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Standards for community museums in Ontario

Introduction

The 10 standards represent the minimum requirements for the operation of a good community museum. Regardless of a museum's size or scope, whether it is in a new building or a heritage structure, or whether it is a seasonal or year-round operation, there are certain functions, responsibilities, and activities common to all. These are the areas highlighted by the standards, all of which are of equal importance.

To assist museums in meeting the revised standards, the ministry will continue to provide advisory services, resource materials and museological information pertinent to the standards.

Museum standards must continue to evolve as museums find new ways to serve their communities and fulfill their mandate. In due course, revision of this edition of standards will be necessary to reflect these changes.

The province has a fundamental commitment to the preservation and presentation of the material culture of Ontario, through the community museums of the province. In achieving these new standards, Ontario's museums will continue along the path to excellence and remain an asset to the communities they serve.

Governance standard

Objective of the Governance Standard

Good governance and demonstrated public accountability are necessary for the museum to operate as a viable not-for-profit organisation. The museum is governed by a publicly accountable body that follows a clearly defined mission and goals, and maintains openness in its decisions and operations.

Requirements

  1. The museum is governed by a publicly accountable body.
  2. The museum is established by a written document(s) which includes:
    1. The authority for the museum
    2. The museum's statement of purpose and objectives
    3. Provisions for the dissolution of the museum's assets and liabilities should it cease to operate.
  1. The museum's governing body is established by a written document which outlines:
    1. Its composition and structure, including selection of members and terms of office
    2. Its obligation to ethical behaviour and the avoidance of conflict of interest, as a body and as individuals
    3. Its obligation to meet municipal, provincial and federal legislative requirements that have an impact on its decisions or activities
    4. Its responsibilities and duties, including:
      1. Recruiting, supervising and evaluating the museum's curator or director (i.e. the museum's chief manager)2
      2. Formulating the museum's statement of purpose
      3. Formulating written policy governing operations and defining programs
      4. Securing funding necessary to carry out the museum's programs
      5. Preparing or approving an annual budget and monitoring it to ensure public accountability
      6. Ensuring that the purposes for which the museum exists are being fulfilled
      7. Ensuring that the collection is being cared for under proper condition
  1. The museum's governing body meets regularly and as often as necessary to conduct its business effectively. The meetings follow a written agenda and a written record is kept of all discussions and decisions.
  2. The museum's operation and administration meets municipal, provincial and federal legislative requirements that have a bearing on its operations and activities.
  3. The museum and its staff demonstrate a commitment to ethical behaviour as an institution and as individuals.
  4. The museum's operations and activities are directed by short and long-term written plans (e.g. business plan, strategic plan, visioning plan or master plan) approved by the governing body and containing goals and objectives relevant to the museum's statement of purpose.

Finance standard

Objective of the Finance Standard

The museum demonstrates that it is a fiscally responsible public institution. The governing body and the museum follow predetermined policies and procedures to achieve this.

Requirements

  1. The governing body carries out its responsibility to secure funding necessary for the operation and maintenance of the museum and its activities, and for capital projects.
  2. The museum demonstrates a commitment to ethical behaviour in the pursuit of funding.
  3. The museum seeks diverse sources of funding, both public and private.
  4. Financial resources related to the museum's operation and administration are allocated and controlled through an annual budget approved by the governing body.
  5. The museum makes public an annual financial report.

Collections standard

Objective of the Collections Standard

The artifacts in the museum's collection are a tangible representation of the community's heritage, and to retain their informational and historical value they must be properly cared for and documented. The museum will demonstrate its stewardship and facilitate access to collections and the information they hold by maintaining a well organized, managed and documented collection.

Requirements

  1. The museum has a written collection development policy stating that it will:
    1. Ensure that the scope of collection is consistent with the museum's statement of purpose
    2. Establish priorities for collection development
    3. Demonstrate a commitment to ethical behaviour in collection development (e.g. repatriation, human remains)
    4. Meet municipal, provincial and federal legislative requirements that have an impact on collecting activities (e.g. illicit materials)
  2. The museum has a written collections management policy stating that it will:
    1. Ensure appropriate procedures and documentation for the acquisition, use and deaccessioning of artifacts in the collection
    2. Ensure appropriate procedures and documentation for incoming and outgoing loans
    3. Ensure appropriate procedures for the management of collections records
    4. Demonstrate a commitment to conservation standards in the labelling, care and handling of artifacts
    5. Distinguish between artifacts in a research (or study) collection and artifacts in an education (or hands-on) collection
    6. Meet municipal, provincial and federal legislative requirements that have an impact on collections management and documentation (e.g. firearms, hazardous materials).
  3. The museum assigns the duties of a registrar to an appropriately trained staff member and provides adequate time, workspace and funding for collections management activities.
  4. The museum uses an effective collection documentation system, which may be paper-based, electronic, or a combination. The system will include a standardized numbering system, an accession register, a master catalogue file, and signed donor and loan forms.
  5. The museum keeps a periodically updated paper or electronic copy of the collection records off-site in a secure location.
  6. The museum's collection records are current.

Exhibition standard

Objective of the Exhibition Standard

The museum's exhibits provide an important link between the community and its heritage. In the planning and presentation of exhibitions, the museum will strive for accuracy of information, relevance to the community, effective communication, opportunities for learning, and the safe display of artifacts.

Requirements

  1. The museum has a written exhibition policy stating that it will:
    1. Ensure that the themes and number of exhibits are consistent with the museum's statement of purpose and the needs and interests of the communities it serves
    2. Demonstrate a commitment to accuracy and objectivity in exhibit presentation
    3. Demonstrate a commitment to ethical behaviour in exhibit presentation
    4. Meet conservation standards in exhibit design, materials and use of artifacts
    5. Meet municipal, provincial and federal legislative requirements that have an impact on exhibit presentation (e.g. safety codes, copyright, disability legislation).
  2. All exhibits are consistent with the museum's exhibition policy.
  3. The museum has an exhibition schedule comprising a mix of permanent and temporary exhibits.
  4. The museum ensures the relevance, accuracy and effective communication of each exhibit by:
    1. Establishing clearly defined objectives and evaluating exhibits against their objectives
    2. Using appropriate expertise, including staff, volunteers, community groups, or consultants
    3. Carrying out sufficient research.
  5. The museum ensures that all staff (including volunteers) involved in the planning, preparation and installation of exhibits have the necessary skills and training.
  6. The museum ensures that exhibits are safe for visitors and staff by:
    1. Placing hazardous materials in display cases
    2. Adequately supporting, securing or providing barriers against heavy objects or moving parts that could cause injury
    3. Training staff in the safe operation of exhibits (e.g. machinery)
    4. Meeting legislated requirements in the handling and display of firearms.
  7. The museum endeavours to ensure that exhibits are accessible and capable of being used and enjoyed by visitors of all ages and abilities.
  8. The museum ensures that exhibits effectively promote learning and enjoyment through:
    1. Providing a variety of interpretation methods to meet a range of visitor needs
    2. Regularly replacing artifacts in permanent exhibits with other examples from storage, to refresh the exhibits for the community's enjoyment as well as for conservation purposes.
  9. A portion of the museum's budget is allocated annually for exhibit development, design, construction, maintenance and evaluation expenses.
  10. The museum ensures that exhibit preparation activities that are harmful to artifacts are carried out in a workshop that is isolated from collection areas (i.e. display and storage). Such activities would include those that produce dust, excessive heat or vibrations, and those that involve the use of aerosols and solvents (e.g. paints and varnishes).

Interpretation and education standard

Objective of the Interpretation and Education Standard

Interpretation and education programs provide an opportunity for the community to interact more closely with the museum's collections and information. They also complement other sources of learning in the community, both formal and informal. Through its education programs, the museum reaches audiences of all ages, interests and abilities, and serves as a resource for its communities.

Requirements

  1. The museum has a written interpretation and education policy stating that it will:
    1. Ensure that the themes, content and formats of interpretation and education programs are consistent with the museum's statement of purpose and meet the needs and interests of the communities it serves
    2. Establish priorities for the development of interpretation and education programs
    3. Ensure that responsibility for interpretation and education programming is delegated to appropriately trained staff
    4. Demonstrate a commitment to accuracy and objectivity in interpretation and education programs
    5. Demonstrate a commitment to ethical behaviour in interpretation and education programs
    6. Demonstrate a commitment to meet conservation standards in use of artifacts
    7. Meet municipal, provincial and federal legislative requirements that have an impact on interpretation and education programs (e.g. copyright, disability legislation).
  2. The museum has an interpretation and education program comprising a mix of school programs, public programs, and special events:
    1. All interpretation and education programs are consistent with the museum's statement of purpose and meet the needs and interests of the communities it serves
    2. All interpretation and education programs promote learning and enjoyment.
  3. The museum ensures the relevance, accuracy and effective communication of its interpretation and education programs by:
    1. Establishing clearly defined and measurable learning objectives and outcomes, and undertaking a process of program evaluation
    2. Using appropriate expertise, including staff, volunteers, community groups, or consultants
    3. Carrying out research.
  4. The museum ensures that all staff involved in the development and delivery of interpretation and education programs have the appropriate skills and training.
  5. The museum provides sufficient space and a safe and secure environment for interpretation and education programs.
  6. A portion of the museum's budget is allocated annually for interpretation and education program expenses.

Research standard

Objective of the Research Standard

Research is an ongoing activity in the museum. Through well-researched exhibits, interpretation, publications and educational programming the museum continually adds to the knowledge, self-discovery and enjoyment of the community. In addition to accommodating staff researchers, the museum has a responsibility to assist outside researchers.

Requirements

  1. The museum has a written research policy stating that it will:
    1. Demonstrate a commitment to the pursuit of research by staff and outside researchers
    2. Ensure that the scope of research is consistent with the museum's statement of purpose
    3. Establish priorities for research activities
    4. Demonstrate a commitment to accuracy and objectivity in the results of research
    5. Demonstrate a commitment to ethical behaviour in research (e.g. confidentiality of records, ownership of information)
    6. Meet municipal, provincial and federal legislative requirements that have an impact on research activities and products (e.g. copyright legislation).
  2. The museum has a research program that is consistent with its statement of purpose, and reflects the needs of its communities, site, collections and public programs.
  3. Time is scheduled for staff to carry out the museum's research program.
  4. A portion of the museum's budget is allocated annually for research expenses such as reference material, photocopying and staff travel.
  5. The museum provides a clean, well-lit, separate space for staff and external researchers to carry out research.
  6. The museum ensures that researchers who have access to the collection have training in handling artifacts.

Conservation standard

Objective of the Conservation Standard

The museum has a responsibility to protect and preserve the collection entrusted to its care, so that future generations will have the opportunity to enjoy and learn from it. The museum will demonstrate its stewardship of the collection by following procedures that ensure the long-term preservation of the collection.

Requirements

  1. The museum has a written conservation policy that sets out how it will:
    1. Demonstrate its understanding of the distinction between preventive care and conservation treatment
    2. Demonstrate its commitment to the preventive conservation of the collection
    3. Establish priorities for making decisions regarding conservation treatment
    4. Ensure that responsibility for collections care is delegated to appropriately trained staff
    5. Demonstrate a commitment to consult with and be guided by the advice of qualified experts in conservation
    6. Demonstrate a commitment to ethical behaviour in the care of collections
    7. Meet municipal, provincial and federal legislative requirements that have an impact on the conservation of collections.
  2. The museum demonstrates a commitment to protecting the collection through proper care and handling by:
    1. Implementing a program of staff instruction in the safe handling of artifacts
    2. Ensuring that artifacts are durable enough to withstand their proposed use (for example, displays, interpretation, loans, hands-on activities)
    3. Implementing safe packing, unpacking, and transportation procedures.
  3. The museum provides one or more separate spaces for the storage of the collection. These areas will be:
    1. Used for collection storage only
    2. Large enough to store existing artifacts without crowding and to accommodate projected future acquisitions
    3. Organized by type of object or material (for example, textiles, metals, wood)
    4. Kept clean through the implementation of a regular housekeeping schedule performed by staff or volunteers with the necessary training
    5. Kept dark except when staff are present
    6. Restricted to access only by curator or designate(s)
    7. Equipped with suitable and safe shelves, cabinets and artifact supports.
  4. The museum maintains the safety and preservation of artifacts on exhibit by:
    1. Ensuring that cases and floor spaces are large enough to hold artifacts without crowding or distortion
    2. Ensuring that artifacts on display are adequately supported with safe materials
    3. Using display materials (such as case materials, backgrounds, adhesives, labels) that are not harmful to artifacts
    4. Ensuring that exhibits are kept clean and maintained by staff trained in the handling of artifacts
    5. Ensuring that light-sensitive artifacts are displayed only for short periods of time
    6. Implementing a program of regular inspections of artifacts on exhibit to check for losses and damage.
  5. The museum ensures the security of the collection by the following measures:
    1. Protecting artifacts from water damage
    2. Protecting artifacts from theft and vandalism, including restricting access to artifacts
    3. The establishment of written standard procedures to deal with emergencies and disasters, and training of all staff in these procedures.
  6. The museum provides an appropriate environment for artifacts in all storage and exhibit areas by:
    1. Reducing visible light levels to accepted standards3
    2. Removing all ultraviolet radiation
    3. Maintaining relative humidity and temperature levels within an appropriate range for museum artifacts4
    4. Reducing dust and pollution through a combination of physical plant (e.g. use of vestibule, appropriate air filtration) and preventive procedures (e.g. use of door mats, no smoking rules)
    5. Implementing a regular cleaning and maintenance schedule performed by staff or volunteers with the necessary training
    6. Implementing preventive pest management procedures, including regular inspections for pests in the museum and inspection of all incoming collection and non-collection material
    7. Implementing a program of regular checking and recording of environmental conditions, with follow up procedures to correct deficiencies.
  7. The museum ensures that conservation treatment procedures will not damage artifacts and are carried out in accordance with professional standards of practice by:
    1. Ensuring that individuals treating artifacts have an appropriate level of training in conservation
    2. Ensuring that all conservation treatments are properly documented and the documentation is retained on file
    3. Ensuring that conservation treatment carried out in the museum takes place in a separate space that is appropriately equipped and ventilated according to health and safety standards.

Physical plant standard

Objective of the Physical Plant Standard

The museum's buildings and grounds must provide a safe and functional environment for visitors, staff, the collection and associated activities. The achievement of this objective will be balanced with the need to preserve the integrity of heritage buildings as artifacts themselves, as well as archaeological resources present on the property.

Requirements

  1. The design and layout of the museum's building(s) and grounds:
    1. Accommodate the physical and functional needs of its users, staff, collections and activities
    2. Are appropriate to the museum's statement of purpose, and to its community role and image.
  2. The museum meets its obligation to federal, provincial and municipal requirements that apply to physical safety of staff, visitors and property.
  3. The museum ensures that each of its buildings meets environmental norms appropriate to its functions.5
  4. The museum ensures the security of its users, staff, collections and information by:
    1. Identifying potential threats (for example, personal threat, fire, water or vandalism)
    2. Taking steps to minimize the level of individual risks (e.g. by installing sufficient security lighting)
    3. Developing written procedures to respond to threats, emergencies and disasters
    4. Training staff (including volunteers) to implement emergency and disaster response procedures
    5. Establishing a system of periodic testing and assessment of the effectiveness of emergency procedures
    6. Ensuring that any preventive or security systems installed are assessed for their potential impact on collections and the museum's character and functions.
  5. The museum has a written maintenance manual that sets out how it will:
    1. Conduct regularly scheduled inspections and maintenance of building(s) and grounds
    2. Set priorities and schedules for ongoing repairs and capital upgrades
    3. Ensure that health and safety codes are met in the maintenance and repair of the physical plant
    4. Conduct daily, weekly and monthly housekeeping routines.
  6. The museum strives to be environmentally responsible in its use of energy and materials, including the handling, storage and disposal of hazardous materials.
  7. A museum located in a heritage building, on a historic site, or on grounds containing an archaeological site maintains the historical integrity of these resources in its use, maintenance, repair and modification, and follows conservation standards and procedures.
  8. Museum buildings that are open on a seasonal basis -- and in which artifacts are located - are monitored for temperature and humidity, and measures are taken to decrease the risk of environmental damage during the off-season.

Community standard

Objective of the Community Standard

A community's heritage is part of its identity. As a steward of the community's heritage, the museum is actively engaged in the community and responsive to its needs. The museum is accessible and relevant, and draws support from its community.

Requirements

  1. The museum has a written policy that defines its relationship with the community, and that will:
    1. Ensure that it performs its role as a steward of the collection
    2. Ensure that it provides services and programs consistent with its statement of purpose that meet the needs and interests of the community
    3. Endeavour to allow all sectors of the community to participate in the museum's decisions, goals and directions that may affect them or reflect on them
    4. Include members of the community in museum activities
    5. Identify and pursue appropriate community partnerships
    6. Endeavour to provide equality of access to information about the museum's collections, services and programs through adequate promotion
    7. Endeavour to provide equal access to all members of the community, both physically and intellectually, to the museum's collections, information, services and programs.
  2. The museum has regular, posted, and advertised hours, during which it is open to the public, and which meet the needs of the community. A museum that is not open for long periods due to staffing considerations or weather will assess the needs of the community and make its services available by appointment and/or outreach activities.

  3. The museum has a volunteer program to encourage community participation in its activities, which should include:
    1. Identification and development of volunteer opportunities
    2. Procedures for recruitment of volunteers
    3. Matching the needs and interests of volunteers to those of the museum
    4. Provision of appropriate training and supervision for volunteers
    5. Provision of a safe and secure working environment for volunteers
    6. Volunteer evaluation
    7. Public and private recognition of volunteers' contributions.

Human resources standard

Objective of the Human Resources Standard

A museum's ability to fulfil its purpose depends to a large degree on the professionalism and capabilities of its staff.6 The museum is better able to meet its mandate and carry out its activities by recruiting qualified staff and providing ongoing training opportunities. As an employer, the museum is concerned with the safety, security, well being and continued motivation of the people working for it.

Requirements

  1. The museum has a written human resources management policy stating that it will:
    1. Ensure that staff responsible for administering the museum and its collections have appropriate professional training
    2. Ensure that all museum activities are carried out by appropriately trained staff
    3. Ensure that each staff member has a written job description
    4. Ensure that human resource management, including recruitment, performance assessment, and termination is conducted in an ethical manner and is consistent with accepted practice and applicable legislation
    5. Ensure that staff are provided with information on health and safety hazards in the workplace and are trained in their management or mitigation
    6. Ensure that at least one person on staff has current First Aid training
    7. Endeavour to provide equal access to the workplace by staff of all abilities
    8. Ensure that staff are familiar with and adhere to a museological code of ethics
    9. Meet municipal, provincial and federal legislative requirements relating to people in the workplace.
  2. The museum has a written staff training policy that sets out how it will:
    1. Assist staff to maintain or upgrade their skills
    2. Set priorities for staff training
    3. Determine appropriate levels of support (financial, time) for individual staff training
    4. Ensure the development of an ongoing in-house training program (for staff and volunteers) and its delivery by qualified persons
    5. Provide staff with access to professional development opportunities and interchange with museum colleagues, including communication with other museums in the region
    6. Ensure the development and regular delivery of an orientation program for members of the governing body.
  3. A portion of the museum's budget is allocated annually for:
    1. Development, delivery and assessment of an in-house training program
    2. Staff access to professional development (seminars, workshops, conferences)
    3. Purchase and maintenance of a collection of current reference material.

Glossary

The following glossary refers to terms used by the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport in the document Standards for Community Museums in Ontario and is intended only to assist readers of this document. Definitions and descriptions from other sources have been included to enhance the reader's understanding of these terms.

A publicly accountable body

The museum describes, in an annual report or some other publicly available format, its system of organizational governance and stewardship.

"Accountability is the requirement to explain and accept responsibility for carrying out an assigned mandate in light of agreed upon expectations. It is particularly important in situations that involve public trust." Building on Strength: Improving Governance and Accountability in Canada's Voluntary Sector

"Voluntary sector organizations are accountable to clients, members, volunteers, staff, partners, donors, funders, governments and the general public. At a minimum, they are accountable for establishing appropriate missions and policy priorities; setting goals to measure how well objectives are met; sound management of funds received; effective organizational governance; and outcomes." Building on Strength: Improving Governance and Accountability in Canada's Voluntary Sector

The authority for the museum

In the case of municipal museums, the establishment of the museum in the form of a by-law. In the case of not-for-profit corporations, the letters patent for the museum and the proof of incorporation. In all cases, the museum's legal ownership of the collection must be established in writing.

"Each museum should have a written constitution or other document setting out clearly its legal status and permanent, non-profit nature . . ." ICOM Code of Professional Ethics

"Every museum requires a written mandate, which may take the form of a constitution with by-laws, an act, a municipal charter, etc.; this public document establishes its legal, non-profit status and purpose, and its objectives." CMA Ethics Guidelines

The museum's governing body

An appointed or elected body that is responsible only for the operation of the museum, such as a Board of Directors, a Management Committee, or an Advisory Committee. This body cannot have a mandate that includes other municipal entities (e.g. libraries, tourist offices, or recreation centres). Please refer to Changing Times Bulletins nos. 5 and 6 for guidelines regarding municipal museums.

"The superior authority concerned with the policy, finance and administration of the museum." ICOM Code of Professional Ethics

"The governing body of a museum may be an elected or appointed Board of Trustees or Directors, or a Management or Advisory Board or Committee of municipal officials. Whatever its formation, it is the legal entity that is accountable to the public and to the museum community for the policy, financing and administration of the museum." CMA Ethics Guidelines

Ethical behaviour

A commonly accepted standard of behaviour for board members, staff and volunteers, outlined in publications such as the Canadian Museums Association's CMA Ethics Guidelines and the International Council of Museum's ICOM Code of Professional Ethics.

"Ethics are based upon the underlying values of honesty, fairness, respect, excellence and accountability which the larger community applies to the rational evaluation of moral issues. Since the application of such values change over time, museum ethics must reflect an ongoing dialogue between the museum community and the society it serves." CMA Ethics Guidelines

Community

The community served by the museum. This can be a community distinguished by geographic boundaries (e.g. Lambton County), by common interest (e.g. Museum of Textiles), or by ethnicity (e.g. Ukrainian Museum of Canada). A museum may also serve a number of different communities (e.g. special interest and local community).

Appropriate research space

A designated space where staff and outside researchers may sit at a desk or table to consult reference books, archival material, and other documents. The space should be neither in the exhibit area - where it might interfere with public enjoyment of displays - nor in collection storage. The space should be well lit, and large enough to accommodate one or two researchers and their papers.

References

Canadian Museums Association. CMA Ethics Guidelines, Ottawa: 1999.

International Council of Museums. ICOM Code of Professional Ethics, Paris: 1986.

Panel on Accountability and Governance in the Voluntary Sector. Building on Strength: Improving Governance and Accountability in Canada's Voluntary Sector (Final Report), distributed by Canadian Centre for Philanthropy, Toronto: February 1999.

  1. While the principal goal of the standards is to serve museums as a guide to good practice, the Standards for Community Museums in Ontario are also referenced in Regulation 877 - Grants for Museums, the provincial regulation that governs the allocation of operating grants to Ontario's community museums. Eligibility for these operating grants is contingent on museums meeting both the requirements in the regulation as well as the standards.
  2. Municipal museums may be governed by a committee or board of management that advises council.
  3. Acceptable light levels for artifacts are 50 lux for highly light sensitive materials (e.g. most dyed textiles), 150 lux for moderately light sensitive materials (e.g. most varnished paintings), and 300 lux for materials that are not light sensitive (e.g. stone and ceramics). A maximum of 75 : Watts/lumen of ultraviolet light is recommended for all but the last category.
  4. An acceptable range is normally 40% to 60%. This condition applies to all buildings physically capable of maintaining these standards and to all additions to existing buildings or sites. Some buildings, because of structural or historical considerations, may require that this range be adjusted. Such adjustments must be based on individual assessments carried out in consultation with Ministry technical staff.
  5. Where a museum has yet to fully meet these requirements, the Ministry will accept an implementation schedule outlining the work to be done.
  6. In this context, "staff" includes both paid and unpaid staff.