3.1 A word of warning

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How to reactivate an abandoned or incomplete manual documentation system

Initiating a documentation project is not without its risks. Documentation reflects the museum’s professional practices, and the history of its collections and of the people who are responsible for them. Among the reasons for documentation are checking the inventory or retrospective documentation, which should be an operation regularly carried out by all museums. Unfortunately, all too often this turns out not to be the case.

Thus all too often also, a documentation project reveals that the collections are not complete (or that certain objects have been substituted). Now comes the difficult part. How should the situation or situations revealed be interpreted? Who should be held responsible? The person initiating the project? His or her predecessor? Their predecessors? In short, all this can result in a police investigation, something that is rarely agreeable and can have unpredictable consequences – especially since, according to the code of professional ethics, losing objects in a museum, for whatever reason, amounts to professional misconduct.

Therefore it is strongly advisable to initiate such a project only with the agreement and support of the supervisory authorities, to avoid doing it alone, to undertake it as a team with, if need be, a representative of the supervisory authority, and to have the final report signed by all the members of the team, while of course taking care to mention any critical situation in relation to the collections.

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