How do I find a balance between light damage and a safe and enjoyable viewing experience for our visitors?

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Category: Lighting
Posted by Marcelle Scott(Questions:33:Answers28)
Answered On 18 January, 2014 7:25 am

Make sure that everyone working in your museum is aware of the damage that excessive light levels can cause and ensure they understand the reasons for any control measures taken.

Unnecessary Exposure

One of the most important ways of protecting your collection from damage caused by light is to avoid lighting it when no-one is looking. Here are several suggestions to consider.

Storage and work areas

Items that are not on display should be stored in a separate area that is lit only when access is required or when the area is being cleaned.
Work areas should be separate to storage and display areas as they need much higher lighting so that people can do detailed work, such as reading and condition checking items.

Display areas

If no-one is viewing the display, turn the lights off.
Place covers or curtains over or in front of the display for the viewer to remove as required.
Have timed light switches on display cases for the viewer to turn on which turn off automatically after a set period of time.
Install movement activated lights which respond to a viewer entering a room by raising the light level.

Brightness of Light

We recognise that meeting the recommended industry standards for maximum light levels discussed already can sometimes be difficult to achieve. The following tips for planning lighting and exhibits can help to avoid some of the common problems.

Try to group materials of similar light-sensitivity together in an exhibition, then ensure that this particular area has an appropriately low level of light.
Use screens or partitions to create semi-closed areas with lower lighting levels than the general display area.
Install dimmer switches in areas designated for the display of light-sensitive materials to allow greater control.
If there are several fluorescent tubes in each light unit, consider removing one. This will reduce your energy costs as well as save collection items from unneccessary light damage.
To help viewers adjust to low lighting, plan exhibition layouts so that there is a gradual change in the lighting level from one area to another. This will ensure that the visitor moves from bright, to medium, to low-level light, rather than straight from a bright to a low-level area.


Daylight is the hardest of light sources to manage. Some control, however, can be achieved with the following suggestions.

Determine where your ’hot-spots’ are (areas that receive the most light), remembering that these will change over the course of a day, and from season to season when the sun’s trajectory changes.
Avoid displaying sensitive items in your ’hot-spots’, or protect the items with covers.
Install curtains or blinds to be drawn at certain times of the day, remembering that these will require staff to open or close them at the right time.

Eliminating UV and IR radiation

As stated previously, UV and IR radiation are invisible and do not help illuminate items. They do, however, have the potential to cause greater damage than visible light. They should therefore be eliminated where possible by the following means.

Use UV absorbing plastic films on windows and skylights to eliminate UV radiation from the daylight coming into the room.
Select lights that have a low UV output, and give instructions that the same type are to be purchased when the existing globes or tubes need replacing.
Use UV absorbing filters or sleeves on lights that do have a UV output. If the sleeves are used, remember to transfer these to new tubes when the lights are being changed.
Position light sources that emit considerable heat (IR radiation) some distance away from objects.

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