Disposal of non accessioned collection items.

Viewing 9 reply threads
  • Author
    • #132346
      Dorothy Pope

      What is the policy for disposing of non-accessioned items that have been accepted as donations?  We have a policy for accessioned items but not for non-accessioned as we have used only the accession process for documenting & keeping track of our collection.

    • #132355

      First, I would check the conditions under which you accepted the donation.  Can you legally dispose of it?

    • #132354
      Laraine Daly Jones


      We are struggling with this also. Our forms provide a space for donors to initial if they permit the museum to ‘use the item as it sees fit’. So that gives us permission to dispose, but we haven’t fully established the mechanism for disposition. Logically, we should offer it to other museums in our system, then to our Education Dept. as a consumable item, then to other museums in our state. But when do we reach a point when the amount of work involved becomes burdensome, when weighed against the costs of storing it indefinitely? As a government agency, we also have to determine whether it is subject to ‘surplus property’ regulations. We have been told we can’t use an online auction service to sell things. So we are still searching for other means of disposal. Would welcome ideas.

    • #132353
      Dorothy Pope

      The items in question were part of an large estate – everything from particle board furniture to fine art.  The president of our board, who knows little or nothing about museum practices/procedures, has selected some of the finer pieces to sell.  Since they are not accessioned, not sure what recourse we have to discourage/stop this effort.  @Marybeth – frankly, we never ‘accepted’ any of it; it was sort of dumped on us.  Beyond the will, and the court directions (long battle & story here!), we have no paper work what-so-ever.  Interesting situation……that’s why I’m seeking advice!


    • #132352
      Janice Klein

      This is not an unusual problem, so don’t panic 🙂  In the best of all possible worlds we would  be able to take the items we want from a bequest and leave the remainder for the poor executor to deal with.   In this world, museums often end up with the junk as well as the gems.

      Just like your deaccession policy for accessioned objects, you should have a formal disposal policy for non-accessioned objects.    You can use your existing deaccession policy as a model, but in any event, it should include a section on who makes the decision, how it is approved and documented, and what your disposal options are.   There’s no reason not to sell non-accessioned items, so long as it follows your policy.   You do need to make sure, however, that, just like in your deaccession policy, whoever makes the decision to dispose of items is prohibited from buying them.

      Laraine does bring up an interesting situation, where disposing of unwanted, unaccessioned items is more resource-consuming than storing them.    This is a great point and it would be terrific if we could quantify it every  time the director/board/curator takes in this kind of “mixed” collection.    [Should said person question why you can’t just throw it out, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to say, “Ill be happy to do that if you’ll just sign off on the approval?”].



    • #132351
      Shannon Lindridge

      I would check what laws your state has in place.  In recent years, many states have passed laws stipulating how museums can remove items from their collections.  In addition, check with your institution’s legal council for advice.  Also the book :A Legal Primer on Managing Museum Collections by Marie C. Malaro in regards to bequest.  And lastly, check with any state or regional Museum groups which could offer advice and be familiar with your state’s laws.

      If I was handling this situation, I would get the will, and as many signed levels of approval and documentation as possible and keep a file.  Depending on the situation, I may contact next of kin as a consult–not sure how legal that is .


    • #132350
      Ron Kley

      There’s are significant distinctions to be drawn between the disposition of items that have been accepted into a museum collection via a signed deed of gift or equivalent document, items “deposited” with a museum for possible inclusion in a collection but never formally accepted, and items simply “left at the doorstep” without any knowledge or permission of the institution. 

      Items of the first sort can be disposed of in accordance with established deaccessioning po;licy and procedure, since they are the legal property of the institution.

      Items of the second type may be subject to abandoned property laws that differ from state to state unless the deposit form is structured as a contract that specifically gives the institution the right to assume ownership and undertake disposition of items that are neither wanted by the institution nor reclaimed by the depositor within a specified period of time.

      Items of the third type should probably be treated as “lost and found” objects subject to the jurisdiction of local law enforcement agencies.  Under those circumstances the museum, as a non-profit public service entity, may be able to claim any desirable items if they are not reclaimed by a verifiable owner.

    • #132349
      Janice Klein

      I think we may be making this more complicated than necessary.    There are two questions.

      First, does the museum own everything.   If the will stipulates that everything goes to the museum and someone who has the authority at your museum has accepted it by signing a Receipt and Release form supplied by the executor, and the objects are at the museum, then you own it all.

      You do need to look at the terms of the will.    If there is nothing in it about having to keep everything, returning the money from anything you sell to the estate, etc., then you are free to do whatever you want with the objects.   You can accession some, all or none.

      The second question, the disposal of anything you don’t want to accession, is dependent on your own internal policies.   It is not abandoned property, found in collections or anything else.    It is all a gift.

      The will itself serves as proof of your ownership (i.e., it is the equivalent of a Deed of Gift).

    • #132348
      Dorothy Pope

      Thank you all for your input!  Appreciate everyone’s advice, insight & comments !  Most helpful.

    • #132347

      Since special collections tend to follow library policies, we stipulate that all donations automatically become the property of the library and can be disposed of as such. Sometimes the donor makes stipulations as to access, but not to ownership. That nips it in the bud from the get go. Nowadays most of the folks disposing of their loved ones’ treasures are relieved to have it taken off of their hands. However, disposal is a broad term. If the item does not fit our collection development policy, but we think another library/museum/archive could make a home for it, we contact them and they are usually thrilled to have it. Hope this helps.

Viewing 9 reply threads
  • The forum ‘C2C Community Archives – 2012 through 2014’ is closed to new topics and replies.