Measuring Museum Art Lighting With Data Loggers & Sensors

by | Sep 21, 2023 | Blog, Museum Lighting

As a collections care professional, you’re familiar with the ten agents of deterioration, and you know museum lighting for art is a sensitive issue. Light is not only cumulatively damaging, but its effects are completely irreversible. Fading cannot be restored. You also know that you must balance your light levels to accommodate both your conservation and exhibition needs.

Since objects need to be both protected and displayed at accessible levels for all your visitors, the only way for you to achieve your goals is to measure your light exposure and manage your dark storage and display hours. This means you need to measure exposure accurately and reliably. How else are you going to calculate exposure in lux hours?

Why is measuring museum art lighting important?

Knowing how much light exposure you get in different situations and spaces in your galleries and storage areas will help you make a number of important decisions.

  • Are you getting too much light in your exhibition space?
  • Are your lighting systems really doing what they say they are supposed to be doing?
  • Are you getting too much daylight or unfiltered UV?
  • Is it time to switch your old lights to modern LEDs?
  • Is it brighter in your storage or lab spaces than it should be for the objects you have there?
  • Are there people coming in and out of spaces at night, turning lights on and exposing objects?
  • Are objects from lenders and/or sensitive objects in exhibition keeping the lighting time budgets agreed?

Data loggers versus spot measurements for museum lighting

Data loggers are electronic devices that record environmental data over time. While it is certainly possible for you to walk around your spaces taking spot measurements and use specialized light/UV readers to spot check the light received by your objects during mounting, remember that you are only getting one reading for a specific moment in time.

  • If you have some daylight illumination, you will not be able to see the way illuminance changes throughout the day or even through the seasons.
  • If the dimmers on your artificial light are engaging automatically or flickering, you won’t be able to catch that either.
  • If you have a space where lights turn on and off automatically when visitors walk in and out to reduce exposure for your objects, you won’t be able to measure it with a spot checker.
  • If you are interested in measuring and optimizing your museum art lighting for energy efficiency and sustainability purposes, you will not be able to get the data you need for this from spot measurements.
  • If you need to periodically demonstrate your lighting budget targets, you will need to spend a lot of time taking spot checks and proving that you are keeping the parameters agreed with conservators on your team or lenders.

If none of the points above are relevant to your institution because it’s too small, you don’t have the staff to make the best out of the information your light sensors would be logging, you wouldn’t have the ability to act on the information you get, or any other similar reason, then light loggers are probably not appropriate for your needs at this time, and it’s okay to stick to what you’ve got.

Considerations before buying a data logger for museum art lighting

When you are on the market for data loggers, you should be aware of some important things:

  • Most data loggers do not normally include a light and UV sensor.
  • Some loggers include light and temperature, but not relative humidity.
  • If this is important to you, most light and UV loggers do not include color temperature measurements.
  • Depending on the brand you pick, you might have to buy a separate logger for each parameter you want to measure: one for temperature, one for relative humidity, one for light/UV, etc.
  • Make sure that the software associated with the logger you are buying will integrate well with the other loggers in your fleet. Otherwise, you might end up having to open and install different programs for different parameters.
  • Make sure you know how your new data logger for light will connect to the rest of your system. Where will it be placed? Is it wireless? What kind of wireless? Don’t forget that different types of wireless will have different capabilities and networking challenges, so talk to your IT department and confirm you will be able to integrate your new logger with your existing solutions.

Data loggers that include light sensors

Here are some data loggers that include light sensors as well as RH and temperature:


Museum art lighting is a key aspect of collections care that can require careful monitoring and control. Data loggers and sensors will help museum professionals measure museum art lighting in real-time and ensure optimal conditions for their artworks and artifacts by allowing appropriate decision-making based on data.

Before you buy a data logger to measure light, make sure you know what you need and what you want. Are you okay with having separate sensors for each parameter or would you rather have all-in-one devices? How accurate do you need it to be? What kind of decisions do you expect to be making based on the information you get? Where will you put it, and will it connect with your system without too much trouble?

Once you know the answers to these questions, you will have a much better idea of what you should be purchasing. Feel free to reach out to us to talk more about your light monitoring needs. Our Senior Conservation Liaison, Claire Winfield, led her institution’s light monitoring efforts, so she’s the perfect person to tackle your questions and concerns!

If you have any questions about environmental monitoring, integrated pest management, or just want to talk about preventative conservation, please reach out to us! Don’t forget to check out our blog or join our community of collections care professionals where you can discuss hot topics, connect with your peers or even take a course to get familiar with the Conserv platform.

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