Core Documents

The following five documents have been designated as core because they are fundamental for professional museum operations and embody core museum values and practices. They codify and guide decisions and actions that promote institutional stability and viability, which in turn allows a museum to fulfill its educational role, preserve collections and stories for future generations, and be an enduring part of its community.

The required elements for core documents are based on the Core Standards. When writing or revising Core Documents, museums should ensure that they align with those standards and contain the required elements listed below.

Tier 3 AAM member museums can access samples of the Core Documents in the online Sample Document Library.

Click on the link under each document for more information and resources to help you improve your museum’s core documents.

Also, check out the Mastering Your Museum’s Core Documents Toolkit, available for purchase!

Mission Statement

Required elements:

  • Asserts the museum’s public service role
  • States why the museum exists and who benefits as a result of its efforts
  • Bears date approved by the governing authority

Read more about Mission Statements

Institutional Code of Ethics

Required elements:

  • Aligns with the Alliance’s Code of Ethics for Museums and any other code of ethics appropriate to the museum’s governance structure and discipline
  • States that the general ethical principles apply to the governing authority, staff, and volunteers and addresses issues specific to each group
  • Addresses both the institution’s basic ethical responsibilities as a public trust and the conduct of individuals associated with the institution
  • Is a single document tailored to, and developed specifically for, the museum (i.e., is not just a copy of the Alliance’s Code of Ethics for Museums, a copy of a parent organization’s code, or a list of references to other documents)
  • Bears date approved by the governing authority

If a collecting institution:

  • Follows policies consistent with the established standards of the museum’s discipline
  • Addresses collections-related ethical issues
  • Includes a 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 Collections Management Policy)

Read more about Institutional Codes of Ethics

Strategic Institutional Plan

Required elements:

  • Current and multi-year
  • Aligned with current mission
  • Includes a summary of the planning process
  • Articulates a strategic vision and goals as well as actions steps to achieve them
  • Covers all relevant areas of museum operations
  • Identifies the human and financial resources required to carry out the plan
  • Assigns responsibility for completion of action steps
  • Includes information about how success will be measured and evaluated
  • Bears date approved by the governing authority

Institutions with parent organizations:

  • Plan references and aligns with the strategic plan of the parent organization

Museums meet these requirements in different ways. Some incorporate all of the required elements into one document, while others divide it into a document that lists the broad vision and goals and another one with the implementation information (timelines, assignments of responsibility, resource identification, etc.).

Read more about Strategic Institutional Plans

Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Response Plan

Required elements:

  • Includes preparedness and response plans for all relevant emergencies and threats (natural, mechanical, biological, and human)
  • Addresses the needs of staff, visitors, structures, and collections
  • Specifies how to protect, evacuate, and recover collections in the event of a disaster
  • Includes evacuation routes and assembly areas for people
  • Assigns individual responsibilities for implementation during emergencies
  • Lists contact information for relevant emergency and recovery services
  • Includes floorplans
  • Bears date of last revision

Read more about Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Response Plans

Collections Management Policy

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.

Required elements for 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.

Required elements for 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

Read more about Collections Management Policies

Core Documents Verification Program

AAM offers a program for non-accredited museums that are interested in being recognized for incorporating the above required elements into their core documents: Core Documents Verification. Core Documents Verification is a required prerequisite for any museum seeking Accreditation for the first time.


AAM Member-Only Content

AAM Members get exclusive access to premium digital content including:

  • Featured articles from Museum magazine
  • Access to more than 1,500 resource listings from the Resource Center
  • Tools, reports, and templates for equipping your work in museums
Log In

We're Sorry

Your current membership level does not allow you to access this content.

Upgrade Your Membership

Subscribe to Field Notes!

Packed with stories and insights for museum people, Field Notes is delivered to your inbox every Monday. Once you've completed the form below, confirm your subscription in the email sent to you.

If you are a current AAM member, please sign-up using the email address associated with your account.

Are you a museum professional?

Are you a current AAM member?

Success! Now check your email to confirm your subscription, and please add to your safe sender list.