Deaccessioning and disposal – suggested procedure

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You should have a written procedure that explains the steps to follow when disposing of objects. 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.

Deaccessioning objects

Check possible sources of information about the objects.

When disposal of objects is proposed, check all possible sources of information about the objects. Where available, this might include:

  • Entry records.
  • Loan agreements.
  • Accession registers.
  • Minutes of meetings at which acquisitions were considered or reported.
  • Annual reports.
  • Catalogue records.
  • Object history files.
  • Present or former staff and volunteers.

If there is reason to think that the objects are on loan, and it is possible to contact the lender (or their estate) to discuss returning them go to Loans in (borrowing objects).

If it seems likely that the objects are on loan, but it is not possible to trace the lender (or their estate), you should seek advice before proceeding further.

If there is clear evidence that the objects belong to your museum, but there are legal constraints (eg your enabling legislation or governing document) or specific agreements with donors that might prevent disposal, seek advice before proceeding further.

If the objects clearly belong to your museum and there are no conditions preventing disposal, double check your policy and relevant codes to make sure there are no ethical objections to the disposal.

You should open a file on the proposed disposal, and make a note of the research carried out at this stage, as evidence of due diligence should problems arise in future. Note the Document location so that you and others can find this file in future.

If in doubt, seek advice.

If there is any doubt about the legality or ethics of the disposal, you should seek advice, particularly if the objects are of high intrinsic or monetary value. If you do not have it in-house, you should also seek curatorial advice on the significance of the objects from a subject specialist.

Note that there are situations where you are obliged to dispose of an object (eg where it poses a public health or safety risk).

Add a record of any advice received to the disposal file and note the Document location so that you and others can find it in future.

Select the method of disposal and seek authorisation.
  • Core inventory information about the objects in question, including images where possible.
  • An evaluation of the significance of the objects in the context of your collection and your collection development policy.
  • If you want to dispose of objects that seem to duplicate others in your collection, details of the other relevant items.
  • If you want to dispose of objects because they are hazardous, a condition report and technical assessment from an expert advisor.
  • If relevant, cost estimates for ongoing conservation, maintenance and storage of the object if you were to retain it, including a condition report by a conservator, if appropriate.
  • Valuations provided by a third party.
  • The relevant clauses in your collection development policy which support the decision to dispose.
  • The proposed method of disposal.

File a copy of this report and record the Document location.

Does your governing body approve the disposal?

If your governing body decides against a proposed disposal, record the decision, close the file and end the procedure.

If the disposal is approved, also record the decision and note the Document location so you and others can find it in future if any question arises about the disposal.

Disposing of objects

Are the objects to be destroyed?

If objects are to be destroyed (eg because they are damaged beyond all further use, or pose a hazard) you may in some cases need specialist help to do this safely and legally (eg asbestos). See Note 1 for further guidance.

To record that the objects have left your care go to Object exit and return to this procedure at ‘Recording the disposal’.

Approach potential recipients directly or advertise the disposal appropriately.

If objects are to be disposed of by gift, exchange or sale you can approach potential organisations directly or advertise through appropriate professional channels (eg the UK Museums Journal). In the UK it is recommended that Accredited museums should have the chance to acquire disposed objects, but other community organisations may also be able to use them for public benefit.

The information provided to potential recipients should include:

  • The number of objects involved, or approximate number if a bulk disposal.
  • A description of the objects concerned (or subjects covered if a large number of similar items).
  • The preferred method of disposal.
  • The terms of disposal.

Allow a minimum period of two months for an interest in acquiring the material to be expressed.

File a copy of this information and record the Document location in case you or others need to find it in future.

Do you have a suitable recipient?

If not, you may need to rethink the disposal. You should go back to your governing body for a decision on how to proceed.

Agree terms with the new owner and transfer legal title to them.

If the disposal is by exchange or sale, you will need to agree the terms of the deal. Even if you are giving the objects away, you need to agree such issues as who is responsible for collecting or delivering them, any conservation work or packing needed, insurance, costs, timings and other practical matters. This should be agreed in writing by both parties, as should the transfer of legal title stating that your museum has handed over ownership of the objects to the recipient.

File your signed copy of these agreements and record the Document location in case you or others need to find them in future.

Arrange for the objects to be collected or delivered, along with relevant original documents.

To arrange transport for the objects go to Object exit and from there to Location and movement control, returning to this procedure to finish recording the disposal.

As well as giving the new owner a copy of all non-confidential information you have about the objects, you should also provide any relevant original documents relating to their history (eg operating manuals, associated correspondence, and conservation records).

Do not remove your museum’s numbers from the objects, as they form part of the items’ history.

Recording the disposal

Record information about the disposal process.

This should include:

Disposal information

If the disposed objects were from your accessioned collection you should agree the point at which they officially stopped being part of it (eg when title was transferred), and record:

If the disposed objects were transferred to someone else:

If the disposed objects were sold record:

Update your accession register, if applicable.

If the disposed objects were from your accessioned collection, annotate your accession register so that it is clear the objects have been deaccessioned.

Update catalogue records if not done already.

If information about the disposal process has not been recorded directly within the relevant catalogue records of the disposed objects, update these now. Go to Cataloguing.

Update your list or file of disposed objects, if applicable.

If your system is not computerised and you maintain a separate list or file of disposed objects, update this. Note the Document location of this list in the relevant catalogue records.

Guidance notes

Note 1: Destroying objects

Only destroy objects in exceptional circumstances such as:

  • Where an object poses a serious conservation threat to other items in the collection and cannot be countered by treatment or isolation from other objects.
  • Where an object creates a serious health and safety risk to staff, volunteers or the public which cannot be overcome in an acceptable way.
  • Where an object has deteriorated or become broken beyond reasonable repair, and no part or sample has any identifiable use or viability.
  • Where you have had no interest shown by another organisation or interested individual after advertisement, and the object is unsaleable.
  • For certain categories of bulk archaeological or natural history material, from fieldwork, may be destroyed provided that the material has been fully analysed and published and all relevant records deposited with the site archive. Where applicable, an adequate and representative sample should be retained for future research.

Objects which have been identified as a hazard should be destroyed according to applicable legislation and regulations.

Date created: 2017

Author: Collections Trust

Publisher: Collections Trust