What is a collections management policy?
As stewards of a community’s cultural heritage, collecting institutions are tasked with an often-challenging balancing act. A collection must simultaneously be protected and preserved for future generations while remaining accessible to the public and advancing the current institutional mission. For many, navigating this tightrope walk of collections stewardship may feel impossible, especially for small and mid-sized institutions that may be limited in resources like funding, time, and staff capacity.
A Collections Management Policy is the net below the tightrope. Having one in place acknowledges that stumbling is an inevitable part of collections stewardship, and provides protection in case you fall. This document outlines policies that address the various components of collections management at an organization, including acquisition, accession, registration, cataloging, control, security, and storage. These policies also clarify who is responsible for managing the collection and provide a framework for how an institution cares for, grows, and makes its collection publicly accessible.
An effective Collections Management Policy clearly establishes the conditions and scope of stewardship, serving not just as an internal guideline but also as public commitment: an outline of the terms by which the institution holds its collection in the public trust, an agreement to keeping the collection accessible while maintaining the highest legal, ethical, and professional standards for its care.
Why is a collections management policy important?
Writing and instituting a Collections Management Policy at your institution offers several benefits beyond the usefulness of the policy itself. In developing a CMP, staff at all levels are offered broad understanding of the processes and ethics that shape the institution, and provided with a clear outline of how collections care supports the organizational mission. More practically, these policies are sometimes needed to apply for certain funding opportunities and are considered a “core document” required for a museum to receive accreditation through the American Alliance of Museums (AAM). Collections Management Policies are also key documents in loan negotiations between museums; without one, an institution risks being unable to accommodate loan requests, consequently limiting public access to the collection.
For many small to medium-sized institutions that may be limited in resources or staff, setting aside the time to create a Collections Management Policy may seem a daunting task. With the Collections Management Policy Toolkit (CMPT), writing an effective policy for your organization becomes a simple process of question-and-answer. The CMPT will help you prepare the required information before beginning, allow you to move through the questionnaire collaboratively and at your own pace, and format it into a completed, downloadable policy.
For more information on Collections Management Policies and the process of implementing them within an institution, please visit our Additional Resources page.