Private collections of museum curators

Lynn Raw lynn.raw at VIRGIN.NET
Tue Oct 1 23:57:46 CDT 2002

Eugene provides 4 examples of abuse of which 3 are blatantly criminal and
could result in prosecution for theft. The other is probably not illegal in
itself but resulted from an ill-considered prior agreement. In all the cases
it does seem that no proper supervision had been undertaken in the
institutions concerned. If it had then perhaps these cases would have been
detected far sooner and preventative action could have been taken.

Banks and financial institutions are regularly robbed or defrauded. Do we
therefore need to condemn private ownership of money? No, I don't think so.
Should the criminals that commit these acts be arrested, tried and punished
if found guilty? Yes, of course. I think there is far too much restriction
on the rights of law-abiding individuals using the grounds that some other
individuals may abuse these rights.

Lynn Raw

----- Original Message -----
From: "Entomology: Namibian Museum" <insects at NATMUS.CUL.NA>
Sent: Tuesday, October 01, 2002 9:02 AM
Subject: Re: Private collections of museum curators

> Dear All
> Anita stated this to be an issue of ethics. Ken mentioned in a different
> thread that there is a lot of gray between black and white. Most curators
> are probably quite, but is that a valid presumption for institutional
> policy? Some examples regarding private collections in the hands of
> in darkest Africa (perpetuated by enlightened specialists recruited from
> north):
> Case 1: Curator resigned, institution found the drawers of marketable
> insects stripped, presumably incorporated in private collection,
> or sold.
> Case 2: Curator with private collection appointed. Policy requires that
> collection needs to be discontinued, curator selects to deposit it in the
> institution on gentleman's agreement. Curator resigns, claims collection
> not officially deposited and departs with it. Later transpires that long
> series of in other groups outside the curator's interest are missing,
> including paratypes, no official record. Material presumed to be exchanged
> or sold.
> Taxacomers should consider what effect this would have on institutional
> policies, given that museums have a public responsibility and
> that individuals don't have. Should ethics be a presumption or a
> prescription?
> So people may say - Nah, Africa obviously has problems, we just look at
> headlines/read the book/saw the film/got the T-shirt.
> Case 3: Curators from a major northern institution come collecting (on
> official permit because of institutional affiliation), partly funded by
> themselves. Transpires later that because of private investment, all
> material collected during office hours are conscientiously split. Part for
> the Museum, part for the private collection. Collection after hours is
> strictly private. Guess what? The group being collected is nocturnal.
> Listers can again reflect for themselves on the implications. A likely
> response would be OK, obviously conflicts of interest should be addressed.
> But then what is a conflict of interest?
> Case 4: Curator has private stamp collection (outside discipline and
> interest of institution). Does extensively archival research. Years later
> archivists found that stamps and envelopes have been neatly removed from
> files that were examined.
> The conclusion (and dilemma for most museums/herbaria) is that how to
> expect/impose/require ethics. However, it is not as simple as pointing
> fingers and claim bad/good policy. Accountability in public collections
> partly implies having transparent policies as part of their operational
> procedures. Those policies are often based on experiences, unfortunately
> usually negative, and may lead to progressively more restrictions. In that
> sense institutional policies simply reflect responses to individual
> i.e. some crazy individual mails spores and subsequently all mail gets
> nuked. If institutions accept the responsibility of public accountability
> then the public (us) should accept that there may be reason for the
> Will be interesting to see the response to this.
> Eugene Marais
> National Museum of Namibia
> P.O. Box 1203, Windhoek, Namibia
> Tel: + 264 61 276835/4
> Fax: + 264 61 22 86 36
> E-mail: insects at

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