Ideally Reality: Alignment of Deaccession Policy and Emerging Practice in History Museums
de Vitis, Tomasina Maria
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Deaccessioning artifacts from museums has become a widely accepted practice as a tool for responsible and sustainable collections management. Standard deaccession policies have been developed to govern the ethical practices, and are valuable tools for accountability. However, there is a lack of research into practical application of deaccession policies in museums. This study is designed to explore the alignment of current best practices found in policies with the emerging application within history museums. The research relies on the analysis of written policies from museums and discussions regarding their deaccession projects for consistencies, and the prevalent practices as they coincide with the policies. The purpose of this study is to determine which parts of the ideal process of deaccessioning represented by policy are manifest when applied to the wide variety of material found in history museum collections. Nine museums from across the country were selected to participate in the study. Eight submitted a copy of the deaccession policy used in their institution, and staff from each museum participated in a semi-structured interview to discuss their deaccessioning practices. The results of this research show that although transferring objects is the advocated preference for the majority of museums, in practice the disposal methods chosen rely heavily on the object's physical and historical integrity. While the objects with strong documentation and good physical condition are often transferred, the majority of deaccessioned objects are found lacking in significance and disposed of through sales. This seems to support the need for further understanding of the links between deaccession criteria and disposal method as a valuable area to address accountability.
- Museology