Tree cast disposal

Over the last year we have been in the process of disposing of some plaster casts of a fossil tree found on the railway line between Manchester and Bolton. The casts have been in the museum since the 1890s and are in very poor condition and are a health hazard. After researching them as much as possible, made a proposal to the museum’s collections development panel that they be ‘disposed’ of, which has been approved.

Cast of tree to be disposed of

Cast of tree to be disposed of

‘Disposal’ sounds like we are throwing objects away, but this is not really what it means. In reality, this usually means finding a home where they can be better used. We advertised the casts for offer in the Museums Journal and 9 of the 16 casts are now going to Bolton museum.

Disposal is a tricky issue because museums have an obligation to preserve their collections for the future. The value of some objects is sometimes only realised when new techniques to study them are developed.

Equally, museums have an obligation to provide access to their collections and get them used, otherwise why do we have collections? Most museums are adding objects to their collections on a regular basis, but are not adding to their resources which pay for storage and care. Part of the answer lies in looking at unused parts of the collection and seeing if they can be used better somewhere else. Each ‘disposal’ has to be carefully researched and studied.

Poor condition of plaster releasing dust

Poor condition of plaster, releasing dust

Disposals should be seen in the context of ongoing collections development which also includes acquiring new specimens with a clear use. See the Museums Association Effective Collections report.

We will be disposing of the tree casts in the next month or so. I will keep you posted.

What do you think about this? Please leave a comment.

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