Archive Collections Care and Conservation Policy

1.0 Policy statement

1.1 The National Portrait Gallery (NPG) Archives Collections Care and Conservation Policy sets out how the Gallery cares for the archives it houses and the standards and rules which are followed whilst doing this. The policy applies to both analogue and digital records.

1.2 The policy is supported by the Archive and Library department annual plan, which outlines how the policy will be met.

1.3 The following definitions from the NPG Collections Care and Conservation Policy have been used when writing this policy: Conservation - Conservation is a profession devoted to the preservation of cultural heritage for the future. Conservation activities include examination, documentation and interventive treatment. Preservation - Preservation is the use of passive non-interventive activities including environmental monitoring, cleaning, surveying.

2.0 Building

2.1 The NPG maintains care of the building fabric of Gallery buildings.

2.2 Fire and safety systems are tested and serviced in line with Gallery procedures.

3.0 Archive Storage

3.1 All archive stores are purpose built, windowless rooms.

3.2 All archive stores are environmentally controlled in line with the temperature and relative humidity levels set out in BS 4971:2017 Conservation and care of archive and library collections. X-Rays and some photographs are stored in cold photographic storage.

3.3 Fire and flood detection monitoring and prevention systems are in place.

3.4 Cleaners are escorted by NPG staff when routinely cleaning archive stores and are only permitted to use cleaning products, which will not have an adverse effect on the archive collection.

4.0 Security

4.1 Access to archive stores and the public study room is controlled through an electronic access control system, which is managed by the Security control room which is staffed 24 hours a day. The archive stores are always secured and the public study room is only unlocked during opening hours to public. Access to these areas is only available with staff photo ID card and the Senior Archive and Library Manager approves which staff members have access to archive stores.

4.2 Cupboards and rolling stacks holding archives are locked, access is provided through keys which are signed in and out by Archive and Library staff from the NPG Security team each day. Only authorised staff are issued keys and a key audit is carried out each night to ensure all keys are returned.

4.3 Access to 39 - 45 Orange Street building housing the NPG archive is controlled by the NPG Security team.

4.4 CCTV cameras are installed in the archive stores and public study room, these are monitored by the NPG Security Control Room 24 hours a day. Recordings are kept for 30 days.

5.0 Document handling and access

5.1 Staff and volunteers are trained as required on the correct handling of archive collections.

5.2 Handling procedures and guidelines are available for researchers accessing material in the Public Study Room. Researchers are always supervised by Archive and Library staff when consulting archive material and given specific advice on handling when required.

5.3 Book supports, pillows, snakes and weights are available in the Public Study Room.

5.4 Records may be withdrawn from public access if it is judged handling will have a serious effect on their condition.

5.5 Where a surrogate exists it will be issued to readers and used by staff instead of the original.

5.6 Photocopying of archive records is not permitted in order to protect records from heat and light generated by machines and inexpert handling.

5.7 Non flash photography of material is permitted for research purposes only under the terms of the Public Study Room Visitor Agreement Form.

6.0 Conservation

6.1 The condition of records is assessed when material is catalogued or when access is provided in the Public Study Room to records. A rating scale of 1-4 is used:

  • 1 – Good, Archive is in good condition and is stable
  • 2 – Fair, Archive is in fair condition i.e. perhaps disfigured or damaged but stable, and needs no immediate action
  • 3 – Poor, Archive is in a poor condition, and probably unstable. Use should be restricted. Action desirable
  • 4 – Unacceptable, Archive is in completely unacceptable condition, is weakened, and highly unstable

6.2 All collected archives are given an overall condition rating as Collection Level Descriptions are created, this is recorded in the archive collections management system, CALM (ALM). For fully catalogued archives condition ratings for individual items are only recorded if they are 3 or 4, this saves time when cataloguing and also ensures that the material most in need of conservation is identifiable.

6.3 An ongoing project is being undertaken to assess the condition of Gallery Records at series level, condition ratings being recorded in Calm (ALM). Condition ratings for individual items of catalogued Gallery Records are only recorded if they are 3 or 4, this saves time when cataloguing and also ensures that the material most in need of conservation is identifiable.

6.4 The National Portrait Gallery Conservation department support the Archive through compiling condition reports when archive material is requested to be used in internal and external displays and through compiling treatment reports for archive material.

6.5 Conservation assessments and treatment by professional conservators occur as resources allow, priority for treatment is reserved for material that is physically unacceptable, of high importance and of high user demand. Assessments and treatment are provided in collaboration with the NPG Conservation department and external conservators as appropriate.

7.0 Packaging/housing

7.1 Archive records are whenever possible stored in acid free folders and acid free boxes. Paper clips, staples, pins and any other metal holding are removed and replaced with brass paper clips. Fragile loose papers and photographs are stored in melinex sleeves.

7.2 Oversize records are stored in portfolios and plan chests.

7.3 Packaging needs are assessed as part of archive cataloguing projects and suitable supplies sourced as resources allow.

7.4 Re-housing occurs at either cataloguing or accession into the archive depending on resources.

7.5 The NPG Conservation department are available to advise on storage and packaging options.

8.0 Environmental control and monitoring

8.1 A buildings management system monitors the environmental conditions of archive stores. This is managed by the Estates team. Data from the buildings management system is available to archive staff and if there are any deviations from set standards the Senior Archive and Library Manager is alerted and the Estates team investigate and organise any necessary repairs.

8.2 Light levels in archive stores comply with those stated in the Collections Care and Conservation Policy for the Gallery’s portrait collections. There is no source of natural light in the stores.

8.3 Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is monitored through the use of sticky insect traps which are checked quarterly by Archive and Library staff. Any surges of pests or areas for concern are raised with the NPG Conservation team who manage the programme and who advise on any necessary actions. The NPG’s IPM programme is reviewed every two years.

9.0 Digital preservation and storage

9.1 Born Digital records selected for permanent retention in the archive are stored on the NPG I:/drive, which is backed up by the IT department daily. All records transferred to the I:/drive are catalogued on CALM ALM and checked through Droid to ensure formats are stable.

9.2 Records on the I:/drive are only available to archive and IT staff to view. Access to records by staff is provided through a Reading Room folder where the Archivist transfers a copy of the requested record for viewing as required, when no longer needed the record is removed.

9.3 Copying of digital records is permitted by archive staff if it will improve access and security of the records.

9.4 Migration guidelines exist detailing how to migrate records to the I:/drive and identifying which formats are suitable to be used, these are reviewed annually to ensure formats are up to date. The I:/drive is checked annually to ensure record formats saved on there are supported and that none have become obsolete.

10.0 Exhibition and display

10.1 Archive records requested to be used in exhibitions and displays are assessed by National Portrait Gallery Conservation staff to ensure they are stable.

10.2 Archives are only allowed to be used in exhibitions and displays if they are guaranteed to be housed in secure display cases and that light levels and the exhibition environment are suitable for the material to be displayed.

10.3 Archive records will only be permitted to be displayed for set periods of time as recommended by Conservation staff.

11.0 Disaster Recovery

11.1 The archive maintains an up to date Disaster Recovery Plan as part of the Gallery’s Disaster Recovery Plan. The plan outlines an effective emergency response and salvage of collections following a major incident.

11.2 The Gallery will liaise with emergency services to make them aware of the archive stores layout, importance of the collections and the salvage priorities in the event of an emergency.

11.3 Appropriate business continuity planning is in place in the Gallery to ensure overall organisational resilience.


This policy will be reviewed every five years.

July 2021