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2 minutes to read Posted on Wednesday February 13, 2019

Updated on Monday November 6, 2023

portrait of Beth Daley

Beth Daley

Editorial Adviser , Europeana Foundation

Proposals wanted for a new definition of museums

ICOM - the International Council of Museums - is looking for proposals for a new definition of 'museum'. 

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Exteriör Vänersborgs Museum
Vänersborgs museum

This month on Europeana Pro, we've got growth mindsets on our minds. That is, a focus on how we learn, how we improve, how we use change to progress for the better.

And that's something that chimes with a recent call from ICOM - the International Council of Museums - who have recognised that the world is changing, that museums are changing, and that to go with that, how we describe them should change too.

What is a 'museum'?

ICOM's current definition of a 'museum' is 'a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment.'

Time to think again

The organisation is now asking its members, committees, partners and other interested stakeholders to participate in developing a new definition, saying that, 'The current definition, which has only seen minor adjustments over the past few decades, does not reflect and express adequately the complexities of the 21stcentury and the current responsibilities and commitments of museums, nor their challenges and visions for the future.'

The new museum definition will be discussed at the 25th ICOM General Conference, which will take place in Kyoto, 1-7 September 2019.

A global response

So far, 56 proposals have been made. You can view them all on ICOM's website. The responses are truly global with many from Europe, but also the United States, Canada, Uganda, China, Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, New Zealand, Ecuador, Mozambique, the Philippines, Yemen and Iran.

How much is digital?

Of course, when we talk about Europeana, we're talking about digital, and a lot of the time, we're talking about museums. So, does Europeana Collections fit any of the proposed new definitions of a museum? Of the 56 proposals to date, only three include the word 'digital', while only six reference 'technology' or 'technologies'.

How much of your institution's identity is created in the digital realm? And should a new definition of museum be able to represent an online-only experience, or must it always relate to bricks and mortar (or steel and concrete)? 

See the proposals so far and submit your own on ICOM's website.