Living Links

Exhibition Display Guidelines

As part of a exhibit or open day, you may decide to display original archives for the public to see. This allows people to see actual historical documents or photographs, however putting original archives on display always involves risk.  This is because:

  • inks, colours and photographic images can fade
  • incorrect display materials or techniques can damage or even destroy a document
  • items on display might be stolen or defaced.  

Consider whether you could display facsimiles or photographic copies of documents or rare prints instead. These would be replaceable. You might still be able to make the original accessible, but with supervision, on request.

In general, there are measures you can take to limit the risks:

Light

  • Keep lighting levels as low as possible
  • Do not allow direct sunlight to fall on to a display.
  • Use blinds over windows
  • Switch off all artificial lighting whenever the display area is not in use  

Screens and cases

  • Do not put screens or cases near windows, radiators or anywhere that might be at increased risk of fire or flood  

  • Make sure all showcases can be locked

Security

  • Always display original items behind glass or Perspex, so that they cannot be touched or moved  
  • If this form of display is impossible, it is essential to have the exhibition staffed during opening hours, or replace original exhibits with facsimiles
  • Check the contents and appearance of your displays regularly. If any item seems at risk, move it immediately to safer conditions.

Screens and cases

  • Do not put screens or cases near windows, radiators or anywhere that might be at increased risk of fire or flood  
  • Make sure all showcases can be locked
  • If cases are lined with material which could damage documents, such as velvet, place a sheet of acidfree paper between that material and the item you are displaying. This can be done so that it is not visible.

Hanging and fixing items on screens, boards and walls

If you plan to hang documents or photographs on vertical display screens, you should reduce strain on them by mounting or supporting them in some way.

  • For prints and maps, use acidfree card or board exhibition mounts  
  • For framed items, check the cord on which they hang frequently, in case it begins to fray or to become detached from the back of the frame
  • Do not use sellotape, drawing pins or metal staples
  • Do not use PVC film as this is chemically harmful
  • Use narrow strips of polyester (melinex) to hold single pages or photographs in place or to hold open the pages of a book
  • Use larger sheets of melinex or perspex to cover flat documents or whole display screens
  • If you use pins, do not put them through any documents or exhibition mount
  • Try using plasticheaded map tacks directly beside the edge of a mount. These can give quite a lot of support, particularly if melinex strips are incorporated.

Displaying books

  • Do not display old books with hard covers left open to 180° for more than a few hours. They may not close again.
  • Support both covers from beneath, on boards angled to fit the volume, or use support cushions, which can be bought quite cheaply

Security

  • Always display original items behind glass or perspex, so that they cannot be touched or moved  
  • If this form of display is impossible, it is essential to have the exhibition staffed during opening hours, or replace original exhibits with facsimiles
  • Check the contents and appearance of your displays regularly. If any item seems at risk, move it immediately to safer conditions.
 
Exhibition in the Record Office

Further information

  • BS 5454:2000 Recommendations for the storage and exhibition of archival documents
  • BaynesCope, A.D. Caring for Books and Documents (British Museum, 1981)
  • Collings, T.  The Archival Care of Still Photographs (Society of Archivists, 1983)
  • Edwards, E.  The Care and Storage of Photographs (Area Museums Service S.E. England 1986)

Contacts

Hampshire Record Office
Sussex Street, Winchester, Hampshire SO23 8TH
tel 01962 846154

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