A Holistic Appraisal of Environmental Conditions in The National Archives, UK

Kostas Ntanos and Nancy Bell

The National Archives (TNA) UK, formally the Public Record Office, houses over 10 million records that span over a thousand years of English and British history. The collection currently occupies approximately 180km of shelving, and is stored in two purpose built, environmentally controlled buildings at Kew, London. This facility opened in 1996 and was designed in accordance with best practice guidance at the time, as set-out in British Standards 5454. This standard recommends that environmental storage conditions be maintained at 16-19 °C ±1 and 40-65% RH ±5%. Prior to the move to Kew the collection had been stored in uncontrolled environmental conditions at a site on Chancery Lane, central London, for approximately 150 years.

TNA has always taken seriously the preservation of its records. It supports a comprehensive preservation programme, which includes rigorous environmental control. However, recent mechanical problems with the air-conditioning systems, coupled with a greater appreciation of the high cost, both financial and environmental, in maintaining theses mechanical systems designed to meet BS5454, prompted a comprehensive review of our current environmental control programme.

This paper will set-out the context for environmental standards maintained at TNA, it will describe the background issues prompting a holistic appraisal of TNA's current environmental provision, it will describe the findings of research projects underpinning our review, and will discuss how we are striving to translate research findings to support the environmental appraisal and to inform our future programme of stewardship.