Take Control of
Leo E. Landis
State Historical Museum of Iowa
Taking Control of Your Collection
Iowa Museum Association
July 12, 2013
Developing a Collection Management Policy
Samples of Collections Policies
City of Lansing, MI
McClean County (IL) Historical Society
Nebrasksa State Historical Society
Writing a Scope of Collections Statement—State of California
Malaro, Marie. A Legal Primer on Managing Museum Collections, Third Edition, 2012.
AAM Code of Ethics
The distinctive character of museum ethics derives from the
ownership, care and use of objects, specimens, and living
collections representing the world's natural and cultural common
wealth. This stewardship of collections entails the highest public
trust and carries with it the presumption of rightful ownership,
permanence, care, documentation, accessibility and responsible
Thus, the museum ensures that:
•collections in its custody support its mission and public trust responsibilities
•collections in its custody are lawfully held, protected, secure,
unencumbered, cared for and preserved
•collections in its custody are accounted for and documented
AAM Code of Ethics
•access to the collections and related information is permitted and regulated
•acquisition, disposal, and loan activities are conducted in a manner that
respects the protection and preservation of natural and cultural resources
and discourages illicit trade in such materials
•acquisition, disposal, and loan activities conform to its mission and public
•disposal of collections through sale, trade or research activities is solely for
the advancement of the museum's mission. Proceeds from the sale of
nonliving collections are to be used consistent with the established
standards of the museum's discipline, but in no event shall they be used for
anything other than acquisition or direct care of collections.
AAM Code of Ethics
•the unique and special nature of human remains and funerary and sacred
objects is recognized as the basis of all decisions concerning such
•collections-related activities promote the public good rather than individual
•competing claims of ownership that may be asserted in connection with
objects in its custody should be handled openly, seriously, responsively and
with respect for the dignity of all parties involved.
Take Control of Your
According to one museum planning firm, “...the
direct and indirect costs of collecting amount to
nearly 70 per cent of museum operating costs,
and so the strategy for future collections
development is a key element in the financial
•Objects that do not fulfill your mission
•Inventories and Objects for which there are incomplete records
•Deaccessioning objects from the museum’s collection?
Fulfill Your Mission with Your
•Scope of Collections
Aspects of a
•Need not be long, but it can be
•Addresses basics of collections oversight and
I. MISSION STATEMENT
II. THE COLLECTIONS
III. COLLECTIONS COMMITTEE
IV. COLLECTION FUNDS
V. COLLECTIONS PROGRAM
IX. REGULAR REVIEW AND APPROVAL
Collections Policy Development
Policy development can be time-consuming, but approaching the issues
from a variety of perspectives can be beneficial. The process is most
effective when there is full staff involvement at every stage: initial draft,
review, revision and recommendation to the governing authority for
approval. Here are some steps in the policy development process:
•Assemble the writing team. (You may be most of these people)
Select a team that has a manageable number of participants yet represents
a variety of perspectives within the institution, including administration,
collections, conservation, governance, public programs, research and
security. Include the staff who implement the procedures.
•Develop the policy.
Use the mission statement and scope of the collections statement to
develop broad, institution-wide collections management policies. Then
develop specific policies to address particular institutional issues.
Collections Policy Development
Review the policies to ensure that they are based on current legal, ethical
and professional standards and adhere to the museum’s code of ethics.
Ask other staff members or volunteers to comment on successive drafts of
the policies. Once you have received feedback, revise the policy as
•Get governance endorsement
Following staff review and revision, present the policies to the museum’s
governing authority for approval. Be prepared to explain and defend each
policy as well as to incorporate the governing authority’s suggestions.
Collections Policy Development
Once the policies have been approved by the governing authority, prepare
a set of procedures for implementing each policy.
The completed collections management policy and the corresponding
procedures are presented, implemented and carried out by staff. Relevant
staff should have been included in developing the policies and procedures
but there may still be a need to talk about how to carry out their
•Review and revise periodically
These policies and procedures will evolve as the museum grows and
thrives. Procedures might need revision more often than policies
Importance of Scope of
•The Scope of Collections Statement is a
valuable tool for a museum. It is a guide for
evaluating new acquisitions, in budgeting,
prioritizing resources, and overall planning and
management of your collections. Defining your
scope of collections can be especially useful in
justifying donation refusals. It can help you
decide which museum objects might be
appropriate for hands-on use, and which might
be appropriate candidates for deaccession
Creating a Scope of
What are the main interpretive themes or topics
represented at your institution?
•Place—What are the geographical boundaries and
important events of your organization’s locale or region?
•People—Does your organization highlight certain
cultural groups, or an organization or business?
•Periods—What time period/s does the collection focus?
•Work with colleagues or volunteers
•Work with constituents/members and others in
the community. Consider how to crowd source
•Relate to your community
•Natural Life Collections
•Home and Family Life Collections
•Working Life Collections
•Cultural Life Collections
•The Harborough Collection
Comprises approximately of 11,000 items of local history material
focusing on the town of Market Harborough and its surrounding area of
influence. The collection complements the Market Harborough Historical
Society's collections of local history items and antiquities which is also
housed within the museum.
Museums of Leicestershire
Can be topical and should intersect with Scope
of Collections and Interpretive Themes
•The mechanization of farm work
•The relationship between consumers and
•The changing role of women’s work
•The consolidation of schools and the effect on
•Accession Files and Object Files
Deed of Gift
Research and conservation/restoration
The Importance of Inventories
•Objects for which there are incomplete records
•Collections Management Software
•Use MS Excel, MS Access or PastPerfect
•Salisbury House Example
Basics for Object Records
•Object ID or catalog number (unique identifying
number connected to a source)
•Object name (What it is)
•Location (Where it is)
•Description (What it looks like in two-four
•Date (How old it is)
•Every object is not equally important
National, Regional and Local Significance
•Rarity and Replaceability—Associative and
•Education, Ranking and Research Collections
•What is the historical reason you hold this material?
•Are there political considerations that are a barrier to
•If there is material that should be deaccessioned, what
are the costs of keeping it (in space, staff time, pest control
What are the barriers to deaccessioning and disposing of
Are there any modifications to be made to the collecting
plan or collections policy to tighten up deaccessioning, or
•Have a complete inventory of similar types of
•Know what you have, and be thorough in
documentation. Take photographs
•Be open, forthright and promote as widely as
•Be deliberate not reckless
•Proceeds should be used for new acquisitions or
care of existing collections
DeaccessioningNebraska State Historical Society
In all instances of potential deaccessioning, the historical significance of an object shall be considered of
primary importance and will override any of the other criteria. Material from the Society's collections to be
considered for deaccessioning must meet at least one of the following criteria:
•1. The material is outside the scope of, or is irrelevant to the mission of the Nebraska State Historical
Society and its acquisition policies.
•2. The material lacks physical integrity (it is incomplete, broken, or in poor and unsalvageable condition)
or it has deteriorated to the degree that it cannot be used for exhibit or research purposes.
•3. The historical evidence that led the Society to accept an object has been proven false.
•4. The material has been unaccounted for or stolen and remains lost for at least five years.
•5. The material is duplicate in that the Society's collections contain other examples of the same type of
material that are sufficient or better-suited to the needs of the Society.
•6. The Nebraska State Historical Society is unable to preserve the material properly.
•7. The material constitutes a physical hazard or health risk to staff, the public, or other collections.
•8. There exists a more appropriate repository for the material.
•9. It is discovered that the material has an unethical or illegal provenance.
•10. The material must be removed from the collection to comply with national and/or state legislation.
•11. The material will be destroyed for the purpose of scientific study.
•Henry Ford Model
Collections Committee and Sample Agenda
•Public auction with promotion is best for sale,
possibly transfer to another cultural agency for
free or reduced rate.
•Forbid staff and board from participating
Sources for Funding
•MAP and CAP
•HRDP for Inventory and Software
•NEH for Collections and Interpretation
•Silos & Smokestacks in NE Iowa
•Community Foundations and Casinos