Ethical Object Disposal

In order to ensure that our collection is properly managed and accessible Canterbury Museums and Galleries takes an active approach to the ethical disposal of items that are no longer appropriate for the collection.

Between 2011 and 2017 collections staff conducted a series of Collections Reviews which revealed that there were some items that it would be beneficial to dispose of.

  • Objects from the collection in a museum cabinet.

What does it mean?

Ethical Disposal does not necessarily mean that the items selected will be thrown away, or destroyed. Priority is given to offering items to other Accredited Museums where they will fit more appropriately with the collections.

Unethical disposal, such as selling items, will jeopardise a museum’s ability to secure investment from funding bodies. Unacceptable disposal of an item may also affect working relationships with other Accredited museums, who as a result may be unwilling to loan items for special exhibitions or work on collaborative projects. Continued retention of collections within public museum collections, or the public domain is an important feature of ethical disposal.

What items might be considered for disposal?

Items that are considered for disposal fall in to the following categories;

  • The object does not fit the museum’s Collecting and Acquisition Policy and would be more suitable for another museum’s collection.
  • The object is a duplicate of one already in the collection.
  • The object has deteriorated so badly that it is unusable.
  • The object is hazardous.

Why do it?

Disposal benefits the museum and the public in several ways;

  • Better collections care.
  • Better public access to stored collections by transferring items to other museums where they will be more relevant.
  • Increased space in our stores for more focussed collecting in the future and for increased accessibility now.
  • Increased knowledge of our collections.

How are items selected?

A collections review is an integral part of collections management. The review process requires a methodical and robust approach and there are ethical guidelines which must be adhered to if the council is to retain Museums Accreditation under the Arts Council England’s Accreditation scheme, the national standard for museum management.

The collections review process gathers information about the collections by scoring each item on public appeal, historical importance, display potential, research potential, or use in educational activities and measures this against the council’s Collections Development Policy. All Accredited museums have a Collections Development Policy in order to ensure appropriate standards of care and security. This policy specifies the areas in which the service collects and its procedure for disposals. Disposal of any material needs to be based on sound curatorial justifications.

Items receiving a low overall score are recommended for the ethical disposal process.

Who was consulted?

As part of the review of the coastal museum collections consultation with the Herne Bay Museum Trust and Whitstable Community Museum Group has taken place.

For the Canterbury collections The Museums Association confirmed that the council’s Museums and Galleries volunteers were a suitable consultation group for the proposed disposals because they are a group of diverse stakeholders which is representative of the community. Several groups of volunteers were therefore consulted during the process.

As a result of these consultations some items were removed from the disposal lists.

How is the final list arrived at?

The potential disposal list is discussed, checked and challenged by three senior managers within the Museums and Galleries team and a final disposal list created. The Museums Association (MA) is then consulted to make them aware of the potential disposal. Finally, the items proposed for disposal, are approved by Canterbury City Council Councillors, the museum’s governing body.

Once the list is approved items can be offered for disposal to other museums and their availability advertised on the Museums Association website. The procedure is governed by the Museums Acquisition and Disposal Policy ‘Museums Association Code of Ethics and Disposals Toolkit‘.

The Results

4587 were ethically disposed of, mostly to a wide range of museums such as Bexley Heritage trust, Maidstone Museum, Hastings Museum, the Museum of Medicine, Dover Transport Trust and Kent Mining Museum. Some items were passed on to other heritage organisations or art practitioners so that they can be re-used for the public benefit.

As a result of the review we have updated our Collections Development Policy with a much tighter focus on gaps in the collection and our district story in order to cut down on duplication.

The main review of the bulk of our collections may have ended, but there are still areas which have not been assessed and we continue to work our way through them. Most recently this has been done for our stored art collections with a generous grant from the Esme Fairbairn Collections fund.

Further information

For more information on the process please contact the Collections and Learning Manager by emailing