415 Hanshaw Rd. Ithaca, NY 14850 17 Sept.

2009

David W. Palmquist Head, Museum Chartering NY State Museum NY State Education Department 3097 Cultural Education Center Albany NY 12230 Dear Mr. Palmquist: I am writing in opposition to the proposed permanent amendment of Regents Rule 3.27. While I understand and applaud what I believe is the intent behind the proposed amendment, I cannot accept that policies governing deaccessioning are best articulated through regulations. I would hope instead that the board of directors of each institution would implement and approve deaccessioning policies and practices that are consistent with professional best practices and the needs of the institution. I am, for your information, an archivist. I am a former past president of the Society of American Archivists (SAA), the oldest and largest professional association of archivists in North America, and a Fellow of the Society. I am also on the advisory committee to the local historical society in Tompkins County. I am writing, however, in my private capacity. I have two primary concerns with the amendment. First, I find it unwise to fix in regulation professional practices that are still evolving. Second, I have concerns over the existing regulation that limits how the proceeds from the sale of deaccessioned material can be used, and see no reason for further restrictions. The American archival profession has nothing official to say about deaccessioning, either as policy or as a procedure. Yet reappraisal and subsequent deaccessioning of archival collections has been a topic of serious discussion within the profession for at least 25 years. Just this past year SAA's Acquisition and Appraisal Section proposed a Working Group to investigate issues in reappraisal and deaccessioning and possibly to suggest professional standards. What this indicates to me is that professional standards in this area are in flux and that regulations are premature. For example, the proposed amendment lists ten criteria that could lead to the deaccessioning of material from a historical society. Mark A. Greene, in his seminal recent article on archival deaccessioning, “I’ve Deaccessioned and Lived to Tell About It: Confessions of an Unrepentant Reappraiser” Archival Issues 30:1 (2006), notes that the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming has what would be an 11th justification for deaccessioning: the material “is part of a larger collection, other portions of which are owned by another repository that makes its holdings accessible to the public.” Recently the Cornell University Library

deaccessioned a collection prior to transferring the collection to the Johns Hopkins University. The collection was entirely consistent with the Library’s collecting policies and mission, but because the collection dealt primarily with Baltimore, scholarship will be better served by having the collection in that city. Neither of these deaccession actions would be permitted under the proposed amendment. The problem is not with the list of ten items in the proposed amendment; they are all reasonable. The problem is that the criteria for deaccessioning are in a state of professional flux. Any attempt to fix in regulation the criteria for deaccessioning objects from historical collections is doomed to failure. It would be much better instead to expect the board of trustees of each organization to fulfill its duties in a way that conforms to evolving professional best practices. I am also troubled that the proposed amendment continues the current restriction on how the proceeds from the sale of deaccessioned material may be used. In fact, it further restricts the uses to which the funds can be used. I am in complete agreement that the market value of an item should normally not be one of the criteria considered when deciding whether an item is appropriate for deaccessioning. But once a decision is made to deaccession an item, placing restrictions on the use of the funds is not wise. First of all, the restrictions are illogical. The proposed amendment states that proceeds are “to be used only for the acquisition, preservation, protection or care of collections. In no event shall proceeds derived from the deaccessioning of any property from the collection be used for operating expenses…” But what about paying for the salaries of the preservation staff? The staff is needed to preserve, protect, and care for the collections – but the salaries of staff members are also an operating expense. Or what about putting a new roof on a building? Replacing a leaky roof might be the absolute best thing a historical society could do to preserve and protect a collection – but again the amendment would seem to foreclose this possibility. Second, the regulations reflect an attitude towards the ethics of deaccessioning that has been seriously criticized in the last few years. A growing chorus of art lawyers and some museum administrators have suggested that blind adherence to the general precept that collections should not be monetarized to support operations can actually be harmful to the mission of the organization. This is not the time to further embed in regulations practices that may be falling out of professional favor. I would argue instead that the board of trustees of the institution, the group tasked by the Board of Regents with ensuring its ethical operation, after weighing what is current best professional practice, should determine how the proceeds can best be used to address the institution’s mission. Such an approach has been successful with institutions similar to historical societies. This past spring the Southworth Library in Dryden, NY received $3.5 million from the auction of a Lincoln document. According to news accounts, its board of trustees concluded that the proceeds could best be used to construct a new wing. When the Huntington Free Library deaccessioned its Native American collection and sold it to Cornell University, the press release announcing the sale stated that the Huntington would use the $2.5 million it received to pay off its legal expenses from its actions to defend its ownership of the collection and to "return to its main mission of serving the Bronx community through its other collections." The sale was

managed by the Huntington’s board of trustees, coordinated by the Attorney-General, and approved by the courts as being in the best interest of both the Huntington and the people of New York. Yet if either the Southworth or Huntington Library had been an historical society, the proposed amendment would have forbidden them from using the proceeds from the sale of their deaccessioned items in the manner that best addressed the needs of the citizens they serve. I would therefore urge the Board of Regents to reject the proposed permanent amendment of Regents Rule 3.27. Instead I would urge the Board to rewrite the rules to require that the boards of trustees ensure that deaccessioning is conducted in a manner consistent with good professional practice and the mission of the institution.

Sincerely yours,

Peter B. Hirtle

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