Are Museums Trusted??

Answer = Yes!

Gratuitous ‘selfie’, Newcastle Museum, NSW

There have been a raft of studies looking into museums as trusted institutions. My own work in 2006 unpacked the idea of museums as trusted sources and where they fitted within a range of organisations when Australians were looking for information particularly related to controversial topics. The resulting paper, Museums as Trusted Sources of Information and Learning: The Decision Making Process, can be downloaded here.

The AAM worked with Wilkening Consulting, asking Americans whether and why they trust US museums, especially given the challenges of the past two years. The main results are summarised in the report Museums and Trust 2021.

In the UK, a survey of adults found that 86% of Britons would trust museum curators, behind nurses (94%), librarians (93%) and doctors (91%), and alongside teachers (86%). More on this study can be found on the Museums Association (UK) website.

More recently in 2021, the Council of Australasian Museum Directors (CAMD) commissioned a survey that found public trust in museums has risen to 78%.

Key findings (quoted directly from CAMD’s website):

  • Museums received one of the highest ratings of the 17 included organisations, with around 8 in 10 people placing a great deal of trust in museums.
  • At a time when trust in most sources of information is declining, museums have retained their status as reliable sources of information and expertise.
  • 87% trusted museums because as experts they are highly credible sources of information.
  • 87% trusted museums because they are experienced public educators.
  • 60% trusted museums because they personally connect to the content and experience.
  • 58% trusted museums because they share their values.
  • 89% agreed museums can care for and hold collections and mount displays.
  • The most common responses for how trust could be improved include: through provision of more proof, facts and information to demonstrate artefacts are genuine, increased honesty about the sourcing and collection of artefacts and more transparency, openness or willingness to take part in open debates.
  • Generation Z had the strongest focus on trust and transparency, desiring unbiased exhibitions with honest explanations around how artefacts were acquired.
  • The most commonly cited loss if museums were to close was a loss of history, historical records and an understanding of how we, as humans, came to be. This was followed by a loss of heritage, a link to the past and a sense of belonging. Knowledge, information, education and learning were also perceived losses if museums closed.

Taken together, all these findings paint a great picture for museums in the public sphere, and maybe could assist with better funding in the future??

Let’s hope our politicians and funders take notice…

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