Sitka Historical Society Museum Undertakes Large Collections Audit [August 15, 2015]


Kristy Griffin
Curator of Collections and Exhibits | Sitka History Museum
(907) 747-6455 or


Another Man’s Treasure: Sitka History Museum Undertakes Large Collections Audit


[Sitka, Alaska] August 15, 2015
The Sitka History Museum will undertake an audit of its collections designed to improve and refine the composition of the collection according to the institution’s collections mission. This audit will include the consideration of certain items for deaccession.

Deaccessioning is a critical and normal process carried out by museums both large and small across the nation. Deaccessioning means that the museum will officially remove an item or items from its list of holdings. The process helps institutions cultivate a collection that upholds and exemplifies their mission statement, while concentrating their resources on caring for objects that embody a high degree of significance.

Like many older institutions, the Sitka History Museum acquired objects long before it became standard practice to institute and follow a collections mission and policy when accessing new objects into the permanent collection. However, the high costs associated with maintaining collections means that providing perpetual care for objects that have little relevance to the Sitka History Museum mission can actually inhibit the ability of the museum to acquire more significant objects for the permanent collection and can compete for resources needed to care for important objects in the existing collection. For these reasons, many museums recognize deaccessioning as an important part of responsible collections management.

Sitka History Museum curator Kristy Griffin says, “With the new Sitka History Museum set to open in 2017, now is the time to make the tough decisions, so that we can move into our new facility with a collection truly designed to benefit and reflect local heritage. We currently have many items with no clear or documented connection to Sitka that the museum accepted because they were old, and by being old, were thought interesting. However, we cannot continue to responsibly serve the best interests of this community by spending time and resources caring for objects that do not embody the history, spirit, and stories of Sitka.”

Deaccessioning is a complex procedure and is not taken lightly. The Sitka History Museum begins the process by giving public notice of its intent to deaccession. Curatorial staff then identifies possible objects for deaccession throughout the course of the collections audit. Initial criteria used to ascertain whether or not an object should be reviewed for deaccession includes considerations of an object’s connection with seminal people, institutions, places or events in Sitka’s past, the object’s potential contribution to future research efforts, and the physical condition of the object. The Sitka History Museum Collections Committee, comprised of museum staff and members of the public, review and vote on the objects considered for deaccession. Finally, the Sitka History Museum Board of Directors meets to approve or reject the Committee’s recommendation. Only then may an object be removed from the collection.

If the Collections Committee and the Sitka History Museum Board of Directors agree that the Sitka History Museum can no longer reasonably provide perpetual care for an item or items, a variety of disposal methods are considered. In many circumstances, museum staff will try to transfer the item(s) to another museum or not-for-profit institution with a mission that more closely fits the significance of the object. Deaccessioned objects may also be considered for exchange or sale. In both instances, the exchange or the proceeds from the sale are designated for the sole purpose of strengthening the collection by either acquiring new items that help to fill gaps in the collection or by providing for the conservation treatment of important items in the collection. Objects undesirable for transfer, exchange, or sale, as well as seriously damaged, deteriorated and/or hazardous objects may be destroyed or discarded according to local laws.

The Sitka History Museum recognizes that the community has a large stake in a collection designed to embody and preserve its heritage. Therefore, the Sitka History Museum seeks to expand the size of its Collections Committee in an effort to incorporate more local knowledge, expertise, and viewpoints throughout the collections audit and deaccessioning process. The Sitka History Museum Collections Committee will select up to five more individuals for an eighteen-month term starting September 1, 2015. The Committee will meet one to two times per month, as needed. Please send letters of interest to the Curator, Kristy Griffin at 210 Seward Street, Sitka, AK 99835 or if you are interested in participating in this initiative.

Sitka History Museum Executive Director Hal Spackman urges community participation saying, “Sitka possesses a rich history that few cities can equal. With the help of community volunteers, the Sitka History Museum can follow a thoughtful approach to preserving, protecting and adding collections, so we can better commemorate and portray our eventful past.”

Visitor Information
The Sitka History Museum will close for the duration of the Harrigan Centennial Hall renovation. The Office of the Executive Director will maintain offices open to the public at the Geodetic Survey House (White House) at 210 Seward Street in Sitka, Alaska during the closure. Please call (907) 747-6455 for an appointment.

About the Sitka Historical Society and Museum
The Sitka Historical Society is a 58 year old organization which operates the Sitka History Museum. The Museum’s mission is to preserve and promote the events, stories and artifacts of the human history of Sitka, as part of the Pacific Northwest coast of North America, to inspire, educate and benefit the Public and future generations. The Sitka History Museum has amassed one of the most diverse and largest collections in Sitka comprised of over 8,000 three-dimensional artifacts, several hundred paintings, prints, and examples of fine art, a spectacular collection of nearly 25,000 historic photographs, and more than 100,000 archival documents, all ranging from the 1740s until the present day.