Collections Deaccession

1. Policy

Issued: November 24, 2021
Last Revised: November 24, 2021
Last Reviewed: June 30, 2022

2. Policy Purpose

The USC Special Collections Deaccession Policy exists to ensure that all special collections artworks and/or artifacts sold, donated, transferred, or otherwise removed the University are conveyed to non-University ownership according to all applicable laws, regulations, University standards, and museum artifact and works-of-art professional organization best practices.

The Deaccession Policy intends to ensure that more than one individual is responsible for making decisions on deaccession, that the process should be transparent, thoughtful and acting in the best interest of the university, the public and the professional community, and the Collections Advisory Committee should have the final approval on deaccession.  The policy applies to all staff members responsible for the care and management of The Permanent Collections. The policy also mandates the proper channels for disposal of deaccessioned items and the use of proceeds gained from deaccessioned items.

3. Scope and Application

This policy applies to any and all University special collections deaccessions processed through University or departmental library, museum, or other special collections functions.

4. Definitions

DeaccessionThe permanent removal of an item from The Collections.  It is the formal change in recorded status of the object.
DisposalThe act of physically removing an object or objects from a collection. It is the resulting action taken after deaccession.
Direct Care of CollectionsActivities that enhance the life, usefulness or quality of an object. E.g. Conservation improves the physical condition of an object, hence, qualifies as direct care. Activities or costs qualified as direct care vary depending on the type of collection, mission, discipline and specific circumstances. Refer to the AAM guideline on Direct Care of Collection.

5. Policy Details 

Deaccessioning permanently removes an object from The Collections through donation, transfer, exchange, sale, repatriation, loss from collections, deterioration beyond repair, and loss through natural disasters, and allows the transfer of unrestricted title to the receiving agency or entity.

The deaccession of objects from The Collections is an irreversible act, and therefore requires careful consideration and prudence. Although deaccession is sometimes a necessary act in collection development and maintenance, it shall be considered only to bolster the quality of The Collections and advance its mission.

The existence of a deaccession policy should not be taken to imply that Collections are a resource for the purpose of raising revenue to cover operating costs or capital expenses. Such action quickly undermines the concepts of fiduciary responsibility and public trust. The deaccessioning of an object by sale can only occur in particular circumstances, and the revenue raised from such sales, including any earnings and appreciations, is restricted in use for direct care of The Collections or for the acquisition of object consistent with the acquisition policy.

USC has an extensive and diverse collection that covers objects, fine art, archaeology and ancient materials; rare books, manuscripts, and archives (library special collections); and historical buildings. The need of caring for the existing collection may be greater than acquiring new works. No less than 50% of the revenue raised from sales of the deaccessioned object should be set aside in a restricted account for direct care of collection. The remaining revenue will be in a separate account for use of new acquisition.

USC recognizes the special responsibility associated with the receiving and maintenance of objects of cultural and historical significance in the public trust. Periodic reevaluations and thoughtful selection are necessary for the growth and proper care of collections. The practice of deaccessioning under well-defined guidelines provides these opportunities.

Deaccession Decisions

The Collections Advisory Committee shall function as the Acquisitions and Deaccessions Review Committee. Only after it has been determined that there is a legal right to do so (via an approval provided by USC’s Office of the General Counsel) will The Collections Advisory Committee review a deaccession proposal. Before entertaining a deaccession proposal The Collections Advisory Committee will further certify that there are no restrictions on the object(s) that preclude deaccessioning. Once the object is approved for deaccession, the unit including curators, registrars,  collection managers, librarians and archivists shall follow proper guidelines for its removal from The Collections, keep track of transaction, and maintain appropriate documentation. Attention to transparency will be given throughout the process.  

All potential deaccessions must be evaluated by the following criteria:

Criteria for Deaccession of Fine Art Collection

  • The object must have been accessioned into USC’s holdings for at least 3 years before it can be considered for deaccessioning, unless otherwise regulated by state, federal or international law.
  • The object does not meet the criteria for the collecting goals and mission of the Collections, or as part of the effort to refine and improve The Collections.
  • The object is a redundant, incomplete, unauthentic or inferior example on an object already in the Collections.
  • The object is a fake or forgery.
  • The object lacks historical or academic value for exhibition, research or educational purposes.
  • The cost of maintenance or security of the object is beyond the financial capabilities of the University.
  • The object is damaged beyond reasonable repair.
  • The ownership of the object is in question against applicable law or the object was exported or imported in violation of existing law and requires repatriation.

    Criteria for Deaccession of Library Special Collections

  • The book/collection no longer serves the academic mission of the University
  • To comply with any relevant laws and this Policy
  • To comply with any existing retention schedules
  • To implement a change in mission


The preferred method of disposal is transfer or exchange of objects to or with appropriate public museums, after which the order of preference is appropriate public educational agencies and institutions, private museums, and private educational agencies and institutions. Where works are sold, it shall be done by public auction in order to maintain transparency.

The University follows California law and references guidelines with regard to the disposal of objects from the Collections, along with any terms or obligations that pertain to the original gift. Deaccessioned objects will be disposed of in accordance with California law and in a manner consistent with prevailing museum and library standards and best practices.

The University will make a reasonable effort to notify donors of objects, or heirs of donors, considered for deaccession and terms, if any, stated in the deed of gift shall be followed. When a work by a living artist is being considered for deaccession, notification must be made to the living artist. Funds obtained from the sale of objects shall be used only for the purchase of other artwork or explicitly for the direct care of The Collections including conservation and housing of the objects.

Code of Ethics

In addition to the code of ethics from the university, staff members, volunteers, board of trustees, members of the governing body, and members of the Collections Advisory Committee, or their families and close associates, may not receive or purchase for their own or another individual’s collections, even at public auction, objects that have been deaccessioned from The Collections.

No members of the Collections Advisory Committee shall vote on deaccession in which they or their family members have an interest. 

Found-in-collection (FIC) Objects

When considering objects found in the collection storages with no accession numbers,  loan numbers, call numbers or collection numbers, and with no clear documentation or match to the existing collection for deaccession, please consult with the Office of General Counsel to assess the levels of risk associated with deaccessioning objects without complete title/ownership records before proceeding with deaccession proposal. Caution should be exercised when proceeding with sale of objects with unconfirmed or incomplete ownership.

Found-in-collection (FIC) objects are distinguishable from Unclaimed Loans or Abandoned Loans. Please refer to the loan policy for Unclaimed Loans. 

When evidence of found-in-collection (FIC) object points to ownership by the University but it was not accessioned, or the object was brought in for The Permanent Collections but not processed, proceed with accessioning the FIC object according to the acquisition policy before following the deaccession process and keep track of all documents.

Method of Disposition:

A deaccessioned object may be:

  • given to a museum, library or school
  • sold to or exchanged with a museum, library or non-profit institution
  • sold at public auction or sale/exchange through a reputable, established dealer
  • destroyed in case of serious deterioration, infestation by vermin or other irreversible contamination, or damaged beyond conservation
  • in case of deaccessioned object that is co-owned with other institution, the decision should be a joint one and the disposal should be made to the other institution or to an organization that is open to the public, where possible.
  • offered as an exchange with the artist in the case of deaccessioned work by a living artist
  • converted to an educational study collection for unrestricted use such as scientific study, school programs, hands-on demonstrations, or testing in conservation research for an object expected to deteriorate or subject to destruction over time.  
  • Repatriation

A deaccessioned object may NOT be:

  • In instances of sale, no member of the University Board of Trustees, University staff, faculty, students, volunteers, or any party associated with the University that might give them advantage in acquiring the work will be eligible to purchase deaccessioned items. Under no circumstances will this restriction be waived.
  • There will be no private sales to staff or members of the governing authority of the University of Southern California, or to their representatives. Items from The Collections may not be deaccessioned with the intent to give the items as gifts to employees, trustees, or students.

Deaccession Credit Line

If deaccession funding is used to purchase new objects for The Collections, the newly acquired and accessioned objects must be attributed to the original donor(s) of the deaccessioned item, along with any other appropriate credit information.

Records of the Disposition of Deaccessioned Objects

The deaccessioning unit will note each disposition of a deaccessioned object or collection on the object’s or collection’s digital and physical inventory records and will report the disposition of each deaccessioned object or collection to the Collections Advisory Committee

The unit will maintain a permanent record of all deaccessioned objects including:

  • the date and terms of the disposition,
  • the name and location of the transferee,
  • the name of new owner, sale price and location, if known,
  • a detailed description of the object, with measurements,
  • the signed original deaccession proposal form,
  • a copy of evidence of the University’s title to the object,
  • a copy of approval of the deaccession countersigned by dean/director and the Collections Advisory Committee,
  • a photograph of the deaccessioned object or representative photographs and/or video documentation in the case of large numbers of smaller, less significant objects deaccessioned together.

6. Procedures

Procedure for Specialized Collections Deaccession or Disposal

7. Forms

Deaccession Proposal Form

8. Responsibilities

USC Museums – DirectorDefine mission, values, collecting goals and scope of the museum permanent collection that are used to screen the deaccession criteriaReview deaccession proposals to ensure all requirements are met and provide approval to present to the Collections Advisory Committee 
USC Museums – CuratorSet up collecting goals and scope of collection, research and make recommendation of objects for deaccession through deaccession proposal, present them to the Director for approval to submit to the Collections Advisory Committee
USC Museums – RegistrarResearch and collect any documents regarding the proposed object for deaccession, complete the deaccession proposal with the Curator, document the deaccession process according to professional standards. 
USC Libraries – DeanDefine mission, values, collecting goals and scope of the library special collection that are used to screen the deaccession criteriaReview deaccession proposals to ensure all requirements are met and provide approval to present to the Collections Advisory Committee 
USC Libraries – Librarian/ArchivistSet up collecting goals and scope of collection, research and make recommendation of objects for deaccession through deaccession proposal, present them to the Collections Advisory Committee following approval by Dean
USC Collection Registrar or Designated Library StaffResearch and collect any documents regarding the proposed object for deaccession, complete the deaccession proposal with the Curator, document the deaccession process according to professional standards. 
Office of ProvostParticipates in the Collections Advisory Committee, confirms and provides final approval after the votes by the Collections Advisory Committee
Office of General CounselReviews legal documents related to the deaccession, provides legal advice during the deaccession process.
Designated Finance personSet up restricted account for proceeds of sales from deaccession objects, provides activity summary to director/dean/Office of Provost on use of proceeds from the restricted account
Environmental Health and SafetyConsult and assist with proper waste management of hazardous materials from the deaccessioned objects

9. Related Information

American Alliance of Museums (AAM) Guidelines on Direct Care of Collection

AAM Code of Ethics for Museums

AAMD Policy on Deaccessioning

AAMD Professional Practices in Art Museums

10. Contact Information

Office of General Counsel(213) 740-7922