Over the years generous donors have given Bridgton Historical Society many important documents and artifacts that help us tell Bridgton’s story. However, we also have items that do not truly fit with the scope of our mission to encourage an appreciation and understanding of our local heritage through exhibitions, programs, and research. With finite resources, we cannot provide the appropriate level of care and access, so we must dispose of, or “deaccession” them, in a responsible way.
The Board of Trustees recently approved the deaccessioning of a number of items from the collection. These include books that are not relevant to our mission or are unnecessary duplicates, unidentified photographs, and objects whose history is unknown. Whenever possible we are donating these items to other local historical societies or appropriate repositories. However, many are basically generic and would have no more relevance for another institution than they do for us. These will be sold at public auction, with the proceeds going to our restricted fund for the acquisition and care of collections.
We feel that it is important that this process be as transparent as possible, since deaccessioning can be controversial if mishandled or misunderstood. The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) points out that “Deaccessioning is a necessary and appropriate tool in collections management, and a way for a museum to refine its collections. Often times, an object does not fit the organization’s scope of collections, cannot be cared for properly or poses a hazard to staff, so it may be considered for deaccessioning.”
We approach this process carefully and thoughtfully. Our collections policy spells out a strict procedure which, in accordance with accepted ethical standards, specifies the following criteria for determining that an item should be considered for deaccessioning.
1) The item does not fall within the scope and purposes of the Bridgton Historical Society.
2) The item is an unnecessary duplicate.
3) The item is in extremely poor condition, beyond the resources of the Society to restore to a condition suitable for display or study.
4) The item poses a hazard to human health and safety or other items in the collections.
Following a lengthy and formal procedure that involves input from staff, consideration by the Collections Committee, and approval by the board of trustees, items may be disposed of by the following means:
1) Transfer to the Study Collection, which consists of items that can be used in hands-on situations
2) Placement by donation, exchange, or sale with another institution where it will be publicly accessible.
3) Public sale or auction. All proceeds from such sales go to a special fund for the acquisition and conservation of collections.