Objectives Introduction What is management? Who manages? Recognising good management A word about this volume For further reading Self-evaluation quiz Answers to self-evaluation quiz 


At the end of this chapter you should:

  • understand the principles of good management;

  • be aware of how museums, galleries and libraries can benefit from good management practices;

  • know the four basic tools of management; and

  • understand how best practice and benchmarking can help museums, galleries and libraries.


Operating a museum, gallery or library involves many tasks. These cover everything from running the building, maintaining the collection and organising the finances to communicating with visitors, promoting the exhibitions and dealing with staff. Coordinating these tasks, and making sure that all the activities involved work in harmony, is what management is all about.

What is management?

Management is the art of making effective use of resources to achieve your goals. It concerns planning, coordinating and implementing all aspects of an organisation’s operation in a manner which fulfils the organisation’s aims. In other words, once a museum identifies its purpose, good management helps to achieve it.

As different processes are needed to achieve various aims, we tend to discuss management practices in terms of particular functions. In museums, these can include business management, financial management, collections management, program management, and personnel management.

Regardless of the area being considered, all good management practices rely on four basic tools:

  • policies set the framework for decision- making in museums. Good management ensures that policies are developed, kept up to date, and are understood by all staff;
  • plans are the blueprints for action, which set out how the aims and policies will be achieved. Policies need plans to turn them into realities. Good management creates and implements plans to cover relevant areas of museum operations;

  • procedures are the step-by-step instructions on how to carry out tasks they carry out policy and implement plans. Good management develops procedures and ensures that they are followed; and

  • people are the resources who make the operations of the museum possible. Good management provides for the needs of people.

This volume focuses on these tools and how they contribute to good management practices in museums, galleries and libraries.

Who manages?

 In the past, museum management was often referred to as ‘administration’, and seen as covering the non-collection aspects of the museum’s operations, like salaries and business dealings. Administration was the responsibility of a small, select group. Nowadays, administrative functions are regarded as only one aspect of management, and in management as a whole as a collective responsibility. Everyone in a museum who deals with some part of its operation has a role to play in good management. A well-managed museum is one in which:

  • everyone has a clear idea of the purpose of his or her work and its value to the museum;
  • staff work to a plan which has been devised for their area;
  • clear procedures are followed for the activities which they undertake; and
  • each section of the museum is involved in, and is responsible for, the efficient operation of its area.

So who manages a museum? You do!

Recognising good management

Management practices must evolve and change to continue to meet the needs of an organisation. Over the years, this has given rise to a wide variety of management techniques, like scientific management, management by objectives, total quality management, risk management, and even crisis management. Numerous books on general business management each advocate some of these techniques. But for a small organisation good management is often a matter of using commonsense to determine what works in your particular circumstances.

Even large businesses recognise this. Increasingly, businesses are using two concepts to identify good management and measure management progress. Both these concepts are relevant to the running of museums, galleries and libraries.

Best practice involves examining the operations of a number of organisations and determining whose operations are most successful. Those organisations are deemed to have achieved best practice in those areas, and set the standard against which similar organisations are measured. Best-practice organisations are widely recognised as having achieved excellence in their fields.

Benchmarking is the process of comparing your current operations to those of an organisation which is recognised as having achieved best practice, in order to chart your progress towards achieving similar goals.

To apply these concepts to managing your organisation, think about a museum, gallery or library which everyone agrees is a leader in its field. It need not be a large organisation—perhaps a small museum you know has a well cared-for collection, interesting displays and an informed staff. Do you feel they have achieved a standard of excellence which it might be useful to follow? If so, use them as your best practice standard.

Look closely at what this best practice organisation does, and how it does it.

Does it have policies and procedures which you could adapt?

What resources does it need to keep its collection well cared-for. Can you use your existing resources to achieve similar aims?

Why are its displays interesting? Perhaps the scripts and documentation presented with the objects tell a story rather than just exhibit an artefact.

Are the staff well-informed because the museum offers training assistance or has internal mechanisms for keeping people up to date?

Next, see if you can adapt, change or introduce into your organisation practices that help you achieve a similar level of excellence. The aim is not to follow slavishly everything a best practice organisation does, but try to apply to your own circumstances some of its techniques which work well, in order to manage your organisation better.

You can do this by setting some goals; for example, one goal may be to improve your displays by introducing themes into your exhibits. Discuss with your best practice organisation what it required to produce theme-based exhibits.

As you begin introducing the changes needed to reach your goals, check your progress against your best practice organisation. Its example becomes the benchmark against which you can measure your achievements. As you achieve your goals, look for new examples of best practice to strive towards. Recognising excellence, implementing measures to attain it, measuring your progress and improving your operations—these are all part of good management!

A word about this volume

This volume and Managing People deal with aspects of management that can help ensure that resources are used to develop and care for your collections in the best way possible. Sound management practices will help you decide when, where and how to implement the preventive conservation techniques learned in this training package. They can assist you in setting criteria for which objects should receive conservation treatment. They will help you determine whether you have the staff and resources to undertake the conservation or collection development programs you desire, and to integrate effective conservation practices into your organisation’s routines.

Each section of the volumes Managing Collections and Managing People provides basic information concerning policies, planning, procedures and people management. To place this information in context, we have focused on the issues important in small social-history museums, and used their examples to illustrate our points. So some of the procedures in the sections on collections management and access may be different from those developed for archaeological or natural history collections, larger museums, art galleries, historical societies or libraries. However, the principles which underlie the discussion of good management remain constant, and can be applied to all types of cultural collecting institutions.

Many other aspects of management—such as managing change, promotion and marketing, educating your visitors or promoting research activities—though important, are outside the scope of a conservation training manual. Museums Australia has developed national guidelines for regional, special and local museums and galleries that address all these core responsibilities. The guidelines are presented as a series of comments and questions designed for self-evaluation. They are framed to help museums explore their directions and plans for the future. When completed, they will be a useful framework for the development of management practices.

If you have a problem relating to good management practices, contact a conservator. Conservators can offer advice and practical solutions.

For further reading

Keene, Suzanne, 1996, Managing Conservation in Museums. Butterworth-Heinemann Publishers, Oxford, England.

Moore, Kevin, ed. 1991, Leicester reader in museum studies, Museum Management, Routledge, London.

Museums Australia (Inc). 1988, Caring for our culture: National guidelines for museums, galleries and keeping places. Department of Community and the Arts, Canberra.

Self-evaluation quiz

Question 1.

Why are the following statements false?

a) Management is only a useful tool for large organisations.

b) The people responsible for management are the organisation’s director, advisory committee and financial staff.

c) Even if you haven’t got a clear idea of where your organisation is going, management will ensure that your museum, gallery or library runs properly.


Question 2.

How do policies, plans, procedures and people each contribute to good management?


Question 3.

Which of the following statements is true?

a)  Best practice organisations are recognised by their peers as having achieved a standard of excellence worth following.

b)  Everything done by best practice organisations should be reproduced by others, so that all organisations do exactly the same thing.

c)  Best practice organisations can be used as benchmarks against which others can measure their progress towards similar goals.

d)  All of the above.

Answers to self-evaluation quiz 

 Question 1.


a) Management is the art of coordinating all activities of an organisation so that it runs smoothly and achieves its aims; therefore, management is just as useful for small organisations as it is for large ones. In fact, because their resources are often more limited, smaller organisations cannot afford to have badly run operations – so in some ways good management becomes even more important.

b)  Although the director, the committee and the administrative staff are closely involved with management practices, good management is achieved only when all sections of an organisation are involved in and take responsibility for managing their operations. This includes curators, collection managers, guides, conservation staff and volunteers. Management is the whole approach to keeping an organisation going–not just specific jobs held by special people who deal with office matters.

c)  Management is based on trying to achieve the aims and goals of an organisation by making sure it operates efficiently. If you don’t know what those goals are, you cannot manage effectively.


Question 2.

Answer: Policies set the framework for decision- making in a museum, gallery or library. Plans are the blueprints for action, that implement the policies. Procedures are the step-by-step activities that carry out the plans. People are the resources which ensure that the policies, plans and procedures are followed. Working together, these are the tools used to achieve good management.


Question 3.

Answer: a) and c) are true. Best practice organisations provide a model for others to follow. However, there will always be in individual museums, galleries or libraries operations which
are special to that organisation. Therefore it is neither possible nor advisable to try to reproduce exactly what is done in a best practice organisation; instead, the most appropriate aspects of these organisations should be adapted to your situation.