Collections review (Spectrum 5.0 consultation draft)

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Use this procedure to manage and document any formal review of your objects. The scope of such reviews might range from a few items to the whole collection. They might be carried out in-house, or involve working across museum networks, sometimes with the input of your local stakeholders or subject specialists.

Reviews are often the first stage of rationalising collections, which can lead to the Disposal of objects. However, there are many other reasons to review collections. These include: understanding the significance of your holdings; identifying opportunities to develop under-used collections; getting new insights into what your users find interesting about your objects; and planning future research, use and collections care.

There are published methodologies for several kinds of collections review, and you might want to base your own on one of these. Typically, you assess objects against a number of criteria (eg significance) and score each object against an agreed scale (eg ‘locally significant’, ‘nationally significant’, ‘internationally significant’ or ‘1’, ‘2’, ‘3’). Whatever framework you use, this procedure helps you capture the results in a systematic way that links to the relevant object records.

As you go through your collection systematically, you might sometimes want to combine a review with other procedures such as Audit, Condition checking and technical assessment or Reproduction.

The Spectrum standard

You must have a policy on why and how you carry out collection reviews. This might form part of a wider collection development policy that takes an integrated approach to acquisition and disposal, particularly if the aim of your reviews if to get a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of your collection. Whatever form it takes, you should include answers to these questions:

  • Why might you carry out collection reviews?
  • What legal and ethical considerations will you take into account? (eg Museum Association Code of Ethics for Museums)
  • Which parts of your collection are priorities for review?
  • Who is authorised to carry out collection reviews?
  • Do you have all the skills you need, or will you need expertise from outside your museum?
  • Are there opportunities for you to take part in wider projects, such as regional or subject-specific reviews?
  • How will the results of collection reviews be reported and considered?
  • How will you make the results of collections reviews accessible to others?

You must also have a written procedure that explains the steps to follow when a collections review takes place. 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 create and file a written plan for each review that includes the methodology to be followed, the criteria to be assessed and the scoring system to be used. There is no point recording that the significance of an object is ‘3’ if nobody else knows what that means.
You record the date of each object assessment and the person responsible for a scoring decision. You know when an object has been reviewed by someone with specialist curatorial expertise.
You record the relevant numbers of each object (or group of objects) assessed. It is clear which scoring decisions relate to which objects.
You add review assessments to your catalogue. When looking at an object record you can see that it has been reviewed and you can find the relevant information.
You analyse the results of collection reviews and recommend appropriate follow-up action. Reviews can inform your strategic planning.


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  1. Having finally listened to the online discussion, I’d just re-emphasise the point I made previously: workflow and guidance also need to refer to the recording of additional information (e.g. improved catalogue info) created during the review, and make sure that that is properly recorded where it belongs, not left languishing in an old review spreadsheet somewhere.

  2. Should the workflow and guidance also refer to additional information created during a review, e.g. improvement to catalogue records, or systematic photography of a collection? As they’re referred to in the Scope section, they need to be elaborated on in the more detailed sections. I think these need only be cross-references to the relevant procedures, but I think it’s important to note that they may need to be recorded (properly) DURING the review, alongside the purely ‘review’-related units of information. I worry that, if they’re mentioned only in the final, ‘analysis and actions’ stage of the review procedure, there’ll be less impetus to record them effectively as the review goes along.

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Date created: 2017

Author: Collections Trust

Publisher: Collections Trust