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Museum Collection Terms

There are lots of words associated with a museum’s collection. If you’ve ever wondered about a museum collection term, here is your answer!

Accession. The process of taking an item into the permanent collection.

Accession Number. A three-part numbering system to identify an artifact which consists of the year of the donation, the donor’s number, and the individual object number. For example, 2012.34.5 means it is the 5th item in the donation given by the 34th donor in the year 2012.

Acid Free. Materials labeled “acid free” or “archival” are safe for curators, collection managers and archivists to use when storing artifacts.

Collecting Scope. A Collecting Scope is a more narrowly-focused document that builds upon the Collections Policy. After identifying gaps in the collection, a museum writes a Collecting Scope to guide the acquisition of new artifacts. It is like a “wish list” for the permanent collection.

Collections Policy. This document states the guidelines the museum will follow when collecting artifacts for the permanent collection. The Collections Policy should also establish general guidelines for what is not acceptable to for the permanent collection.

Conservation. Treatment to repair or clean an artifact that is performed by a trained conservator, usually one who specializes in a specific type of object (furniture, paper, textiles, etc.).

Deaccession. The formal process of removing an item from the collection. A specific reason must be given, such as the item lacks physical integrity or no longer fits within the museum’s mission. Acceptable reasons for deaccesioning an artifact should be outlined in the Collections Policy.

Deed of Gift. The document that legally transfers ownership from the donor to the museum.

Hygrothermograph. A monitoring device that records temperature and humidity conditions. They can be placed in storage areas, exhibition galleries or inside cases or shipping crates.

Mission Statement. A statement that provides guidelines for the museums collection, exhibition and education activities.

Preservation. Work focused on preventing the destruction or deterioration of historic materials including houses, artifacts and archival works.

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