The National Portrait Gallery’s overarching project was to upgrade all on-site collections storage. The project was broken down into a number of phases programmed over 2012 – 2013. The discreet part, which Polstore Storage Systems Limited was commissioned to work on, was phase 3: the provision of storage cupboards for archive material and photographic albums.
The special collections store, situated on an upper floor, holds the Gallery’s main works on paper collections, including 19th century and early 20th century albums of carte visits, photographic albums and early 20th illustrated books with photographs. The archive and library store, located in the basement area, is primarily for books, prints and drawings and archival collections, including the registered packets. The registered packets are the Gallery’s official record of its collections (acquisition files, conservation records and history files relating to all the portraits in the collection). In addition an extra-illustrated set of the Dictionary of National Biography which runs to about 70 volumes is stored along with a small collection of sculpture, and other parts of the gallery’s prints and drawings collections including portraits of foreign sitters, a number of sketch books and a collection of silhouettes.
The starting point to this project was always going to be access: by improving the storage of the collection, ensuring its better long-term preservation and to provide easy access to the collection and improve accessibility to future generations. Other key factors included upgrading storage, rationalising the collection, allowing for growth space and improving security.
The National Portrait Gallery was keen to get a balance to make the best use of space; therefore a bespoke fit was necessary. With detailed surveys, discussions and design work, an additional benefit in the basement was achieved by using the existing layout of the store and having cupboards purpose built to fit within the building structure. The Gallery was able to demarcate 2 areas: a general store for the library material open to more Gallery staff and a secure storage area for special collections material which included all the collections in the new museum cupboards. Not to lose sight of a uniform design in case of future relocation and reuse the cabinets elsewhere. Flexibility was key.
Polstore Storage Systems Limited was selected as they were the best fit to the tender. The quality of the proposal, the response to the particular challenges to do with optimising the storage capacity within the available floor space, and coming up with a pragmatic way of dealing with all the access and logistical issues – getting the materials in and out of the building, programming the project in and around the decanting collections, removing old units and creating space for new units, and scheduling split deliveries which was important to the Gallery. Polstore completely understood these issues and the Gallery was confident both parties could work together effectively.
The Gallery was impressed with the final outcome, the project created storage space for the registered packets and in general the storage capacity has increased by 30%. This allowed the Gallery to improve the storage of the collections they already have ensuring future preservation.
Not only has the project delivered a beautiful and smart installation, it has changed the physical environment and this in turn has helped change attitudes and culture in the Gallery and how staff can access, engage with and manage the collections.