With no visitors and far fewer people in their buildings, one would not think that dust would be an issue for museums at the moment.
However, last month experts at the Victoria and Albert Museum raised concerns about the increased risk of dust to objects during the museum’s closure.
Generally speaking, dust is made of fine particles of solid matter, including plant pollen, human and animal hairs, textile fibres, paper fibres, minerals from outdoor soil, human skin cells, along with many other materials found in the local environment.
Within a city museum environment like the V&A, dust will probably contain pollutants from passing traffic, along with a high proportion of skin and clothing fibres from visitors.
The V&A is right to be concerned about dust, even at a time when there are far fewer people in their building to generate it.
Although the absence of visitors through the V&A and other museum doors means that less new dust is being created, it also means that there will be far less of the air movement that constantly disturbs dust. Without this air movement, dust will be able to settle and potentially build up.
When dust settles and builds up, quite aside from being unsightly and detracting from visitor experience by impeding object interpretation / appreciation (not such an issue at a time when there are no museum visitors), its largely organic composition attracts small creatures which feed on the dust and then on the museum objects. These small creatures in turn attract larger ones, including spiders and even occasionally mice.
In addition to this, depending on the humidity levels in the environment, dust can encourage rust and mould growth.
Furthermore, the longer dust is left and the more it settles in, the harder it is for museum staff to remove, meaning an increased level of risk to the object when it is being cleaned.
These are just some of the reasons why dust is taken seriously by museums and why it is closely monitored by museum staff; but also why dust poses a particular risk to museum collections during extended periods of closure.