Undocumented Property and Objects Found in Collections Policy
Occasionally objects are found in the collections whose ownership cannot be determined. The policy and procedures in this section help the Museum deal with undocumented objects in a reasonable and fair manner. They allow the Museum to use objects as it would its own collections or to dispose of objects that meet the criteria for deaccession in accordance with the Museum’s Deaccession Policy and the Illinois Compiled Statutes Museum Disposition of Property Act 765 ILCS 1033.
Responsibility for Handling Undocumented Property and Objects Found in Collections
The Director is ultimately responsible for the disposition of undocumented property and objects found in the Collections. The Registrar is the primary Registration staff responsible for the legal status and disposition of undocumented property and objects found in the Collections. The Assistant Registrar for Collections plays a key role in identifying, researching, documenting and implementing recommendations regarding such property. The Assistant Registrar for Acquisitions assists as needed.
Identifying Undocumented Property and Objects Found in Collections
Objects found in collections missing an incoming or accession number or whose number cannot readily be identified are assigned an incoming number as soon as possible.
Research and Report
The Registrar, Assistant Registrar for Collections, or staff under the direction of the Registrar or Assistant Registrar for Collections will research undocumented objects found in collections to determine the original accession number. They will document the results of such research as clearly and concisely as possible in a written report that is submitted to the Registrar or Assistant Registrar for Collections.The written report includes research methods used to recover the original accession number and any suggestion for resolving the issue.
The Assistant Registrar for Collections reviews reports and implements resolutions for problems that are clear-cut and easily articulated. The Registrar reviews reports offering resolutions to problems that are complicated or unclear. The Registrar or Assistant Registrar for Collections may edit the report, make suggestions for additional research, or recommend a different course of action as necessary.
A final version of the report and course of action as approved by the Registrar or Assistant Registrar for Collections is entered into the objects’ database records and a physical copy is filed in the appropriate Object Files and/or Source/Donor Files. In the case of objects whose original source is never identified, and/or objects that are not assigned an accession number other than an incoming number, the reports are also filed in a Deaccession, Decline or Consumable files attached to the Acquisition Committee Recommendations.
Results: Accession Number Found
If the original accession number of the object can be determined with some degree of certainty and to the satisfaction of the Registrar or Assistant Registrar for Collections, then the object will be reassigned its original accession number.
Results: Accession Number Not Found
If the donor and year of donation but not the individual accession number can be ascertained to the satisfaction of the Registrar or Assistant Registrar for Collections, the object will be assigned the next available number within that accession group.
The Registrar or Assistant Registrar for Collections may decide to do one of two things if the original accession number of the object cannot be identified, and it is demonstrated in the report that every available means for identifying the number has been exhausted.
- For objects that appear to have been previously treated as part of the collection and that in the opinion of the Registrar or Assistant Registrar for Collections are consistent with the Museum’s current collecting plan and criteria for acquisition, the Registrar or Assistant Registrar for Collections may approve assigning an accession number without prior approval from the Acquisition Committee. Such objects are assigned the next available accession number within a designated group lot number (such as 2005.05) for all objects found without numbers within a given year. Objects found in other collections, such as the Documentary Multimedia Collection or Teaching Collection, are assigned the next available accession number within that collection.
- For objects for which there is some question about which collection they belong to or that may not be consistent with the collecting plan or the criteria for acquisition, the Registrar may decide to direct the object to the Acquisition Committee for review; the Committee may either accept it into one of the Museum collections or deaccession it in accordance with the Illinois Compiled Statutes Museum Disposition of Property Act 765 ILCS 1033.
Deaccessioning Undocumented Property and Objects Found in Collections
If the Acquisition Committee decides to deaccession an object and the owner of the object is unknown, the Museum must be able to document that the object has been in its care for a minimum of seven years before the Museum becomes the owner of the property and according to Illinois statute can legally deaccession it.
Property in the possession of a museum for which the museum does not know the owner or have any reasonable means of determining the owner becomes the property of the museum if no person has claimed the property within 7 years after the museum can document possession of the property. Illinois Compiled Statutes Museum Disposition of Property Act 765 ILCS 1033, Sec. 35
Institutional memory of the object should be documented in writing and may be used to demonstrate the history of the Museum’s ownership of the object.
If the documentation shows that an object’s presence in the Museum has been less than seven years, it may be reviewed by the Acquisition Committee for deaccessioning, and the Committee’s recommendations recorded. However, regardless of Committee’s recommendation, the Museum must hold the object until the seven-year period is completed before deaccessioning it.
If immediate conservation action or disposal of undocumented objects is required to protect the objects themselves, other objects in the Museum collection, or if they have become a hazard to health and safety, the statutes make allowances for immediate action; see Illinois Compiled Statutes Museum Disposition of Property Act 765 ILCS 1033, Sec. 20.
If the object is to be deaccessioned and it is believed to have been a loan; see the Abandoned Property and Unclaimed Loan Policy.