Collections review

Practitioners describe how they went about conducting their collections review, what objects they selected and why, how they involved other colleagues, experts, volunteers and interest groups in the process and how the process inspired them to work in new ways with partners to use their collections more effectively.

Bringing in external expertise, whether paid or voluntary, they helped museums to:

  • Access expertise in other museums and find out about new ways of working
  • Network with other curators and share skills
  • Instill the confidence to act, interpret and make better use of the collection
  • Validate the decisions and actions taken
  • Familiarise staff with collections, encouraged knowledge transfer and build confidence through in-house reviews

MA guidance and information on how to do collections reviews 

Planning a collections review - factors to consider

Starting points for planning and conducting a collections review varied widely, as each museum's circumstances and project plans were quite different.

How rapidly the project could progress depended on many factors:

  • whether collection documentation was in order or not
  • the condition of objects
  • fragility of the collection
  • complexity of the collection and consequently complex investigation
  • specialised conservation requirements
  • the remoteness from necessary expertise
  • the scale of the collection
  • the scope and functionality of systems available to put proper records in place


Collections review 2

Key points:

  • Getting value for money 
  • Making the most of available expertise 
  • Working with the expert step-by-step 
  • Validating review decisions with expert help

Collections review 3

Key points:

  • Carefully plan the review process 
  • Systematically select objects for retention and disposal 
  • Define clear roles for volunteers 
  • Ensure decisions are made transparently

Collections review 4

Key points:

  • Graduate specialists as volunteers and/or seasonal workers
  • Organising volunteers takes time and effort
  • Volunteers need proper induction and training