Managing Resources in the Museum

Module code: MU7506

Module co-ordinator: Katy Bunning

Museums are made up of a number of resources. These include people, infrastructures and collections and associated information. This module explores how these resources are acquired – and how and why they are maintained and developed. This module will help learners to define museum resources; identify how these resources are acquired; demonstrate why these should be developed; illustrate how resources are utilised and developed; relate these resources to changing contexts and audience development; apply concepts of strategic resource development to different museum contexts; evaluate existing examples of strategic resource development; and plan for strategic resource development in museums. This module explores issues relating to collection management, staffing issues, and preventive conservation more specifically.  

Topics Covered

Unit 1 - Vision and strategy

We will address the way museums can succeed in their numerous challenges through generating and fostering a shared vision and mission. Museums are constantly changing through the forces and pressures they face from myriad different stakeholders, funders, and agencies. This unit sets up a strategic approach to the management of change, both in theory and in practice.

Unit 2 - Managing people

Unit 2 continues a focus on the need for a shared vision in museums by looking at the organisation and management of the museum’s most valuable resource: people. This unit identifies the internal forces that shape museums and how leaders can motivate both paid and unpaid staff to effect change. This unit also continues a discussion of access and inclusion by looking at the way museums can diversify their workforce in response to wider developments in the communities and society in which they operate.

Unit 3 - Collection issues

We will begin to look in more detail at the wider legal and ethical frameworks into which museum collecting must fit. This unit examines many of the issues surrounding the world-wide protection of cultural property and outlines the potential and actual roles the museum can play. Specifically, this unit explores some of the key problems and challenges surrounding contemporary collecting, and explores the systems of value that have been established to justify and control collecting. Key issues dealt with include the movement of cultural property, the illicit trade, and the special case of human remains.

Unit 4 - Managing collections

This unit focuses on the area of practice known as ‘collection management’. In particular, this unit considers the collection management policy and the areas of museum work which have an impact upon it. Among the key issues discussed are the many and varied activities to which collection management refers, and the importance of a collection management policy as a way of integrating different aspects of collection management within the overall mission and aims of the museum.

Unit 5 - Collecting and collections development: policies and practice  

Unit 5 considers a key part of the overall collections management policy - the collecting policy  - and how it relates to museum practice. This unit aims to encourage a thoughtful and knowledgeable approach to the acquisition of museum collections and the way this can be informed by a strategic policy. This unit moves on from issues of collecting to an area that is considered vital to collections development: the disposal and deaccession of objects and collections from museums. This unit aims to consider the legal, ethical and professional restrictions on disposing of objects from museum collections, the value statements inherent in disposal, and to stress the importance of a policy statement on this often-controversial area.

Unit 6 - Collections and information

We will focus on the managing of information about objects and collections, by taking a broad, historical look at the way information has been organised both inside and outside of museums, and outlines key documentation processes and information management systems in detail. This unit aims to build up a thorough understanding of the aspects and issues of managing information as a key part of collections management. This unit also looks at the issue of collections research and argues for a concerted and integrated programme of research in the museum. When tailored to the mission of the museum, linked into documentation systems and made accessible through exhibitions, lectures and new technologies, research can be recognised as invaluable to the museum project.

Unit 7 - Conservation: theory and technology

You will be introduced the terminology and major concepts involved in the preservation of museum objects and collections. The unit will ask you to think about the nature of conservation and its place in the museum. It will introduce you to a short history of conservation and discuss the development of an ethic of preventive conservation. In particular, this unit looks at the way different objects deteriorate at different rates and in different ways.

Unit 8 - Museum environments: relative humidity and temperature

This unit looks specifically at the physical conditions of the museum environment. It discusses the nature of relative humidity and temperature in detail as well as introduces methods for measurement and control. It is vital that the controls instigated are suited to the various materials in a specific environment. This is not always as straightforward as it might seem.

Unit 9 - Museum environments: light, pollutants and pests

Unit 9 continues the focus on the museum environment by looking at the way light can affect different materials and objects, the way pollutants in the atmosphere can react with certain objects, and the issue of biological infestation in the museum and the kinds of damage infestation can cause to museum collections. Possible solutions for management and control of the museum environment are outlined. Overall, this unit deals with a number of controversial topics, in which issues of access and conservation appear to clash.

Unit 10 - Storage, transit, emergencies and risk

You will consider the environmental conditions of storage spaces, and the ways in which certain storage materials can contaminate collections. This unit is also concerned with storage and access issues, including public access to ‘open storage’, and considers the apparent tension between access and preservation. Additionally, handling, packing, transport, loaning of objects to other sites, and an overall approach to disaster planning are further key topics dealt with in this unit.


  • 225 hours of guided independent study


  • Two essays, each 2,000-2,500 words (50% each)