Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about disposal and the Collections review. If you have a question that is not covered here, please email us.

What is the scope of your Collections?

IWM’s Collections cover all aspects of conflict involving Britain, its former Empire and the Commonwealth, from the First World War to the present. The Collections illustrate and record all relevant aspects of modern war, and of the individual’s experience of war and wartime life, whether allied or enemy, service or civilian, military or political, social or cultural. They aim to embrace the causes, conduct and consequences of conflict.

A remarkable feature of our Collections are their breadth. The Collections include extensive holdings of art and objects. The archival holdings of written, audio and visual records are major specialist resources and support internal and external research which has world-wide audiences. The Collections as a whole allow the presentation and interpretation of its subject matter in its full historical context. In addition to British and Commonwealth and former empire material, there are extensive holdings relating to allied and enemy forces. Because the subjects covered by our Collections are so vast, we want to make sure that the Collections are focused. To do this we need to be selective in what we collect. While we aim to have significant material relating to all subjects that we cover, we do not attempt to have complete collections of every type of material for these subjects. Therefore, we may have significant holdings relating to major historical events but less to represent the broader background to those events. 

What does IWM mean by 'accession'?

Accession is a status afforded to those items (art, material culture and artefact collection items, archives of documents, film, video, photographs and sound records, rare books and special library collections) that we deem to be of such significance that they merit retention and preservation on behalf of the nation.

What does IWM mean by 'acquisition'?

Acquisition is the process of obtaining responsibility for an item, associated due diligence, rights management and transfer of title.

What does IWM mean by 'disposal'?

‘Disposal’ refers to the permanent removal of an item from the Collections, which are owned by our Board of Trustees. Items can be disposed of by the process of gift to other museums, sale, exchange or planned destruction (in the case of an item too badly damaged or deteriorated to be of any use or on the grounds of health and safety).

What is the Collections Review Committee?

The Collections Review Committee meets monthly to consider the assessments made by curators. The Committee is formed of senior managers, collection managers, conservators, and specialists in exhibitions, learning and interpretation.

Can you give me examples of the kind of items you are considering for disposal?

The items that our Board of Trustees have approved for disposal have fallen into the following categories:

  • Duplicates that are not needed (we do keep some duplicates).
  • Objects in such poor condition that they are beyond conservation or would cost too much to repair.
  • Items that do not meet our purpose and remit.
  • Poor examples of objects where we later acquired a much better example.

When will you make a decision on which objects are being disposed of?

The process can take several months for each part of the Collections. The decision to dispose of material from the Collections will be taken by our Board of Trustees only after full consideration of the reason for disposal. The first step is for our curators to review a particular part of the Collections. After the review is complete they may recommend some objects for disposal, based on their curatorial assessment. These recommendations go to the Collections Review Committee. If the Committee approves them, each object would then need to get all the necessary internal and external approvals before we are able to dispose of the object.

External experts will be asked for their advice. Stakeholders such as donors, researchers, local and source communities and others served by IWM will also be asked for their views, depending upon the nature of the item involved. Disposal of accessioned material (other than duplicate material) requires the consent of the Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport or their designated authorities.

Are you doing this to make money?

The Collections Review is not about generating income. The majority of objects that will be recommended for disposal will be the material that is less significant for our Collections and/or those beyond economic repair. Any money we receive from the disposal of items will be used for the benefit of our Collections. This will normally mean the purchase of further acquisitions. In exceptional cases it may be used for improvements relating to the care of the Collections.

Will you be doing any public/wider consultation?

Yes, absolutely. The Board of Trustees will ensure that the disposal process is carried out openly and with transparency. When an object is proposed for disposal external expert advice will be obtained and the views of relevant stakeholders such as donors, researchers, local and source communities and others served by IWM will also be sought. We take into account the policies of other museums and organisations in the same or related areas or subject fields when making significant disposal and also acquisition and accession decisions.

Don’t you have a duty of care/legal obligation to retain all the items in your Collections?

When the Imperial War Museum was founded, the Imperial War Museum Act 1920 recognised that it might be appropriate for it to dispose of objects, as well as acquire additional ones and it is important that museums can manage their collections in this way. We have a long-term purpose and holds our Collections in trust for society. We will therefore ensure that the significant material is retained. Sound curatorial reasons for disposal must be established before consideration is given to the disposal of any items our Collections. We abide by strict ethical principles, by the specific Imperial War Museum Acts (1920 and 1955) and the Museums and Galleries Act (1992), by museum sector guidance, and by UK law, particularly charity law. We will confirm that it is legally free to dispose of an item, and agreements on disposal made with donors, depositors and transferors will be taken into account.