Deaccessioning and disposal – the Spectrum standard

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You should have a policy covering the disposal of accessioned and non-accessioned objects. This could either be a standalone document, part of an integrated collection development policy, or within a wider collections management policy. Either way, in deciding your policy you will most likely need to consider these questions:

  • What ethical codes will you follow when considering potential disposals?
  • Apart from general considerations, are there any specific legal constraints on your ability to dispose of objects (eg your enabling legislation, governing document or specific agreements with donors)?
  • Why and how might you dispose of objects?
  • What criteria will you consider when considering proposed disposals?
  • Who can propose and authorise the disposal of accessioned objects?
  • Who can propose and authorise the disposal of other kinds of non-accessioned material?

You should also have a written procedure that explains the steps to follow when disposing of objects. Spectrum’s suggested procedure is a useful starting point, but however you do it, your own procedure should meet the following minimum requirements:

Minimum requirement Why this is important
You make the case for any proposed disposal of an object in writing. Those making the decision have all relevant facts and can check the proposal against agreed policy.
In the written case you cite the documentation that proves you own the relevant objects (or gives grounds to assume you do). Those responsible for the decision can assess the level of risk of disposing of objects when there is no clear proof of ownership.
In the written case you research and note any specific risks, costs or other relevant constraints. You do not dispose of hazardous objects improperly or even illegally (eg asbestos).
You get specific approval from your governing body before disposing of any accessioned object, and from more than one authorised person disposing of any non-accessioned material. Your governing body can be properly accountable for disposals.

Objects are not disposed of at the whim of one individual.

You dispose of objects in line with the ethical codes that apply to your museum. You do not risk reputational damage or lose Accredited status.
You formally enter approved deaccessions in your accessions register and update other relevant records. Your accessions register is your tamper-proof master list of all the objects you own.
You keep all documentation relating to disposals. There is an audit trail in case of later problems.


Date created: 2017

Author: Collections Trust

Publisher: Collections Trust