Deaccessioning Best Practices

Dear Iowa Museum Association Members,

Given the recent action of the Salisbury House to sell its library collections to Grinnell College, the Iowa Museum Association wants to increase awareness about best practices defined by the museum field about deaccessioning – the permanent removal of items from a museum’s collection.

Our organization the Iowa Museum Association (IMA), supports Iowa’s museums, all types and sizes, in applying best practices to fulfill their missions.  We believe that Iowa's museums, governed by dedicated board members and managed by devoted staff and volunteers, are dedicated to operating in a legal and ethical manner.  There are good and valid reasons for deaccessioning collections and in these instances, IMA supports the sale proceeds being reinvested in collections care, consistent with best practices.  Current museum industry standards state that selling collections to fund operations is not an accepted practice:

•    According to the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), “Deaccessioning, the process of removing something from a museum’s permanent collections, is an accepted collections management practice when it is carried out in accordance with relevant legal constraints, field-wide standards, and ethical principles reflected in each museum’s policies and procedures.” Given the integrity of the Salisbury House’s library collection and the deep provenance associated with it, deaccessioning and selling this collection goes against current museum industry best practices.

•    AAM also states, “Proceeds from the sale of nonliving collections are to be used consistent with the established standards of the museum’s discipline, but in no event shall they be used for anything other than acquisition or direct care of collections.”

•    The Association of Art Museum Directors says that “Funds received from the disposal of a deaccessioned work shall not be used for operations or capital expenses.”

•    The American Association for State and Local History states that “historical resources shall not be used to provide financial support for institutional operations, facilities maintenance or any reason other than preservation or acquisition of collections, as defined by institutional policy.”

Although IMA is sympathetic to the financial strain experienced by the Salisbury House and can empathize with Grinnell’s actions to purchase the collection thus keeping it intact and available to Iowans, we feel we must promote the professional standards and best practices of our field stated above.  IMA provides a wide range of low cost and free resources, including professional workshops and one-on-one consultations, to educate and support all Iowa museums in their work.  

At their core, museums perform two functions: they educate and are stewards of their collections.  Though deaccessioning is an accepted and routine practice, collections should never be seen as commodities to be sold in order to balance a budget.  Museum collections are valued resources preserved by museums for the benefit of our communities.  Failure to meet industry standards can erode public trust in museums and lead to a lack of support for the important work they do.

Iowa's hundreds of museums and community historical societies are local treasures.  Through good stewardship of collections, our museums hold in trust for the public the collective identity and memory of Iowa.  Any museum seeking assistance or guidance is encouraged to proactively reach out to the Iowa Museum Association for assistance and to connect with Iowa’s museum community of practice.  

Sincerely,

Dr. Heidi Lung, President
Jennifer Kovarik, Vice President
Casie Vance, Secretary
Iowa Museum Association Board of Directors