Laboratory under the Anthropology Division of the
National Museum in Manila is the best equipped for this type of work not
only in terms of equipment but also of personnel. Technical assistance
can be made available upon request. (tel. no. 527-0307)

Fumigation with Paradichlorobenzene (poison)

1. Single small objects

Place the object to be fumigated in a plastic bag or envelope, then sprinkle

it with some paradichlorobenzene crystals. Seal the opening completely with
tape. Leave the bag for at least two weeks out of direct sunlight.
2. Multiple or large objects

To treat sheets of documents (1) cut two pieces of Japanese paper one inch
larger than the document. (2) Place Japanese paper on glass sheet and weight
on document. (3) Place two-sided tape on melinex leaving a gap. Place the other
sheet on top. Japanese paper is the least acidic of papers locally available.


n.d. Field Conservation of Marine Artifact, Chemistry and Conservation Laboratory,

National Museum, Manila
n.d. Museum Environment, Chemistry and Conservation Laboratory, National
Museum, Manila

A.C.T. Members

n.d. Exhibition and Storage Recommendations for the Small Museum, Institute for
the Conservation of Cultural Material.

August, Raymon S.

1983 Museum: A Legal Definition. Curator, American Museum of Natural History, 26:2
Johnson, E.V. and J.C. Horgan
n.d. Handbook for Museum Collection Storage. Draft

Zyskowski, Gloria

1983 A Review of Literature on the Evaluation of Museum Programs, Curator,

American Museum of Natural History, 26:2.
1991 Training Report on the Care, Maintenance and Basic Conservation of Museum
Artifacts, National Museum

About the Author:

Jesus T. Peralta is a Bachelor of Philosophy graduate from the University of Sto. Tomas,
with a Master of Arts in Anthropology from the University of the Philippines, and a Doctor
of Philosophy in Anthropology from the University of California. He was Director III of
the National Museum until he retired in 1997. Most interestingly, he is also a ten-time
winner in the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards in Literature in the field of playwrighting.
He has more than 120 scientific papers and publications on anthropology, archaeology,
and general culture to his name. He is the author of The Tinge of Red, Glimpses: Peoples
of the Philippines and Insights into Philippine Culture: Festschrift in Honor of William
Henry Scott. He now works as a Consultant for The National Commission for Culture and
the Arts (NCCA)-MIS.
633 General Luna Street, Intramuros 1002 Manila
Tel. 527-2192 to 98 • Fax 527-2191 & 94
e-mail: • website:

Related Interests