Museums, Education, and Programming: Issues and Problems

27 Mar

By Brandon Mason

One of the primary goals of every museum should be to educate the public through their collections. The way in which a museum educates the public is multifaceted. The interactions between collection and visitor can be as varied as the objects within the collection. Depending on the age group of the target audience, a museum collection can be utilized in a variety of ways in order to deliver an educational lesson.

Children's Museum in Tucson, AZ

In Cornelia Brüninghaus-Knube’s article, “Museum Education in the Context of Museum Functions,” she discusses several ways in which museums’ collections interact with the public for educational purposes. One of the ways Brüninghaus-Knube states that collections interact is through exhibit labels and captions on individual items. Technology has also become an important element of museum education. Visitors often learn through audio, visual, and computer media presented in the museum.

Another way in which the collections interact is through tour guides and educational speech. Brüninghaus-Knube also mentions activity workshops, field exercises, and tactile displays and aids which allow visitors controlled hands-on experience with cultural items in collections.

In addition to the several methods already mentioned, Brüninghaus-Knube points out that although the interaction is intended to be educational, it also provides an entertainment value to the visitors. Games, role-playing theater, and demonstrations provide entertainment and educational opportunities.  The many ways, in which museums use their collections in order to educate the public, illustrates the importance placed on education by museum management.[1]

According to Nina Simon, museum visitation has dropped due to availability of information to the public via the internet and social networks.[2] Without having read Simon’s book, I assumed the decrease in museum visitation was due to increased access to information via the internet, social networks, and television programming. With so much history and culture available at one’s fingertips, why leave the house to learn about the Sam Davis home?

Old Museum Display: La Porte County Historical Society & Museum in La Porte, IN -

I believe that many people have the idea that museums are just dusty old displays cases filled with an artifact and a note card telling what it is. While, sadly some museums are exactly what I just described, many are beginning to give the public reasons to visit. I believe that the only way to get a larger audience into museums in 2012 is through interactive and entertaining methods.

Museums have to offer a cultural learning experience that is not offered through watching television or surfing the internet. Simon’s solution to the museum visitation problem is to develop museums into participatory cultural institutions. She defines a participatory institution as a place where visitors can create, share, and connect with each other around content.[3]

Simon states that the first thing museums have to do in order to combat the current trend is by becoming more comfortable, accessible, and convenient to the public.[4]With that said, museums and libraries must adapt to fit the needs of today’s visitors by allowing the public to engage with the content and collections in ways that create new dialogue.

In a sense, participatory simply means to establish an environment in which visitors are actively involved with the content of the institution in their own way. Without making these necessary changes, museums will continue to be in danger of becoming useless to the general public. By producing a more comfortable and inviting environment in which the public can readily access and learn, museums and libraries will be able to effectively compete with corporate entities. If museums refuse to change, the public will simply seek more convenient outlets for knowledge and culture.

[1] Cornelia Brüninghaus-Knube, “Museum Education in the Context of Museum Functions,” ICOM – International Council of Museums and Running a Museum: A Practical Handbook. Selections: • Museum Education, pp. 119-132
[2] Nina Simon, The Participatory Museum – Preface
[3] Ibid.

Posted by on March 27, 2012 in museums, Uncategorized


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2 responses to “Museums, Education, and Programming: Issues and Problems

  1. Rachel

    March 27, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    I think you make a lot of good points, but I have a question for you! You mention the need for libraries and museums to become more relevant and engaging, but I notice that you didn’t mention archives. Like museums, archives not only help people connect to the past but also house and exhibit artifacts (although archives exhibit scans instead of originals). Also, like museums, sites like are removing the public need to visit these institutions.

    Do you think archives should also find ways to be more engaging to prevent becoming irrelevant, or you think that archives are fundamentally different enough from museums to pursue a different approach to being relevant? How does this differ then, if you think it does, from your conclusion that libraries should take the same approach to relevancy as museums?

  2. explorationsph

    March 29, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    Thank you very much for reading and commenting on my blog entry. Y
    ou make a valid point in suggesting the inclusion of archives. Archives absolutely fall into the same category as museums and libraries. You mentioned one of several archival records sites that are increasingly making a visit to a physical archive appear less necessary. From my genealogical research experience using and others, the need for participatory archives has never been greater. Although gives researchers access to several hundred large databases worldwide, there are many Federal, State, and local repository databases unavailable. Just as promotes easy of use, accessibility, low cost, and answers to one’s past, archives should strive to be just as accommodating and appealing to the public.
    Archives, at every level, offer a wealth of information. With the 1940 U.S. Census becoming available in just a few days, I believe there will be an increased interest in genealogical research. I fully expect the census to produce just as many questions as answers; therefore, local and State archives should be prepared to engage the public in finding answers to these new questions.
    – Brandon Mason


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