Choosing the Right Museum Storage System

top 7 museum storage solutionsFirst of all, what exactly is museum storage? Think of it as both a physical space and an ongoing process. The term often conjures visions of out-of-the-way places deep in the bowels of museums, but this is not always the case. On-premises, it is often ideal to think of storage areas more as libraries. Curators and researchers need ready access to many items. Superior organization is a must. So is full use of available space, both horizontal and vertical.

High Demand for Museum Storage

Museums are often housed in historic buildings in densely populated city centers. Storage space is frequently limited. Temperature and humidity may be difficult to control. Aging infrastructure, including plumbing and electrical, may threaten collections. Museums often address these concerns with complimentary off-premises storage. Museum storage systems from Southwest Solutions Group® provide many advantages. They provide protection, conserve space, and promote access. Consider them for both on-premises and off-premises applications.

On average, only about five percent of museums’ permanent collections are on display at any one time. For some, it is even less. The International Council of Museums says that some museums store 99 percent of their collections. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s three locations house more than 2 million items. Only a small fraction are available for public display. The Met’s effort to represent “more than 5,000 years of human creativity” is a herculean endeavor.

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Many museums face a keen demand for fine art museum storage. Consider a Quartz survey of 20 museums in 7 countries. It focused on 2,087 artworks created by 13 major artists. More than 100 of 247 works by Picasso were not displayed. More than half of the works by O’Keeffe, Calder, and Kandinsky were in storage. A survey of Canadian museums revealed problems with inadequate space. About 53 percent of the respondents said they had to cope with the problem.

Museums face a daunting task as more artworks and artifacts continue to arrive. Curators must find a safe and efficient way to catalog and store the many items not on public display. 

Museums may address the challenge by maintaining both display collections and study collections. While the latter is not intended for display, researchers covet them. Museums also address some of the demand via visible storage facilities. Such storage respects the publicly-owned nature of many museum artworks and artifacts. 

The growth of visible storage facilities intensifies the focus on effective storage practices. 

Key Benefits of Advanced Museum Storage Equipment

In museums, not just any storage will do. Directors, curators, and managers must deal with at least ten agents of deterioration. Each one can threaten collections. High-quality museum storage equipment is a vital part of any risk management strategy. Extreme weather events and natural disasters highlight the need for effective risk management.

Other key benefits include:high density compact museum storage racks

  • Conserve space both horizontally and vertically
  • Remove bottlenecks to improve workflow
  • Provide ergonomic solutions
  • Enhance access
  • Track museum assets
  • Secure valuable items 
  • Improve employee efficiency, accuracy, and morale 
  • Deliver modular flexibility

Archival storage is a world of advanced air filtration and controlled temperature and humidity. It is also a world of careful cataloging and precise inventory control. The right storage systems are integral to the process. 

7 Storage Solutions for Museums 

Specialized museum storage systems address your need for safety, efficiency, and saving space.

1. High-density shelving and racks

With space so often at a premium, museum officials seek to compress storage while maintaining safe and efficient access. High-density shelving and storage racks are one answer.

What exactly do we mean by high density? Racks and shelving roll together on tracks, reducing the need for permanent aisles. This compact concept can double storage capacity and may reduce the need for new construction or off-premises storage.

This compact storage solution saves space. Simultaneously, it protects against light, water, fire, contaminants, pests, and more. Your fragile specimens are kept safe while space is saved.

It is possible to convert to mobile shelving for even greater efficiency. It begins with a quick and easy installation of floor tracks with mobile carriages. Your current high-capacity shelving is placed on this new mobile system. Mobile shelves move together to eliminate aisle space. To gain access, simply turn a handle to move as many as six aisles worth of shelving at once. For even greater efficiency, consider push-button mobile shelving.

Cold storage is but one application for high-density shelving. Many items require cold storage, such as photographs, color drawings, microfilm masters, videotapes and 16 mm film, and videotapes. It is possible to prolong the life of delicate materials by controlling temperature and humidity. Temperatures under 40 degrees F and relative humidity under 35 percent are often ideal. 

It is expensive to construct cold storage. Ongoing energy costs are always a consideration. Therefore, ultra-efficient shelving is essential. SSG’s storage solutions help you conserve precious space in cold storage. 

View an image gallery of additional high-density storage ideas here

2. Versatile storage cabinets

museum storage flat tray cabinetsIt is important to match the right storage idea to a given application. Departments in art, natural history, and entomology all have specific needs. For example, consider specialized designs like herbarium cabinets. 

SSG offers many cabinet designs and configurations that address your exacting requirements. Choose from either full or half-height museum cabinets. There are also single and double door options. Half-height designs provide additional workspace on top. Inside, use hanging rods or shelving. Choose solid or perforated shelving. Select from opaque or glass doors. 

Address other storage needs with 4-post shelving that includes trays. Museum-grade pallet racks provide a means to provide ready access to larger specimens. Fossils are but one example. 

When versatility is a must, consider mobile storage drawers. Change the configuration of your storage area with ease. Adapt to changing storage requirements. 

3. Flat file storage cabinets

Flat file storage cabinets are an essential component of museum storage. Deliver crucial protection for light-sensitive drawings, photographs, maps, and more. Protect against insects, rodents, dust, and water as well. Choose the sizes and configurations that match well with the parameters of your collection. 

Examples of flat file storage include:

  • Archival art & print cabinets 
  • Stacking flat file cabinets. 
  • Flat-file map cabinets
  • Portfolio case racks with adjustable shelves

4. Painting and artwork storage racks

Pull-out art storage racks deliver full visibility and safety. Easily access framed art displayed on sturdy racks. Keep your framed paintings off the floor. Braided wire mesh screens give you the freedom to configure your artwork as desired. museum storage art racks

SSG offers versatile sizes up to 121 inches in height. Choose unit depths ranging from 18 to 36 inches. The floor-mount system eliminates the need for ceiling support. Enjoy smooth, quiet operation as a rack slides out for viewing. 

Save even more space with SSG’s rolling artwork panels on floor tracks. The panels nest together until there’s a need for access. They are then moved along the floor tracks to create a floating access aisle. Store framed collections with maximum efficiency. Retrieve stored artwork with ease. 

5. Spinning dual-sided cabinets

A single spinning dual-sided cabinet stores about as much as three 4-drawer lateral file cabinets. Imagine the space you can save with these specialty cabinets. Use spinning cabinets to store slides, specimens, artifacts, books, and more. 

SSG’s spinning dual-sided cabinets feature a powder coat finish for durability. The 100% non-emissive coating is safe and LEED compatible. Customize them to meet your exacting requirements. Door panel options include laminates, fabrics, acrylic overlays, and more. For more versatility, add media drawers, filing drawers, or other available accessories.

museum botany specimen storage cabinets6. Museum exhibit cases

Museum exhibit cases feature secure, clear-pane double doors that provide for easy viewing. SSG’s designs are perfect for displaying attire and costume accessories. Exhibits often include the clothing of world leaders and celebrities. The sometimes frail state of the fabrics requires a more protected display. Exert control over light, temperature, and humidity with display cases from SSG. Avoid bug infestation, crushing, and other adverse events. Don’t compromise the condition of historical and valuable items.

7. Museum specimen cabinets

Preserve important collections of insects, skeletal remains, and delicate artifacts. SSG’s museum specimen cabinets feature secure seals and a waterproof top. Protect against dust, water, light, insects, and rodents. Reinforced steel cabinets feature a baked powder coat finish for years of service. SSG’s designs feature reinforced-hinge doors, floor levelers, and protective bumper stops. As a government publication says, “A well sealed cabinet creates a stable interior climate that buffers against temperature and relative humidity fluctuations, and deters damage caused by light, dust, airborne pollution, and pest infestations.”

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Choose Museum Storage Systems From Southwest Solutions Group

At Southwest Solutions, we believe it is possible to preserve valuable collections while consuming less space. Our systems protect against adverse environmental conditions. They organize items to improve access. We believe that well-organized storage enhances employee morale. 

Our team welcomes the opportunity to learn more about your storage requirements. Knowledgeable representatives stand ready to offer ideas to enhance your museum operations. Please contact us for prompt, professional assistance. Request your complimentary quote today.


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Museum Testimonials


“I want to thank your entire team for the outstanding work on our art storage project. The process from beginning to end was smooth and enjoyable, and the finished room looks terrific! Chester, Bryan, Chris, Chris, and the other members were extremely thorough and a pleasure to work with. They followed our house rules and took our direction very well. Thanks again for an outstanding project, and I look forward to working with Southwest Solutions in the future should the opportunity arise. ”

Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
San antonio museum of art

“The new art racks are massive and beautiful! I cannot wait to hang art on the racks with those fancy hooks, wow! Thank you for helping me see the project through. The efforts of your team and installation really made the project go very smoothly and on time. We look forward to showing off the new and improved art storage room to our Director, Board Members, and Staff. Thanks a million, it has been a pleasure to work with you and your wonderful team on our paintings storage area.”

San Antonio Museum of Art

“I would like to thank you and your team at Southwest Solutions Group for working with the museum so diligently over the years. I also want to thank you personally for your patience, professionalism and great attitude as we’ve navigated the sometimes bumpy road to completing the Blanton Phase I and Phase II. Southwest Solutions Group will certainly be at the very top of my list for any future museum storage needs.”

Blanton Museum of Art

“Southwest Solutions Group is an amazing company made so much better by having Daryl at the helm of Museum and Library storage space saving designs in the NW. Daryl is not only an expert in high density shelving systems, but he consistently tunes into optimizing long term solutions to complex storage needs and pliable projects. Always reliable and knowledgeable, Daryl and his Spacesaver’s team have been indispensable partners in our world of cultural preservation.”

Seattle Art Museum

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