Saturday, February 16, 2008

Unwanted Objects

This article in yesterday's Austin American Statesman brings up a good discussion point.

What do Museums do with the objects they no longer want in their collections?

Most museums have a document that is called a Collections Management Policy. We have one at WCHM. One of the topics discussed in our Collections Management Policy is how we go about deaccessioning objects (or removing them from our permanent collection).

I wanted to share that portion of our policy with you, since it is a public document, and ethically and professionally, we're required to treat our collections in certain ways.

From our policy:

An object may be deaccessioned from the permanent collection for any of the following reasons:

  • The object is outside of, or no longer relevant to, the Museum’s stated purpose and its acquisitions policy;
  • The object lacks physical integrity (incomplete, broken, or in poor and unsalvageable condition);
  • The item has failed to retain its authenticity;
  • The item has been lost or stolen and remains lost for longer than two years;
  • The Museum is unable to properly care for and preserve the object;
  • The object has deteriorated to the degree that it cannot be used for exhibit or research purposes;
  • There exists a more appropriate repository for the material;
  • The item is a duplicate or reproduction; the Museum’s collection contains other objects of the same type that are sufficient or better suited to the Museum’s needs; and/or
  • The object is determined through documentation research to fall under items protected under NAGPRA, Antiquities Code of Texas, ARPA, or other relevant acts or treaties, or is determined to be stolen.


The Museum Curator will make recommendations for object deaccessioning when one or more of the deaccession criteria are met. Upon approval by the Board, the Museum Curator will make every effort for immediate disposal. Upon deaccessioning, a full written report, with photographs, will become part of the Museum’s permanent records. A complete and open file will be maintained by the Museum on all deaccessioned materials.


Objects approved for deaccessioning will be disposed of in one of the following manners:

· Transferred to the Museum’s education or research collection;

· Sold at public auction or sale;

· Exchanged with organizations, institutions, or other relevant sources for objects, library or archival material needed in the Museum’s collections;

· Transferred to another museum or public educational institution; or

· Destroyed.

The Museum Curator will first look for similar institutions that can benefit from deaccessioned materials. In transferring these materials, preference will be given to retaining in the community, state, or nation material that is part of its respective artistic, historical, cultural, technological, or scientific heritage.

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