Damage and loss (Spectrum 5.0 consultation draft)

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Use this procedure when responding to damage to, or the loss of, objects. This might be anything from minor, accidental damage to one object during handling to a fire that destroys large parts of your collection. Hopefully, the measures you put in place during the Disaster planning procedure will reduce both the likelihood and impact of significant damage or loss. Your disaster plan will also tell you how to respond during an emergency. The focus of Damage and loss is what happens next, documenting the incident and recording decisions made and actions taken.

If there has been an obvious break-in and prize exhibits are missing, theft is a reasonable conclusion and you respond accordingly. However, if an object is not where it is supposed to be in the stores, things may be less clear. Has it been stolen, or has a colleague moved it and been sloppy with their record-keeping? It may take a lot of time and effort to work out which it is. This is why it is so important to be scrupulous with Location and movement control, and Audit regularly to check that your Inventory information is always up-to-date.

The Spectrum standard

You must have a policy on how you deal with damaged and lost objects. This could either be a standalone document or part of a wider collections management policy. Either way, you should include answers to these questions:

  • Who within the museum must be informed if objects are damaged or suspected lost?
  • Who is responsible for taking action?
  • What internal checks should be made to locate objects that are missing from their recorded location?
  • Who decides at what point external bodies such as the police or insurers should be informed of suspected theft?
  • Who is responsible for dealing with any media interest there may be in an incident?
  • How will incidents be investigated and reviewed for lessons learned?

You must also have a written procedure that explains the steps to follow when objects are lost or damaged. 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 inform the owners of lost or damaged objects that do not belong to you. You are completely open with lenders and maintain trust even when things go wrong.
You record the circumstances of all incidents involving damage to, or loss of, objects as fully as possible. You will need detailed documentation for any internal review, insurance claim or police investigation.
Condition reports (including photographs) are made for damaged objects. This is the first step of planning appropriate conservation.
You can give police enough information about stolen objects (including photographs where possible) to identify them if they are later recovered. Criminals are likely to remove the object numbers from stolen items.
All decisions and actions in your response to damage or loss are fully documented. You can explain how incidents involving damage or loss have been handled in any later investigation or dispute.
Lessons learned from incidents are used to improve relevant policies and procedures. You will not repeat avoidable mistakes.


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Date created: 2017

Author: Collections Trust

Publisher: Collections Trust