What Is a Museum?


A museum is a place where people collect, preserve, and interpret objects related to history. This activity has been part of human culture for millennia. It began with the ancient Greek word mouseion, which means “seat of the Muses” and evolved into museums in the Roman period, when collections of artifacts were established as an important educational institution.

Definition: A museum is a not-for-profit, permanent institution that researches, collects, conserves, interprets and exhibits tangible and intangible heritage. Its activities are open to the public, accessible and inclusive, fostering diversity and sustainability.

There are many types of museum, each with a unique purpose and function. For example, subject-specific museums emphasize one cultural group or interest, while universal museums embrace multiple cultures across the world.

These types of museums usually feature a collection that is well organized and displayed, with research and education departments engaged to provide interpretation. They are usually run by a director, who oversees a curatorial staff that cares for the objects and arranges their display.

They may also have an archivist or librarian, who documents the collection, organizes expeditions to acquire new items, and prepares them for exhibition. Larger museums often have an acquisitions department devoted to this task fulltime.

Typically, a museum’s collections are arranged by theme or theme area. For example, the Salvador Dali Museum in Barcelona has a section dedicated to the artist’s work, with other galleries displaying artifacts and memorabilia associated with him and his life.

Another type of museum is the site-specific museum, which is a museum that takes up a space within an historic building or place and is dedicated to that site’s history. It could be a house, a dry-docked ship, or a park that has been restored to its original state.

This kind of museum is an excellent way to show off the natural beauty and historical significance of a site. It is generally a smaller, more intimate place than the traditional museum, but its goal is to display objects and create an atmosphere that is educational and engaging for visitors.

Museums can be governmental or non-governmental organizations, or privately owned and family-run. Most are open to the general public and charge an admission fee.

There are many different kinds of museums, but their common goal is to preserve and represent the cultural heritage of a particular society. They range from national museums that house the vast collections of royalty to local and regional museums, which exhibit objects and documents from a region or city.

In modern times, some museums have been used to revitalize a city’s economy or rejuvenate a postindustrial neighborhood. For instance, the Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain was built to resurrect the once-dilapidated port area of Bilbao and increase tourism and employment opportunities for its residents.

The International Council of Museums (Icom) adopted a new definition for its members in 2019, which includes words like “inclusivity,” “accessibility,” and “sustainability.” It also pushes museums to take into account diverse perspectives in their collections and interpretation practices. This definition was the result of an 18-month, four-round consultation process with representatives from 126 National Committees of Icom, including more than 50,000 members worldwide.