Some thoughts on the future of museums

From the excellent Center for the Future of Museums comes a fascinating roundtable discussion. The prompt was clear: “what is the future for museums?”

Several themes emerged from my perspective.

Air and Space Museum, the drone exhibit

From the extraordinary Air and Space Museum.

Nearly every speaker assigned a growing importance to access and engagement.  For example, Nancy Proctor forecast a time when “the museum like other civic and memory institutions is a part of [people’s] identity, and they a part of it.”

David Evans sees public engagement as central to staff hiring and, presumably, development:

[C]urators will need to be hired on the basis of both scholarly excellence and effective communication and engagement skills to maximize the relevance of museums in the future.

Evans also called out higher education on this point:

In contrast to universities, museums and their content experts are more accessible to the community, and a public-facing museum can play an important role in interpreting these complex issues to a broader audience. [emphases added]


Several foresaw increasing inter-museum collaboration.  Xerxes Mazda: “as museums become more aware of the cost of caring for collections, they will increasingly collaborate with each other, and with other types of institutions including manufacturers and retailers.

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” Peter Kim: “the museum of the future…

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will have no walls…”

And there was a fiercely anti-technological voice from Adam Rozan.

Museums of the future will fill a void in the modern, tech-saturated, digitally filtered world. .. they will also try to meet our evolving needs, which will likely revolve around physically connecting with others(a future rarity) …

My hope is that the role museums will take on in our communities will come full circle and they will become the center of people’s lives again, because people – stuck behind screens – will need a physical center.

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I don’t know how widespread that anti-digital stance is in the museum world these days.  Anyone have a good read on this?

But I’m not doing the discussion or that post justice in my analysis.  Read the whole thing, as these expert practitioners hit so many more important themes: demographics, collection development, storytelling, and more.

I’m fascinated by how much these themes resonate in the education and library worlds.   Access and engagement: major themes for libraries, obviously, if somewhat controversial in post-secondary education.  Inter-institutional collaboration: clearly desired by some, especially under trying economic circumstances.

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 Anti-technology: we definitely experience that.  Both librarians and campus educators have expressed their desire to set themselves as an alternative to the online world.

(photo by me, of the superb Air and Space Museum’s drone exhibit)

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5 Responses to Some thoughts on the future of museums

  1. Bryan,
    This is a topic of interest to me as an inveterate museum-goer. My pet peeve is the dumbing down of museum material in the last double decade. So much inter activity is for children, which I am in favor of, but not to the neglect of higher order mind munchers! Especially natural history museums seem to think dinosaurs are for kids.
    Separate topic: Have you read Station Eleven? Right up your alley, I should imagine!

  2. When I saw your post, I wanted to share this piece but couldn’t find it – and today it randomly showed up on a tab!

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