Audit (Spectrum 5.0 consultation draft)

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Use this procedure to check the accuracy of the information you have about your collection. At the most basic level, the procedure confirms that your records match the physical reality: you have all the objects you should have, correctly numbered and located where they are supposed to be.

One obvious reason for regular audits is security. It is a sad fact that some thefts from museums have been carried out by trusted insiders, including those with the opportunity to cover their tracks by altering relevant records. For this reason, you need to be confident that the records used to list objects for an audit are as tamper-proof as possible.

For regular audits of very large collections you are likely to pick a sample of objects, though you might sometimes use opportunities such as a major move to audit everything. You might also combine this procedure with others so that, for example, you check the condition of objects as you audit them, or evaluate them against the criteria of a collection review.

You can also use this procedure to audit the quality of your documentation. For example, if you require names and dates to be recorded in a consistent way, you might audit your records to check how well this has been done. This might lead to a project to improve your data quality, using the Documentation planning procedure.

The Spectrum standard

You must have a policy covering audits. This could either be a standalone document or part of a wider collections management policy. Either way, you should include answers to these questions:

  • How will you make your records as tamper-proof as possible?
  • How often will you carry out routine audits on different parts of your collection and information systems?
  • What will be the aims and scope of these audits?
  • Do any parts of your collections or systems need more frequent or more rigorous audits?
  • What sampling methods will be used?
  • What circumstances will trigger additional audits? (eg suspected theft or the return of objects to storage after a major exhibition)
  • Who will carry out audits and how?
  • Who is responsible for signing off audit findings and authorising any remedial action?

You must also have a written procedure that explains the steps to follow when managing and documenting audits. Spectrum’s suggested procedure is a useful starting point, and is available as a workflow diagram or as a text file you can edit. However you do it, your own procedure must meet the following minimum requirements:

Minimum requirement Why this is important See (cross-references to be added in final version)
You carry out and document regular audits of your collection information. You can have confidence in your collection management systems and procedures.

A dishonest insider cannot easily delete or falsify object records.

You carry out and document regular location audits of the objects in your care. You can be sure your basic inventory information is up-to-date and accurate.

You can physically verify that your objects are all where they should be.

Audits for security and accountability purposes are based on tamper-proof records and do not rely on individuals signing off their own work. Object lists generated for audits cannot be ‘edited’ by someone trying to cover their tracks.

There are no conflicts of interest when carrying out audits.

Audit findings are promptly reported in line with your policy, and timely remedial action taken as required. Your governing body and management can act if problems are uncovered by audits.

Your procedures and the quality of your collection information can be improved.


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  1. Audit procedure now covers checks of information system – i.e. has it been tampered with and systems.
    Question: This is/may be covered by organisation’s ICT policies, does this introduce a risk of confusion by extending the audit scope too far?

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Date created: 2017

Author: Collections Trust

Publisher: Collections Trust