Use of collections – the Spectrum standard

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You should 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. Either way, in deciding your policy you will most likely need to consider 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 should 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, but however you do it, your own procedure should meet the following minimum requirements:

Minimum requirement Why this is important
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 any knowledge gained and content created while using objects or reproductions to your catalogue. You can re-use exhibition texts to enhance your online collections information.


Date created: 2017

Author: Collections Trust

Publisher: Collections Trust