“Good collection management is good conservation care”
Anastasia Matijkiw, Deputy Director of Preservation Services at the Conservation Centre, astutely points out: “Good collections management is synonymous with good preservation care. The American Alliance of Museums echoes this observation, identify a collections management policy as an essential document “that supports fundamental standards of collections management”. Collections management policies detail how a cultural heritage organization cares for and manages its collections and articulates its commitment to professional best practices. Increasingly, granting agencies and accreditation committees require institutions to have a collections management policy, yet many libraries, archives and museums do not.
Resources such as the book Young and old: Collections management policies by John E. Simmons do exist, and some institutions arbitrarily publish their institutional collections management policies online. However, the Toolkit stands out as a resource because it simplifies the process of writing a collections management policy and eliminates the need for organizations to reinvent the wheel when writing local policies. Matijkiw comments, “I think this fills a void for collections management policies. … It allows organizations to do it themselves and gives them the impetus to ask all the right questions in order to develop a comprehensive policy.
Matijkiw and his colleagues designed the toolkit with user experience in mind. She describes the toolkit approach as something between crazy libs and a choose-your-own story. The toolkit is organized into 11 sections, each with a series of specifically phrased questions so that the answers are then mapped into a fully written policy narrative. Users can work on sections in any order, save work as it progresses, and return to editing sections. Matijkiw noted that early testers filled sections at varying speeds depending on their facility’s readiness. “Depending on the section, it could take between fifteen and forty-five minutes” for users to complete a segment, but longer if a team of colleagues were collaborating or if an organization was considering a practice or procedure for the first time.
Initially, users are prompted to create an institutional account and assign users roles: administrators with full permissions or editors with limited read/write permissions. The number of account users is unlimited, so teams can collaborate to develop policies and access them electronically when completed.
An overview of the toolbox sections
Here is a brief overview of each section of the toolkit.
Introduction: This section contains basic information about the organization, the personnel responsible for managing the collections, and a general overview of the creation and objectives of the policy.
Mission and Collections: This section covers an organization’s mission statement, describes the scope of its collecting mission, and articulates its collections access policies.
Acquisitions and Acquisitions: This section details an organization’s acquisition criteria, acquisition policies, acquisition procedures, and acquisition methods.
Disposals and Disposal: This section covers processes and policies for disposing of alienated items, local regulations on abandoned property, criteria for disposal, and personnel authorized to dispose of items from an organization’s collection.
Incoming Loans: This section documents an organization’s procedures and policies regarding incoming loans, including the approval process, terms and policies for long-term loans.
Outgoing Loans: This section covers an organization’s procedures and policies regarding outgoing loans, including guidelines for loan duration, the loan approval process, and requirements for borrowers.
Documentation: This section describes how an organization documents collection records, its catalog data management systems, and its inventory policies.
Care of Collections: This section details policies and procedures that describe the handling of objects and the preservation of collections, as well as notes on personnel with care of collections responsibilities.
Insurance and Risk Management: This section collects information about an organization’s insurance program, disaster preparedness/response plans, and risk management policies.
Access and Use: This section describes the processes and procedures for employee and public user access to the collections.
Intellectual Property: This section details guidelines for photographing, digitizing, publishing, and reproducing items in the collection.
Click and create
When an organization’s team completes the 11-section questionnaire and submits the data, the toolkit instantly generates a completed collection management policy from the information provided. The policy is in narrative form, organized according to 11 main sections and is approximately 35 pages. Users can then download the completed document as a PDF or choose to edit it first in Google Docs before saving a polished version.
The Conservation Center secured funding from IMLS to develop the Toolkit and offers users unlimited access to their Toolkit account for 1 year at no cost. Institutions wishing to store policy and template data on the Conservation Center site beyond one year may do so for an annual subscription fee of $12. The Conservation Center offers organizations that need additional assistance two paid consultation options: The Conservation Center will review a single section of the toolkit for a consultation time of up to 1 hour ($150) , and staff members are available for a full policy review for up to 5 hours of consultation time ($500).
Conservation Center and its other services
The Center for the Conservation of Art and Historical Objects was based in 1977 by a paper conservator and offers physical processing services for paper-based collection materials as well as a range of preservation-related consultation, workshops and digitization services. The Conservation Center is located in Philadelphia and works with libraries, archives, museums and private clients across the United States.
The author would like to thank Anastasia Matijkiw, Assistant Director of Preservation Services at the Center for Conservation of Art and Historic Objects, for her interview.