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MCZ Collections Operations

Resources - Internal Protocols

Accessioning Protocol

Each MCZ department is responsible for maintaining their own records for compliance with all international, federal, state, and local laws and regulations. In accessioning new material into collections, below are some standard guidelines that, when followed, will ensure that the department is in accordance with relevant compliance concerns and standard museum practice for the enhancement


Legal accession procedures require written documentation transferring ownership and showing the legal acquisition and movement of the object(s) by the donor.

Transfer of Ownership

  • If the object(s) is from a sister institution, we need that institution's invoice/paperwork gifting the material to the MCZ.
  • If the object(s) is from an individual, the specimen must legally be gifted to the MCZ by letter or they must fill out an MCZ Deed of Transfer Form.
  • If the object(s) cannot be gifted (e.g., from USFWS, other government agency) then the documentation should state explicitly the exact conditions of stewardship. Note: these accessions need to be approved by the MCZ Director beforehand since they are committing the MCZ to future obligations.

Legal Acquisition and Movement

  • Acquire the originals (preferred) or copies of all permits, export, and import paperwork; specifically, 1) the collecting permit(s) from the country of origin, 2) the export permit(s) from the country of origin, and 3) the import permit(s) into the US (e.g., USFWS 3-177, USDA permit).
    • Collecting permits may be required within the US as well, since some areas (e.g., National Parks Service lands) require permits to collect.
  • If an object(s) was given to the donor (not collected by donor), we need the paperwork that documents this transfer of ownership.
  • If this documentation is not available, then the letter (or MCZ Deed of Transfer Form) must attest to the fact that the object(s) was collected, obtained, and moved legally.

Ancillary Documentation that enhances the value of the collection

  • Copies of field notes that include the gifted specimens (including an electronic file of the data). Field notes should be archived.
  • Copies of slides, digital media, call recordings, etc.
  • If parts of the specimen(s) are not being gifted (e.g., tissues, histological slides), document where the parts are housed. If possible, establish a second acquisition protocol (MCZ receives the parts if, and when, the donor relinquishes ownership, such as retirement).

Please note that MCZ staff are not authorized to provide any document from the MCZ, or themselves, to either acknowledge or supplement a tax deduction. This is a legal matter for Harvard/MCZ and there is a higher administrative protocol that must be met. For all matters and questions on this issue, please contact Linda S. Ford at Collections Operations.

These accession documents must be maintained and archived, allowing retrieval in perpetuity.

Proper documentation should be discussed among respective faculty-curators, curatorial staff, post doctoral fellows, graduate and undergraduate students, and any researchers associated with the department that acquire specimens, including tissues, for the collection and/or their research.

For more information on any of these issues, please contact Linda S. Ford at Collections Operations.