The process of accessioning formally enters an item into the collection of a museum. The process can vary depending on the museum and the type of item. Most museums include the accessioning protocols as part of its documentation that is sometimes known as the Collections Management Policy.
Accessioning is more than accepting ownership of an item. The process begins with determining if the item or items fits with the mission of the museum. Not every item made available to a museum fits within the collection of the museum. For example, a museum dedicated to the period of the American Civil War may not wish to accept artifacts of World War II. The staff of the museum usually considers the items in light of current displays and planned future displays.
The accessioning process also establish the authenticity and history of the item. This is sometimes referred to as establishing the items provenance. This is especially important for items that were owned or used by historic figures or in historic circumstances. This can be difficult to establish and may require affidavits from individuals attesting to the facts surrounding the item. The accessioning process gathers this information, proves its validity and maintains the documents as proof of provenance. This is critical to establishing the importance of the piece within the collection. It also becomes part of the historic record of the museum.
Museums also have an obligation during the accessioning process to determine the ownership of the items and the authority of the person presenting the item to transfer title. This can be a difficult issue to ascertain especially in situations where an estate is involved. Artifacts owned by a deceased person may be transferred to a museum by the heirs. However, if some of the heirs dissent, issues of ownership may arise. In other cases, the ownership of some artifacts may be difficult to establish because the items were acquired years before.
Another obligation of the museum involves verifying the collectability of the item. Some items associated with endangered species along with items that may have been removed from illegal archeological digs may be restricted. Native American remains are also subject to repatriation to the tribe or descendents of the tribe. The restrictions and regulations vary with the type of the artifact. The museum accessioning process may differ depending on the item. Sometimes experts in specialty fields are consulted.
The final processes of accessioning commonly involve documenting the condition and appearance of the item. This step may also include conservation measures meant to preserve the item and prevent further deterioration of the item. In other cases, the item may be restored to a previous condition. Paintings, for example, may be reframed for proper appearance. The conservators of the collection also provide the best possible storage conditions designed to prevent any further deterioration of the item. This commonly involves storage in temperature and humidity controlled secured conditions. The proper temperatures and humidity levels vary depending on the materials but are always closely controlled and monitored.