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Hampshire Solent Museums - need assistance to clarify ownership of items in your collection?

It’s not uncommon for museums to have objects that have either been given at some time, without any clear, recorded transfer of title, or loaned, sometimes for many decades, by someone who they no longer have contact with and may even have passed away. These ‘orphan collections’ can causes huge practical and legal problems for the governing body. If someone appears out of the blue and claims to be the rightful owner of a valuable object, the museum may not be able to robustly challenge them; some ‘lenders’ have been known to use museum stores as extensions of their attics - to house their items until such a time as they decide to ‘cash them in’ and this places strain on museums’ storage and conservation resources. Copyright issues can be very difficult to resolve.

A museum that does not have a plan to get these matters in hand will struggle to meet the Accreditation standard. Recommended good practice is that museums should make efforts to establish title (e.g. through researching current owners) and should take steps to clarify ownership arrangements or to ensure that there are proper fixed term agreements in place for all loans. This activity can be very time consuming and requires an understanding of the legal issues around collections, skill and persistence.

If your museum would welcome additional capacity to address its orphan collection documentation, help is at hand. We have brokered an opportunity with the University of Portsmouth’s Masters in Corporate Governance and Law programme, whereby three postgraduate students will each volunteer in a different museum, where they will work with staff and trustees work to identify priority collections with unclear ownership or loan arrangements and then to conduct relevant research to establish title.

The Museum Development Programme will support the project by providing the students with access to good practice guidance in the areas of collections development and documentation.

If successful, your museum will have the opportunity to meet with students recommended for the project and to establish a working relationship. Your museum will be expected to demonstrate volunteer management good practice, with a volunteering agreement and appropriate induction for your student. The period of volunteering and any travel or subsistence costs would be by agreement between the museum and the student.

Whilst the deadline to express interest in this opportunity has passed, thre may still be opportunities to get involved. Contact your MDO for more information:

Governance project expression of interest form