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Ethical and Legal Collections Issues

There are a number of ethical and legal issues that can arise as part of a museum’s collecting and deaccessioning activities, including the use of disposal proceeds, dealing, privacy laws, and trafficking to name a few. The Alliance has compiled this set of resources related to ethical and legal collections issues from amongst its own offerings as well as those throughout the nonprofit and museum sector.

Alliance Resources

Collections Stewardship Standards

The Alliance provides standards on collections stewardship. This document addresses the importance, purpose and assessment of collection stewardship.

Don’t Raid the Cookie Jar: Creating Early Interventions to Prevent Deaccessioning Crises

This paper, from the Alliance, summarizes the ideas and recommendations generated at “Don’t Raid the Cookie Jar: Creating Early Interventions to Prevent Deaccessioning Crises,” a convening held December 14-15, 2017 in Cambridge, MA.

Law & Ethics: An Ounce of Prevention

This Museum magazine article addresses ethical and legal considerations for the closure of a university museum and its collection to be sold. The article addresses MOUs, legal impediments due to donor restrictions, the role of a separately incorporated friends group, and the vulnerability of museums run by non-museum parent organizations.

Statement on the Deaccessioning by the Delaware Art Museum and the Action taken by the AAM Accreditation Commission

On June 17, 2014, the AAM Accreditation Commission unanimously voted to remove the Delaware Art Museum’s accredited status in response to the board’s decision of March 26, 2014, to deaccession and to sell works from the collections for purposes other than acquisitions or direct care of collections. The action of the Delaware Art Museum is in direct violation of museum standards and ethics.

What’s the Deal on Dealing?

This article from Elizabeth Merritt from Museum magazine discusses the conflicts of interests surrounding and involving collections stewardship.

Other Resources

“Art on Campus” Guidelines

AAMD offers its “Art on Campus” Guidelines to help museum professionals meet their academic missions while preserving collections for future generations.

Federal Historic Preservation Laws, Regulations, and Orders

The National Park Service (NPS) provides links to the full text of federal laws, regulations, and guidelines related to the management of cultural and natural resources.

Ivory Ban Questions & Answers

On July 6, 2016, a near-total ban on commercial trade in African elephant ivory went into effect in the United States. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service provides guidance on this webpage for those who wish to buy, sell, or otherwise trade in elephant ivory.

Legal Issues in Museums

The National Park Service’s (NPS) Museum Handbook (PDF) has a chapter that addresses legal issues. The 62-page document includes a discussion of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), privacy laws, and publicity legislation as they impact museums. Although the FOIA applies only to federal agencies, many states have similar legislation. The chapter also includes an Access and Use Legal Action Chart that summarizes applicable legislation and suggested actions (PDF pages 28-40 and 46-54), and it also discusses copyright, patent and trademark laws (PDF pages 4-23).

Museum Ethics in the 21st Century: Museum Ethics Transforming into Another Dimension

This paper, from the International Committee for Museology (ICOFOM) Study Series, examines museum ethics as a set of behavioral principles and morals as individual values of right and wrong.

Natural History Museums and Wildlife Trafficking: A Framework for Global Action

This white paper released by the Natural History Committee of ICOM lays out a vision for involving the world’s natural history museums in the fight against illicit trafficking of wildlife. The paper describes some of the core values on the illegal wildlife trade, as well as our priorities for improving the effectiveness and efficiency of coordinated efforts. (PDF, 8 pages)

Open Government Guide

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press provides a compendium of information on every state’s open records and open meetings laws. Museums may find this useful when writing policies concerning access to collections records.

Selected Sections of the Rules of the Board of Regents (8 NYCRR)

The New York State Education Department (NYSED) shares some selected sections of the Rules of the Board of Regents (8 NYCRR) that affect museums chartered in New York State.

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