Museums suffer from neglect

June 4, 1999

An official survey of 38 university museum collections in the South- east region has expressed deep concern over standards of care.

The revolution in standards of care that has dominated the management of collections in most

museums over recent decades had "very little" impact on the major-

ity of them, warns the study.

It adds: "In the most extreme cases, we have seen collections deteriorate dramatically over the past few years. Removals have led to disposals, to new storage in

inappropriate accommodation, the disintegration of previous management systems and a

depressing reduction in resources devoted to collection care."

While some major university museums and collections have been able to avoid severe problems, most are facing difficulties caused largely by cuts in funding and staff.

The study, carried out by

consultant Kate Arnold-Forster for the South Eastern Museum Service, covers institutions including the Open University, the

universities of Oxford, Portsmouth, Southampton and Reading, and Southampton Institute.

Inadequate provision for proper conservation was a "chronic problem" for almost all collections, the survey found. Traditional conservation regimes such as "topping up" spirit specimens and routine monitoring for deterioration, have suffered from reduced technical support.

The study said: "Sufficient staff time to allow for proper care for collections can no longer be

assumed ... increasingly there is a dearth of appropriate knowledge and expertise as departmental priorities change and resources are diverted away from collection care."

There is evidence of some collections having been "dispersed,

destroyed or moved, seemingly without warning".

The study, Beyond the Ark, urges greater collaboration between regional musuems to make best use of resources and seek new sources of funding. Museum and arts funding organisations should explore ways of providing more support for smaller collections that do not have registered status, allowing them to attract more funds.

Beyond the Ark is available from South East Museums Servcice (Western Region), Chilcomb House, Chilcomb Lane, Winchester, Pounds 14.95.

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