Wednesday, December 16, 2009

DEACCESSION: Values roulette


The New Criterion:
Deaccession roulette, Hilton Kramer, 11 August 2009 "The word deaccession is one of those bureaucratic coinages whose chief purpose is verbal obfuscation. If a museum director tells you he has “deaccessioned” eighteen Cézannes, you think for a second, “Oh, that’s nice” while you wonder exactly how to conjugate the verb “to deaccess.” What would happen if museum directors were more direct? Suppose, for example, that instead of saying “I have deaccessioned eighteen Cézannes” he spoke in plain English and said: “I have looted my collection of eighteen Cézannes in order to sell them and raise money to cover the budget shortfall I created by imprudent management.” It sounds rather different, doesn’t it?.... Read more online

Research libraries face a paradigm shift from a world where investigators begin their research at 'the library', relying upon printed materials for the most part, to a predominantly 'digitised world' where the researcher's first port of call is the Internet. To be effective, managing the in between period, as libraries struggle to reimagine themselves as "collaborative learning, research, and knowledge creation centers", it must be done via networking. Some reading online

In the context of this paradigm shift, research needs to be done and partnerships need to be built with libraries, museums and other institutions interested in the management of cultural resources to establish best collaborative and cooperative approaches. Clearly this impacts upon museum deaccession policies and it likewise points to the need for rolling reviews – siloed status quoism was never credible but it has lost any credibility it may have claimed for itself.

The qualifications of valuers and the veracity of valuations needs to be clear and independently evaluated. For example 'material' donated under the "Gifts to the Nation" program to museums the Australian Tax Office rules for tax deductibility demand that the valuer must be accredited. It would be reasonable to assert the same rule in any museum –large, small, regional, local whatever.

It is not appropriate for a museum employee to simply determine a monetary value of material to be deaccessed – minimal or otherwise. It may however be appropriate for them to report on its significance – cultural, scientific, whatever – and have that peer reviewed in various contexts during a cooling-off period.

The focus on monetary value in museums is in almost all cases totally inappropriate given that the significance is generally dependant upon an object's cultural cargo and this does not always translate into a monetary value – both cultural value and monetary value are subjective.

"The cynic knows the price of everything
and the value of nothing."
- Oscar Wilde

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