In the past decade enormous changes have taken place in museums and galleries across the world. The thrust of the shift is clear—museums are changing from being static storehouses for artefacts into active learning environments for people. This change in function means a radical reorganisation of the whole culture of the museum—staff structures, attitudes and work patterns must all mutate to accommodate new ideas and new approaches. In addition to looking inward to their collections, museums are now looking outward towards their audiences; where in the past collections were researched, now audiences are also being researched; the balance of power in museums is shifting from those who care for objects to include, and often prioritise, those who care for people. The older ideology of conservation must now share its directing role with the newer ideology of collaboration.
This radical shift is an exciting one, and not without its challenges. It means engaging with the complex issue of the relationship between the preservation of objects and their use in education, and it means re-evaluating long-held assumptions. As the Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London has put it ‘It is important that the museum is not just a passive collection of wonderful objects but a springboard into the community’ (Esteve-Coll, 1991:37). It is now no longer enough to collect as an end in itself; collecting has become the means to an end, that of making connections with people, and making links with their experience.
Once questions are asked about how, with what and to whom museums should make links, the focus of the museum begins to shift from collection to communication. This move towards visitors is understood as the only way forward for the future. For too long, museums have defended the values of scholarship, research and collection at the expense of the needs of visitors. The challenge today is to preserve these traditional museum concerns, but to combine them with the educational values that focus on how the objects cared for in museums can add to the quality of life for all.