What is a Museum?


Museums hold billions of artifacts and treasures that tell the story of human civilization and natural history from the earth’s inception. These collections are a valuable source of information for researchers and a source of delight for visitors. Whether it’s the Louvre in Paris or the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, most people can name a few museums that are famous for their fine art displays. Museums often serve as economic engines in their local communities, revitalizing cities and providing jobs for residents. The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain is a prime example. Its construction was a huge draw for tourists and brought much needed economic development to the city of Bilbao.

There are many different types of museums in the world, including governmental and non-governmental, and for profit and not for profit. Many museums charge an entrance fee to enter, but there are some that are free. Museums may be privately owned, family or corporate and there are even pop up museums. Museums are usually staffed by curators that manage the collection, conduct research and prepare exhibits for public viewing. They are also staffed by volunteers, who play a vital role in the museum’s mission.

Most museums have an extensive library that has a broad range of books on subjects related to their exhibitions. They may have an online catalog that shows present, future and past special exhibitions. Museums often organize traveling exhibitions that are shown at other museums around the world. Typically, these are accompanied by a brochure or gallery guide for the audience.

A museum’s staff is trained to answer questions about the exhibits and their history. They are a vital resource for the public and are able to connect with audiences in ways that other professionals cannot. Museums are also responsible for the preservation of their collections. The staff and volunteers make sure the items are in good condition for the next generation of patrons.

The museum profession has been evolving rapidly in recent years. Museums have responded to social and cultural issues with exhibitions about the restitution of African cultural heritage and climate change. Museums are increasingly being asked to cede some of their institutional authority to the community and shift their objectives from transmitting expert knowledge to fostering dialogue and connection.

The International Council of Museums (ICOM) is currently in the process of redefining their definition of what is a museum. A number of different proposals have been put forward, and ICOM members are encouraged to submit their own ideas on the subject. In addition, the ICOM’s definition reformulation committee has been conducting consultation with its constituents to help guide the process. In the coming months, the results of those consultations will be published on ICOM’s website.