A museum is a place where people go to see art, history or culture and learn something new about their surroundings. Museums come in many shapes and sizes, from hushed halls that smell of old books to noisy centers full of children running hither and thither. They contain revered paintings by the likes of Leonardo DaVinci to collections of living insects. They have curators traveling the world to gather and care for the collection as well as education departments that help visitors interpret the collection. Museums can be found in every city around the globe and serve a variety of purposes.
Whether they’re designed for scholarly research, to inspire learning, or to transmit overtly ideological concepts museums are a truly remarkable type of institution. Despite the vast diversity in form and purpose, all museums are bound by a common goal: to preserve and present some aspect of society’s cultural consciousness for the benefit of future generations.
In ancient times, the word “museum” was used to describe a collection of things that might have religious, magical, economic or aesthetic value, sometimes in temples, often in special treasuries, but always for display. The collecting of objects that have cultural significance, whether as a votive offering or a curiosity was undertaken by individual collectors as well as by societies at large.
As the collecting of art, science or ethnographic material began to become a more widespread and accessible activity, the need for institutions that could store, organize, conserve and make these items available to the public was felt. The first museum-like institutions were founded for a wide range of reasons: to serve as recreational facilities, scholarly venues or educational resources; to attract tourism to an area; to promote civic pride or nationalistic endeavour; to provide educational opportunities; to transmit overtly ideological concepts; and to foster a sense of culture and heritage.
Museums are complex buildings that have to accommodate a wide variety of users and their needs. This requires a high level of expertise and knowledge, as well as careful planning to ensure that the building has the necessary infrastructure. Accessibility is a key aspect of this and should be a priority throughout the building, from the entrance and reception areas through to the exhibition spaces themselves.
There are also the collections themselves that need to be carefully protected from theft, vandalism and accidents that could damage rare or valuable objects. They are housed in areas that are secure but often open to the public, requiring staff to patrol the spaces and monitor particularly important or sensitive pieces. They are also often situated within a building that has to comply with local building regulations and meet other regulatory requirements. The way that the collections are circulated through the space is another area to consider. This may take the form of a linear layout with a beginning, middle and end or a loop that allows visitors to move in a variety of ways.