2. Stewardship of collections - Museums Association

2. Stewardship of collections

Museums and those who work in and with them should:

  • maintain and develop collections for current and future generations
  • acquire, care for, exhibit and loan collections with transparency and competency in order to generate knowledge and engage the public with collections treat museum collections as cultural, scientific or historic assets, not financial assets.

Upholding the principle

All those who work in and with museums should:

2.1 Preserve collections as a tangible link between the past, present and future. Balance the museum’s role in safeguarding items for the benefit of future audiences with its obligation to optimise access for present audiences.

2.2 Collect according to detailed, published and regularly reviewed policies that state clearly what, how and why the museum collects.

2.3 Accept or acquire an item only if the museum can provide adequate, continuing long-term care for the item and public access to it, without compromising standards of care and access relating to the existing collections.

2.4 Conduct due diligence to verify the ownership of any item prior to purchase or loan, and that the current holder is legitimately able to transfer title or to lend. Apply the same strict criteria to gifts and bequests.

2.5 Reject any item for purchase, loan or donation if there is any suspicion that it was wrongfully taken during a time of conflict, stolen, illicitly exported or illicitly traded, unless explicitly allowed by treaties or other agreements, or where the museum is co-operating with attempts to establish the identity of the rightful owner(s) of an item.

2.6 Discuss expectations and clarify in writing the precise terms on which all parties are accepting transfer of title. Exercise sensitivity towards donors when accepting or declining gifts and bequests.

2.7 Deal sensitively and promptly with requests for repatriation both within the UK and from abroad.

2.8 Acknowledge that responsible disposal takes place as part of a museum’s long-term collections development policy and starts with a curatorial review. Ensure transparency and carry out any disposal openly, according to unambiguous, generally accepted procedures.

2.9 Recognise the principle that collections should not normally be regarded as financially negotiable assets and that financially motivated disposal risks damaging public confidence in museums. Refuse to undertake disposal principally for financial reasons, except where it will significantly improve the long-term public benefit derived from the remaining collection. This will include demonstrating that:

  • the item under consideration lies outside the museum’s established core collection as defined in the collections development policy
  • extensive prior consultation with sector bodies and the public has been undertaken and considered
  • it is not to generate short-term revenue (for example to meet a budget deficit)
  • it is as a last resort after other sources of funding have been thoroughly explored.

2.10 Refuse to mortgage collections or offer them as security for a loan. Ensure the financial viability of the museum is not dependent on any monetary valuation placed on items in its collections. Resist placing a commercial value on the collections unless there is a compelling reason to do so, and for collections management purposes only.