Loans in (borrowing objects) (Spectrum 5.0 consultation draft)

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Use this procedure to manage the loan of all objects you borrow for a fixed period of time and for a specific purpose. Typically, this might include objects borrowed for an exhibition or another extended activity such as a research project. Such loans should always have an end date. At the end date, you either renew the loan for a further fixed period or return the object to its owner. There should be no ‘permanent loans’ in your museum; if there are from years past you should renew them for a fixed period, try to acquire the objects, or return them.

This is a Spectrum primary procedure. UK museums must meet the standard set out below to fulfil the requirements of the Museum Accreditation Scheme.

The Spectrum standard

You must have a policy covering the borrowing of 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:

  • Why might you borrow objects?
  • What legal and ethical issues will you consider before borrowing objects?
  • What is the minimum and maximum length of a loan period?
  • Who can authorise loan agreements for you to borrow objects?
  • What steps will you take to check the provenance of potential loans?
  • How will you deal with borrowed objects if the original lender can no longer be contacted?

You must also have a written procedure that explains the steps to follow when you borrow objects. 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 have a written agreement signed by you and the lender before any loan begins, with clear reference to the care standards you will meet and other terms and conditions. You have a formal record of what was agreed in case any problems arise during the loan.
The reason for each loan is clearly stated. You do not use borrowed objects in a way that goes beyond the purpose agreed with lenders.
All loans are for fixed periods. You can review longer-term loans at regular intervals.

You do not create a future backlog of objects whose ownership status is unclear.

You have appropriate insurance or indemnity cover for borrowed objects while they are your responsibility (including in transit). You are able to borrow high-value objects without unacceptable risk.

You do not leave objects without cover while they are being transported.

You have up-to-date information about the location and physical well-being of borrowed objects at all times during the loan. You can give lenders data on the environmental conditions in which their objects are displayed.

Borrowed objects do not get mislaid whilst in your care, risking damage to your reputation.

You keep a written record of all loans. You can consult the relevant loan file in case a problem with an object becomes apparent after it has left your care.


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  1. Website:
    ‘You have up-to-date information about the location and physical well-being of borrowed objects at all times during the loan.’ – Wonder if this should be reworded as it is unmanageable to have recent condition reports on all loan objects. They should all have a condition report.

    Should receipts be entered into the list? Obtain receipts to signal when liability begins and ends OR reference the object entry Spectrum procedure in Scope text,
    Each object should be allocated a unique number.

    Word missing from ‘Make the case for the borrowing of[add] the objects and obtain authorisation’.

  2. General Comments Applicable to all procedures: The inclusion of references to policies is beneficial but many of the questions that should be covered are more procedural than policy and would sit better within an organisation’s individual procedures than at the higher policy level. It isn’t clear how these questions sit with PAS 197 and Accreditation and could be difficult to answer in a general collections management policy without this running into many pages. The use of simpler terms and clearer language again is to be welcomed but there is a concern about the use of ‘you’ throughout this document. Without defining this term it can easily be read as an individual and therefore places the emphasis on a single person within an organisation to take responsibility for all these activities. This is a change from Spectrum 4.0 where the emphasis was at an organisational level and allowed the document to be used for advocacy to Trustees and Senior Management for the importance of these activities and how they affect those at an organisational level. Without clarity that the responsibility sits at an organisational level through the definition of ‘you’ this has the potential to de-value the nature of these activities and reduce support from senior management.
    It would also be beneficial to include references to other sources of guidance and legislation in the supporting notes where applicable and available although this will vary from country to country.

  3. Your suggested procedure for Loans In states “Loan requests should be in writing and submitted as far in advance as possible, bearing in mind that lenders often specify minimum timescales for processing loans. Depending on the lender this may take several weeks or months”. The British Museum specifies at least a year’s notice, and I don’t think this is unusual for major lenders, so I would suggest stressing an even longer period’s notice may be required.

  4. Could you add some guidance about long-term loan agreements where the museum is managing the collection belonging to another body? E.g. a local authority which has loaned its collections to a trust which it has set up to run its museum. Many of these seem to be 25 year loan periods.

  5. Note 1: Loan agreements
    We welcome the reference to scientific research loans here as these are relatively common in relation to archaeology collections. This guidance is particularly helpful to non-museum archaeologists managing archaeology collections.

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Date created: 2017

Author: Collections Trust

Publisher: Collections Trust