Accession Versus Permanent Loan

This topic contains 8 replies, has 6 voices, and was last updated by  Link Ludington 3 years, 3 months ago.

  • Author
  • #131742

    Rochelle Robinson

    Forgive me if this topic is covered, I did a search and couldn’t narrow it down enough to get the answer I was looking for…

    My organization received a huge collection of items that technically can be accessioned as it will belong to the museum. However, there are a few items from the foundation that donated the collection that will remain under said foundation. I’m trying to determine (using Past Perfect), do I record these items as incoming loans with a descriptive under purpose as “Permanent Loan” or do I accession with restrictions, stating it’s a permanent loan. The items will remain with the museum as long as we remain open.

    Advice greatly appreciated.

  • #131750

    Don’t acept a “permanent loan”– if the owner is unwilling to donate, let them house, insure, and care for their property themselves. That way, it won’t become your problem.

  • #131749

    Ella Rayburn

    To continue; Link is right. There is no such thing as a permanent loan — think about the words. They become bugabears and take great effort to untangle after a few years and staff changes. However, the decision seems like it is out of your hands. I hope there are not many and that they are on exhibit, not lollygagging about in storage.
    I would suggest two accessions. One with the donation/gift. The other the loan (which is not permanent). Assign the next in line accession number and go to Incoming Loans and catalog from there. Will they let you mark the objects, or do you have to use tags. Write into the incoming loan agreement that representatives of the foundation/ loaners, must arrive once a year to inspect condition of the objects.

  • #131748

    Janice Klein

    These are, indeed, two separate transactions. One is an accession and the other is a loan. The items for which legal title will be transferred are the accession and receive an accession number and follow all your standard accessioning/cataloguing procedures. The group of items which the foundation wishes to retain legal title to (as the “permanent loan”) are a loan for which you should assign a number within your usual sequence of loans and write a formal agreement that has a specific time limit, which can be renewed on a regular basis (e.g., one year, renewable annually; 5 years, renewable for an additional five years; etc.). The loan agreement needs to clearly spell out what you can and cannot do with the objects (exhibit, publish, sell photographs, etc.) and what each parties’ responsibilities are (especially who is responsible for the insurance coverage and how much the items are valued at). As Ella notes, an important question to ask is whether you actually have any need (programmatic, exhibit or research) for the foundation’s objects or whether you will be, in essence, acting as an unpaid storage facility. If the latter is the case, you can chose not to have those objects at your museum or to charge the foundation an annual fee for providing the space and care.
    Morals of the story: First, loans must always be set for finite periods and have written contracts/loan agreements. Second, if your museum has no use for an object, don’t agree to borrow it; you are expending your resources with no benefit to the museum (or the public it serves) and potentially increasing your liability.

  • #131747

    Ron Kley

    I absolutely concur with all of the good reasons that have been cited for not accepting “permanent” or “indefinite” loans.
    That said, I’ve known several situations that seemed to warrant a bending or breaking of that general rule — where a one-of-a-kind item, central to an institution’s mission, is simply not available as an outright donation or purchase.
    If the acceptance of such an item as a permanent/indefinite loan is the only way to “bring it in from the cold,” it may be worth the associated hassles and risks. The “lender” may decide, either within or beyond his/her lifetime, to convert the loan to gift or bequest status. Or, if the institution must eventually deal with the “lenders” heir(s), at least there is evidence of the institution’s interest in the item and the decedant’s interest in seeing the item in the institution’s hands. The institution has a “foot in the door” which may facilitate negotiation with the heir(s) and conversion of the loan to a tax-deductible memorial gift.

    The general wisdom, of course, is to regard permanent/indefinite loans as toxic — but there can be exceptions.

  • #131746

    Janice Klein

    Much as I love and respect you, I’m going to have to disagree. Loans should ALWAYS have a termination date, even if the museum and lender plan on renewing the loan “forever”. I’d even consider a 10 year loan period over a one with no end date. The rationale of being able to “touch base” periodically (every x number of years) can be phrased in such a way as to be beneficial to the lender as well as the museum. Perhaps telling the lender that you want to make sure the piece is insured at the proper level or even that it’s museum policy (the ever useful catchall excuse) to review contracts every 5 years.

  • #131745

    Laraine Daly Jones

    I know of several instances in which “permanent loans” were created, without any opportunity for periodic review of the circumstances. These have developed over time into some unsatisfactory situations and some ill will on one or both sides. In some cases, were the loan to be returned to the owner, the public would be outraged, as they have perceived the object to ‘belong’ to the museum where it has been curated and displayed for years. But I even know a recent instance in which a loan agreement was concluded for a 99 year period! (Needless to say, administrators negotiated this deal, rather than the collections personnel.) I urge Rochelle to avoid long-term loans. Our policy permits one year, renewable loans (if both parties are agreeable). This enables both sides to make reasonable inquiries about condition and to view the object and assess its status. It also provides an annual opportunity to request a conversion to an outright donation. The annual consideration prevents it from getting ‘lost’ in the collections as well. I understand Ron’s premise that occasional exceptions may be necessary, but I recommend you try every existing path to avoid them, as they will create problems for another generation of staff who follow you.

  • #131744

    Rochelle Robinson

    I wish to thank all of you for your input, it was most helpful. As Ella stated, it’s out of my hands.

    I don’t agree with “infinite” loans, but understand the need given the museum I work for. A sizable amount of the museum’s collection are “infinite/restricted” loans through foundations with some financial support of maintenance for the objects at our location. Then there are, as Laraine stated, other cases “it’s a foot in the door” with the hopes the lender will bequeath/donate ownership to the museum or create a bigger financial contribution. Yes, it’s all a HUGE nightmare.

    The objective for my department is to get the entire museum holdings into one place so that it can be quickly accessible to understand what can/can’t be done with the objects. It’s very difficult to build any type of program if you don’t know what the boundaries are, sifting through multiple paper files (if they exist) and dated Excel sheets is not productive for long range goals. I have no authority what the museum will take or keep, this is all determined by the Executive Director. I can only hope by getting the museum’s holdings into one place of reference, it will help focus the museum on what they have so that they can build the value and thus create better interaction for guests.

    I will gladly take all your advice into consideration and use it in a way that it can be used as a guideline of proof that I’m not trying to create a new method of collection standards, just standardized to existing methods. Again, thank you all!

  • #131743

    Sounds like you might need to think about adoptiong a written collections management policy. This could help avoid some of the pitfalls of providing free housing and care for property that you don’t own and therefore can’t control.

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