Ethics Committee statement on methods of sale of deaccessioned collection items
The Museums Association’s Ethics Committee has recently issued a clarification of its guidance on the method of sale of deaccessioned collection items following a number of queries on this topic and the expected launch of a new company providing services in this field.
The Ethics Committee has noted in an update to the MA’s Ethics of Disposal website that:
“We recognise that there are operators offering to help museums dispose of deaccessioned collections items by sale. We do not endorse any specific private organisation that enables sales of deaccessioned items, but note that sale can – in limited circumstances and provided that the full disposal toolkit process is followed – be consistent with the current guidance on ethical disposal.
“Page 20 of the Disposals Toolkit sets out requirements on methods of sale in detail. Any sales must be carried out in a way that is open and transparent, and any concerns about a specific sale should be raised with the Ethics Committee.”
The committee’s update has been issued as organisations and private companies are beginning to look at new ways of disposing of deaccessioned material, including the forthcoming launch of Museum Depot Shop which plans to sell deaccessioned items of relatively low financial value via its website.
The Ethics Committee believes that sale through this method can be consistent with the Disposal Toolkit and the Code of Ethics, but does not endorse the activities of any company and will continue to scrutinise the activities of any such company that operates in the UK.
Sale can be an ethically acceptable means of disposal provided that the full process set out in the Disposal Toolkit is followed. This includes ensuring that any items selected for deaccessioning are subject to a curatorial review; that the items are not selected for disposal due to a financial motivation; and that they are offered to other museums and public organisations before any consideration of sale.
In cases where a museum decides to sell a deaccessioned item, the method of sale should be a transparent one. In most cases, this will be by public auction or a similar type of publicly accountable sale.