Why are we carrying out a review?

The Museum of Cambridge shares the extraordinary stories of the people of Cambridgeshire through 40,000 objects. Our histories are diverse and span over 300 years. However, as our site is relatively small and our storage space is limited, we have reached the point where we can no longer accept donations.

In response, we are carrying out a collections review to ensure that the collection remains relevant and accessible for our visitors and researchers. This is an exciting time to delve into our collections and carry out in depth research on what objects we currently have and whether everything that we have still aligns with our Collections Development Policy. 

Most importantly, it will help us to better care for our collections going forward and with a refreshed understanding of what we have, we will have a clearer idea of what to continue to collect and ensure we continue to represent Cambridgeshire as best we can.  

How are Collections assessed?

Areas of the collection under review will have their significance thoroughly assessed by our Collections Team. This will involve assessing how unique and rare the objects are, along with their historical and cultural meaning for Cambridgeshire. 

The condition of objects is also important. A condition check helps us to understand whether objects can be displayed or need conservation work, along with reviewing whether we have duplicate objects or underused objects in the collection. 

This assessment is important in helping us to better understand what we have in the collection to highlight exciting new objects to put on display. 

What happens if we decide an object no longer fits in with our Collections Development Policy?

If an object doesn’t fit within our remit, for example an object which doesn’t tell a story about Cambridgeshire, it will go through our rigorous deaccessioning procedure. Any objects proposed for disposal will be presented to our Board of Trustees for a careful and thought-through final decision. 

In the event that an object is nominated for disposal we will first assess the options for rehousing it in another museum. For example, if an object fits in better with another museum’s collection, we would contact them to see if they are interested in ownership being transferred to them. This would then increase the accessibility of the object. 

We would also advertise objects on the Museum Association website under Find an Object – Museums Association, to allow other museums to acquire the object. We would also look into other community organisations and whether they may be able to use them for public benefit.

If we cannot find a new home for the object within the public domain, then we will reflect why on this might be. We would then consider other ways of recycling the object or whether it might benefit from sale through auction.  

Collections rationalisation – Collections Trust – This link provides a helpful five minute animation by the Collections Trust explaining in more detail the rationalisation process.

Why might a museum have objects that don’t fit in with their Collections Development Policy?

When museums carry out a Collections Review, they may find objects that no longer fit in their remit anymore. This can happen for various reasons such as: 

  • Policies naturally evolve and change over time.
  • The policy might not have been always rigorously followed, especially if there are staff and volunteer changes.  
  • Objects can be accepted that are later realised aren’t helpful in telling the museum’s mission statement.
  • Received unsolicited objects sent through the post or left on the museum doorstep

Below are links to further information on how other museums are approaching rationalisation:

Perspectives on disposal: Museum of London Review and Rationalisation Project | Museums and deaccessioning

Collections_Review_and_Rationalisation_at_North_Hertfordshire_Museums_Service.pdf (collectionstrust.org.uk)

Are we accepting new donations?

At the moment, we are unable to accept new donations whilst we carry out this significant project. Our staff and volunteers will be focussing on this work for the next few years and hope that by June 2024 we will be able to accept new donations.