Museums and Their Visitors

By Eilean Hooper-Greenhill | Go to book overview

8

Museums: ideal learning environments

Some basic philosophical issues

In recent philosophical discussions about the role of museums and galleries as we approach the twenty-first century, the following three functions have been proposed: to preserve, to study and to communicate (Weil, 1990). ‘Preservation’ includes the collection and care of artefacts and specimens; ‘study’ refers to research carried out on these objects and ‘communication’ includes all those activities and professional practices that enable people to have access to both the objects and the results of their study.

‘Communication’ is then a large area, and one that gives rise to confusion. What do we mean by ‘communication’ in the museum and how is it different from ‘education’? In many ways these questions are a waste of time as each expression is capable of carrying such a large range of meanings and it is unlikely that any finite agreement will be reached over their use. Communication as a major museum function includes those activities that attract visitors to the museum (publicity and marketing), investigate their needs (research and evaluation) and provide for their intellectual needs (education and entertainment). Educational and entertainment-related needs are provided for through exhibitions, workshops and demonstrations. This penultimate chapter discusses the provision for educational and entertainment-related needs.

Education and entertainment will be discussed together, as related and complementary aspects of the museum experience. Museums and galleries are fundamentally educational in character, that is, they offer opportunities to people for increasing reservoirs of knowledge and experience. They are not fundamentally about entertainment; entertainment in museums always has the ulterior motive of offering something new, exciting and potentially valuable. Entertainment in museums, however it might be presented, is used as a method of education, in the full knowledge that learning is best achieved in circumstances of enjoyment.

-140-

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Museums and Their Visitors
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Plates ix
  • Figures xi
  • Tables xiii
  • Acknowledgements xv
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Forces for Change 6
  • 2 - Communication in Theory and Practice 35
  • 3 - Who Goes to Museums? 54
  • 4 - Research and Evaluation 69
  • 5 - Welcoming Visitors 84
  • 6 - Responding to Visitor Needs 100
  • 7 - Language and Texts 115
  • 8 - Museums: Ideal Learning Environments 140
  • 9 - Managing Museums for Visitors 171
  • Glossary 183
  • Bibliography 185
  • Index 198
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