Collections Conflict of Interest Policy

This post is by Janis Wilkens, Registrar at the Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte.

In 2008, the Levine Museum of the New South adopted the following Conflict of Interest Policy as part of its revised Collections Policy. After several unsuccessful attempts and in consultation with a lawyer who was a member of the board, we adapted language from the Statement of Professional Standards and Ethics of the American Association for State and Local History.

Historical organizations and agencies exist to serve the public interest and must always act in such a way as to maintain public confidence and trust.

All Board members, employees and volunteers of the Museum (“Interested Persons”) must be careful to avoid both the appearance and the reality of using their positions or the information and access gained from their positions improperly for their personal benefit or for the benefit of another organization.

Interested Persons shall refrain from personal collecting of items in competition with the museum or in any manner that conflicts with the interests of the Museum. In the application of this policy, Interested Persons must use their discretion and should consider the rarity and value of the item and the potential interest of the museum in the item.

Conflicts of interest under this policy will be addressed in accordance with the Museum’s Conflict of Interest Procedure. If an Interested Person believes a conflict of interest under this policy has arisen or may arise, this person should refer the matter to the executive director. The Museum, on its own initiative, also may consider conflicts and potential conflicts of interest involving Interested Persons under this policy. In the event a conflict is found to exist, the Museum may require that the Interested Person make the item at issue available for acquisition by the Museum in a manner determined to be appropriate, and under reasonable circumstances determined in accordance with the Conflict of Interest Procedure.

This seems like a good policy, and in the nearly four years since it was put in place, we have never had to invoke it; however, one of the big problems with policies of this kind is the difficulty of enforcing them, or even ensuring that those to whom they apply are aware of them. How does the museum know if a violation has taken place, unless the violator informs us? Why should they inform us if they don’t even know the policy exists? What is the best way to make sure that “interested persons” are aware of the museum’s policy so they can comply with it?

We have yet to wrestle with these issues. It seems enforcement must depend on the honesty and good will of those connected to the museum, and the diligence of the collections department and the administration in keeping them aware of the policy over time and changes of personnel. Should the policy include a recommendation or requirement that it be reviewed annually with all the affected groups, so at least they can’t plead ignorance? Are there other tactics that would be useful for this? What do you think?

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About collectionsconversations

This blog will contain posts from the C2C project staff on a variety of topics related to collections care and disaster preparedness. Enjoy the posts and let us know if you would like additional information or have a topic you would like for us to address.

Posted on January 24, 2012, in collections management, guest bloggers, museum governance and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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