South Western Federation of Museums and Art Galleries

Collections

Collections are at the core of a museum’s activities. Their ownership and subject define the museum as an institution.

Accreditation requires museums to have policies for the development, documentation and care of their collections; plans for clearing documentation backlogs and improving collections care and procedures to govern the documentation of collections.

Instead of individual documents, Accreditation 2011 encourages museums to gather together the policies, plans and procedures relating to the management – development, documentation, care, access and use – of your museum’s collections into a Collections Management Framework. It encourages consistency and integration in the whole range of activities central to your museum’s operation.

If there is a tendency in your museum for policy to be developed by individuals, or by individual departments working in isolation, committing to developing integrated policies will benefit your organisation. You are likely to achieve a greater understanding of common goals and a clearer sense of overall purpose.

Guidance and template

Collections Management Framework -developed by the SW Fed with support from Renaissance SW, revised 2015


Ownership of collections

Accredited museums must be clear about who owns the collections they display, care for and make available for study. All collections on loan to or managed by the museum on behalf of another organisation must be the subject of an up to date agreement. Clearing the backlog of any unclear ownership must feature in the documentation backlog plan and the forward plan.

Assessor’s questions

  • Is the museum aware of the ownership of its entire collection? If there are items on loan, are there up-to-date loan agreements in place? If not, how is the ownership of legacy loans being managed?
  • If the majority of the collection is on loan, has the museum provided an explanation for why this is? Is the loan secure?
  • Is the museum aware of associated risks, are they being managed appropriately?
  • Do collections with unclear ownership feature within the backlog plan (see requirement 2.5)?

Collections development

Accredited museums are required to have an up-to-date Collections Development Policy (formerly the Acquisitions and Disposals (A&D) Policy). Unlike the A&D policy, the new policy must state more clearly the criteria and methodology for rationalising the collections. The policy: –

  • Ensures the museum’s acquisition criteria are closely aligned to its statement of purpose and its ability to care for the collections
  • Sets out the criteria and methodology for rationalisation of the collections
  • Ensures your collections are more manageable and you are not wasting resources looking after items of no relevance

Template

Collections Development Policy – from July 2014 museums are required to use this model policy published by ACE if they are reviewing an existing policy or drawing up a new one from scratch. If their existing policy based on the 2010 template is still in date when they submit their accreditation return then they do not need to produce a new one.


Documentation Policy

Accredited museums must be guided by a documentation policy statement. The aim of a documentation policy is to ensure that the museum fulfils its responsibilities in relation to security, management and access of collections. The policy should aim to:

  • improve accountability for collections
  • maintain at least minimum professional standards in documentation procedures and collection information
  • extend access to collection information

Assessor’s Questions

  • Is the policy appropriate?
  • Is the policy SPECTRUM compliant?
  • Does the policy reflect the requirements of a management agreement (where museum operations are outsourced)?

Care and Conservation Policy

Accredited museums must have an approved policy statement to guide their approach to collections care and conservation.They should be based on a combination of preventative and remedial conservation, both designed to ensure long-term preservation. They should make reference to relevant sector standards and frameworks and set out how they access professional conservation advice and services.

Assessor’s questions

• Does the policy fit with the statement of purpose and key aims of the museum?

• Does the policy reflect the requirements of a management agreement (where museum operations are outsourced)?

• Is the policy consistent with its occupancy of premises?

• Does the policy link effectively with the museum’s approach to environmental sustainability (see guidance – section one: 1.10)?


Documentation plan

Accredited museums must have plans to improve their collections documentation and documentation systems if they have a backlog in the basic SPECTRUM procedures: object entry, object exit, object loans in and loans out, accessions register (including duplicate copy of accessions information) location & movement control, labelling & marking and object catalogue

Have you thought of drawing all you policies, plans and procedures realating to the development and management of collections into a Collections Management Framework?

Assessor’s questions

  • Is the plan coherent?
  • Are the timescales appropriate?
  • Does the plan include general collections audit and/or documentation enrichment activity? If so, these elements should be separate to the primary documentation backlog plan.

Care and conservation plan

Accredited museums must have plans to help deliver improvements to collections care and conservation in line with the collections care and conservation policy.

The plan should include plans to improve collections care and the day to day procedures that you use to achieve this. Plans for improvement need to be based on an audit of collections care practice and conditions in your displays and stores, informed by the data collected through your environmental monitoring programme, building maintenance needs and the advice you have received from a qualified conservator and other professional.

Once you have identified and assessed needs, draw up a plan to address them, prioritising those that pose the most risk to collections. Set out the objective, the actions to take to achieve them, the resources required and the timescale within which to achieve it. Use the template available at Step 8 in the Forward Planning toolkit . Include this plan in your Forward Plan.

Template

You can use this template as a starting point or create your own from scratch. Make sure that the plan shows clearly what the museum does in its care for collections.

Care and Conservation Plan Template

Assessor’s questions

  • Is the plan appropriate to the organisations size?
  • Does the plan include an overview of current collections care and conservation?
  • Does the plan include timescales?
  • Is the plan realistic?
  • What is the plan based on? Has a Benchmarks or similar survey been undertaken to guide its development?
  • Are resources in place to support this approach?
  • What maintenance and cleaning schedules are in place at the museum both internally and externally?
  • Do staff have mechanisms in place to deal with ‘on the spot’ issues regarding maintenance and cleaning? Does the museum’s cleaning schedule link to collection care and conservation policy and plan? What maintenance schedules for displays, interactive and other interpretative tools are in place at the museum?
  • Are all workforce members and freelance staff involved in the care and conservation of the collection aware and trained to adhere to the plan?

Documentation procedures

Accredited museums must have the primary SPECTRUM procedures in place in the form of a documentation procedural manual that is available for inspection on request.

The primary SPECTRUM procedures are:

  • object entry
  • acquisition (including a security copy of the accessions register and labelling and marking)
  • location and movement control
  • cataloguing
  • object exit
  • loans in
  • loans out
  • retrospective documentation

Assessor’s questions

  • Is the manual up to date? Does it set out the museum’s documentation practices and procedures?
  • Does the manual include:
    • object entry
    • acquisition
      • (a) an accession register
      • (b) security copy of the accession register
      • (c) marking and/or labelling
    • location and movement control
    • cataloguing (a) provision of appropriate indexing
    • object exit
    • loans in
    • loans out
    • retrospective documentation (where a backlog exists, requirement 2.5)
  • Are the procedures being implemented?
  • How is the manual communicated to the workforce?

Security Arrangements

Accredited museums must obtain expert security advice for stored and exhibited collections at least every five years, and earlier if needed. They must plan to act on the advice over time.

Assessor’s questions

  • Does the review consider all premises containing collections?
  • Did the review look at security of workforce and visitors, as well as collections on display and in store?
  • Is the timescale for reviewing the security review reflected in the Forward Plan?
  • Are actions arising from recommendations referenced in the Forward and Resources Plans?
  • How are any recommendations being implemented?
  • Is the timescale for implementing recommendations appropriate?