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Museum Studies terms

Words and phrases used in Museum Studies.

Inventory (N, V)

A complete list of items such as property, goods in stock, or the contents of a building.

Used as a verb: to make an inventory.

IPR, Intellectual Property Rights

Intellectual property rights are legal rights that provide creators protection for original works, inventions, or the appearance of products, artistic works, scientific developments, and so on. There are four types of intellectual property rights (IP): patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets.

But the number of rights may be different, for different countries. For example, the Netherlands has 9 different kinds of rights (https://www.government.nl/topics/intellectual-property/protection-of-intellectual-property)

The main 4:

    • Copyright
      Copyright (or author’s right) is a legal term used to describe the rights that creators have over their literary and artistic works. Works covered by copyright range from books, music, paintings, sculpture, and films, to computer programs, databases, advertisements, maps, and technical drawings.

    • Patents
      A patent is an exclusive right granted for an invention, which is a product or a process that provides, in general, a new way of doing something, or offers a new technical solution to a problem. To get a patent, technical information about the invention must be disclosed to the public in a patent application.

    • Trademarks
      A trademark is a sign capable of distinguishing the goods or services of one enterprise from those of other enterprises. Trademarks are protected by intellectual property rights.
    • Trade secrets
      Trade secrets are intellectual property (IP) rights on confidential information which may be sold or licensed.

Source: World Intellectual Property Organization

Label (N, V)

A small piece of paper, fabric, plastic, or other material attached to an object and giving information about it.

Used as a verb: to make a label or to attach a label to something.

Legacy (N)

An amount of money or property, left by someone in a will.

Loan (N)

An object that has been given to you, temporarily. You do not own this, the owner is only letting you use it, for instance for an exhibition. At some point, you will have to return it to the owner.

Related words:

To lend: to give something on loan (= temporarily)

To borrow: to get, receive something on loan (= temporarily)

Mission statement (N)

A formal summary of the aims and values of a company, organization, or individual.

Mount (N)

A mount is a support that helps hold an object in a stable position while on display.

It prevents movement that might stress the object, especially if it is structurally weak or brittle from, for example, age or insect damage.

Narrative (N, Adj.)

Narrative used as a noun means: a story. The story can be real or not. Oral storytelling is the earliest method for sharing narratives.

Narrative as an adjective is used by museums, to indicate that the museum uses a 'story based' approach for their exhibitions:

"Museums are ideal places where stories can be told that encourage visitors to make their own meanings. Bedford (2001) noted that 'Stories are the most fundamental way we learn. They have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

They teach without preaching, encouraging both personal reflection and public discussion.

Stories inspire wonder and awe; they allow a listener to imagine another time and place, to find the universal in the particular, and to feel empathy for others. They preserve individual and collective memory and speak to both the adult and the child' (p.33)."

from: The role of narrative in museum exhibitions, by Lynda Kelly, 2010

Niche (N)

A 'niche' is a shallow recess in a wall that is used to display a statue or some other object (see picture). An 'niche market' is used to indicate a small, specialized market for a specific object or service. 

Deaf Museums target a 'niche' market of deaf people, sign language users, people interested in deafness, sign languages.

Object Theatre (N)

"Object theatre" is an exhibition strategy, akin to the old-fashioned sound and light show, which uses computer technologies to create multimedia and multi-sensory contexts for museum objects. They are designed to bring objects to life without necessitating a hands-on experience. "

From: Storytelling, the real work of Museums, by Leslie Bedford, 2001


Oral History (N)

The personal recollections of people who participated in historical events.


Orphan works (N)

An orphan work is a copyrighted work whose owner is impossible to identify or contact. This inability to request permission from the copyright owner often means orphan works cannot be used in new works nor digitized, except when fair use exceptions apply.

"Due to their nature, the requirements of copyright law and the lack of fit for purpose solutions, orphan works represent a massive issue for the mass digitisation and publication (including online) of assets owned by cultural heritage institutions across Europe. 

For many years, risk management has provided the only possible option for cultural heritage institutions to make their orphan works available online. 


A checklist for risk management 

It is important to stress that risk management is an institutional choice. It should always be carefully considered against any likely risks and costs, as well as documented. If your institution decides to reproduce its orphan works, then the following risk assessment checklist could be useful:

    • Keep records of all attempts made to contact the rights holders.

    • Accompany the reproduction of orphan works with attribution statements where known.

    • Introduce notice and take down policies and procedures to enable the removal of orphan works should the rights holders come forward.

    • Reproduce images in low resolution.

    • Assess the specific risks of reproducing orphan works on a case by case basis, for example, according to the type of work, subject matter and age, to reduce the risk of high profile rights holders coming forward.  

    • Restrict any use to 'Non-Commercial research or private study.'

    • Put money aside in case rights holders come forward and/or take out insurance

    • Carry out reasonable searches. These can include image Recognition Software – use free sites like TinEye and Advanced Google Search.

    • Check the acknowledgements and notes of published works/exhibition catalogues about the author.

    • Check the internet for information about the creator of the material and keep a record of all searches where appropriate.

    • Check the WATCH file on the Internet for information about artists and writers (entered through WATCH). 

    • Check other organisations which might hold works by that artist/creator and contact them to see whether they can provide any information about the rights holder.

    • Check with collecting societies.

    • Establish whether the work has been lent/bequeathed/given by the rights holder. If so, can the person who gave the material provide any contact information for the rights holder?

    • Check whether the material is held in a Picture Library or stock photography agency.

    • Check if the work by an academic, student, member of support staff or anyone else directly (or indirectly) connected with your organisation.

    • Place an advert in a relevant trade journal or magazine in order to trace the rights holder.

    • If the artist or author is still living, then you may be able to find their contact address through online directory enquiries."


Source: https://pro.europeana.eu/post/orphan-works-and-uk-glams-the-case-for-a-risk-managed-approach

Participatory Design / Approach

 An exhibition or museum is designed so that visitors are active, cultural participants, not passive consumers. 

 "Rather than delivering the same content to everyone, a participatory institution collects and shares diverse, personalized, and changing content co-produced with visitors.

It invites visitors to respond and add to cultural artifacts, scientific evidence, and historical records on display. It showcases the diverse creations and opinions of non-experts. People use the institution as meeting grounds for dialogue around the content presented. Instead of being “about” something or “for” someone, participatory institutions are created and managed “with” visitors.

From: The Participatory Museum, by Nina Simon 

Watch the video (spoken English, written English, BSL) of the Harris Museum in Preston for an example of the participatory approach:

Pop-up museum (N)

A pop-up museum is a temporary museum, a travelling display or an exhibition hosted outside of a traditional museum space. 

Source: https://blooloop.com/features/lessons-pop-up-museums/

Preservation (N)

The activity or process of keeping something alive, intact, or free from damage or decay.

The verb: to preserve.