UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Museums : A functional analysis Stewart, John Robert


Museums are important institutions of culture and education in every modern society. However, both museums themselves and external researchers have often considered as important only those records that pertain directly to the acquisition, meaning and provenance of the objects in museum collections. In recent years many types of historical and scientific scholars have discovered the value of many classes of museum records to their research. This, combined with an increased demand for public accountability, has brought attention to the potential value of all classes of museum records. This thesis considers the value of the full range of museum records through an understanding of museum functions, activities and organizational structure. Museums have evolved from collections, which have been a part of human culture for thousands of years. Collections have been embodied in the institutions called museums, and separated from their original practical, religious, or personal purposes, only in the modern era. Throughout their history museums have had the same common functions of collecting objects, preserving objects, educating the public, and sustaining themselves. Museum records are created by museum offices, or officers, as they carry out their mandated functions and activities. To appraise museum records it is necessary to understand the activities that comprise the basic museum functions, which classes of records are created by those activities, and which museum positions typically perform those activities and functions. This analysis enables us to see the functional genesis and nature of museum records, no matter what types of museum officers perform the activities, and no matter how the work is organized in any particular museum. The records can be evaluated, not in relation to some abstract idea of value, but in relation to their documentation of the functions and activities of an institution. Museum records need to be appraised in relation to their primary value to the creating institutions as well as their secondary value to external users. The full range of museum activities require documentation to enable museums to carryout their assigned functions, and for external users to satisfy a variety of cultural, historical, scientific, legal and personal research needs. Museum records have some unique characteristics. The records with the highest primary value are those that document the acquisition, provenance, use and meaning of museum collections. These records remain permanently active for ongoing museum activities and, at the same time, have the highest secondary value for external users. Museum records are also unusual in that these collections-related records, with the highest primary and secondary value, are created at the middle or lower organizational levels of curators, registrars, conservators, and their technical assistants.

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