It may seem like a strange question but what actually is a museum?
There is nothing to stop someone claiming that they are running a museum, when in fact they might own a private collection that they only let a select few people see, or their ‘museum’ is more like a café decorated with a few token moth-eaten exhibits.
Most people agree that museums care for objects (be it of butterflies, costumes, steam engines, or anything else) for the public benefit.
This is an important definition because in these days when funding and support are in short supply, resources can’t be wasted on places that neglect their collections or don’t benefit wider society.
This is one of the many reasons why the Arts Council England oversees the museum accreditation standard.
Meeting this standard proves that a museum is able to look after its collections.
This can be as basic as having buildings that keep the weather out, or more involved, like monitoring light levels and vibrations in their galleries.
Accredited museums also have to prove that they benefit the public.
Even the best cared-for, most pampered collection in the world is worthless if people can’t see it and learn from it.
This is why, to meet the accreditation standard, museums have to show that they not only open to visitors, but also know who their users are and actively try to engage with them.
Of course, not all accredited museums are perfect and there are some great places out there that aren’t officially accredited, even if they do meet the standard.
But the system works very well as a mark of quality.
Personally, I would be happier donating something to a museum that is accredited rather than one that isn’t.
I would know that my donation would be well looked after and would be enjoyed by future generations of visitors.
There are other reasons why museums strive to meet this standard, other than reassuring potential donors.
Some grants can only be applied for by accredited museums, so there is a real financial benefit to signing up to the scheme.
But perhaps most importantly, museum workers are proud of what we do.
Accreditation is recognition that we are doing it well, and that makes us happy. And we deserve to be happy.
n Fishbourne Roman Palace received accreditation and the certificate last month.