A necessary tool: Collections Management Policy

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A collections management policy is a group of working documents that define the objects or collections, their condition and care. Major museums and cultural organisations have in place several policies. However, smaller institutions do not prioritise policy drafting due to lack of time or funding. 

Why do I need a collection management policy? 

The primary benefit is the knowledge gained by the staff during their research rather than the end product as it:

  • poses questions necessary for maintaining and improving the aim and operations of your organisation
  • keeps your organisation up to date on the standards of cultural heritage
  • facilitates decision making 
  • builds trust with the community, as this document ensures the safety and availability of their cultural heritage. 

What does it contain? 

Every collection’s needs differ, therefore there is no standard recipe to apply. Below are some indicative contents that most commonly appear you will need to adjust them to serve your organisation. 

Mission, Vision, History

Start with the inclusion of your mission and vision statements and a brief history of your collection. To justify decisions made for collections management and to familiarise users with your organisation. 

Statement of Authority

Define the roles of the members of your organisation and governing body, include their and the organisation’s name, purpose and responsibilities.

Code of Ethics

Set the values and ethics of your organisation that reflects on the code of conduct, behaviour and decision making at all levels (staff, volunteers, administration). It can be a separate document from the collection management policy. 

Scope of Collections

Explain the collection’s concept, contents, use and history:

  • What you collect
  • How you collect it
  • How is it used
  • How does your collection grow

Categories of the Collection

Is your collection divided into sections?  Define their use, acquisition, management and care. These can be archives, library, permanent and temporary exhibitions etc. 

Acquisitions/ Accessioning

Specify the criteria by which you add an item to your collection according to your organisation’s mission. Moreover, you need to describe the legal process of adding objects and technical requirements. There are many cases were Museums could not refuse unrelated items donated to them because there was no document defining their collection. 

Deaccessioning/ Disposal

Removal of items from collections is as vital as their addition, having a set of guidelines makes this process easier, keeps the museum transparent and accountable.  Similar to acquisitions/ accessioning, you need to identify the criteria, the legal and technical elements. 


Most museums collaborate and lend their collections, called outgoing loans and loans to the museum. Within this segment, you will place the rules under which objects are on loan. Specify cataloguing, insurance and value. Moreover, set the parameters for temporary exhibitions and the process for their management. 

Objects in Custody

This section covers the steps taken by the museum for items found or unclaimed.

Conservation and Care

Determine how are objects cared for and what are the steps for retaining their condition. Collaborate with a professional conservator to describe the conservation and preservation procedures. Furthermore, describe the existing and desired condition of your collection, consider and include:

  • temperature 
  • humidity 
  • conservation
  • storage
  • pest control
  • handling 
  • location
  • transportation (national and international)
  • cataloguing and prioritisation for conservation

Insurance Risk Management

Preparedness is vital to the survival of your collection, 2020 harshly demonstrated a lack of preparation and emergency response in museums internationally. The topics of this segment often are separate documents but are essential. 

  • Risk Management Plan: assess the imminent threats to your collection, identify objects of great value and steps for relocation to safe storage.

  • Disaster Plan: in case of Natural Hazards, Civil Disasters, Armed Conflicts, Pandemics. The disaster plan includes specifications for every item in a collection and guides the process.

  • Insurance: there are several types of insurance, identify the needs of your collection and how your insurance provider address them. 

  • Security

Documentation, Collections Record and Inventories

Describe the archiving and documentation process, set your standards and system for the object’s identity and ease of your staff members. Specifically: 

  • provide a complete and accurate description of all objects and categories. 
  • define and use a specific measurement system
  • location
  • condition survey
  • conservation needs
  • catalogue number and classifications
  • back up
  • documentation team and supervisor


Access to cultural heritage is part of the primary objectives of museums and cultural organisations. Determine what type of access to each collection category is available. For example, museums with immense collections keep a significant amount of objects in storage, that cannot be part of their exhibition space. However, these artefacts are subject of restricted access as for research purposes, special exhibitions, donor benefit access etc.


Museums often can appraise or authenticate objects, as in the case of museums housing collections of specific artists. Outline restrictions, ethical considerations and staff roles whether you facilitate appraisals or not.

Legal and Ethical Considerations

Here you examine the legislation on ownership, protection and legal state of your collection. Cultural organisations should first and foremost abide by local and legal edicts that affect collecting, preserving and accessing heritage. Additionally, this protects the province of artefacts and against illicit trafficking, stolen and reappropriated objects, conflict of interest, money laundering through artworks and several more delicate issues in the heritage world. 

Intellectual Property

The rights of each object are reserved by several parties sometimes. Collectors have to be aware of the laws on intellectual property and adhere to them through their policy,  typically are addressed during the acquisition process. It is imperative to create specific guidelines concerning: acquisition of copyright, intellectual property rights, licence for use, reproduction, image, online presence, future technologies, media, trademark. 


Collections management policy often requires specific knowledge and information on the collection and inventory. A glossary serves both the use of the document and the establishment of definitions specific to your organisation.

Review and Revision

As a working document, your policy is subject to frequent revision, update and adaptation. Therefore, you have to ensure it is so done accurately and regularly within your document. Create a schedule and discuss with members of your organisation on the growing and changing needs of your collection. 

A collections management policy and plan are tools of great importance to any cultural organisation. Local Approach places emphasis on planning and drafting of policies and management plans as the process of research and brainstorming will certainly help counter issues, uniformity in actions and proper protection. Consider and address all of the above factors, as well as those specific to your collection. This action will benefit you greatly in the future; even if you cannot compile a document today. 

I want to learn more: 

ICOM (International Council of Museums) Standards 


Collections Management Policy, American Alliance of Museums 

Collections Management – Policies MoMa  

Collections Management Plans and Procedures 

English Heritage

Collections Conservation Advice and Guidance 

Historic House Collections: Drawing up a Collections Management Plan

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