Thesis Title: Developing transparency within ethical collections disposal
Main research question:
How can UK museums develop stakeholder and public involvement within a transparent disposals practice, and why is this a necessary development?
A museum’s core purpose has long been defined as the preservation of objects into perpetuity for society; historical integrity of and public access to collections are fundamental to the function of museums. The permanent removal of objects from museum collections through disposal is therefore contentious both for the public and museum professionals. However with the recent shift towards social responsibility most UK professionals regard disposal as an ethically responsible practice to develop collections that meet the core needs of a museum’s users. Recent evidence suggests such disposal practice is increasing but its frequency and impact is unrecorded by regulating bodies. This is a timely topic as economic and political pressures force museums to remodel their core purpose and functions.
The UK museum sector emphasises the need for equality between professionals and users by sharing collections knowledge, interpretation and use. This power balance is tested by the disposal of publically-owned objects to enable individual museum sustainability. While the Museums Association has clear guidelines for ethical disposal, due to a small number of financially-motivated disposals undertaken without following due process, disposal is often portrayed as a breach of public trust or a means of financial gain. Some museums are not transparent concerning disposal decisions; civic discourse and scholarly analysis on disposal have suffered. Communication with publics and stakeholders, advocated as an essential element for best practice disposals, is often limited in its scope and impact within the disposals process.
What factors affect the choice and success of communication mode within the disposal process?
In what ways are institutions and practitioners working towards transparency of practice?
How might other museum practitioners alter their practices to enable increased communication with stakeholders and publics?
Supervisors and Institution(s):
Lead supervisor - Dr Janet Marstine, School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester
Second supervisor - Prof Janet Ulph, School of Law, University of Leicester
Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities:
I am a mid-career museum professional and my research topic has stemmed directly from my professional experience. I am studying part time whilst continuing my role as Assistant Curator at Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter, where I lead the museum's disposals process. I actively work with the museum and heritage sector to advocate change and developing practice, through conversation and training.
2016: Associateship of the Museums Association (AMA)
2016: Panel speaker: 'Closing and Disposing: Museum ethics in a time of crisis', Museums Association conference
2016 to date: pre-publication peer reviewer for an international publisher
2016 to date: peer-reviewer for an international academic journal
2016 to date: editor of Museological Review peer-review journal