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March 24, 2011



Are museums just as crucial as libraries is an interesting question!

I would say no, and I think you've hit the nail on your head with your insight about admission fees. Libraries are free and open to all, and can therefore be a more democratic force both by disseminating information freely AND by bringing everyone together. Also, particularly in the case of public libraries which are generally government-supported, everyone in the community is a stakeholder.

Conversely, the price of admission makes a museum a more elite place. Although a museum also preserves culture and disseminates knowledge, the museum doesn't belong to everyone.

Mark Osborne

This is a great question. Yes, I do believe museums are as crucial to a community as libraries, parks, colleges, the arts, etc. Whether charging for admission, no matter how meager, makes museums elitist is debatable. In my town, we do have museums that are funded 100% by the city, and thus, pose a challenge to those of us who must charge a nominal fee for admission. (Not sure $3 for adults smacks of elitism.) At this time, we do admit organized school groups for free because we do receive a small amount of hotel/motel tax money. Whether museums are "democratically" funded or not, they do serve as partners to libraries, in that, they help to bring alive many of the ideas and stories found in books.


Museums can be crucial for democracy when they show a retrospective of events, items or ideas and tie them in to current events. But, with a few exceptions, I feel museums generally do not answer the "How", "Why", "What if" questions a good democracy should be asking as effectively and in depth as a library can.

Another democratizing factor libraries have in their favor is the "Inter-library Loan" system. With it I can easily get obscure resources from distant locations locally. My local museums don't have the capacity to bring me artifacts from other museums to study. If I can't afford to travel to the host museum I'm out of luck.

Jennifer Caleshu

A few library/museum differences that I can think of, that help get at the essential-ness of libraries, and the relative in-essentialness of museums (i.e. civically funded vs non-profit model - where we as a culture put our tax dollars says a lot, I think): I think libraries also aim generally to be a repository of a wide variety of knowledge, while museums generally have a curatorial point of view or subject-matter specificity. Sure, there are specific libraries (architecture, maritime history etc) or museums that are interdisciplinary, but I still think museums generally have a point of view that I don't feel libraries have. This makes libraries inherently more 'open' and 'democratic', in my opinion. People also don't expect subject-matter expertise from librarians (though of course they are experts in other ways), whereas there are subject-experts in museums.

Melissa Mannon

While libraries open a world of knowledge, museums open a world of identity. Preserving our cultural heritage -- keeping the objects that show who we are and how we got here -- is crucial to the forward movement of a free society. Unlike public libraries, museum hold original items that make us think specifically about ourselves and our communities. Museums tie us together by showing a common past and also point out our differences so we can better understand each other.

I do agree that public fervor for museums would lag behind libraries. I also agree that it is in part because of fees. I would also add that many museums need to work on how they promote themselves. The most successful museums tie their mission and goals directly to individuals. More need to focus on how their resources and programs benefit the community directly and to develop programs that emphasize this. Just opening doors and inviting the public in for free is not going to change the perception of a museum's relevance.

Great post! I could go on and on with this topic. There's so much to think about and so many comparisons that we can make between what one type of cultural heritage institution does compared to another. I hope that museums, libraries, and archives work harder to learn from one another and examine ways we can adapt each others' strategies for success.

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