Friday, November 20, 2009

Deaccessioning. Again

Flipping through the pages of Time recently (hey, I don't have time to analyse the news myself. I need someone to do it for me. Preferably with nice graphics and a couple of bar charts) I came across this article, which is yet another "hey, why don't we make deaccessioning sexy by asking the public what they think we should throw away. This time it's UCL. Guys! This is like so five minutes ago. Manchester did it far better with the hermit. At least UCL didn't clutter up their rationale with a bunch of guff about how this is making their institution sustainable - they cheerfully admitted that their major aim was to make space for new stuff. I'm all in favor of collecting; collect-or-die is an excellent motto for museums. Except natural history collections where it's more a case of collect-and-die, especially if you happen to be the unfortunate organism being collected.

The Time article implies that the UCL exercise and ones like it are shining a light on the processes by which museums dispose of material and that this is something that many museums would like to keep hidden because it is contentious; they cite the recent Brandeis case as an example of the passions that might arise. Personally I think this link is a bit tenuous. In 20 odd years of working with collections, I have never disposed of anything where I wasn't 100% sure it was a piece of worthless junk; if I was less sure than this, I kept it. There's nothing at all contentious about that. What aroused fury about Brandeis was not disposal per se (although there were plenty of people unhappy about that as well) but the fact that the university was proposing to sell off the collections and use the proceeds to fund other, non-museum activities. This is generally considered to be a breach of the institution's duty of reasonable stewardship. Now, an article where museums talk candidly about responsibility - that would be worth reading.

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