Ethical Issues in Collections Management

The relationship between laws and ethics is not always clear. Although we may have a legal right to do something, this does not necessarily mean it is ethically justified. What role does ethics play in caring for museum collections and what kinds of situations can raise ethical dilemmas? Do space rentals raise ethical challenges? How should you think about providing access to your collections? When is it O.K. to sell the Monet or old doilies from your collection? What is a conflict of interest and when might it occur? To explore the difference between legal and ethical issues we will consider the issue of deaccessioning collections.

Is deaccessioning legal? And, even it if is, is it ethical? Although deaccessioning is an accepted collections management practice, it too often captures the attention of the media and incites the anger of the public. We will explore the legal and ethical aspects of deaccessioning from the decision to remove an object from a museum’s collections to the considerations that should be made before disposing of a deaccessioned item. It will also elaborate upon the recent American Alliance of Museums white paper, Direct Care of Collections: Ethics, Guidelines, and Recommendations.



Author of A Practical Guide to Museum Ethics as well as an educator and speaker, Sally Yerkovich has over thirty years of leadership experience in museums and cultural organizations. She was President and CEO of The New Jersey Historical Society, President of the Tribute Center and interim director of the Museum for African Art in addition to holding positions at the South Street Seaport Museum and Museum of the City of New York. Most recently she has been Director of the Institute of Museum Ethics at Seton Hall, is teaching at Columbia and Seton Hall Universities and consulting with nonprofits. She works with museums and cultural organizations internationally and chairs the Ethics Committee of the International Council of Museums. She also serves on the Board of the Merchants House Museum in NYC. Earlier Sally worked at the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. She is currently Director of Special Projects at the American Scandinavian Foundation.

The Legal Issues Webinar Series is a collaboration between Connecting to Collections Care and ARCS, the Association of Registrars and Collections Specialists.


Recorded: Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Duration: 1 Hour 24 minutes



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