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The safety work of the museums falls short

The national central museums do not always have control over which objects they have in their collections, where these items are located, or the condition they are in. Furthermore, the museums do not implement sufficient measures to prevent theft and vandalism, and find it difficult to achieve the desired level of protection against long-term destruction.

Statue in bronze, face detail.

Foto: Dick Clevestam

Preserving the collections of the museums is a key element in the management of Sweden’s cultural heritage. That is why the Swedish National Audit Office has audited how the 13 central museums work with security issues in their collections.

The audit indicates that the museums are pursuing an ambitious security effort, but that it has been largely unsuccessful in achieving a reasonable degree of security. The quality of the work varies between and within the central museums, and the Swedish National Heritage Board could do more to support the security efforts of the museums.

Among other things, the Swedish National Audit Office is critical of the lack of order in the museums’ collections, which is partly due to the fact that the registration of the objects has long been conducted in an unsatisfactory manner.

“The museums do not have enough knowledge about the objects they manage, where they are located and the condition they are in. At one of the museums, for example, only a quarter of the objects are registered and the museum only knows the location of seventy per cent of the items,” says Auditor General Helena Lindberg.

The audit also shows that the measures taken by museums to prevent theft and vandalism are inadequate. Half of the museums are deemed to have effective perimeter protection, while others face difficulties in making the necessary installations because the cultural value of the buildings themselves must be protected.

Several museums have unclear access procedures for craftsmen, researchers, volunteers and other external persons. Furthermore, when recruiting staff that will have access to the collections, the museums rarely request extracts from the criminal records database loading register or conduct credit checks.

“Given that the museums have millions of items in their collections and only conduct random sampling inventories, it is likely to take a very long time before a theft is detected. Good guidelines for access restrictions and subjecting new hires to background checks can prevent thefts,” says Per Dackenberg, Project Manager for the audit.

The museums have good knowledge of how the long-term destruction of the objects in the collections can be prevented, but find it difficult to live up to the desired level of protection. The majority grapple with a lack of adequate storage. Only a few museums feel that their storage environment is largely good, while most have difficulty maintaining an optimal indoor climate.

Only one of the audited museums has developed a plan describing how priority items and documents are to be saved in a serious emergency situation – despite the fact that all museums that are state authorities are obliged to have such a plan.

Recommendations

The Swedish National Audit Office recommends the following to the central museums:

  • Prioritise efforts to increase the traceability of objects in the collections.
  • Review access restriction procedures.
  • Create routines to minimize insider issues.
  • Increase the level of readiness to handle an elevated threat.
  • Ensure the availability of suitable warehouses.
  • Begin the work of establishing and implementing so-called residual value plans, in order to be able to get the most valuable objects to safety should a serious situation arise.

It is recommended that the Swedish National Heritage Board do the following:

  • Develop advice on how the museums can prevent theft and vandalism.
  • Initiate monitoring of how security work is carried out at the museums.
  • Document security incidents that occur at the museums.

The central museums

Thirteen museums have special status, because they are part of a government commitment that has developed since the end of the end of 18th century. These museums are called ‘central museums’, and several of them include two or more previously independent museums. Their collections span different subject areas and include thousands - or in several cases millions - of objects, which have been collected over the course of many years.

Central museums which are authorities: Moderna Museet (with a branch in Malmö), Nationalmuseum (with the Jamtli branch in Östersund), the Swedish Museum of Natural History, the Swedish Centre for Architecture and Design (ArkDes), the National Swedish Museums of Defence History (the Army Museum and the Air Force Museum in Linköping), the National Historical Museums (the Swedish History Museum, the Hallwyl Museum, the Royal Armoury, Skokloster Castle, the Tumba Papermill Museum and the Royal Coin Cabinet), the National Maritime Museums (the Maritime Museum, the Vasa Museum, the Naval Museum in Karlskrona and the Railway Museum in Gävle, including the transport history collections in Kjula and Arlanda), the National Museums of World Culture (the Museum of Ethnography, the Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities, the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, and the Museum of World Culture in Gothenburg) and the Swedish Performing Arts Agency (with the Swedish Museum of the Performing Arts).

Central museums which are foundations: The Museum of Work in Norrköping, the Nordic Museum, Skansen and the National Museum of Science and Technology.

Press contact: Olle Castelius, phone: +46 8-5171 40 04.

Presskontakt: , telefon: 08-5171 42 06.

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Updated: 18 February 2019

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