Collections review – suggested procedure

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You should have a written procedure that explains the steps to follow when a collections review takes place. This suggested procedure is useful starting point. It is given as text and also as a workflow diagram. However you do it, your own procedure should meet the minimum requirements of the Spectrum standard.

Collections review planning

Set your objectives.

Setting clear reasons for the review, aligned to your museum’s wider strategic goals, is an important first step. See Note 1 for some potential objectives that might be relevant to your museum.

Decide which collections to review.

There are examples of entire museum collections being reviewed and rationalised, but it is more usual to focus on particular areas of a collection, eg:

  • By subject or location.
  • A collection type which is under-used.
  • The theme of a forthcoming exhibition.

There may be some areas of the collections which you wish to review at a group level and others which require an object-by-object approach. Many collections review projects combine both levels, depending on the questions being asked and the resources available.

Identify who will be involved.

Collections reviews are often best done by a team with a range of skills and expertise and from across collections, subject specialisms and audience perspectives.

Choose or develop your methodology.

Following a defined methodology for collections review gives you a logical decision-making process based on clearly-stated criteria.

Several published methodologies for collections review are available (eg from the Collections Trust website). These might give you a starting point and a guide for your own review plan if your focus is any of these issues:

  • Collections significance.
  • Collections management and care.
  • Collections use and engagement.

Each methodology follows a similar process of assessing collections against a range of criteria, and recording the results in the form of a grid.

Create your collections review plan.

The plan needs to refer to your objectives and include:

  • Description of which collections are under review.
  • The questions you are aiming to answer with the review.
  • The methodology you will be using.
  • The resources required to undertake the review.
  • The timescale for the review.
  • How you will review the results and outcomes.

Recording a review

Record information about the review.

Record the following information about the collections review process:

Object identification information

  • The numbers of the objects under review (including temporary numbers) – Object number.

Collections review information

Depending on the length of the process, you may need to update the status of the project at key milestones during the review:

Record result of review for each object.

Using the criteria of your chosen methodology, for each object (or group) record the results of the review:

Object identification information

Object collections review information

Record new restrictions on use resulting from this review (eg may not be loaned, only accessible by staff, or not accessible by external researchers):

Use information

Analysing a review and actions

Analyse the results of the review.

Referring back to the objects of the review, and the questions you wanted to answer, look through the data and make recommendations for action, whether at the group level or for individual objects.

For each object reviewed record:

Object identification information

Object collections review information

Carry out appropriate procedure based on recommended action.
  • Conversion of a loan to a gift, then go to Acquisition and accessioning.
  • Revaluation of the object, then go to Valuation.
  • A new use for the object, or new knowledge about the object (eg display or research), then go to Use of collections.
  • Adding new knowledge about an object, then go to Cataloguing.
  • Return of a loan, then go to Loans in (borrowing objects).
  • Disposal according to your policy then go to Deaccessioning and disposal.

Guidance notes

Note 1: Potential objectives for a collections review

Reasons for a review include to:

  • Improve your knowledge about an area of the collection.
  • Choose objects for a new exhibition or display.
  • Understand the significance of the collections organisationally, regionally, nationally or internationally.
  • Develop the skills and expertise of staff, volunteers or external experts through a better understanding of the collection.
  • Understand the storage and care needs of your collections.
  • Resolve an historic and unsystematic approach to collecting, which has resulted in the need to decide if some objects should remain in your collection.
  • Maximise the collections knowledge and expertise of a member of staff, volunteer or expert.

The benefits that may result from a review include:

  • Identification of gaps in your collection.
  • Greater promotion of your collections internally and externally, leading to greater research in and use of the collections.
  • The significance of an object is measured by its learning potential and user engagement as well as its curatorial value.
  • Prioritisation of care for some areas of the collection.
  • Identification of objects which could form part of a handling collection.
  • Disposal of objects from your collections (eg by reuse in handling collections, transfer to other organisations, destruction, or sale).

Date created: 2017

Author: Collections Trust

Publisher: Collections Trust