NMDC response to Museums Association Code of Ethics consultation

Proposed changes to the Museums Association Code of Ethics
An NMDC response,
June 2007

The National Museum Directors’ Conference (NMDC) welcomes the proposed reforms to the Museums Association Code of Ethics in recognition that disposal may sometimes be necessary to ensure the sustainability of the museum collections.

NMDC supports the view that collections are not held for the benefit of the individual institutions, but for the public as a whole. Museums should therefore be willing to dispose of objects when this will:

  • better ensure their preservation;
  • ensure that they are more widely used and enjoyed;
  • place them in a context where they are more valued and better understood.

Conditions of financially-motivated disposal
NMDC also recognises that financially motivated disposal must, in some cases, be permissible. Sale should be allowed if, as detailed in the proposed changes to the Code of Ethics (paragraph 6.11), the item falls outside the museum’s core collection and the income generated will enable significant long-term improvements to the collection. But NMDC believes that the third condition for financially motivated sale may be unnecessarily prohibitive.

The proposed wording: ‘all other sources of possible funding for the desired significant long-term improvements have been explored’ should be amended to either omit the word ‘all’ or to include the phrase ‘within reason’. Such an amendment would ensure that this clause cannot be interpreted too literally by opponents to the sale, so presenting an unhelpful block to reasonable proposals for disposal.

Disposal Toolkit
We particularly welcome the proposal to produce a Museums Association Disposal Toolkit. Disposal is a complex issue and a correct understanding of what is and what is acceptable and sensible is crucial for effective collections management.  We are also keen to see changes to the process of advertising objects for disposal, in particular the proposal to create a disposal notice board on the Museums Association’s website. This would be an improvement on the current method of advertising disposals by placing notices in Museums Journal.

Further detail of the NMDC position on disposal is set out in, Too Much Stuff: Disposal for museums (NMDC, 2003) which is available to download from our website.