Deaccessioning policies for small museums



A major part of the collections policy and the overall deaccessioning process is a museum’s deaccessioning policy. This policy outlines the correct times and acceptable reasons for the museum to deaccession, what the process should look like, and preferred methods of disposal. A deaccessioning policy is a tailored process that provides protection to the museum as they reap the benefits of deaccessioning. Here, museums have a “two-fold goal” according to Malaro and DeAngleis: “to have prudent deaccessioning procedures and to have the ability to demonstrate that, in fact, those procedures were followed.”


As previously mentioned, a way to ease into policy writing is to look at examples. In order to be effective, deaccessioning policies must be tailored made for the individual organization; this is why museums need to remain mindful of the examples they examine and pull from. An all-volunteer-run museum needs to deaccession differently than a museum with staff. If a small museum is lucky enough to have a dedicated collections person, their policy is going to look different than a museum of a similar size but with no collections staff. When creating procedures, small museums are encouraged to look at examples, but they must adapt their policy to their organization.


No matter the organization's makeup, the policy should not allow one person the sole power to deaccession. This opens up the possibility for “short-sighted or one-sided” policies and increases the opportunity for something nefarious to occur. Small museums may have increased difficulty in finding enough people with appropriate knowledge of the collection to work with deaccessioning, but it must be done. Reach out to board members, volunteers, or staff at other museums. Having a group of people provides a layer of protection.

An additional layer of protection is documentation. The policy should outline what documentation is needed to ensure the process is always “carried out in proper and consistent manner.” The documentation should include everything from the initial proposals to board approval to the method of disposal. All of this data should be kept “indefinitely.” Since small museums hold items in the public trust, documentation is needed to show they are handling things deliberately and ethically, even when they are taking them out of the collection.

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