Keeping the Collections: Deaccessioning


In the last few issues we have discussed our collections policy, how we bring new items into the collection and how we try to preserve them the best way we can once they are donated. But what about items that do not belong  in the collections or items that have deteriorated to the point they can no longer be preserved?   Our collections policy addresses that.

Museums have a process for thinning out the collection, its called deaccessioning and it is as big a process as brining an item into the collection. The first thing a museum will do is try to determine whether an item should remain in the collection by asking a few questions.

  • Was this item ever officially accessioned and is there paper work or a clear title to the item?
  • Is this item out of the scope of our collection policy?
  • Is this item a duplication of items in the collection?
  • Has this item deteriorated beyond our ability to preserve it?
  • Does this item pose a physical threat /danger to the rest of the collection or the museum staff who work here?

If the answer is yes to any of the last three questions then the item may be eligible for deaccession.

Once it is determined that the item should be taken out of the collection one of three things can be done with it. First  and foremost, every effort is made to return the item to the donor or donor’s family.

  1. It can be transferred to an education collection where it can be handled and be used for educational purposes.
  2. It can be transferred to a like institution such as another museum or appropriate organization, or library
  3. Lastly the item may be disposed of if it is deemed a hazard to the staff and collection.
  4. In rare cases when the item has been unconditionally donated and sale of the item specifically allowed by the donor, it may be sold and funds put in a restricted fund for collections care and acquisition.



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