Code of Ethics

Approved June 2016

From Marie Malaro’s Museum Governance, Mission, Ethics, Policy
“An ethical code sets forth conduct that a profession considers essential in order to uphold the integrity of the profession”.


The Mission of ARCS is to represent and promote registrars and collections specialists, nationally and internationally, to educate them in the professional best practices of registration and collections care, and to facilitate communication and networking.

With the vision of providing a variety of meetings, workshops, online forums, resources, and publications in print and electronic media, ARCS will enable its members to share ideas, encourage understanding of and adherence to professional standards, and support and improve the care and organization of collections of all types.  ARCS will attract members by increasing its visibility and demonstrating its importance to registrars and collections specialists and collaborating with international counterparts.  Membership in ARCS is open to anyone sharing this vision who endorses the goals of ARCS. 


Registrars and collections specialists have relied on the Code of Ethics adopted in 1984 by the Registrars Committee of the American Alliance of Museums, formerly the American Association of Museums (RC-AAM).  It was created to describe and encourage professional standards and training, which would address the ethical concerns of museum registrars. ARCS has created a comprehensive version providing further guidance for registrars and collections specialists that in many ways parallels those ethical considerations.

As defined in the glossary of The New Museum Registration Methods, a registrar is

an individual with broad responsibilities in the development and enforcement of policies and procedures pertaining to the acquisition, management and disposition of collections.  Records pertaining to the objects for which the institution has assumed responsibility are maintained by the registrar.  Usually, the registrar also handles arrangements for accessions, loans, packing, shipping, storage, customs, and insurance as it relates to museum materials.” 

A newer definition is found in the OOH (Occupational Outlook Handbook) from the U.S. Department of Labor, as of December 2015: 

Museum technicians, commonly known as registrars and collections specialists, concentrate on the care and safeguarding of the objects in the museum collections and exhibitions.  They oversee the logistics of acquisitions, insurance policies, risk management, and loaning of objects from the museum for exhibition or researchThey keep detailed records of the condition and locations of the objects that are on display, in storage or being transported to another museum.  They also maintain and store any documentation associated with the objects.”

Individuals also conduct such activities in non-museum situations, such as governmental, corporate, and private collections.


A Code of Ethics is a formal statement of an organization's values.  It generally includes standards for expected conduct and guidance on how to work in accordance with the management and physical and intellectual attributes of collections, risk management to protect collections, effective training, legal versus ethical control, and such matters that the registrar and collections specialist should be able to provide to their profession.

In the instance of museums, there should be a formally approved, separate and distinct institutional Code of Ethics, unique to the governing authority, staff, and volunteers.   Many museum or associated group disciplines have adopted discipline-specific Codes to guide staff in conducting their work.  Specific codes exist for various organizations such as the AIC code for those who are responsible for preventive care, ICOM, ZRC, AAMC, AAMG, among others.[1]

Registrars and collections specialists are obligated to protect collections, loaned objects and other objects in their care along with the associated records.  A formal Code of Ethics and standards of professional practice provide guidelines for expected conduct of the ARCS membership. This obligation includes allied collecting and exhibiting institutions as well as associated entities working independently for private collections.       

The core values of ARCS reflect the personal and professional integrity of its members.  The standards and values outlined here should pertain to individual members who function with titles such as registrar, collection manager, contract/independent registrar, etc., as well as any member sharing this vision who endorses the goals of ARCS. 

Personal and Professional Conduct  

Professional conduct is a matter of personal responsibility. Acceptance of the responsibilities inherent in the title or similar function of registrar/collections specialist is one of trust and commits the individual to:

1) Support the Governing entity’s mission and its responsibilities   

  • Act in the best interest of his or her employer rather than in furtherance of personal interests or the interest of third parties, such as friends and family. 

2) Implement the Governing entity’s policies

  • Oversee physical and intellectual management of their collections, loaned objects, and the associated records.     

3) Act with integrity and in accordance with the highest standards

  • Ethics should be applied when interacting with other professionals, lenders, commercial vendors and the public in the management of objects and associated records.

4) Avoid any and all activities that could compromise the governing entity’s mission, reputation, or the public it serves, as applicable.

5) Members must not only avoid conflict of interest but even the appearance of conflict of interest while acting with integrity and as it applies, transparency and/or confidentiality in accordance with the governing entity’s mission.


The professional integrity of a registrar or collections specialist should establish a standard for the collection’s governing entity by:

  • Exercising great discretion in maintaining the confidential nature of proprietary information.
  • Not using influence or position for personal gain or to benefit another at the expense of the governing entity, its mission, its reputation, and its purposes.  
  • Maintaining ethical relationships with employers and others including other employees, members of the public, and representatives of various commercial enterprises whose services are solicited to perform their professional duties.
  • Avoiding any appearance of being influenced by gifts or dispensations provided by outside vendors; neither favoritism nor exclusion should influence a registrar or collections specialist’s decision to use the services of an outside vendor.  Should exclusion of any business or category of business be necessary, be prepared to articulate and to justify this decision.

Use of this Code of Ethics

The Code of Ethics for ARCS is a living document, designed to be distributed and used.  The ARCS Board of Directors will establish a schedule for its regular review and will provide for its distribution to its membership.  This code should be periodically updated to reflect any significant changes in the profession that express the widely shared values of ARCS.

Document History

Formally approved and adopted by the ARCS Board of Directors:  June 25, 2016

[1] AIC – American Institute of Conservation

ICOM -- International Council of Museums

ZRC –  Zoological Reference Collection

AAMC – American Association of Curators

AAMG – Association of Academic Museums and Galleries

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The mission of ARCS is to represent and promote registrars and collection specialists, to educate the profession in best practices of registration and collections care, and to facilitate communication and networking.

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