Object entry (Spectrum 5.0 consultation draft)

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Use this procedure to log all objects coming into your care for whatever reason, including loans, enquiries and potential acquisitions. The procedure provides a receipt, sets out your terms for accepting responsibility, gives the object an identifying number, and captures key information right away. It is especially important if you accept enquiries and potential acquisitions at the front desk and someone else will follow up later. Anyone who might receive an object in this way should know what to do and how to record the information you need.

You should take the same care of all objects you are responsible for, whether or not they belong to your museum. You might be held liable if you lose or damage such objects, even if you did not ask for them to be left with you (eg they arrive unexpectedly in the post). You need to record their arrival before you decide what to do with them.

In this procedure we use the term ‘owner’ to mean the person leaving the object with you, but this will not always be the case. If the depositor is someone else, make sure they have authority to act on the owner’s behalf.

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 on why and how you receive objects and other material such as associated archives. This could either be a standalone document or part of a wider collections management policy. Either way, you should include answers to these questions:

  • In what circumstances will you accept objects into your care?
  • Who is authorised to do this?
  • What are your terms and conditions for accepting deposited objects?
  • How long, and in what form, is enquiry information held?

You must also have a written procedure that explains the steps to follow when objects arrive at your museum. 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 can account for all objects left in your care.

You do not lose track of objects left with you for a short time as enquiries.
You have clear terms and conditions for accepting objects into your care. It is clear to owners what care you will take of objects they leave with you.

You do not end up being responsible for unwanted objects.

You record why objects have been left with you. You do not wrongly process a loan as an acquisition.
You schedule the default return of objects to their owner if they are not to be acquired or loaned. You can plan for the return of objects.

You do not end up looking after objects whose status is unclear.

You record who legally owns objects left with you. You can deal with the right person if you want to acquire an object and obtain legal title to it.
You record as much significant information about newly-arrived objects as you can, to be added to in the future. You do not lose the opportunity to find out about objects while their owner is in your museum and ready to talk.
Both you and owners know your liability for loss or damage while objects are in your care. Owners are aware of the limits of any claim they may make if anything goes wrong.

You do not take on liabilities that might create financial risks.

You provide a receipt for owners and get a signature to show they accept your terms and conditions.

It is clear to owners that you have accepted care of objects they have left with you.

Owners cannot later claim they did not accept your terms and conditions.

You can uniquely identify newly-received objects. You do not mix up objects that look similar.


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  1. This is very clear, however some information about copyright at point of entry would be useful in here. This is something we are currently looking at as part of our object entry and acquisitions procedure. This would be useful alongside “you record who legally owns objects left with you’ as copyright information is best established while there is contact with the donor regarding entry form, obtaining legal title, etc.

  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 such as ‘Archaeological Archives: A guide to best practice in creation, compilation, transfer and curation’ (AAF, 2007) and legislation in the supporting notes although this will vary from country to country.
    For this procedure references to quarantine, provenance/due diligence and copyright could be mentioned in the notes and procedure.

  3. I like the new layout much better, was never fond of the landscape orientation and the flow charts are much more compact and easy to follow.

    Re this procedure, the one glaring omission from my perspective is a reference to quarantine .

  4. You do not mention that information given as part of object entry procedure will be subject to the Data Protection Act. I would have thought this was a ‘minimum requirement’ within the standard.
    Further to this on another ‘legal’ point you do not mention that museum entry should clarify transfer of copyright.
    I can see that maybe these issues should be dealt with as part of each museums own written procedure for Object Entry, but as they are basic legal guidelines we should all adhere too……

  5. We have recently prepared a detailed guidance document in Gloucestershire on the deposition of Archaeological Archives and I would like to discuss the approach we have taken in more detail with you as it provides a clear procedure for the creation of a unique identifier at project notification stage, transfer of title and copyright.

  6. First, I would like to as that I really liked the idea of incorporating the pre-entry procedure in the entry procedure. It seems more natural now.
    However, I have just a few remarks I would like to share:
    • I think it would be very nice to link the guidance notes with the workflow, using footnotes, for example, to explain that a specific note is especially important when you are going through a specific process within the workflow.
    • Note 6 – topic 1: It is very important to point out here that it is important to include as “conditions for deposition” the allowance of the national or local law. In other words, when a museum is evaluating if it is the best place to receive an archaeological collection in deposition, it is very important to observe the laws that define how, when and who is allowed to perform such a role. Maybe this is not the case in the United Kingdom (to have heavy legislation on the matter), but I really have a feeling that in other places the situation is very different.

    • Note 6 – topic 2: I did not understand why we should assign an object number and not an entry number. And adding here a complement on my remark about topic 1, it is important to reinforce that for England and Scotland the procedures are the ones already on the text, but in other places they maybe are different according to the national/local law about archaeological preservation.
    • The sentence “In that case, use part of this procedure but do not formally accession the items” should be in bold. The reason for this opinion is the fact that in other places besides UK, like Brazil, it is not so common to have an acquisition procedure for things that are not going to be part of the permanent collection – so, it would be good emphasize this orientation.

  7. The table of minimum requirements and ‘why this is important’ is good and clear.
    The reference to ‘You must have a policy on why and how you receive objects and other material such as associated archives. This could either be a standalone document or part of a wider collections management policy.’ could tie in better with Accreditation if it clarified whether this is the collections development policy or a collections management framework, or both.

  8. The Society for Museum Archaeology notes that the ‘Pre-entry’ procedure present in SPECTRUM 4.0 has been removed as a separate procedure from SPECTRUM 5.0 on the grounds that it is not applicable to many museums. We see this as potentially being a positive move providing there are some corrections and clarifications made to the specific guidelines on archaeological object entry. We take this view because Pre-Entry was not a SPECTRUM Primary Procedure (i.e. a procedure that had to be met for the purposes of Accreditation) whereas Object Entry is. For some museums, the main focus for SPECTRUM has always been as guidance linked to Accreditation, so some museums may never have engaged with the wider guidance. This is an opportunity to improve and better enshrine understanding of the specific requirements for archaeological archives into a guidance document specifically linked to Accreditation.

    The SMA 2016 survey on ‘Museums Collecting Archaeology (England)’ has confirmed that more and more museums are seeing a depletion of specialist museum archaeological staff. As a result using SPECTRUM to signpost to relevant organisations, bodies and standards would be really valuable, and ensure that established standards are used and that the profile of these tools and support networks are raised.

    Reference under Note 6 should therefore be made to the following: ‘Archaeological Archives: A guide to best practice in creation, compilation, transfer and curation’ (AAF, 2007) (http://www.archaeologists.net/sites/default/files/ifa_practice_archives.pdf) and the Archaeological Collections Areas Database and Map hosted on behalf of SMA by the Archaeology Data Service (http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archives/view/sma_map/map.cfm?countyid=E06000023)

    ‘Archaeological archives’ contains the nationally accepted definition of an ‘archaeological archive’ in section 1.2.1 and should therefore be cited in the first sentence of Note 6. Reference to the Archaeological Collections Areas Map should appear under point 1.

    We would also like to see included a reference to the Society for Museum Archaeology and the CIfA Archives Group as points of contact for further advice – SMA was previously cited in SPECTRUM 3.6.

    Points 2 and 4 are both headed ‘Assign a unique number to the item(s) – Object number. This is confusing and it would be sensible to delete point 2 and incorporate its content into point 4. This section would then follow the normal path following contact by the archaeological unit to the museum requesting deposition of an archive, of firstly checking that you are the appropriate repository, secondly providing deposition standards and thirdly assigning a unique number.

    SMA also feels that a little more definition in point 4 might be worthwhile – the reality is that some people having to manage and implement this process may not be familiar with archaeological archives and therefore unaware of the copyright implications. A brief definition of the copyright issue might be worthwhile, as well as providing an example – e.g. archaeological units may wish to retain copyright of reports, in which case any permissions for use/shared copyright agreements with the museum should be clearly recorded.

    Lastly it is noted that reference to Note 6 in the ‘Step-by-step procedure’ occurs before Note 1 and subsequent notes. This is illogical and it would be helpful to the reader/user if Note 6 were renumbered as Note 1 and the other notes also renumbered accordingly.

    Our final point relating to this procedure is not subject specific. Under Scope (page 1, paragraph 3) the use of the terms ‘depositor’ and ‘owner’ are confusing. We suggest that the following text be used: ‘In this procedure we use the term ‘depositor’ to mean the person leaving the object with you. If the ‘depositor’ is not also the owner of the object, make sure that they have the authority to act on the owner’s behalf’.

  9. (1) Note 6 needs to more clearly identify itself as pre-entry with regards to archaeological archives – assigning an accession number (England and Wales) and providing deposition guidance all must happen at a pre-entry stage, and think this should be noted in the note 6 title.

    (2) “If you acquire material (objects and archives) from archaeological excavations or types of fieldwork…” Just say “archaeological investigations” – this more broadly reflects the fact that archives are generated from a host of archaeological activities, including non-invasive activities.

    (3) for point 4 it may be worth defining the copyright issue by including an example (e.g. archaeological units may wish to retain copyright of reports, in which case any permissions for use/shared copyright agreements with the museum should be clearly recorded).

    (4) “You should not accept any item for acquisition unless you can obtain a valid title to it. Therefore obtain agreement in principle from the landowner for the finds to be donated to you. Transfer of ownership to you must be completed before or on deposition.”
    AAF Archaeological Archives Guidelines (by Duncan Brown) state that the archaeological unit/archaeologist is responsible for obtaining the written permission for transfer of ownership of any finds to the appropriate archaeological archive repository. Museums should therefore work closely with units, archaeological groups and archaeologists undertaking fieldwork to ensure this is carried out prior to the museum receiving the archives.

    (5) It may be worthwhile referencing the Society for Museum Archaeology and the CIfA Archives Group as points of contact for advice and guidance with regards to archaeological archives given many museums have lost archaeological expertise on staff. Alternatively, citing the current best practice guidelines (such as those by Duncan Brown) will help to contextualise and provide additional guidance to the SPECTRUM note on archaeological materials.

  10. What document(s) / paperwork should be generated to meet this standard? eg Object Entry Forms file; Object deposit forms?

  11. Do we need to include:

    Anything about planning an entry (particularly for large volumes of material such as archaeological excavation archives) so that it has somewhere safe to go and you’re not overwhelmed by piles of stuff (thinking about pre-entry here)?

    Anything about ensuring that the material doesn’t pose a danger to other objects, the museum, or its staff (e.g. stopping something riddled with asbestos entering the premises, if you’re not equipped to deal with it)?

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Date created: 2017

Author: Collections Trust

Publisher: Collections Trust