The Definition of a Museum

The definition of a museum is defined by the International Council of Museums as a permanent institution dedicated to the acquisition, conservation, communication, exhibition, and study of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity. It includes live museums and cultural institutes. The definition applies without limitation to the governing body and does not take into account the territorial character or orientation of collections. It is the repository of artifacts, which represent human culture throughout history.


The term museum is derived from Greek and Latin words, which both mean “place of learning”. The term originally referred to the sacred shrine of the Muses, but came to mean “place of study.” Since it originated in Greek culture, the word eventually came to be used to describe a place where people can learn about the arts. In other words, the word “museum” was derived from the idea that the museum is a place to learn and educate.

In the early 20th century, the concept of a museum began to spread. As Napoleon conquered the great cities of Europe, he confiscated art objects and used them for exhibits. Museums in those cities grew in size and complexity. Later, the treasures were returned to their owners. Though the concept of a museum was never fully realized, the idea was still influential and has been adopted throughout Europe. It has now become the standard.

The English term “museum” derives from the Latin term museum, or the plural of musea. The Greek word mouseion means “place dedicated to the Muses” and “building devoted to the arts and sciences.” The Ptolemies of Egypt set up the first museum in the third century BCE. The Alexandria Library became the first institute for research and philosophy. Its mission was to spread knowledge.

While the ICOM definition is similar to the Museum Association’s definition, the International Council of Museums’ definition emphasizes the work that museums do for other people. It is also the only universal definition that is based on the concept of a museum. A good definition of a museum will help you make the right decisions and improve public perception. In the end, the definition is your best guide to defining a museum. Just be sure to read the book and put it to use.

The ICOM has conducted a Consultation 2 on the definition of a museum. It sought input from members and analyzed the data. It then produced a report and decided to call the document “ICOM Define”. After the consultation, the ICOM will continue to use the results of the analysis to improve the definition. And the ICOM is a great source of information for the museum community. It provides a platform for sharing knowledge and information.