‘burden’ objects?

For decades in the US, the process of “deaccessioning” has been an unfortunate part of the library lexicon. Of course institutions like ours have benefited from this process (see our Search and Rescue programs where we contextualize films that have been discarded or sold off from larger collections). Nevertheless, overall, we disapprove of these processes, and suggest a course of action whereby institutions with film holdings maintain their collections and recognize the historic value and importance of such holdings. We’re lucky in Washington state to have the University of Washington library system, who have been working hard to maintain and preserve their collections. We’ve even partnered with them on a number of programs to present the work for contemporary audiences.

That is why the distressing e-mail regarding the fate of film holdings in the UK, has prompted me to reprint it here. I must admit how impressive it is that the BBC and other media outlets in the UK cover this issue and could only long for some coverage like this if a similar fate ever awaited the UW film holdings. Nevertheless, I don’t really know what to do about it, but anyone in the UK should urge The Museums Association to take another path of action.

“This week there is an uproar in the UK museum community over the issue of museum deaccessioning – transferring or selling off parts of collections that are not currently in demand. Some moving image archives have faced these issues as managers with no knowledge of film ask “why is the archive spending money holding films that nobody wants to see?”

The cultural sector in the UK is under stress as government arts funding has been slashed to fund the 2012 London Olympics. As one person said, arts around the country are being cut for five years, so that the London can have 17 days of sport. For example, the core budget of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council is being cut by 25%, and funding to the regions is being reduced.

The Museums Association is now recommending that disposal of collections be a regular part of collections development. An article in the Times
noted that “Thirty years ago the association drew up a strict code of ethics outlawing sales of works of art. “De-accessioning”, as sales are known, is a dirty word in the museums’ world and the disposal of objects from public collections has long been condemned as cultural asset-stripping.”

Now the Museums Association has released a “Disposals Toolkit” giving guidance to members on procedures to follow. The MA website quotes Mark Taylor, the MA’s director: “Museums typically collect a thousand times as many things as they get rid of. Wonderful collections can become a burden unless they are cleared of unused objects.” The press release notes that “The toolkit is designed to support changes
to the MA’s Code of Ethics for Museums which encourages transfer of objects that could be better used elsewhere, and, in exceptional circumstances, allows for the sale of objects on the open market. ”

You can download the handy “Disposals Toolkit” here: http://www.museumsassociation.org/15849&_IXPOS_=manews1.1

The Times continues, “Meanwhile, the association has given its blessing to a sale of two important paintings from the Watts Gallery in Compton, Surrey. Edward Burne-Jones’s The Triumph of Love will be auctioned at Christie’s on June 5 for an estimated £600,000, and Albert Moore’s Jasmine for about £800,000. The association said that the works were from the gallery’s “noncore collection”.”

“Opponents of the policy change point to the vagaries of fashion, claiming that Victorian works of art sold off in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s for next to nothing were in some cases now worth millions of pounds.”

The Museum Association presented their point of view in an interview on Monday’s Radio4′s Today programme, which will be available on-line through next Sunday. (the piece started at 8:48am, and is 20 minutes into that clip from the programme).

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