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August 17, 2009

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Anne:

Thanks for your substantive comments. You are right that I should have made it clearer that the regulations on documentation and the use of proceeds from deaccessioning are not new, but have been part of the existing regulations. Since the language is repeated in the proposed amendment, that makes it fair game for comment and consideration.

As for the documentation requirements, perhaps I was a bit too hasty in my concerns. There is no question that it would be useful to have this documentation. My only issue was whether most historical societies do have such policies. Since they need to have them to apply for a charter, I suppose at one time all historical societies did have such documentation. And if it is just a matter of signing off on the sample policy, then the documentation requirements may be minimal (though I also wonder how useful such policies might be...).

As for the criteria for deaccesioning found in the regulations, I have no particular problem with them as they exist. I do think that this is something that could better be handled through professional standards, best practices, and the reasoned judgement of the Board of Trustees of the organization rather than through formal regulations in order to allow for changes in practices, standards, and circumstances.

We are all agreed that deaccessioning is part of good professional practice. The big issues are how it should be done (and at least one blogger is calling on the state to implement in its regulations some of the worst procedures of the proposed legislation) and how any funds that are raised should be spent. I have two problems with the way the regulations are written:

1. Proceeds from the sale of deaccessioned items may only be used "for the acquisition, preservation, protection or care of collections," but not for operational or facility expenses. Is paying the salaries of your preservation staff a preservation or an operational expense? What about putting a new roof on your building or installing a sprinkler system so that your collections are not ruined by rain or fire?

2. When the Huntington Free Library (HFL) deaccessioned its Native American collection and sold it to Cornell, the press release announcing the sale stated that HFL would use the $2.5 million it received to pay off its legal expenses from its actions to defend its ownership of the collection and to "return to its main mission of serving the Bronx community through its other collections." The sale was coordinated by the Attorney-General and approved by the courts as being in the best interest of both HFL and the people of New York. Yet my reading of these regulations suggest to me that if the HFL had been a museum or historical society, it couldn't have done this because it wasn't using the funds for "acquisition, preservation, protection, or care of collections."

I would concede that in most cases, we don't want historical societies selling autographed letters in order to run their educational programs. But if the material is clearly out of scope of the collection, and if the doors of the historical society will shut without an addition to its endowment, is using the proceeds of a sale to keep the place open so awful?

Mr. Hirtle:

Since your post appeared recently on the Museum-l list referencing the Museum Association of New York, I felt it imperative to post a comment here regarding your remarks about the Regents' intention to amend and make permanent the temporary rule addressing the criteria for museum deaccessioning.

Please be advised that the part of the rule stipulating that proceeds from the sale of deaccessioned material be used only for acquisition, care and preservation has been in the Regents rules for many years and is not new. The same is true for written collection management policies, which are absolutely critical points of departure for collections decision-making. Chartered museums and historical societies have been complying with the use of proceeds and collection management policy sections for more than a decade.

What is new is the criteria for deaccessioning, which mirrors the standards of practice in field and are supported by the American Association of Museums, the American Association for State and Local History and the Association of Art Museum Directors.

Further there is some new language in the proposed amendment that echos language in the deaccessioning legislation regarding the making of collections-related decisions based on an institution's mission. Nothing wrong with that.

Regarding deaccessioning in general: the Museum Association of New York supports deaccessioning as a legitimate collection management activity. Grounded in institutional collection management policies, the criteria and procedures for deaccessioning are articulated according to accepted professional standards of practice.

Regarding deaccessioning legislation that was introduced in the NYS legislature last session: the Museum Association of New York supports a unified standard of practice for ALL collecting institutions (and that includes the special collections held by libraries) regarding the use of proceeds from the sale of deaccessioned collections.

Anne Ackerson, Director
Museum Association of New York
265 River Street
Troy, NY 12180
info@manyonline.org
www.manyonline.org

Klaus, you have made your position on this issue clear via the A&A listserv as well, but I am still confused by it. Are you suggesting that every remnant of the past has equal value in your eyes? Is a fragment of an unpublished poem by Schiller in his own hand worth as much as a fragment of my own poetry that I wrote for a third grade assignment? If I donated my childhood work to a local historical society (and they foolishly accepted it), should they not be able to decide, 50 years later, that my work really was not worth preserving and thus discard it? And, if Schiller's unpublished fragment should, by twists and turns of time, have found itself in a small public library in Kansas, would it not make sense for them to deaccession it, perhaps donating it to a repository known for its Schiller holdings, one that can better care for it and share it with a much wider community?

Do you mean to suggest, Klaus, that all appraisal decisions are final, no matter how misguided they may have been in the past? Is our job as archivists not to use our professional judgment to acquire and preserve materials - and yes, deaccession and even discard materials - to the best of our ability, using the knowledge and resources we have available? Your argument seems to suggest, to me at least, that we are mere caretakers of EVERYTHING.

My position is clear. NO deaccessioning should be allowed. Cultural heritage is cultural heritage is cultural heritage. Amen.

http://archiv.twoday.net/stories/5733422/

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