Museums and galleries have been concerned to know who their visitors are for some years. But why do we need to know who visits museums? And is it enough to know who visitors are? What else is there to know? Why bother anyway? How can we find out?
There are a number of reasons why museum workers need to be aware of the patterns of use of museums and galleries. These include the continued justification of a public service, the demonstration of a professional approach to management, the development of knowledge and expertise and the improvement of performance.
First, museums are a public service, and it is important to be aware of how the service is taken up. A public service will not be maintained if it is not used. How are museums used? Which sections of the public benefit from museums and which do not? Why, and what are the implications? Visiting the displays is an obvious use of museums, but there are others that should also be considered, monitored and documented, and encouraged: the numbers of enquiries about objects received and answered, the numbers of photographs of items from the collection supplied, the range of researchers and scholars that use the collections and the expertise of the staff for information, the extent of corporate hire and so on. All these are also indications of the use and value of museums and galleries as a public service. They are on the whole, much broader and more varied than most of the public, or the governors and funders of museums, would think.
Second, information about the uses of the institution in relation to resources is vital to demonstrate managerial competence. Museum staff will not be perceived as professionals by government, colleagues in other areas of leisure or educational work or other business colleagues, unless detailed knowledge of the operation of the museum can be called upon when required. No business can succeed if its managers do not know who wants its products or services.
Third, in the present climate of accountability, it is sensible for museums and galleries to begin to develop some in-house knowledge and expertise by carrying out research, even if on a small scale, into the perceived use and value of the institution. This experience will be useful as standards for