Collections Management Policy


Collections advance the museum’s mission while serving the public. Because collections are held in trust for the public and are made accessible for the public’s benefit, the public expects museums to maintain the highest legal, ethical and professional standards. To demonstrate these standards, museums should create a collections management policy that outlines the scope of a museum’s collection, explains how the museum cares for and makes collections available to the public, and clearly defines the roles of the parties responsible for managing the museum’s collections.

Institutions with different types of collections, such as living collections or education collections, should still have a policy that governs their use and care. Institutions with living collections may use different terminology for the policy and processes that govern the management of their plants or animals. Museums that do not own collections but borrow and use objects owned by others should have a policy in place regarding the management of those loans.

A Collections Management Policy is a Core Document that supports the Collections Stewardship Core Standards.

Required Elements

Policies should be consistent with the established standards and practices issued by relevant discipline-specific organizations.

Institutions with both living and non-living collections must have policies that cover both collections.

Institutions with living collections may use different terminology for collections management activities for plants or animals but should utilize the same principles as used for non-living collections.

Institutions with collections (both living and non-living):

  • Bears date approved by the governing authority
  • Scope and categories of collections
  • Acquisitions and accessioning (including criteria and decision-making authority)
  • Deaccessioning and disposal (including criteria and decision-making authority)
  • Loans, incoming and outgoing (if the museum does not lend or borrow, it should state this)
  • Collections documentation and records, including inventory
  • Collections care and conservation
  • Access and use of collections
  • Responsibility and authority for collections-related decisions
  • Collections-related ethical issues
  • Statement on the use of funds from deaccessioning, limiting use to new acquisitions and/or the direct care of collections (language must be identical to that in the Code of Ethics)

If direct care is an allowed use of funds, the policy should include:

  • the scope of “direct care of collections” for the museum
  • the process the museum will follow to determine the use of funds, including who is involved in decision-making

Institutions that do not own or manage collections but borrow and use objects for exhibits, education, or research must submit the policy document that outlines custodial care and borrowing policies for objects it uses.

Institutions that do not own or manage collections but borrow and use objects for exhibits, education or research:

  • Care and documentation for objects in temporary custody
  • Borrowing policies and criteria
  • Access to and/or use of objects in temporary custody
  • Responsibility and authority for decisions related to the objects
  • Bears date approved by the governing authority


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