Objectives Introduction Mission statement or statement of purpose Policies Policies versus procedures Self-evaluation quiz Answers to self-evaluation quiz


At the end of this chapter you should:

  • understand the purpose of a mission statement;

  • be aware of the relationship between mission statements and policies, and between policies and procedures;

  • understand the value of policies, and why museums, libraries and galleries should formulate them;

  • know the basic components of a collections policy; and

  • be able to write a mission statement and collections policy for your museum, gallery or library.


The fundamental building blocks for good management are a clear statement of the purpose of your museum, gallery or library, and guidelines to make sure all decisions are consistent with that purpose. Statements of purpose are also known as ‘aims and objectives’ or ‘mission statements’. Guidelines are known as ‘policies’.

Mission statements and policies are important to help guide your museum, gallery or library in its development. Setting out your purpose and goals helps you to make consistent decisions. It ensures that everyone knows what you want to achieve, and that all your work is focused on this purpose.

Maintaining written statements and policies, rather than ‘keeping them in your head’, makes it easier for new people to understand the practices of the organisation, and to help apply them.

Mission statement or statement of purpose

The most important working document in your organisation is your mission statement. This sets out the broad aims of the museum, gallery or library. All organisations need a clear identity, with stated aims understood by the membership and by those who work for the organisation, whether in paid or unpaid roles.

For an incorporated body, this statement of purpose is usually expressed in its Articles of Association. For a municipal museum, the local government authority’s corporate plan will generally encompass it in terms of the organisational structure within which the museum operates.

A statement of purpose (also known as a mission statement) describes the reasons for having a museum in terms of who it is there to serve, and how it will do it. Ideally, this mission statement should be only one or two sentences. All policy development flows from this statement, and it should be the point of reference against which any policy decision is measured.

The following example of a mission statement was reproduced from the publication What’s in your museum? a handbook on museum registration methods for local museums (3rd edition), compiled by the History Trust of South Australia and published by the University of Canberra.

The aim of the Axel Stenross Maritime Museum is to develop the existing residence and workshop of the late Axel Alfred Stenross into a Maritime Museum; foster active interest in the preservation of the tools, workshops and other relics formerly owned by the late Axel Alfred Stenross; and generally foster a public interest in the maritime history of the Port Lincoln area.


Museums are long-term operations which are supposed to last forever. While in reality this may

The result of not having a collection management policy!

not be achieved, museums are certainly expected to last longer than a single human lifetime. For a museum to continue long after we are gone, guidelines—commonly known as policies—must be developed.

Policies stem directly from mission statements and are developed to provide long-term frameworks for decision-making. They exist at all levels. National policies like the National Conservation and Preservation Policy for Movable Cultural Heritage help set the agenda for thinking about issues in conservation. Organisational policies set the agenda for the operations of your museum, gallery or library.

Uses for policies

Written policies have practical purposes in museums. They clarify the museum’s views on issues, and can be referred to when decisions on those issues have to be made. This makes the operation of the museum easier, and makes decisions more consistent. Written policies make it easier to convince outside bodies that you have thought about your goals, and know where you are headed. This can be useful when applying for assistance, dealing with local councils, or meeting with industry.

In addition, every object your museum, gallery or library acquires has associated costs. In order to manage both the cost and the object, you must have a clear idea of why you want an item; whether it is important enough to obtain; what you will do with it after you acquire it; and the implications of handling and storing the item in terms of your funds, resources and time. Policies which clarify these issues can help you manage and contain your costs.

A collections policy

Many different aspects of museums, galleries and libraries can be covered by policies. Large organisations may have separate policies to cover such issues as: acquisitions, research, sponsorship, education, volunteers, cultural diversity, interpretation and exhibitions; collection management and conservation; and access to or the return of indigenous material, secret or sacred objects and/or human remains. Smaller organisations often develop a single document which incorporates the fundamental policies of the museum or gallery. This document is referred to a ‘collections policy’.

Collections policies include:

  • a mission statement setting out the purpose of the museum or gallery;
  • an acquisition policy stating what the museum intends to collect, and defining the scope of the collection, how the material will be used, and the criteria for determining significance when acquiring material; and
  • a collection management policy setting out the principles of how the museum will manage what it acquires, addressing all the issues relating to the care and maintenance of the collection, including guidelines for dealing with documentation, loans, conservation and care, storage and security, and deaccession and disposal.

These elements are the core of a collections policy; however, individual policies may include other types of material. These can be policy statements on special issues of importance, or references to other documents such as disaster plans, insurance policies or procedure manuals. Often policies include definitions of terms used in the document, or the reason why a policy is needed on an issue. In some areas in Australia, the term ‘collection management policy’ is used to encompass all these policy elements.

Policies versus procedures

Policy statements set out the broad framework for development. They do not spell out the processes used to achieve the development. This is the task of procedures.

Procedures are step-by-step instructions on how to perform specific tasks. They are guided by policies, and are the result of implementing policies and plans. Written procedures document what is actually done in an area. They take time to write down; and this often prevents small museums with limited resources from developing manuals on procedure. However, written procedures introduce a consistency into operating practices and reduce the risk of important steps being overlooked. They are especially useful if a number of staff or volunteers perform the same task. In the long run, they will save time and improve operations.

Procedures are required in any part of a museum, gallery or library where tasks are repeated regularly. They are most important in areas with complex sequences of tasks, for example, in collection documentation and conservation practices. reCollections is an example of a range of conservation procedures. The Management Practices chapter in this volume deals with the processes involved in managing collections, and provides advice on where to find assistance on specific procedures.

If you have a problem relating to good management practices for the storage or display of objects, contact a conservator. Conservators can offer advice and practical solutions.


Yackandandah and District Historical Society Inc.

1. The Mission Statement

We aim to provide a place where local information and objects can be collected and stored as a means by which that information and those objects can be looked after and shared.

2. Acquisitions

The Bank of Victoria Museum and Manager’s Residence is now an established Museum, furnished with banking and domestic furniture relevant to the buildings and their community from 1858 to 1893, and to later tailoring uses of the buildings to 1969. A research collection of information and photographs is also established, also relevant to the town and communities from 1852 to the present.

A small collection also exists of objects pertinent to the business of the town, from 1852 to the 1930s.

2a. We shall continue to enhance the collection with:

2a.1  Objects by gift or purchase only, unless for temporary display; donations with conditions will not be accepted;

2a.2  Objects and information concerning the Bank of Victoria in Yackandandah 1860 to 1893

2a.3  Domestic furnishings of the 19th century relevant to the buildings;

2a.4  Objects and information relevant to the uses of the building by the Haig family 1893–1969;

2a.5  Information and photographs relevant to the history of the town to the present day, with

particular reference to gold, family history and local business;

2a.6  Oral and written histories of local relevance.

2b. Collection criteria:

2b.1  The accepted item must be relevant to the collection.

2b.2  Documentation and provenance must be available.

2b.3  The condition of the item must be reasonable.

2b.4  Storage and display conditions must be suitable to the item.

2b.5  Conditional terms will not be accepted.

2b.6  Duplicates will not be accepted unless with particular relevant provenance.

2b.7  The donor must demonstrate clear legal title.

2b.8  All items are available for research or viewing; appointments may be made to view items not readily accessible or fragile.

3. Documentation

Staff members who are directly involved and trained in the management of the collection will fully document the process of acquiring an item into the collection. All pro-formas are kept in the administration files.

  1. 3.1  A donor form will be completed for each object, if appropriate.

  2. 3.2  Each item will be considered by the committee before being accepted.

  3. 3.3  On acceptance, the signed donor form copy, with letter of acknowledgment, will be sent to the donor.

3.3a If not accepted, the item is to be returned to the donor, personally if possible, with written explanation and thanks.

  1. 3.4  Purchased items begin at this point.

  2. 3.5  On obtaining title to the item, an accession entry is made, the item given a number, identified, and any conservation work or protection done. A photograph may be taken, or copy made.

  3. 3.6  Full detail is then entered on a catalogue sheet.

  4. 3.7  The item is then either stored or displayed.

  5. 3.8  Indexing, copying, or use of information from the catalogue may be done.

4. Loans

4.1  Short-term loans will apply in order to further the intent of the mission statement.

4.2  Inward and outward loan forms are held in the files.

4.3  Time limits are to be monitored.

4a Inward loans

4a.1  Short-term inward loans will be accepted for temporary display.

4a.2  Completed loan forms will be kept under the file of the temporary display.

4a.3  Documents and photographs offered for copying and return, if appropriate, may be accepted.

Care must be taken that details are correct.

4a.4  Time limits are agreed upon by both the museum and the owner.

4a.5  Particular care will be taken with items not owned by the museum.

4b Outward loans

4b.1  Each request for an outward loan will be considered by the committee.

4b.2  Time limits will be agreed upon by both the museum and the borrower.

4b.3  Conditions of display and transport will be closely monitored.

4b.4  The borrower will not modify, repair nor adapt any item loaned.

5. Storage and conservation

5.1  Storage and display restrictions must be considered before acceptance of an item.

5.2  Upgrading storage and conservation work areas is a high priority (a new building is planned. Sponsorships are being currently sought to finance the project).

5.3  Temporary storage to be organised, not available to the public, to be the best we can do (not on the floor, nor piled high, nor inaccessible).

5.4  Staff and visitors to be trained in the correct handling of items. Particular staff are trained in the correct handling for processing of items.

5.5  Housekeeping will be efficient and regular. This will include checking for pests and atmospheric deterioration. Pest control is to be regular.

5.6  Light and climatic conditions will be monitored and regulated.

5.7  Archival quality materials will be used for conservation, preservation and storage.

5.8  A copy of the accession register, and where possible, up-to-date catalogue sheets, will be kept separately.

6. Deaccessioning may occur when:

6.1 The object is clearly owned by the Society and:

  1. 6.1.1  the object is of no further relevance or use to the purposes of the collection;

6.1.2  the object is damaged beyond repair;

6.1.3  the object has been stolen with no hope of return;

6.1.4  the museum has identical objects, with identical provenance;

6.1.5  the object in question has no provenance nor known local connection;

6.1.6  the object is not within policy;

6.1.7  there is a reasonable request for return from the donor or family.

6.2 Disposal may be by:

6.2.1  return to donor;

6.2.2  exchange, gift or sale to another museum or institution;

6.2.3  use for hands-on in the museum or outside;

6.2.4  public tender or sale;

6.2.5  destruction or recycling.

7. Review.

This Policy will be reviewed at the Annual General Meeting.

Courtesy of Museums Australia Inc. Victoria, reproduced with permission of the Yackandandah and District Historical Society. Inc


City of Unley Museum

Acquisition Policy

Each of the following criteria should be met before an item is acquired as part of the collection.

1.  It must have a distinctive and verifiable connection with the local area.

This may include the following:

  • designed locally
  • manufactured locally
  • commonly used locally
  • valued by sections of the Unley community for social, economic, cultural, spiritual or religious reasons associated with important themes in Unley’s history.

2  It should be in good condition or should be able to be conserved or restored to good consition.

3  It can be readily stored and cared for by the Museum.

4  It is an unconditional donation or purchase and the person donating the item has valid and/or legal title to it.

5  Duplicates will only by acquired in the case of light sensitive materials that require changeovers during display and where duplicates assist in the interpretation of the items.

6  In the case of photographs, if the donor is copyright owner, permission should be sought for the transfer of copyright ownership to the Museum.

NOTE: Items may also be collected by the Museum for use in ‘hands on’ activities or as props for displays if they do not meet the above criteria (they must always comply with point 4).

Self-evaluation quiz

Question 1.

A mission statement should be:

a) ideally only one or two sentences long;

b) a point of reference against which policy decisions can be measured;

c) understood and accepted by all members, employees and volunteers of the organisation;

d) a statement of purpose clearly setting out the aims of the organisation;

e) all of the above.


Question 2.

How can policies be used in practical ways to help museums, galleries and libraries operate more easily?


Question 3

Which of the following statements are true?

a)  Many different aspects of an organisation can be guided by policy statements.

b)  Mission statements, acquisition policies and collection management policies are three basic policy documents which should be maintained by all museums.

c)  An acquisition policy covers what an organisation intends to collect and how it defines significant material.

d)  A collection management policy addresses issues related to the care and maintenance of a collection.


Question 4.

How do policies differ from procedures?

Answers to self-evaluation quiz

Question 1.

Answer: e).

Question 2.

Answer: Policies ensure that consistent decisions are made about museum operations. They can be cited to back-up decisions on controversial issues. They can be used to convince funding bodies, councils and others that you know where you are heading. They can help manage your resources by guiding what goes into and comes out of your collection.

Question 3.

Answer: All the statements are true.

Question 4.

Answer: Policies provide a framework and guidelines that help an organisation reach its goals. Procedures are the step-by-step activities which implement policies.