National Standards & Best Practices for U.S. Museums

Book Cover: National Standards & Best Practices for U.S. Museums

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Standards and Best Practices

A shared set standards are a critical element for any professional field. Standards are a tool to help museums assess and align their operations and performance; they serve to hold museums accountable—to each other, their stakeholders, the public and society at large; and they enable museum leadership and staff to make informed, ethical and consistent decisions in support of their mission and public trust responsibilities.


  • Standards are generally accepted levels of attainment that all museums are expected to achieve.
  • Best practices are commendable actions and philosophies that demonstrate an awareness of standards, solve problems and can be replicated. Museums may choose to emulate them if appropriate to their circumstances.

AAM promulgates a set of core standards called the Characteristics of Excellence and shares best practices in the form of books, trainings, and networking opportunities. The Alliance recognizes the great diversity of the museum field and the importance of the ethical codes, standards, and best practices developed and issued by various organizations. For a list of other field-wide and relevant standards, please see the bottom of the page.

Standards on Public Trust and Accountability

Some of the key issues addressed in these standards include: stewardship of resources; accountability and transparency; community and audiences; diversity and inclusiveness; public service and educational role; accessibility; and legal and ethical issues.

Specific Standards: 

  • Standards Regarding an Institutional Code of Ethics

Standards on Mission and Planning

Some of the key issues addressed in these standards include: mission statements; planning and plans; and evaluation.

Specific Standards:

  • Standards Regarding Institutional Mission Statements
  • Standards Regarding Institutional Planning

Standards on Leadership and Organizational Structure

Some of the key issues addressed in these standards include: roles and responsibilities (Delegation of Authority); composition and diversity (of staff, volunteers, governing authority); structures and processes; and foundational or operational documents and policies.

Specific Standards:

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

Standards on Collections Stewardship

Some of the key issues addressed in these standards include: collections planning; staffing; collections management policies; documentation; care and conservation (includes climate control); ethical collections issues; and intellectual property.

Specific Standards:

  • Direct Care of Collections: Ethics, Guidelines and Recommendations
  • 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

Standards on Education and Interpretation

Some of the key issues addressed in these standards include: quality and credibility; interpretive planning; evaluation; exhibiting borrowed objects; excellence (intellectual rigor); equity (inclusiveness and access); diversity and inclusiveness; community and audiences; and accessibility (physical and intellectual).

Specific Standards:

  • Standards Regarding Exhibiting Borrowed Objects

Standards on Financial Stability

Some of the key issues addressed in these standards include: financial planning and budgeting; diversity of income streams; commercial activities; patterns of financial behavior; and business and individual donor support.

Specific Standards:

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

Standards on Facilities and Risk Management

Some of the key issues addressed in these standards include: risk management; emergency planning and preparation; and visitor services.

Specific Standards:

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

Field-Wide Standards

The following compilation includes standards and best practices that are specific to museums. We appreciate being informed of other statements of standards and best practices that may be useful to the museum profession.

Relevant Standards

There are many organizations with standards guidelines relevant to museum operations. We encourage museums to abide by these if appropriate to their circumstances.