Subscribe

Email Updates
Sign up to stay informed about the latest happenings at Interior.

Subscribe

Sign up to stay informed about the latest happenings at Interior.
Email Updates
Sign up to stay informed about the latest happenings at Interior.
U.S. Department of the Interior - Museum Program
Share

Best Practices for Managing Federal Museum Collections



A.  Meet Government-wide Mandates     |     B. Provide Good Customer Service     |     C.     Manage for the Long Term


Millions of artifacts and specimens collected as a result of Federal activities are held in public trust by more than one thousand Federal and non-Federal institutions throughout the United States. The Interagency Federal Collections Alliance encourages the use of best practices for managing museum collections at all institutions holding Federal collections.

The statements below link to information resources throughout the Federal government and museum communities. Basic to the responsible stewardship of Federal museum collections is the understanding that museum collections must be managed differently from other Federal property. Preservation of the collections in good condition for long periods of time requires more stable environments, better security, and more complete documentation to ensure continuing availability of the collections for use by the American people.

A. Meet Government-wide Mandates

A-1 Know criteria that define Federal property as museum collections

     Museum collections require documentation to enhance their usefulness, special accountability to ensure their security, and care and handling to prolong their availability in the best condition possible. Each of these considerations requires expenditure of funds. Efficient use of Federal resources requires us to accurately identify Federal property with heritage values that merit long-term management.
     Federal museum collections are Federal property subject to the same rules that are applicable to all Federal "personal property." Federal museum collections are a subset of "personal property."
     For more information, see "Federal Property, Accountability, and Management."

A-2 Know laws and other mandates for managing Federal museum collections
     Many laws address the broad variety of Federal museum collections. The following references link to some of the most useful major US authorities related to Federal museum collections.
     For more information, see "Laws, Regulations, Executive Orders, and Other Federal Requirements."
A-3 Know why you have Federal museum collections

     Collections can best serve agency objectives if current managers know the importance of various collection categories and why their maintenance is worth the investment of agency resources. Some items of Federal property are designated for preservation in perpetuity by Federal law, regulation, or Executive Order. Others are needed to support, or "voucher," agency decisions related to resource management or science. Items may be maintained in museum collections to honor government-to-government relationships with Indian tribes. Other items may be important gifts from individuals or governments.
     Collections may represent decades of careful selection by generations of scientists or historians, and may contain specimens or artifacts no longer available for collection. Continuing access to collections may be essential to on-going agency mission activities and for compliance with environmental and cultural preservation mandates.
     Federal collections increase in value over time, and agencies have a fiduciary responsibility to maintain them in public trust for the American people.

     Federal agencies acquire museum collections in many ways. The major reasons include compliance with government-wide laws and support of agency mission activities. These are illustrated in agency web pages.
     For more information, see "Laws, Regulations, Executive Orders, and Other Federal Requirements."  Also consult "Other Agencies Responsible for Museum Collections" for examples of collections commissioned by agencies.

A-4 Know the roles of property accountable officers, custodial officers, and discipline specialists in the accountability system, and of others who may share management responsibilities for the Federal museum collections
     Accountability for Federal property, including Federal museum collections, involves property management specialists, program managers, and discipline specialists such as archeologists and natural scientists, historians, and art historians. Many agencies partner with other institutions to acquire the needed expertise and resources.
     For more information, see "Federal Property, Accountability, and Management."

B. Provide Good Customer Service

B-1 Know the history and missions of the agencies responsible for Federal museum collections
     Congress has determined certain classes of assets to be nationally significant regardless of agency mission. All agencies must account for such assets. Agencies have heritage assets as a result of their compliance with a suite of environmental and cultural resource protection laws and regulations. For example, heritage assets such as archeological collections are not pertinent to the mission of the Department of Defense (defending the country), but they are extremely significant to government-wide heritage preservation policies and mandates promulgated in laws, regulations, and executive orders.
     Here are examples of "Other Agencies Responsible for Museum Collections."
B-2 Know who cares about the management of your Federal museum collections
     Federal collections are held in trust for the American public. A variety of stakeholders expect access to Federal museum property, and expect Federal stewards to manage those collections responsibly.
     For examples, see "Other Agencies Responsible for Museum Collections."
B-3 Know discipline-specific standards for managing Federal museum collections
     In addition to government-wide standards for managing Federal property, each discipline represented in Federal museum collections may have its own requirements and specific standards. The links below provide examples of discipline-specific standards.
     For more information, see "Discipline-Specific Standards."
B-4 Know the location of each object in your Federal museum collections
     Collection items that cannot be found cannot be used. Effective use of museum collection items requires that items in the collections be easily located. Location data may exist in museum catalog systems or in finding aids. These data are required for effective management of the collections for accountability, security, access, and maintenance.
B-5 Know the condition of your Federal museum collections

     Federal museum collections are heritage assets intended for preservation in perpetuity to maintain their heritage values - aesthetic, historic, or scientific information that is often unique and irreplaceable.
     While the use of stable storage supplies and environmentally controlled spaces support preventive conservation, monitoring is required to identify problems and the potential need for interventive treatments.
     For more information, see the "Preservation" and "Discipline-Specific Standards" sections that provide resources to help keep your collections in good condition.

B-6 Know how to access any object in your Federal museum collections [access for accountability, physical access, access to associated information, history of access and use]

     For more information, see "Preservation" and "Discipline-Specific Standards."

B-7 Know restrictions associated with objects in your Federal museum collections

     Stewardship of Federal museum collections requires that we manage these resources in compliance with applicable laws and ethical standards. This means providing public access to the extent possible within the constraints of applicable restrictions.
     Restrictions may originate in law, professional ethics, or agency policy. Restrictions may be in place to protect the collections and associated resources (e.g., archeological sites or cave locations), to protect the privacy of donors, or to protect intellectual property rights associated with specific items in the collections.
     For more information, see "Laws, Regulations, Executive Orders, and Other Federal Requirements" and "Discipline-Specific Standards."

B-8 Know which objects in your Federal museum collections have been featured in publications

     By knowing which objects in your collection have been featured in publications, you can efficiently focus research efforts on artifacts and specimens that have not yet been thoroughly investigated and avoid duplicate efforts. Tracking use of collections in publications may also increase the efficiency of current projects involving similar items. For example, knowing the history of use may aid in understanding archaeological materials from the same geographic area or the same time period.


C. Manage for the Long-Term

C-1 Know the legal status of each object in your Federal museum collections

     Management of Federal museum collections requires taking actions to protect, conserve, use, and provide access to Federal property. This requires knowing which property, which associated information, and which intellectual property rights you control.
     Failure to understand the legal status of items in your Federal collections could result in the acquisition of stolen property, damage to museum collections, or violation of the rights held by someone other than your agency.
     For more information, see "Federal Property, Accountability, and Management" and "Laws, Regulations, Executive Orders, and Other Federal Requirements."

C-2 Know the condition of containers, equipment and facilities used to house your Federal museum collections

     As heritage assets, Federal museum collections are intended to be preserved in perpetuity. To maintain Federal property in the best possible condition, it must be kept stable. This means climate controlled space, equipment that provides a buffer against rapid changes, and storage supplies that do not interact with the objects they touch.
     For more information, see "Preservation" and "Discipline-Specific Standards."

C-3 Know cyclical maintenance and conservation needs of objects or groups of objects in your Federal museum collections

     For many Federal museum collections, providing stable, climate-controlled housing ensures that the collections remain stable. For other collections, however, a stable environment is not enough. Professional conservators may advise a more active approach requiring cyclical maintenance, periodic examinations, or other treatments to extend the life of especially fragile objects.
     For more information, see "Preservation" and "Discipline-Specific Standards."

C-4 Know conservation treatment needs of objects in your Federal museum collections

     The need for conservation treatments may be identified through formal inspections by professional conservators or through the watchful attention of agency custodial officers and curators.
     For more information, see "Preservation" and "Discipline-Specific Standards."

C-5 Know the values associated with objects in your Federal museum collections [historic, aesthetic, scientific, and monetary values]

     Federal accounting standards define Federal museum collections as heritage assets - Federal property valued for attributes other than monetary value.
     For more information, see "Federal Property, Accountability, and Management" and "Discipline-Specific Standards."

C-6 Know the security requirements for objects in your Federal museum collections

     While government-wide ethical standards require Federal employees to care for all Federal property, some items in Federal collections require special attention. Items with high monetary value may be especially vulnerable to theft. The same is true of items highly valued by collectors for their rarity. Rare scientific specimens and historical items with unique associations also require special attention to prevent loss or damage.
     For more information, see "Emergency Management."

C-7 Know sources of funding for managing Federal museum collection

     For more information, see "Federal Property, Accountability, and Management."

C-8 Know that it is your legal responsibility to care for collections, and therefore your financial responsibility to provide for that care

     For more information, see "Federal Property, Accountability, and Management" and "Laws, Regulations, Executive Orders, and Other Federal Requirements."