Matagorda County Museum Our Blog What Is a Museum?

What Is a Museum?


Museums can be quiet halls that smell of old books and musty rugs or noisy centers where children run hither and yon. They can display art created by famous artists or contain collections of living insects. They can be prestigious institutions that are visited by millions or a local attraction that brings in just a few hundred people per week. They can have revered words of wisdom or exhibits that are a little edgy and controversial. Whatever they are, museums are the places where cultural heritage is preserved and interpreted. And, as a result, they are the foundation of our collective identity.

There are many definitions of museum floating around the world, from the Museum Association of America’s official one to a clever video made by an adorable kid. Museum professionals have also been debating the definition for years, and some even argue that a museum doesn’t need to be permanent to be a museum. The debate has become especially heated in light of the growing popularity of pop up museums, which challenge traditional museum thinking by demonstrating that a museum doesn’t necessarily have to be a place to house an extensive collection.

Regardless of how they are defined, most professional museums agree that museums have a responsibility to the public to care for and interpret their collections. This can be done through exhibitions, publications, educational programming, research and conservation. They are also responsible for making their spaces safe for all visitors. This can be accomplished by having trained security staff present, creating policies and procedures, and working with communities to develop safety protocols. Finally, they are responsible for ensuring that their collections are accessed by the public, and this can be achieved through the use of digital tools or by providing access to their archives or reading rooms.

A museum can be a place for educating the general public about culture and history, but they should also strive to be places where people come together and form community. This can be done by embracing their positions as places where multiple voices can speak and people from different backgrounds can meet in a neutral space. It can also be done through a focus on social justice and a commitment to diversity and inclusion.

The new ICOM definition of a museum has placed a greater emphasis on the role of museums as a platform for empowerment and on their ability to bridge differences between people. It has shifted away from the old ICOM definition, which stated that museums are for “the purposes of education, study and enjoyment.”

Museums are increasingly coming to realise that knowledge is located in a specific context. They recognise that their own staff and visitor demographic affects the kinds of knowledge they create and the ability-or inability-to meet the needs of people from diverse perspectives. They are also recognizing that they are a part of a global community, and that their work must take into account the different cultures they are a part of.