Take the Pledge

Demonstrate and communicate your commitment to standards and ethics.

Continuum of Excellence

Learn about steps you can take toward excellence.

National Standards & Best Practices for U.S. Museums

Book Cover: National Standards & Best Practices for US Museums

An essential reference work for the museum community, this publication is available as a free PDF to all museum members.

Characteristics of Excellence

The 38 characteristics listed below are the core standards. Broken into seven categories, these broad, outcome oriented statements are adaptable for museums of all types and sizes, with each museum fulfilling them in different ways depending on their unique circumstances (mission, resources, governance, collections, etc...). Within each category, you will also find a link to additional standards and best practices to help your museum achieve excellence.

Public Trust and Accountability

  • The museum is a good steward of its resources held in the public trust.
  • The museum identifies the communities it serves, and makes appropriate decisions in how it serves them.
  • Regardless of its self-identified communities, the museum strives to be a good neighbor in its geographic area.
  • The museum strives to be inclusive and offers opportunities for diverse participation.
  • The museum asserts its public service role and places education at the center of that role.
  • The museum demonstrates a commitment to providing the public with physical and intellectual access to the museum and its resources.
  • The museum is committed to public accountability and is transparent in its mission and its operations.
  • The museum complies with local, state, and federal laws, codes, and regulations applicable to its facilities, operations, and administration.

Additional Standards

  • Standards Regarding an Institutional Code of Ethics

Mission and Planning

  • The museum has a clear understanding of its mission and communicates why it exists and who benefits as a result of its efforts.
  • All aspects of the museum’s operations are integrated and focused on meeting its mission.
  • The museum’s governing authority and staff think and act strategically to acquire, develop, and allocate resources to advance the mission of the museum.
  • The museum engages in ongoing and reflective institutional planning that includes involvement of its audiences and community.
  • The museum establishes measures of success and uses them to evaluate and adjust its activities.

Additional Standards

  • Standards Regarding Institutional Mission Statements
  • Standards Regarding Institutional Planning

Leadership and Organizational Structure

  • The governance, staff and volunteer structures and processes effectively advance the museum’s mission.
  • The governing authority, staff and volunteers have a clear and shared understanding of their roles and responsibilities.
  • The governing authority, staff, and volunteers legally, ethically and effectively carry out their responsibilities.
  • The composition, qualifications, and diversity of the museum’s leadership, staff, and volunteers enable it to carry out the museum’s mission and goals.
  • There is a clear and formal division of responsibilities between the governing authority and any group that supports the museum, whether separately incorporated or operating within the museum or its parent organization.

Additional Standards

  • Standards Regarding Governance
  • Standards for Museums with Joint Governance
  • Standards Regarding the Composition of the Governing Authority
  • Standards Regarding Delegation of Authority

Collections Stewardship

  • The museum owns, exhibits, or uses collections that are appropriate to its mission.
  • The museum legally, ethically, and effectively manages, documents, cares for, and uses the collections.
  • The museum’s collections-related research is conducted according to appropriate scholarly standards.
  • The museum strategically plans for the use and development of its collections.
  • Guided by its mission, the museum provides public access to its collections while ensuring their preservation.

Additional Standards

  • Standards Regarding Loaning Collections to Non-Museum Entities
  • Standards Regarding the Unlawful Appropriation of Objects During the Nazi Era
  • Standards Regarding Archaeological Material and Ancient Art

Education and Interpretation

  • The museum clearly states its overall educational goals, philosophy, and messages, and demonstrates that its activities are in alignment with them.
  • The museum understands the characteristics and needs of its existing and potential audiences and uses this understanding to inform its interpretation.
  • The museum’s interpretive content is based on appropriate research.
  • Museums conducting primary research do so according to scholarly standards.
  • The museum uses techniques, technologies, and methods appropriate to its educational goals, content, audiences, and resources.
  • The museum presents accurate and appropriate content for each of its audiences.
  • The museum demonstrates consistent high quality in its interpretive activities.
  • The museum assesses the effectiveness of its interpretive activities and uses those results to plan and improve its activities.

Additional Standards

  • Standards Regarding Exhibiting Borrowed Objects

Financial Stability

  • The museum legally, ethically, and responsibly acquires, manages and allocates its financial resources in a way that advances its mission.
  • The museum operates in a fiscally responsible manner that promotes its long-term sustainability.

Additional Standards

  • Standards Regarding Developing and Managing Business and Individual Donor Support
  • Standards Regarding Retrenchment or Downsizing

Facilities and Risk Management

  • The museum allocates its space and uses its facilities to meet the needs of the collections, audience, and staff.
  • The museum has appropriate measures to ensure the safety and security of people, its collections and/or objects, and the facilities it owns or uses.
  • The museum has an effective program for the care and long-term maintenance of its facilities.
  • The museum is clean and well-maintained, and provides for the visitors’ needs.
  • The museum takes appropriate measures to protect itself against potential risk and loss.

Additional Standards

  • Standards for Facilities and Risk Management as Related to Contractors
  • Standards for Museums Housed in Historic Structures