The protection of museum collections has many shortcomings. The state does not have a clear overview of the collections in the Czech Republic

Press release to Audit No 19/09 – 18 May 2020

Between the years 2016 and 2018, the Supreme Audit Office (SAO) scrutinised the protection of museum collections owned by the state. The auditors found that the management and registers of the collections were fragmented, the data on items differed and the rules were only general. However, this system was intended to ensure that the collections were properly cared for and that the state had a clear overview of the state of the collection. The managers of the collections, such as museums and galleries, erred in the register of collection items and did not look into the matter of who bears responsibility for collection items that were not traced during stock-taking. Moreover, the Ministry of Culture (MoC) did not check the collection managers often enough.

The SAO scrutinised ten collection managers and found that between 2016 and 2018 almost three thousand collection items were untraceable in the collections. So it is possible that these items have been lost or stolen from the collections. If the collection managers are unable to trace the items during regular stock-taking even after a few years, they ask the Ministry of Culture to remove these items from the central register. The MoC did not determine for the collection managers how to proceed in the case of missing items. Thus, the collection managers did not deal with the issue of personal responsibility for untraced items in most cases. There are hundreds of such items each year.

The management and registers of museum collections are fragmented and complicated. Collection items are kept in a range of various records, information systems, and databases. All collections owned by the state or self-governing units should be kept in the central register of collections. However, according to estimates of the MC, dozens of collections are missing in the central register.

Moreover, the state does not have a clear overview of the actual state of the collection. The data in the central register and on the part of the collection managers differ. In some cases, this involves thousands or even tens of thousands of items. For 19 of the 20 collections scrutinised by the auditors, only a list of registration numbers of individual items was given without further description of the item. Thus, the central register did not serve the public as a source of information about the collections.

Auditors also found shortcomings in the process of sending collection items abroad. The MoC allowed it even in cases when the collection manager did not have all the necessary documents, such as borrowing or insurance contracts. All the MoC needed was information from the relevant collection manager. Furthermore, the register of borrowings contained items under the category of ongoing borrowings that had been either not realized or had ended years ago.

Legislation also poses a problem in ensuring the protection of collections, because it is often vague and outdated. The MoC was supposed to prepare an amendment to the act as early as 2016. So far, it had not done so. The more specific obligations of the collection managers are governed by the methodological guidelines of the MoC. However, these are binding only for its contributory organisations, which account for 6% of the total number of collection managers.

Communication Department
Supreme Audit Office

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