Medium 9781442267855

Collections Vol 9 N2

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"Collections: A Journal for Museum and Archives Professionals" is a multi-disciplinary peer-reviewed journal dedicated to the discussion of all aspects of handling, preserving, researching, and organizing collections. Curators, archivists, collections managers, preparators, registrars, educators, students, and others contribute.

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11 Articles

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From the Guest Editors

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Greg Lambousy and Katherine Hall Burlison

At the Louisiana State Museum (LSM), we recently conducted a two-year loan resolution project. Our old, unresolved loans stretched back to the beginnings of the institution in 1906. From that early period and all the way up to the late 1960s, there was often very little in the way of record keeping for incoming loans and also a lack of consistent loan policy. Consequently, by the year 2006, the LSM had over 10,000 unresolved loans spanning the 100-year history.

The work that our team of loan resolution specialists conducted on this massive project led to the idea for this journal issue. Our experience, and surely that of specialists worldwide, indicated that unresolved loans are almost impossible to avoid, since a lender may become deceased during a loan term or, if the loan is from an organization, it may change leadership or cease to exist. Therefore, the presence of unresolved loans knows no boundaries: from the most fastidious and well-funded museums to the smallest of municipal institutions.

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Elephants Never Forget, but Museums Do Investigating Under-documented Objects in Museum Collections

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Meghan S. Mulkerin

M.A., Collections Specialist Contractor, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Anthropology, MRC 112 PO Box 37012, Washington, D.C. 20013-7012; MulkerinM@si.edu

Abstract This article addresses the urgent need for better documentation in museum collections. The stories behind museum objects are being lost every day, as books go out of print and staff members retire; while others never had their story told at all. A step-by-step guide to researching undocumented objects in museum collections is included, with a detailed example using a Greek lekythos in the collections of the National Museum of Natural History. The obstacles to object-level research activities to improve catalog information are discussed. I conclude that documentation is an urgent duty that cannot be kept waiting or we risk complete loss of context. Our museums’ leadership and strategic priorities need transformation in order to make storytelling and access a priority. All staff need to be involved with documentation, and should be empowered to add information to object records. We need to remove the barrier to access, and involve the community in crowd-sourcing history.

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Problems, Solutions, and Policy Choices in Resolving Old Artifact Loans

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David A. Dalia

Attorney at Law, 830 Union Street, Suite 302, New Orleans, L.A. 70112; phone: 504-524-5541; davidadalia@gmail.com

Abstract This article examines practical problems encountered in resolving old loans, and will explore a variety of possible approaches and solutions. Common problems encountered by museum curators in this area include documenting and determining loan status versus donation status, and dealing with remote heirs in a fair and logical manner, with a minimum burden on the heirs or on the museum. Other problems can include determination of accurate family trees, determination of whether 100% of the heirs have been identified, determining intestacy status, and legal strategies for dealing with absent heirs such as the appointment of curators for absent heirs, and the viability of hold harmless clauses.

Sometimes the threshold determination itself, of loan status versus donation status, is “shrouded in the mists of time,” so to speak. Back in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, some record keeping was much more informal, irregular, and inconsistent. Problems arise in the present day where a claimant heir, or a group of heirs or legatees (by will) make a claim against a backdrop of either inconsistent information, or no information.

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The Louisiana State Museum’s Loan Resolution Project History, Methodology, and Results

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Katherine Hall Burlison

Curator of Decorative Arts, Louisiana State Museum, 751 Chartres St, New Orleans, LA 70116; phone: 504-568-5463; email:kburlison@crt.la.gov

Abstract A team of dedicated staff recently completed a two-year project that resolved over 7,000 loans at the Louisiana State Museum. These included loans that had been left in the museum’s care for long periods of time and had never been returned or reclaimed; loans whose lenders had passed away and that had never been claimed by heirs; or institutional loans from institutions that no longer exist. Several factors came into play including a lack of proper documentation going back to the museum’s founding over 100 years ago, changes in accessioning practices, and collections moves. This article will discuss the history of the various issues related to long-term loans at the museum, the methodology of the project, and some results and lessons other museums and archives professionals might take away from our experience.

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Old Loans, Found in Collections and Inventories, Oh My Cultural Institutions and the Missouri Museum Property Act

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Linda Eikmeier Endersby

Director, Missouri State Museum, Jefferson City, MO; phone: 573-751-2854; email: Linda.Endersby@dnr.mo.gov

Abstract Cultural institutions have struggled for decades with the issues of “old loan” and “found in collection” objects. During the 1980s, the museum profession in several states began to pass legislation to address the questions of legal title to these items. In 1991, Missouri passed the ”Museum Property Act” (Chapter 184 Mo. Rev. Stat.) This article details that law, examples of its use in practice and efforts to amend the law as recently as 2012. Several specific illustrations come from the history and operation of the Missouri State Museum, which is also authorized by Chapter 184. The State Museum began a complete collections inventory in 2006 and came across several loaned and found in collection objects that fall under the Act. Using these examples and others from peer institutions, this article illustrates successes and challenges in the practical application of the law, including changing methods of communication, costs of the process and the need for inventories.

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Abandoned Property Laws ... An Important Collections Management Tool

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VivianLea Solek

Library Services Assistant (Temporary), Manuscripts & Archives, Yale University Library, 580 Wheeler Rd., Monroe, CT 06468; phone: 203-308-0279; email: vlsolek50@gmail.com

Abstract On September 30, 2010, Connecticut began its journey to the passage of an Abandoned Property/Old Loan Law. On this day, Kendall F. Wiggin, Connecticut State Librarian; Barbara Austen, Florence M. Crofut Archivist, Connecticut Historical Society; Dianne Lee, Collections Manager, Connecticut Historical Society; and I met for the first time. We discussed the need for the legislation, how we might tackle the work and planned for our next meeting. From this humble beginning, we undertook a journey that culminated on June 15, 2012, when history was made for Connecticut's museums, libraries and archives. On this day, Governor Dannel Malloy signed Public Act 12-171 into law. While it is not a perfect example of abandoned property/old loan legislation, it is an effective tool that was needed badly by Connecticut’s cultural institutions. With it, they can now proceed to clear titles to abandoned property and old loans following best practices and being more effective stewards of our shared cultural heritage.

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A Case Study in Dealing with Old Loans from the Kentucky Historical Society

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Deborah Rose Van Horn

Registrar, Kentucky Historical Society, 100 W. Broadway, Frankfort, KY 40601; phone: 502-564-1792 x4418; email: Deborah. VanHorn@ky.gov

Abstract Recently, the Kentucky Historical Society (KHS) went through a database migration that created unforeseen data problems. During the migration, many of the accession records were lost or “merged” due to the existence of a double numbering system. This numbering system was created when the Kentucky Military History Museum (KMHM) and its collections were treated as a separate museum from the 1970s–1990s. Due to these data problems, KHS has undertaken a project to process the files, record by record, and to re-enter the accession information for accuracy purposes. During this process, several old loans were discovered. This article will focus on the double numbering issue and the old loans discovered in the KHS and KMHM accession files. The KHS is currently employing several means to resolve these issues, including contacting the owners, attempting to contact any potential heirs, and trying to obtain ownership through the Kentucky laws regarding old loans in museums. As evidenced in the case studies presented here, it’s possible to find the problem records in accession/loan files and solve them!

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Deaccessioning in Museums Evaluating Legal, Ethical and Practical Dilemmas

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Elizabeth Varner

National Art Museum of Sport, Indianapolis, IN; email: elizabeth.c.varner@gmail.com

Abstract One of the paradoxes of deaccessioning is the need to dispose of tangible cultural heritage without violating the donors’ or public’s trust. As the economy has declined, precipitating a need for museums to reevaluate and consolidate their collections, misinformation, confusion and public hostility towards deaccessioning has persisted. While practitioners and scholars have shown a great deal of interest in the ethical dilemmas inherent in deaccessioning, the need for deaccessioning and the practicalities and legalities of deaccessioning have been largely ignored.

Refuting a blanket prohibition or bias against deaccessioning, this article highlights the legal, ethical and practical considerations of deaccessioning including a list of relevant regulations and best practices. When discussing legal considerations, this article will review restrictions on disposal, authorization to deaccession, fiduciary duties implicated by deaccessioning and standing to sue. Under ethical considerations, this article will analyze relevant provisions from the AAM, AAMDs, AASLH and ICOM regarding ethical considerations as well as highlight key issues in the debate. Finally, this article will list the best practices for deaccessioning including the importance of unrestricted title to the work before sale, proper authority to approve deaccessioning, documentation needed, appropriate method, notification to donor and the use of proceeds.

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Notes from the Field: Nonexistent Documentation

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Notes from the Field

Anne T. Lane

Curatorial Specialist, Fine Art Museum, Western Carolina University, 199 Centennial Drive, Cullowhee NC 28723; phone: 828-227-1550; email: atlane@email.wcu.edu

So many museums these days are struggling to bring their institutions up to industry standards that seem to get ever more stringent. Not only that, public scrutiny of curatorial misdeeds gets plastered across the newspapers to the horror of museum staff around the world. Yet many museums were not even started with the intention of becoming a museum at all - people just kept giving them stuff! Historical objects, archival collections of thousands of photographs and documents, works of art, mounted trophy heads, scientific equipment, you name it. Nobody knew that records of the transfer of title and rights would be so vital, so they either weren’t executed or they weren’t retained over the years. Sometimes they perished in flood or mold or fire. Sometimes the governing authority over the museum or archive or historical society didn’t have a clue.

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Bibliography: Resolving Old Loans

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Anna Heineman

Independent Scholar; email: anna.m.heineman@gmail.com

The articles and books in the bibliography complied below can hopefully help museum collections, both large and small, ameliorate the issue of old loans. As many of the scholars note, the primary issue is not necessarily the expired loan. The point at stake is that museums have a legal responsibility to care for all its objects, and it must return those not in its collection to the rightful owner after the lending time is finished. Old loans consume needed storage space, staff time, and monetary resources.

Some of the sources below provide protocol for registrars and other museum staff officials to implement. Other scholars include statues for individual states that could help museums who are burdened with old loans, since some states address old loan laws differently. Still others address the ethical aspects of keeping or “deaccessioning” works that were not the museum’s objects in the first place. All the articles stress the importance of maintaining strong recordkeeping, which keeps both the collection, and the museum’s reputation with the public, in good standing.

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Author Biographies

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Katherine Hall Burlison, Curator of Decorative Arts at the Louisiana State Museum, holds a B.A. from the University of Virginia and an M.A. in the history of the decorative arts, design and culture from the Bard Graduate Center in New York. From 2008 to 2009, Katie supervised the Louisiana State Museum’s loan resolution project, which she discusses in this issue. Her specialties include eighteenth- and nineteenth-century French furniture, and Louisiana decorative arts, especially furniture, silver and Newcomb pottery. She curated The Palm, the Pine, and the Cypress: Newcomb Pottery of New Orleans, which opened in September 2012. In addition to her curatorial experience, Katie has worked in the retail art and antiques business and as an assistant editor at Art & Antiques magazine.

David A. Dalia graduated cum laude from Tulane Law School in 1982, and was admitted to practice on October 16, 1982. After a busy clerkship with three State District Court judges, Mr. Dalia became an Assistant Attorney General, serving in the Attorney General’s office under both Attorneys General William J. Guste, Jr. and Richard P. Ieyoub. While at the Louisiana Attorney General’s office, Mr. Dalia prosecuted and defended a wide variety of state and federal litigation, including constitutional law, construction disputes, federal civil rights, and copyright infringement litigation on behalf of the State of Louisiana. While at the Attorney General’s office, Mr. Dalia represented the Louisiana State Museum in all legal matters involving the State Museum except for insurance defense matters. Mr. Dalia also regularly attended the national ALI-ABA “Legal Problems of Museum Administration” continuing legal education conference for many years, and presents annually at the Cutting Edge Entertainment Law Continuing Legal Education Conference in New Orleans.

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