The good news: I assume in reaction to the concern expressed by museums, zoos, and libraries, the bill governing deaccessioning from museums was pulled from the Ways and Means committee's calendar on Tuesday. I gather that staff from Assemblyman Brodsky's and Senator Serrano's offices have begun discussions with some concerned community representatives.
The bad news: An amended version of the bill is circulating in Albany. This bill makes it crystal-clear that it does not just cover museum deaccessioning, but would cover deaccessioning from "collecting institutions" - meaning libraries, archives, historical societies, zoos, and private foundations.
In spirit, the revised bill is acceptable. It recognizes that there are times when a collecting institution may wish to remove an item from its collections. Those reasons include:
- The item is inconsistent with the mission of the collecting institution as set forth in its mission statement;
- The item has failed to retain its identity;
- The item is redundant;
- The item's preservation and conservation needs are beyond the capacity of the collecting institution to provide;
- The item is deaccessioned to accomplish refinement of collections as required by and/or stated in its collection management policy;
- It has been established that the item is inauthentic;
- The collecting institution is repatriating the item or returning the item to its rightful owner;
- The collecting institution is returning the item to the donor, or the donor's heirs or assigns, to fulfill donor restrictions relating to the item which the collecting institution is no longer able to meet;
- The item presents a hazard to people or other collection items.
(I might think of a few more, such as the item is missing or lost from the collection, but this is not a bad list.)
The law then says that if the collecting institution wants to deaccession or dispose of the item, it must first offer it for transfer or sale to another institution in New York state. If no one wants it, it would then be offered to another collecting institution outside of New York. If they don't want it, then it can be sold on the open market.
The bill's proposed methods of implementing its goals are highly problematic. Here are some issues:
- It applies to all accessioned materials, and it governs material that you may want to discard. Good professional practice requires that archives and manuscript repositories accession material upon receipt. The material is then processed and unwanted material (including trash) is discarded. This bill would require us to offer our trash to other institutions before we could get rid of it.
- It may also not allow us to return unwanted material to the donor, even if the deed of gift stipulates this.
- Proceeds from any sale of the item can only be used to acquire more material and/or for the preservation, protection or care of items in the collection. The money cannot be used for "traditional and customary operating expenses." But what about customary operating expenses that also serve to preserve and protect items in the collection?
- Most troubling for small institutions is that they would have three years to publish a register of all accessioned items in the collection. They would also have to publish a register of deaccessioned items. This is a burdensome unfunded mandate.
- Furthermore, the Board of Regents is required to construct a database that includes all items that a collecting institution wishes to deaccession. Again, a huge procedural headache.
- Institutions would also be required to write and publish a broad set of procedures and practices under the rubric of a "collection management policy." I doubt if even the largest institutions have written procedures for all of the things specified in the bill.
Some will even argue about whether it is ever ok to deaccession material. (You can follow some of the debates at the Deaccessioning Blog.) If deaccessioning does occur, let's hope that we do not have to follow the well-meaning but problematic practices of A6959.