When you hear the word museum, you may think of a building full of old things. But there is much more to a museum than just that. They are places to learn and share. They are places to gather artifacts, organize them, and make them available for everyone to enjoy and study. Museums have a rich history, spanning back to what may be an innate human desire to collect and interpret. They have also grown in the modern age as museums become more embracing of diversity, bringing in more people than ever before to learn and experience all that they have to offer.
The word museum was derived from the Greek mouseion, meaning “seat of the Muses.” In Roman times, it denoted a place for philosophical discussion and study. It was then used in Europe as a term to describe collections of curiosities, including Ole Worm’s collection in Copenhagen and John Tradescant’s in Lambeth, later to be referred to as the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. The museum concept spread across the world, with the most famous being the British Museum in London.
Today, museums are considered non-profit institutions that research, collect, conserve, and exhibit tangible and intangible heritage, operating professionally and ethically to foster diversity and sustainability. The museum is a public service organization that educates, inspires, and engages diverse communities by providing experiences for enjoyment, reflection, education and knowledge sharing.
Museums acquire objects through a variety of means, such as purchasing or trading them, collecting them from the field, receiving them as gifts or bequests, and borrowing them from other museums. Larger museums often have an “Acquisitions Department” whose staff is engaged in this activity full time. They also collaborate with other institutions to sponsor joint, often traveling, exhibits on subjects for which they have no adequate collection.
The most popular type of museum is the history museum, which covers all aspects of human culture. Other types include art, natural history, and archaeology museums. Some museums focus on a specific geographic area or a single person. Others, such as living museums or historic houses, recreate a particular historical period to the extent that visitors can experience it, even eating the food of that time and speaking the language.
One of the biggest challenges faced by museums is the issue of diversity. Many museums have historically tended to hire the same types of people, which has led to issues with representation. However, museums are beginning to recognize these problems and are working to change the way they do business. There are now resources available to help museums find more diverse employees and to provide them with the training they need. In addition, there are some great programs to encourage young people from underrepresented groups to pursue careers in the museum sector.