National Standards & Best Practices for U.S. Museums

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Education and Interpretation

Standards Regarding 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.

Standards Regarding Exhibiting Borrowed Objects

Before considering exhibiting borrowed objects, a museum should have in place a written policy, approved by its governing authority and publicly accessible on request, that addresses the following issues:

Borrowing Objects

The policy will contain provisions:

  • Ensuring that the museum determines that there is a clear connection between the exhibition of the object(s) and the museum’s mission, and that the inclusion of the object(s) is consistent with the intellectual integrity of the exhibition.
  • Requiring the museum to examine the lender’s relationship to the institution to determine if there are potential conflicts of interest or an appearance of a conflict, such as in cases where the lender has a formal or informal connection to museum decision making (for example, as a board member, staff member or donor). 
  • Including guidelines and procedures to address such conflicts or the appearance of conflicts or influence. Such guidelines and procedures may require withdrawal from the decision-making process of those with a real or perceived conflict, extra vigilance by decision makers, disclosure of the conflict or declining the loan.
  • Prohibiting the museum from accepting any commission or fee from the sale of objects borrowed for exhibition. This prohibition does not apply to displays of objects explicitly organized for the sale of those objects, for example craft shows.

Lender Involvement

The policy should assure that the museum will maintain intellectual integrity and institutional control over the exhibition. In following its policy, the museum:

  • should retain full decision-making authority over the content and presentation of the exhibition;
  • may, while retaining the full decision-making authority, consult with a potential lender on objects to be selected from the lender’s collection and the significance to be given to those objects in the exhibition;
  • should make public the source of funding when the lender is also a funder of the exhibition. If a museum receives a request for anonymity, the museum should avoid such anonymity where it would conceal a conflict of interest (real or perceived) or raise other ethical issues.