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  Managing Archeological Collections Access and Use Distance Learning


(photo) Technician inventorying an incoming exhibit.
Inventorying an incoming exhibit. From the photograph collection of the Bureau of Land Management, Anasazi Heritage Center, Dolores, Colorado.

Repositories generally engage in a loan program in order to either temporarily make available or temporarily use significant objects, documents, and information for public programs, usually exhibits, research, teaching, and cultural heritage activities. A loan exchange between repositories and other institutions helps increase access to diverse materials by more people than is otherwise possible.

There are two basic types of loans, incoming and outgoing. A repository may be engaged in just one or both types of loans, depending on its mission, staff, facilities, and types of collections. For example, institutions that do not have any exhibition space may be actively engaged in an outgoing loan program to increase public and scholarly exposure to its holdings. Other repositories with small or specialized collections may only be involved in incoming loans for the purpose of exhibits or specialized research.

In general, repositories accept loans from other repositories or from individuals, but only loan out objects and documents to other institutions due to risk management and insurance issues. For an archeologist interested in requesting a loan for research, this means that the request must be done through the scholar's institution. Native American tribes may request a loan of an object(s) for religious or other purposes through its tribal governmental structure.

All loans should only involve objects or documents that have been accessioned and catalogued. All loans should be made for a specific period of time. In the past, many "permanent" or "indefinite" loans were made, which gave repositories items to exhibit, research, and house, but did not transfer ownership and title. Unfortunately, original ownership information has been lost for many of these old, "permanent" loans so some repositories face dilemmas about what to do with items for which they cannot show title. They may be legally limited in taking action on these items in regard to some aspects of deaccessioning and conservation. However, they may be obligated to deal with objects that fall under NAGPRA so that some appropriate action is taken by some organization. The effort and funding needed to care for items that lack title may also be detrimental to some repositories.

The Loan Process

There are several steps in the loan process, depending on the objects and/or documents and the type of loan involved. These steps generally include:

  • Approval of the loan by the lending repository
  • Preparation and shipping of item(s) by the lending repository
  • Signing of the loan agreement document once the item(s) have been received by the borrowing institution
  • Use (e.g., exhibition, research, cultural heritage activity, and education) of the loan by the borrowing institution
  • Repacking and shipping item(s) back to the lender by the borrowing institution
  • Final signatures on the loan agreement form
  • Evaluation of the loaned item(s)' condition upon receipt by the lending repository

Every repository engaged in outgoing loans should have a loan policy and procedures in place to cover the loan approval process, as well as the subsequent steps. To initiate loan procedures, a borrowing institution submits a "loan request" form to the lending repository. This request should be made as far ahead as possible of the requested loan date in order to allow time to accomplish the subsequent steps involved. Most loan requests include information on:

  • Name and location of the borrowing institution
  • Purpose of the loan, e.g., title and description of an exhibit or nature of intended research, what the objects and/or documents will be used for, how they will be handled, housed, and cared for, etc.
  • What objects and/or documents are requested
  • Length of loan
  • Facility report for the borrowing institution to prove its ability to properly care for the items while under their temporary responsibility

Depending on the repository, its director, board of trustees, or "collections/ loan committee" is given the power to approve a loan request. The decision maker(s) evaluate a number of questions, including:

  1. What is the current condition of the object(s) and/or documents requested? Will it be able to travel, as well as be handled and/or exhibited? What conservation work must be done prior to the loan?
  2. Are there any donor or legal restrictions on the object? These may involve an item's condition, donor restrictions, copyright or other intellectual property rights restrictions, Native American or religious restrictions, etc.
  3. Are there any other commitments for the item(s)? Are they slated to go to another institution? Have they been on exhibit recently?
  4. Does the borrowing institution have the proper facilities and staff to care for the object? This includes security, fire suppression, climate controls, etc.
  5. Does the reason/purpose of the loan fit with the mission statement and goals of the borrowing institution?

Once a loan request has been approved, the collections manager is usually involved in the preparation of the item(s) for loan, such as giving the item(s) to a conservator for stabilization, packing and shipping the item(s), and handling all the necessary paperwork involved. The collections manager also receives the item(s) at the end of the loan, prepares the final evaluation of the item(s), and manages the loan file.

Finally, a loan may involve a number of expenses that are usually paid for by the borrowing institution, including:

The fees involved in a loan may vary widely depending on several factors. These include the fragility and value of the item(s), what conservation work is done, and the location of the borrowing institution and the distance the items must travel. The contract or agreement worked out prior to a loan should detail the expenses to be covered by the borrowing institution.

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