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Definition

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.

Collections Management Preserving the Past for the Future, Re:source, The Council for Museums, Archives and Libraries, London, England.

The steward, or “keeper of the hall”, was the official in a medieval household responsible for its management. Under the feudal system, it was the lord who had all of the legal authority. The steward had only a delegation of that authority, and a mandate to administer the estate. His stewardship of the estate was all-inclusive, from the broadest policies to the most trivial details. For the estate to function properly, the steward needed to hold himself accountable for all that took place in the household. He might delegate; but he would maintain an interest in all happenings, make it his business to know all of the operational details, and know when to intervene and when to concentrate on other matters. He would need to gather information, both from reports by the staff and from actual inspection of the estate. He would need to ensure that the staff was properly trained, and would understand their tasks as much as possible, to the point of being the primary instructor for all household tasks. It was, of course, an enormous responsibility. But the best steward would be the one who felt the responsibility on the deepest level, who identified with the role and carried it out with devoted industry.

Metaphors and representations, The Stewardship Project edited by O.T. Ford.

 

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