Use of collections (Spectrum 5.0 consultation draft)

By accessing this resource, you agree to the Spectrum licence.


Use this procedure to manage and record how your collections are used, whether by you or anyone else. The procedure also covers the use of images and other reproductions, when you will usually need the Rights management procedure too. You might also use this procedure together with Loans out (lending objects) to capture information about how your objects were used while out on loan.

The range of potential uses is very wide. Among others they include: exhibitions; publishing images online or in print; learning events; enquiries; research projects; operating working machinery; playing musical instruments; filming; and inspiring new work by artists.

The procedure is not a guide to planning exhibitions or other specific uses. Instead it helps you: assess and authorise proposed uses of your collections; record each individual use; and capture information created, such as exhibition text, research findings and user-generated content. It also cross-refers to the many other procedures you are likely to need before, during and after any kind of use.

The Spectrum standard

You must have a policy covering the use of collections (sometimes called a collections access policy). This should be compatible with your collection care policy, your collection information policy and your collection development policy – ideally as part of an integrated collections management framework. Whatever form your policy takes, you should include answers to these questions:

  • What is your museum’s mission?
  • How will you use your collections, and make them available for others to use, in line with your mission?
  • What legal, ethical or other issues might need to be taken into account when considering proposed uses of your collections?
  • Who can authorise the use of your collections, including reproductions?
  • How will you make information about your collections available?
  • How will you make your collections physically accessible to researchers?
  • If relevant, how will you deal with research requests that involve taking samples of material for destructive testing?
  • What is your approach to licensing material, such as images, for which you hold sole rights?
  • Will you use material that is in copyright (or likely to be) if you cannot contact relevant rights holders for whatever reason?

You must also have a written procedure that explains the steps to follow when managing the use of your collections. 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 system for making, reviewing and authorising requests to use objects and reproductions. Your objects are not put at risk by being used inappropriately, and there is an audit trail in case of any problems.
You note each use of an object or reproduction, and can access this information via the relevant Object number or Reproduction number. You can let key stakeholders know how much your collections are being used.

You do not over-expose a light-sensitive object by not recording how long it has been exhibited.

Your system prevents objects being booked for more than one use at a time. You can coordinate the use of your objects, particularly in larger museums.
You keep a record of researchers and other people who have used specific objects. You can audit items used by a particular user if any security concerns arise in future.
You add content created while using objects or reproductions to your catalogue. You can re-use exhibition texts to enhance your online collections information.


Please use this form to give us your feedback. Required fields are marked *


  1. A couple of comments having finally listened to the online discussion, re. units of information:
    Re the interpretative text: this will need (potential) one or more Author(s), Rights Information, and a Credit Line
    Use measure will also need a Use measure recorder (the person / people / origination recording the measurement), and a Use measure method (how the measure was measured, e.g. ‘GCMS’, instrument settings, or a particular sampling / statistical method)

  2. Looking at the full procedure: clearing 3rd-party rights in a reproduction is seldom carried out by the museum, but by the person using the reproduction. So this is only an issue if the reproduction is being used internally – I think this needs to be clarified in the text and workflow.

  3. A key but often neglected reason for recording use of collection information is that it allows collections managers to report quantitatively to senior management on how much hard work they, their teams, and the collections themselves are actually doing; could we manage to include this somewhere?

    I’m not sure about the phrasing in “You add content created while using objects or reproductions to your catalogue.” Perhaps we could say “You add knowledge created or recorded while using …”? Or “knowledge and content”? I think explicitly saying “knowledge” is useful because it relates to the research / operating objects / ‘revisiting collections’ aspects of use of collections – as the draft makes clear, this procedure is not just about exhibition and display.

Print-friendly PDF

Date created: 2017

Author: Collections Trust

Publisher: Collections Trust