Records storage standards and environmental conditions

How and where you store your records is key to ensuring they remain clear and reliable for the entire time they need to be kept.

Records must be kept safe, stored in appropriate conditions, and preserved to reduce their deterioration.

1. Storage standards

The Queensland State Archives' storage standards are a voluntary code of best practice. Use this to assess storage facilities and conditions for both physical and digital records.

The storage standard is based on 9 principles covering physical, administrative and systemic controls.

  1. Location–storage facilities are conveniently located and away from known hazards.
  2. Facility design and construction–storage facilities are specifically designed to protect and preserve records.
  3. Environmental control–storage facilities provide environmental conditions that are appropriate to records’ formats and retention periods.
  4. Shelving and packaging–records are protected from damage and slow deterioration.
  5. Accessibility–records can be easily identified, located and retrieved.
  6. Handling–records are retrieved, handled and used in a manner that prevents damage and slows deterioration.
  7. Privacy and security–storage conditions ensure the privacy and security of the records.
  8. Protection from disaster–disaster management programs are established and maintained to minimise risks.
  9. Monitoring and maintenance–storage facilities are monitored, managed and maintained to ensure records’ safety.

2. Storage criteria for physical records, facilities and data centres

Storage facilities for physical records, digital storage media and data storage centres should:

  • be in a suitable location and be well designed, constructed, and maintained
  • be able to control environmental conditions and protect against excessive light, dust, dirt, dampness, heat, pests and mould
  • offer suitable housing for records with different requirements such as shelving for boxes, and cabinets or drawers for maps and plans
  • be secure from unauthorised access
  • provide protection from damage and disaster (e.g. facility is not in a high-risk location, and check that it has a disaster management plan and damage prevention processes)
  • allow appropriate access to the records.

Use the records storage standard criteria assessment tool (XLSX, 27 KB) as a checklist to assess your current and future storage, and identify any areas for improvement.

See a list of available commercial off-site storage providers.

Note: If you are using off-site storage, sentence records before you transfer them off-site to make things easier when the time comes for disposal.

3. Storage standards for magnetic and optical media

There are additional storage requirements for magnetic and optical media.

Magnetic tape should be stored as specified in ISO 18923:2000 Imaging materials–Polyesterbase magnetic tape–Storage practices.

Regular use of magnetic media should be in accordance with ISO 18933:2012 Imaging materials–Magnetic tape–Care and handling practices for extended usage.

Optical media should be stored as specified in ISO 18925:2008 Imaging materials–Optical disc media–Storage practices.

Offline media should be stored at less than 20°C. For long-term storage, less than 18°C and 40% relative humidity is recommended. For very long-term storage (decades), the temperature and humidity should be lower, however, magnetic media should not be stored below 8°C.

Recorded lifespan of magnetic media under different storage conditions (years)
Quality of manufacture Lifespan in years at 30ºC and 40% relative humidity Lifespan in years at 20ºC and 30% relative humidity Lifespan in years at 10ºC and 25% relative humidity
Most media 2–5 5–10 10–20
Very high quality media 10–20 20–50 50–100

Environmental levels need to be stable. Mould will start to grow at around 60% relative humidity and if the humidity fluctuates more than 10% in 24 hours.

Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light will also hasten media degradation. Fluorescent tubes with UV filters should be used in storage areas, and turned off when not in use. UV light can be easily measured with a light metre, and levels should not exceed 75μW/lumen. An ideal storage area would have no windows, but if windows are present, they should be covered with curtains or blinds.

4. Environmental storage conditions

Appropriate environmental conditions will slow the deterioration of physical records while poor environmental conditions damage them. Damage will be incremental and cumulative which may take some time to become apparent.

Recommended environmental levels and tolerances (PDF, 156 KB) will depend on how long records need to be kept and their format. The longer the records need to be kept, the more critical environmental controls are.

Appropriate storage conditions for long-term temporary and permanent records must be maintained on a 24/7 basis.

Temperature and Relative Humidity (RH)

A constant temperature and RH levels should be maintained within specific tolerances. Controlled temperature and relative humidity will help prevent both physical and chemical degradation of records, damage to data storage and media, and the threat from pests and mould.

Magnetic and optical media are particularly susceptible to temperature and humidity changes, and mould growth.

Find out about the recommended temperature and relative humidity levels according to format type and retention period.

Pollutants

Records storage areas need to be kept clean and free of dust and dirt, especially for long-term temporary and permanent records.

Particulates such as dust, dirt and soot should be filtered. 60–80% of dust particles that are more than half a micron in diameter give up to a total 50 micrograms of particles (solids) in a cubic metre volume of air sampled.

Gaseous pollutants including sulphur dioxide, nitrogen gases and ozone should each not exceed 5–10 parts per billion by volume.

Similarly acetic acid and formaldehyde levels should not exceed 4 parts per billion by volume.

Light

Light should be managed to exclude ultraviolet sources or be filtered to remove it. Minimise overall light intensity and reduce exposure times.

5. Compatible Materials

Some common materials will damage records if used long term, or left on or in contact with records.

Store solid state media in anti-static bags and earth metal shelving.

Avoid timber and composites. All shelving and cabinets should be powder coated or baked enamel metal (unless otherwise specified). They must fully contain the records (i.e. no overhang or protrusion).

Long-term temporary and all permanent unbound records should be contained. Containers and wrapping materials should meet NAA archival quality standard and/or photographic activity test (unless otherwise stated).

Other materials can damage physical records. Avoid using metal clips and fasteners such as bull dog clips, sticky tape, some cardboard and plastics, laminates, post-it notes, and sticky tabs.

Damaging items should be removed from records and replaced by archival quality materials, especially for long-term temporary and permanent records.

Find out what compatible materials, shelving, containers and wrappings (PDF, 156 KB) to use according to format type.

6. Other conditions

Any digital storage media that relies on power should remain powered whenever possible. For solid state and magnetic media, avoid power variations (power spikes).

Avoid physical shock to storage media.

Be aware of the life of the format or media, for example, memory wear on solid state media (i.e. the number of times data can be rewritten before the device is damaged).

Find out what other conditions and requirements (PDF, 156 KB) you should meet according to format type.

7. Recommended specific storage and environmental conditions

Find out what recommended storage and environmental conditions (PDF, 156 KB), shelving, compatible materials and containers to use.

8. Resources