Course:5: Access and Outreach
Lesson:Lesson 3: Exhibits and Loans


Preservation Considerations

No matter how large or small your exhibit, there are always preservation considerations – and often these considerations are overlooked in the planning and design of the exhibit. Whenever possible, use copies of original records for exhibit purposes. Original materials should only be placed in exhibits when absolutely necessary.

Sheet Materials

For sheet materials, such as photographs and loose page documents, the most effective strategy is to copy the originals and display the copies. Laser copiers make facsimiles that are virtually identical to the original; and high quality copying services are available in most areas. Copying can even be used to improve the quality of photographic images by using digital scanning technology.

There will be situations when the original must be displayed. In these cases it must be protected adequately.

Paper-Based Materials

Five simple rules apply to exhibiting paper based materials:

  1. Use copies whenever you can.
  2. Don’t display originals permanently.
  3. Keep light levels as low as possible.
  4. Minimize exposure to UV light – the most damaging kind of light for paper documents.
  5. Use exhibit cases and frames that are enclosed, sealed, and made out of materials that won’t damage the documents. To the right you can see how the Rennseler County Historical Society has safely mounted an exhibition.

Example icon

The USS Massachusetts Memorial Committee, Inc. at Battleship Cove offers an exhibit displaying copies of original photos, as shown below.

Navy seaman




We have already discussed the damage light can cause to historical records. Exhibiting original records makes light exposure inevitable. However, there are some steps you can take to keep exposure (and therefore damage) to a minimum.

  • Cover any windows in the exhibit areas with blinds, shades, or curtains.
  • Install UV filters on windows or on exhibit cases. 
  • Filtering capacity should be greater than 90%.
  • Turn off the lights when visitors aren’t in the room.
  • Put cloth covers over the cases during non-working hours.
  • Assume that natural light, fluorescent and tungsten-halogen light sources give off unacceptable levels of UV and UV filters need to be in place.

ultraviolet light meter

Traceable® Ultraviolet Light Meter. Minimize exposure to ultraviolet light.