Dorset Museums

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Members of the public donate the vast majority of the collections you see in museums. If you have objects, documents or photographs that you think a museum may be interested in, why not enquire?

Will museums want my object?

Museums use strict guidelines to decide whether to accept an object or not. This is because looking after objects and displaying them in museums in expensive and takes a lot of care and attention. Limited space and budgets mean museums have to use criteria set by their committee to decide what they can accept.

Museums will base their decision on whether or not the object fits into their collection policy, as museums usually collect around very specific subjects. For example, a museum would be interested in material relating to a local industry, but might not be interested in material relating to a national company with no local connection.

  • When a curator considers whether or not to accept an object they will ask these questions:

  • Is the object local? For example, has it been manufactured locally?

  • Is the object in good condition?

  • Can you tell us about the history of the object?

  • Does the object fulfill the criteria and guidelines laid out in their collecting policy?

  • Does the museum already have a similar example?

The best advice is to ring the museum directly and discuss with them what material you have.

What happens when I donate my object?

When you donate an object to a museum it involves transferring the legal ownership from you to the museum. The museum, which is usually a charity or constituted organisation, then holds the objects in ‘trust’ for the public. It is very difficult for a museum to return an object to a donor after the transfer of ownership has happened, so think carefully before you donate!

If your object enters the permanent collection

Your object will be accessioned and then kept safely. It may not necessarily be permanently displayed. However, it will be available for research, loan to other museums and education purposes.

If your object enters the handling collection

This means that the object will be used during the museum's work with special groups such as school children and senior citizens, or for special events. The object will be enjoyed by lots of people, however wear and tear may mean that the museum may eventually have to dispose of it.