Collections Sustainability Rubric
Following the December 2017 workshop Don’t Raid the Cookie Jar: Creating Early Interventions to Prevent Deaccessioning Crises, a task force of the AAM Professional Networks Council (PNC) formed. The PNC believes that sharing resources to help museums survive and thrive is a critical means of avoiding crises that negatively impact the mission and specifically the collections at the core of the mission. To this end, the Task Force developed the Collections Sustainability Rubric, assembled related resources, and established a mechanism for peer-to-peer support.
About the Task Force
Charge: The objective of this Task Force is to promote thoughtfully managed collections and deaccession practices. By promoting best practices and providing the opportunity for peer consultation on such matters, the Task Force aims to safeguard institutions and avoid crisis that often lead to poor management of collections and divestment thereof.
Goals: To help institutions of all sizes consider their collections stewardship from the broader perspective of sustainability and promote institutional and collegial conversation on the matters of deaccessioning, management, and governance.
Founding Task Force Members and Professional Networks
- Curators Committee: Ellen Endslow, Director of Collections/Curator, Chester County Historical Society, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Collections Stewardship: Robin Cooper, Manager of Curatorial Affairs, Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, email@example.com
- Historic Houses and Sites Committee: Cara Seitchek, Fundraiser for the Smithsonian, SeitchekC@si.edu
- Leadership and Management Network: Elizabeth Varner, Adjunct Professor, IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law, C.Varner@gmail.com
Key Tenets Behind this Project
Collections stewardship is not an island and not the sole responsibility of the collections management and curatorial staff. An institution that is stable and sustainable is one in which collections management is seen and treated as an integral and strategic aspect of the museum’s educational mission; its management, organizational health, and governance; and maintaining its relevance to its communities. Collections management staff, management and leadership, and the governing authority must work together and with equal diligence to promote institutional sustainability.
Deaccessioning is part of the life-cycle of an institution and an appropriate collections management practice. Generally speaking, deaccessioning does not cause institutional failure. However, deaccessioning is often a symptom of institutional challenge if it is considered as a means to financially stabilize an institution.
When ethical practices in administration and collections management are overlooked and when the necessary human and financial resources and support for collections and their management are neglected, sustainability is at risk.
What is the Rubric and How to Use It
The Collections Sustainability Rubric is an assessment tool to help you:
- gauge the health of your institution and stability of its collections
- self-check if your museum is going down a pathway towards a crisis that could lead to a decision to improperly deaccession collections
It lists some key indicators of good practice and red flags in the areas of collections, governance, and management to help you realize and head off crises that could lead to financially motivated deaccessioning.
Overarching these three areas are mission and a strategic plan: two things absolutely necessary for all institutions to guide and inform their decisions around collections, governance, and management. Likewise, underpinning these three areas is community support—something necessary for institutional success.
For each of the three categories, the rubric has four levels describing the health of the institution:
- Doing well: Operations consistent and stable; professional standards are regularly reviewed and used.
- Struggling: Doing good, effective things but resources and/or communication are challenges.
- In crisis: Usual resources not available; inconsistent processes and communication.
- Hospice: Not viable; leadership, relevance, community support, and resources lacking.
The rubric is best used with the companion list of deaccessioning-related resources associated with each of these four levels. These resources include books, articles, guidelines, professional practices, and other format that provide a wealth of information available to the fields of museums and special collections libraries.
The rubric is not a comprehensive guide on how to deaccession, govern, or otherwise manage the museum and its collections. Rather, it is designed to raise awareness and spark conversations internally or within a network of your colleagues.
Contact the Task Force members with feedback, questions, or suggestions for additions to the rubric at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Recorded Webinar (June 16, 2020): Introducing the New Collections Sustainability Rubric
- Research and Reports: Don’t Raid the Cookie Jar: Creating Early Interventions to Prevent Deaccessioning Crises
- Alliance Blog: Don’t Raid the Cookie Jar – A Few Thoughts About Risk Factors