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Leicester Special Collections

The Purpose of a Museum

The purpose of a museum is a complex and ever evolving one. The Tyne and Wear Museum altered their mission statement within a year from:

“Tyne and Wear Museums assembles and protects evidence of human and environmental development in Tyne and Wear and, where appropriate, elsewhere; and provides the fullest access to that evidence to people of all ages, background and abilities.”[1] (1995)


“Tyne and Wear Museums assembles and protects evidence of human and environmental development, and, in making these fully accessible, strives to improve the quality of people’s lives in Tyne and Wear.”[2](1996)

The aim of the museum had changed from providing access to the collections to one where the museum was ‘an agent of social change’.[3] Not a complete redirection but a slight shift in focusing showing a level of responsiveness from museums to the wider world.

ICOM and the Museums Association are big governing bodies for museums both globally and in the UK. Their definitions are important as they are ones which are adhered to either nationally in the UK or by all museums globally. What they define as a museum is agreed upon by all institutions and are things that museums are striving to achieve. ICOM and the Museums Association highlight roles of education, collecting, accessibility, communication, exhibiting, researching and conserving.[4] This is all for the ‘education, study and enjoyment’ of the world.[5] Yet, are these values more modern or have they been established for some time? Just because something has been included more recently does not mean that its principles were not being respected prior to this. What was and is a museum’s purpose?

[1] David Fleming, ‘The Essence of the Museum: Mission, Values and Vision’, Conal McCarthy, The International Handbooks of Museum Studies: Museum Practice (1st ed), (John Wiley &Sons, Ltd., 2015), p. 11.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Museums Association, FAQs, <> [accessed 9/8/2017]; ICOM, Museum Definition, <> [accessed 9/8/2017].

[5] ICOM, Museum Definition