Peter Hirtle writes
There is a proposed new law making its way through the New York State legislature that would regulate how museums deaccession items in their collections. While ostensibly about museums, the law could have a major impact on how libraries function. All libraries and historical societies in NY should write to the legislation’s sponsors and ask that passage be delayed until definitions are clarified.
The bills are A06959 (introduced by Richard L. Brodsky) and its identical counterpart S04584 (introduced by José M. Serrano). They would govern how museums acquire and dispose of objects. You can learn more from a hearing on the topic found here.
The proposal has generated some discussion and concern within the museum community (see, for example, the letter from the Art Law Committee of the New York City Bar or the posts on the bill in the Art Law blog). My concern is with its potential impact on libraries and archives. The problem is that while the bill discusses the issue surrounding collecting in museums, it defines museums so broadly that most libraries and archives would fall under its sway. Here is the definition:
“MUSEUM” means any institution having collecting as a stated purpose in its charter, certificate of incorporation, or other organizing documents, or owning or holding collections, or intending to own or hold collections that is a governmental entity, education corporation, not-for-profit corporation, or charitable trust.
Since almost every library in the state owns or holds collections, for the purposes of the law they would be museums. The law would sharply limit their ability to dispose of any material (other than returning it to the donor). Everything the library or archives gets would have to be accessioned before it could be discarded. And instead of throwing unwanted items into the trash or putting them in the local library book sale, a library would first have to offer the material to other “museums” in New York state and then the rest of the country. Proceeds from any sale could only be used to support further acquisitions.
I appreciate the NY efforts to prevent damagages to cultural heritage by deaccessioning historical collections. If real damages for the cultural heritage could prevented by the law I woould accept some minor disadvantages i.e. that deaccessioning which makes sense is’nt possible.
Museums, libraries and archives are memory institutions. They should preserve the items they own for the posterity.
For damages by deaccessioning historical collections see