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Abandoned Property Project


Introduction

The Abandoned Property in Cultural Institutions Law Project is an effort to identify states that have laws which allow cultural institutions such as museums and archives to obtain ownership of abandoned or orphan collections, that is, loaned property in the possession of a repository for which the repository has no reasonable means of contacting its owner.   Starting with information Mark Greene had compiled when he was working to have such a law passed in Minnesota, section members searched the codes and statutes of each state.  The resulting list details which states have abandoned property laws specific to property held by cultural institutions, a citation to the law, links to the statute online, and any pertinent notes.  It is a resource to make archivists in states with the laws aware of the options available to them, and archivists in states without these laws are encouraged to use this resource to formulate similar legislation for their state and advocate for its passage. 

Typically, the laws are named some variation of “Museum Property Act” and include a definition of what is considered to be a museum.  Some laws specifically include archives in that definition and others are not as clear.  Another variation is for only state museums to be covered by the law.  As a rule, the general provisions are as follows:

  • the property has been held by the repository a specified number of years;
  • the repository sends notice by certified mail, return receipt requested, to the last known address of the lender (if the collection is undocumented, that is, if the name of the original owner is unknown, the repository instead must publish a notice in the local newspaper where it is located.);
  • if no response is received after a specified time period, the collection is considered abandoned and becomes property of the repository. 

This table only includes unclaimed or abandoned property laws specific to such materials in museums, libraries, historical societies, or other cultural institutions.  Those indicated as not having such laws may have general unclaimed or abandoned property laws that might serve an institution’s purposes. 

Note:  This information is provided as a service to archivists and was not compiled by lawyers or legislative staffers.  If you wish to implement the provisions of these laws to obtain ownership of a collection, you should confirm the information provided herein.

The committee thanks Mark Greene for generously sharing his research, which was the germ of the idea for this project.

Abandoned Property Project Committee

Tara Z. Laver, C.A.
Curator of Manuscripts
Special Collections, Louisiana State University Libraries

Brenda S. McClurkin, C.A.
Manuscript Archivist
Special Collections, University of Texas at Arlington Library

Michelle Sweetser
Archivist
John P. Raynor, S.J. Library, Marquette University

 


Page last updated September 21, 2009.