Human Resources Management in the Education Departments of Museums:: A Worldwide Survey

By Zbuchea, Alexandra | Management & Marketing, July 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Human Resources Management in the Education Departments of Museums:: A Worldwide Survey


Zbuchea, Alexandra, Management & Marketing


Abstract. Museums are dynamic institutions, which place themselves in the service of the society by interpreting the collections they posses and developing various educational programs. This paper presents the place education has in museums around the world with an emphasis on the specific realities in Europe and in the United States. Education is one of the main functions of museums; therefore the way management approaches it influences not only the outcome of educational activities, but also the way in which a museum reaches its mission. The survey of more than 300 museums around the world shows a relatively homogenous approach, a general recognition of the role of education, as well as local specificities in developing an education department and human resource management of these departments. At the same time, it highlights a tendency to acknowledge more and more the importance of education within as well as outside education departments of museums. The research also identifies different approaches between the museums in the United States and those in Europe, when considering the number and characteristics of volunteers involved in museum educational programs and the age of educators. Differences are to be observed between the two regions also when considering the policy of training their staff and volunteers.

Keywords: museum, education in museum, management of museum education, human resources management.

1. An overview of education in museums

Education is increasingly important in museums worldwide even if the role of museums has changed in time, from advocate of national advance in the 19th century, to community promoter and entertainer nowadays. Museums have changed profoundly during the last decades, and they have also been shaping their audience and proximities (Knell et al., 2007). Still, the main functions of a museum are in most cases conservation, research and education. The educational function is increasingly placed within a larger social and political frame, and it is also connected with the evolution of mentalities and interests of contemporary society. In this context, museums are educating by providing a space for dialogue, of debate, and of community development (Karp et al., 1992; Gob and Drouguet, 2004; Ross, 2004; Crooke, 2007; Simon, 2010). Museums have to connect with society development, with the social framework they are active in, and to contribute to socio-cultural inclusion (Coffee, 2008). The educational outcomes of museum interactions are extremely diverse, and could have profound ramifications (Garcia, 2012). Summarizing the complexity of the subject investigated, Hooper-Greenhill (2007, p. 52) proposes the following list: knowledge and understanding, skills, attitudes and values, enjoyment - inspiration - creativity, and activity behavior and progression. Analyzing the evolution of museums, we consider that the educational function in museums is more important than the others and that it has shaped their managerial strategies, their development visions, as well as the diversity and complexity of the activities they undergo.

In this context, the educational activities in a museum have developed tremendously. In order to better coordinate these efforts, special departments exist and employees are trained specifically to be museum educators (Edson and Dean, 1994, p. 19). Identifying the status of education within the managerial organization of a museum is tightly related to understanding the actual recognition of this function within that museum. Therefore, it can provide insights for a better evaluation of the overall management approach of that museum, or even highlight weaknesses related to the way its mission is carried out.

The management challenges related to museum education are connected to various aspects: the inner structure and organizational culture of a museum, the characteristics of the collections, the diversity of the activities that could be developed, the diversity and characteristics of the public and others. …

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