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Collections Policy and Planning

One of the most integral aspects of museum management, collections stewardship, relies on the systematic development and implementation of policies, plans, and procedures to guide the proper management and care of collections and achieve mission-related goals and objectives.

At the Smithsonian, collections stewardship is guided by Smithsonian Directive 600, Collections Management. More information and additional guidance are available in the internal Directives Library.

Collections Management Policies

Collections management policies establish governance standards and mission-oriented principles that guide collections-related activities, incorporating all aspects of management to fulfill the stewardship obligations inherent to museum collections. 

A fully developed collections management policy offers comprehensive and practical instruction on the use and administration of objects to guarantee prudent and informed decision-making and allows management to demonstrate diligence when considering the museum’s position on all collections-related activities.

Accreditation by national professional organizations requires collecting institutions to maintain a current, approved, comprehensive collections management policy that actively guides collections stewardship. While tailored to the specific discipline and organizational structure of the museum and its collections, several general components apply to all museums.

General Principles
  • Identify and describe the purpose and role of collections in carrying out the mission of the Institution, clearly defining authorities and responsibilities to guide staff on collections management activities.
  • Clearly outline the museum's fiduciary duties to identify collections stewardship and oversight activities to mitigate the possibility of administrative, legal, or ethical problems.
  • Emphasize the value of maintaining complete, written records for all collection-related activities to ensure the security and accessibility of collections information.

Collections Stewardship Plans

  • Context – Who, What, Why, and How?
  • Intellectual Framework – Where are we going?
  • Analysis of Existing Collections – Where are we now?
  • Plan to Shape the Ideal Collection – Where do we want to be?
  • Implementation Strategy – How are we going to achieve our shared vision for the collections?

Approved strategic procedures guiding the content and development of collections, collections stewardship plans lead staff in a coordinated, uniform direction over a specified period to refine, shape, and expand the value and vision of the collection. Collections stewardship plans provide mechanisms to strengthen intellectual control over collections through logical assessments of collections and resources.

Collections stewardship plans engage staff and stakeholders to develop a compelling, shared vision for the collections and refocus collecting activities to move from idiosyncratic, reactive collecting to strategic, integrated, and proactive collecting – to shape, rather than build, collections.

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