Research Uncovers Public Perceptions of Museums In Society

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28th June 2013 14:35 - Museums, Libraries and Archives

Research for the Museum Association recently looked in to public perceptions towards the purpose of museums of society. The methodology for this study involved six day-long  workshops with 90 respondents. The workshops took place at the Museum of London, York Castle Museum, The Cardiff Story, Riverside Museum (Glasgow), The Beaney (Canterbury) and the Museum of East Anglian Life (Stowmarket).  

Overall, the research found that there was a strong emotional attachment to museums and that perceptions have become more favourable – particularly as museums shed the image of being sterile and stuffy and have begun to adopt an image of being fun and interactive.

In contrast to other public organisations, such as the government and the media, museums held a position of trust for the qualitative respondents. There is also a feeling that museums are under threat from financial constraints and lack of attendance – respondents felt that museums should this focus on their primary roles. These roles were perceived to be:

·         Care for and preservation of heritage and culture

·         Holding and displaying collections

·         Creating and disseminating knowledge for and about society

Respondents generally held things like helping the vulnerable, protecting the natural environment and fostering a sense of community as desirable, but not essential. Still, some roles of museums were actively challenged by those involved in the research i.e. providing a forum for debate, promoting social and human rights. It should be noted that it was not felt museums should avoid the controversial topics, only that they should remain neutral in their portrayal and discussion of them.

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