More about museums
To better understand the breadth and depth of this opportunity, let's review what a museum is and what it's supposed to do.
The International Council of Museums, ICOM (http://icom.museum/definition.html), defines a museum a little differently than you might expect. They see it as "a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment." The ICOM's code of ethics for museums consists of eight points:
- Museums preserve, interpret and promote aspects of the natural and cultural inheritance of humanity.
- Museums that maintain collections hold them in trust for the benefit of society and its development.
- Museums hold primary evidence for establishing and furthering knowledge.
- Museums provide opportunities for the appreciation, enjoyment, understanding and management of the natural and cultural heritage.
- Museums hold resources that provide opportunities for other public services and benefits.
- Museums work in close collaboration with the communities from which their collections originate as well as those they serve.
- Museums operate in a legal manner.
- Museums operate in a professional manner.
The American Association of Museums (http://www.aam-us.org/) Code of Ethics begins by stating that:
Museums make their unique contribution to the public by collecting, preserving, and interpreting the things of this world. Historically, they have owned and used natural objects, living and nonliving, and all manner of human artifacts to advance knowledge and nourish the human spirit. Today, the range of their special interests reflects the scope of human vision. Their missions include collecting and preserving, as well as exhibiting and educating with materials not only owned but also borrowed and fabricated for these ends. Their numbers include both governmental and private museums of anthropology, art history and natural history, aquariums, arboreta, art centers, botanical gardens, children's museums, historic sites, nature centers, planetariums, science and technology centers, and zoos. The museum universe in the United States includes both collecting and noncollecting institutions. Although diverse in their missions, they have in common their nonprofit form of organization and a commitment of service to the public. Their collections and/or the objects they borrow or fabricate are the basis for research, exhibits, and programs that invite public participation.
Taken as a whole, museum collections and exhibition materials represent the world's natural and cultural common wealth. As stewards of that wealth, museums are compelled to advance an understanding of all natural forms and of the human experience. It is incumbent on museums to be resources for humankind and in all their activities to foster an informed appreciation of the rich and diverse world we have inherited. It is also incumbent upon them to preserve that inheritance for posterity.
These descriptions may not correspond with your personal experience of museums across the world. To be sure, few would say that museums, as a rule, provide an exciting visitor experience with cutting edge technologies. Several museums are leveraging technology with interaction, kiosks, and online access to provide a rich user experience, but they are the exceptions.