Stewardship > Introduction


Stewardship is half of "Collections Stewardship".

Alone, a steward's collections are a passive, limited, nonrenewable resource, ever-impermanent and subject to deterioration — no matter how slow or rapid. When without context or documentation, even their authetnicity and value may be questioned.

Stewardship involves the action of a learning organization whose structure, cöoperative management, knowledge and skill are intangible — yet unlimited and renewable.

Through the combination of Collections and Stewardship, the value of a collection is augmented by its stewardship.

This is accomplished by stakeholders: organization board and staff, and members, professionals and the public, which are not only "customers" but investors who —

  • through interpretation and education — appreciate the value and,
  • through involvement and investment, value the appreciation of the steward's shared assets.

In fulfilling their mission, museums have traditionally found a tension between two main goals:

  • safeguarding its collections for the future, guided by the principle of intergenerational equity, while
  • making the collections available and interpreted for the present generation, as directed by its status as a nonprofit membership organization.

So there is an ongoing tension betweenpreservation and interpretation; between the conservation and curatorial departments; between a handful of stewards and the throngs of visitors coming for an educational experience.


"The term 'stewardship' is used throughout to describe the entire range of demands and responsibilities associated with the management of cultural heritage collections, whether books, manuscripts, objects or digital material. Effective stewardship is vital to explore fully the potential of our collections to enrich and improve people’s lives. It is the only bedrock upon which we can build a safe future for those collections, leaving them intact for our successors."

Introduction, Preserving the Past for the Future: Towards a National Framework for Collections Management, re:Source, The Council for Museums, Archives and Libraries, 2002

"The physical attributes of cultural resources are, with few exceptions, nonrenewable. Once the historic fabric of a monument is gone, nothing can bring back its authenticity; once the objects in an archeological site are disturbed, nothing can recover the information that might have been gained through analysis of their spatial relationships. The primary concern of cultural resource management, therefore, is to minimize the loss or degradation of culturally significant material. Closely related issues include compatibility between cultural resources and new development; consideration of visitor needs, especially those of special populations; incorporation of sustainable design principles in resource protection strategies; and support for the interpretation of park resources, both natural and cultural."

Chapter 1: Fundamental Concepts of Cultural Resource Management, A. Introduction, 3. Cultural Resource Management, NPS-28: Cultural Resource Management Guideline, National Park Service.

"...resources not only as an investment opportunity but as a trust, passed to us by our ancestors, to be enjoyed and passed on to our descendants for their use. Such a 'planetary trust' conveys to us both rights and responsibilities. Most importantly, it implies that future generations too have rights..."

Weiss, Edith Brown, Editor. II. Alternative approaches to intergenerational equity in Environmental change and international law: New challenges and dimensions, Tokyo, Japan: United Nations University Press, 1992

"Responsibility for updating ... skills, for properly caring for a collection, falls to everyone associated with a museum. If collections care is left solely to the curator, the registrar or even the conservator, the collection is in danger. Collections care must begin at the top, with the director. If the director is committed to caring for the collection, that commitment permeates every aspect of the institution and every staff member, volunteer and patron."

Alten, Helen. Collections Caretaker: It takes a staff to care for a collection, Northern States Conservation Center.

"The World Commission on Environment and Development defines sustainable development as 'development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs'."

Our Common Future, World Commission on Environment and Development, Oxford University Press, 1987.

The framers included these prohibitions in Article I, sections 9 and 10 because they recognized that nobility, as an institution of hereditary privilege, posed conspicuous issues of generational sovereignty. In Common Sense, Thomas Paine had identified the hereditary transmission of the English monarchy as "an insult and an imposition on posterity." Many early state constitutional provisions conjoined bans on nobility with wider bans on hereditary privilege.

The Stewardship Doctrine: Intergenerational Justice in the United States Constitution, Constitutional Law Foundation

"We have already noted the single most problematic element of nobility: the perpetual or hereditary nature of the conveyed privileges."

Intergenerational Justice in the United States Constitution, The Stewardship Doctrine: III. Constitutional Text, B. Prohibitions of Nobility, Constitutional Law Foundation

Intergenerational Justice in the United States Constitution, The Stewardship Doctrine: III. Constitutional Text, B Prohibitions of Nobility - continued, Constitutional Law Foundation

"The theory of intergenerational equity stipulates that all generations have an equal place in relation to the natural system. There is no basis for preferring the present generation over future generations in their use of the planet."

II. Alternative approaches to intergenerational equity, Environmental change and international law: New challenges and dimensions, in Environmental change and international law: New challenges and dimensions, Edith Brown Weiss, ed., Tokyo: United Nations University Press, 1992.

"Edmund Burke observed that 'as the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.

E. Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, 130-140 (1790), in 2 Works of Edmund Burke, 368 (London, 1854; Reprint Services, 1987).

"Three principles form the basis of intergenerational equity. First, each generation should be required to conserve the diversity of the natural and cultural resource base, so that it does not unduly restrict the options available to future generations in solving their problems and satisfying their own values, and should also be entitled to diversity comparable to that enjoyed by previous generations. This principle is called 'conservation of options."' Second, each generation should be required to maintain the quality of the planet so that it is passed on in no worse condition than that in which it was received, and should also be entitled to planetary quality comparable to that enjoyed by previous generations. This is the principle of 'conservation of quality.' Third, each generation should provide its members with equitable rights of access to the legacy of past generations and should conserve this access for future generations. This is the principle of 'conservation of access.'"

III. Principles of intergenerational equity in Environmental change and international law: New challenges and dimensions, Edith Brown Weiss, ed., Tokyo: United Nations University Press, 1992.

"2.3 Collections management, care, research and scholarship are seen as central to the access agenda. The concept of ‘intergenerational equity’ was used to emphasize this point. Many people interviewed pointed out that learning and access are only sustainable if investment in collections management and care is safeguarded:

  • ‘These [learning and access] will be empty without the collections and knowledge of collections’.
  • ‘Museums should be giving back to the public what is rightfully theirs’.

However, the increasing focus at national, regional and institutional level on learning and access is believed to be at the cost of stewardship and collections."

Portney, Paul R. and John P. Weyant,  Editors. Discounting and Intergenerational Equity, Washington, DC:, Resources for the Future, 1999.

"Our definitions of "cultural heritage" are in serious need of revision if they are genuinely to reflect global values and aspirations. Generally speaking, cultural heritage conservation tends towards the spectacular and the monumental: architectural monuments and sites, artifacts of ancient civilisations acquired both legitimately and illicitly, and fragments of distant and disparate cultures displayed out of context in the showcases of national and regional museums and private collections.

"Of special concern is the need to achieve a proper balance between cultural heritage and tourism. The tourist industry is important as arguably the fastest-growing industry in the world, but: care must be taken to ensure that cultural tourism does not aggravate major urban problems such as traffic congestion and air pollution in historic city centres..."

"...based on a multi-faceted exploration of the two-way relationship between "culture" and "development". The report shows that culture is the ultimate catalyst for development, when the latter is seen not just as a dollars and cents process, but much more broadly, as a process that enhances the freedom of people everywhere to pursue whatever goals they have reason to value."

Culture and Development , Chapter 7. Cultural heritage for development, Our Creative Diversity, Culture and Development Co-ordination Office UNESCO. Source: UNESCO, Counsil of Europe, Questionnaire on the Public Financing of Cultural Activities in Europe (provisional), 1994; Australia Bureau of Statistics, 1994; World Bank, 1994.

"John Ruskin complained about the widespread bad habit of letting buildings go into ruin, in order to restore them later, more impressively. On the contrary, he reccomended an utmost care and constant maintenance to prolong the life of the buildings.

"Nowadays, the awareness that only the material permanence of the buildings can guarantee the permanence of their values and meanings led us to redefine the maintenance of historical buildings as 'planned conservation', where new technologies and the knowledge of ancient techniques enhance one another to avoid major damages.

"Conservation, therefore, overlaps with scientific prevention. This perspective implies changing behaviour, ways of thinking and economic policies...."

Introduction, Risk Map of Architectural Heritage: From Cataloguing to Planned Preservation, Politecnico di Milano, 23 November 2000, Conference sponsored by RegioneLombardia.

Standards for Community Museums in Ontario, Ontario Ministry of Culture , August 2000.

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