What Is a Museum?


A museum is an institution that collects, preserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment. The definition includes live museums (museums that have regular exhibitions and programs) and virtual museums (museums that exist mainly online).

Although the definition is broad, museums share common features that include a non-profit status, a permanent collection of objects or documentation in a publicly accessible location, and the role of public service. Most museums are run by a director who is responsible for all aspects of the museum, including collections management, which encompasses hands-on care, movement and storage. A museum can also have a curator who is responsible for selecting and organizing collections for exhibition and/or research. In large museums there is often a research division or institute that organizes field work and scholarly publications related to the objects in the collection.

Museums acquire objects in many ways, either through purchase or donation, or through an exchange with other institutions that have similar interests. Most museums have a specific collection policy to guide what is and is not included in the collection. Museums frequently cooperate to sponsor joint, sometimes traveling, exhibits on subjects that are too extensive for one museum to by itself have an adequate collection to present.

The best museums in the world make visitors think differently about society, while making art and history more interesting and accessible than ever before. From the V&A to museums around the globe, these 5 best museums beckon people to explore new cultures and topics through carefully curated collections and transcending exhibitions.

Despite the fact that museums are generally known as places of knowledge, the truth is that museum visitors come from all walks of life and have different interests. The top museums in the world all know this, and are constantly striving to make their exhibitions and programs more engaging and relevant to diverse audiences.

As the number of visitors to museums continues to rise, so do concerns about how a museum can manage visitor flows and provide an enjoyable experience for everyone in the building. Many museums are turning to technology to address these issues, with new platforms allowing visitors to book their visit ahead of time and to choose the date and time slot that works best for them. This is helping to improve the overall experience for visitors and helping museums better manage visitor numbers, which in turn helps to protect their objects and collections.

While there are a number of definitions for museum floating around, most major professional organizations have come to the conclusion that a museum is a non-profit, permanent institution, open to the public, that acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and displays the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity for the purpose of education, study and enjoyment. The International Council of Museums (ICOM) is currently working on a definition for museums that goes beyond describing the physical structure, and embraces the social responsibility of the museum to serve all of its audiences.