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Museum Studies

IMAGE: Florence Duomo and Giotto Campanile

Museum Origins course in Italy ~ summer 2015
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What is "museum studies"?

Museum studies, sometimes called museology, is the field that encompasses the ideas and issues involved in the museum profession—from the practical, day-to-day skills needed to operate a museum to theories on the societal role of museums. (Source: Smithsonian)

Museums, like libraries, are in the information business. The museum studies courses at Kent State employ a holistic approach to the study of museums as institutions, like libraries, that generate and perpetuate knowledge. Students will gain an understanding of museums in context as dynamic, interactive information systems composed of people, objects, and activities.

What distinguishes the Kent State SLIS approach is that the museum is at the center of study, not content. Most museum studies programs take the subject content (e.g., history, natural history, or art) as the focus for student training. The courses offered by SLIS make the study of museums their core starting point, allowing content to filter in from previous degree work, other electives or research. Because the SLIS courses are structured within a library and information science framework, students are able to cut across the spectrum of traditional academic disciplines, which strengthens the skills of future museum professional by giving them a broader perspective, a larger knowledge base, and more flexibility.

The Museum Studies specialization within SLIS prepares M.L.I.S. graduates with the knowledge and skills required to not only work in traditional LIS careers as librarians and registrars, but also serve as trained information professionals in many additional capacities in museums. The courses offered by SLIS will prepare graduates to work in any type of museum.

What can I do with this background?

Museum registrar, archivist, curator, museum technician, museum educator, museum director, exhibit coordinator, visitor services specialist, cultural heritage information professional, museum librarian. This specialization is highly customizable and can be designed to suit the dynamic, changing needs of today's museum professionals.

In addition to the required core courses, what courses should I take?

  • 60700 Foundations of Museum Studies (all semesters)
  • 60701 Museum Collections (Spring)
  • 60702 Museum Communication (Fall)
  • 60703 Museum Users (Spring)
  • 61905 Museum Origins (every other summer)
  • 61095/60704 The Museum System (Fall)
  • 60652 Foundations and Administration of Archives
  • 60654 Preservation and Conservation of Heritage Materials
  • 60665 Rare Book Librarianship

(Refer to the program guidesheet above for additional suggested coursework. For course descriptions, visit the SLIS Course Catalog.)

In addition to the courses, the following museum studies workshops have been developed to provide an in-depth exploration of key topics:

  • Developing Memorable Museum Tours

  • Museum Collection Information Management

  • Museum Object Preparation Methods

  • Museums and the Law

  • Writing and Developing an Exhibit Script 

You can read descriptions of these workshops in the Workshop Catalog and see the schedule of current workshops being offered on the Courses and Schedules page.

What professional organizations are relevant to this career path?

Museum Studies Core Values

To aid in structuring the museum studies specialization and to ensure that the courses fit into the emerging educational environment within SLIS, the following set of core values has been developed:

1) Museums as Knowledge Centers

These courses recognize:
  • Museums as places that create, organize, use, disseminate, and engage people with information;
  • That museum objects play a significant role in museums and society, as meaningful physical documents;
  • That there are points of intersection between museums which do these things, and libraries and archives which functions as informational, educational, and cultural institutions; and
  • The extent to which digital information technology is further blurring the boundaries between libraries, archives, and museums.

2) Holistic Approach

  • Within these courses, the museum (as an information system) is the center of study, not content of the museum (e.g., art, history, science), in contrast to other programs that take the subject content of museums as the focus for student training; 
  • Courses view the study of museums as the core starting point, allowing content to filter in from previous degree work, other electives or research;
  • Because they are embedded in a library and information science structure, these courses allow students to cut across spectrum of traditional academic disciplines; 
  • This approach strengthens the skills of the future museum professional by giving them a broader perspective, larger skill set, and adaptability.

3) Collaboration and Connectivity

  • Working with other people, departments, and institutions is considered a basic theme across these courses.  
  • With collaborative ventures come more connectivity and the creation of multiple networks in-between. 
  • Embedding collaborative and connective attitudes as a foundational value instills these values in our students, helping them to take these principles into the field with them.

4) Balance (Theory and Practice) 

  • Both theory and practice are instrumental in understanding the world of museums. 

  • In all courses, an effort will be made to not only balance theory and practice but to help them speak to each other. 

  • Instructors will demonstrate and instill in students the compatible and necessary relationship between conceptual thinking (theory) and pragmatic endeavors (practice).  

  • Students will understand the value of balancing these two traditionally conflicting epistemologies and carry this value into their future careers. 

  • As part of this value, it is important to encourage the ethic of lifelong learning and critical thinking skills in students thereby creating a generation of information professionals who infuse the balance of theory and practice into their work environment after their formal training is complete.   

5) Real-World Experience 

  • In all possible scenarios, students will be expected to apply their classroom learning to real situations, whether lab-facilitated or in a museum. 

  • Coursework will involve, whenever possible, application of principles in real scenarios or in a physical museum environment.

  • Volunteer work in museums is encouraged beyond these courses because work in museums expands the learning process, builds resume material, and increases the confidence levels of students. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Museum Studies Specialization

What do I need to do to specialize in museum studies?

There is no formal "admission" into museum studies (or any specialization) within SLIS. A specialization is a suggested, informal concentration of subject matter. M.L.I.S. students can take any courses offered as long as they meet the requirements for the degree. While a series of museum studies courses are available which, when taken together, will provide a good theoretical and practical specialization in museum studies, students are not required to take all of the museum studies courses.

Why should I get an M.L.I.S. if I am interested in working in a museum?

An M.L.I.S. degree prepares students for a career in museums by providing a different perspective from most museum studies programs, built on many years of conceptual and practical knowledge in the study of information, its use, management, organization and access. Museums, libraries, archives and other information institutions are fundamentally about information — how to collect it, store it, use it, interpret it, design it, organize it and preserve it. These institutions are all service-oriented; they are concerned with user (visitor) behavior, needs and how to better meet those needs.

The traditional approach to museum studies education focuses on the functions within the museum, teaching students specific techniques in exhibit design, collection management, public programming, administration and conservation/preservation. All of these skills are taught in the M.L.I.S. museum studies specialization, but the courses are not organized into these functionally neat components. Instead, a more realistic approach is taken — one that more closely models the actual dimensions of museum work — in the education of future museum information professionals. The focus on communication, collections and objects, and users presents an active and dynamic framework to help future workers put their knowledge into practice. This approach to education in museum studies is indeed innovative and new.

What can I do with this specialization?

The museum studies specialization provides M.L.I.S. graduates with the knowledge and skills required not only to work in traditional LIS careers as librarians or registrars in museums, but also to serve as information professionals in many additional capacities in museums and in any type of museum. Depending on a student's background, museum experience, and the courses and workshops taken, graduates with a specialization in museum studies and an M.L.I.S. degree from Kent SLIS will be qualified to work in almost any position within a museum or cultural heritage institution, such as, e.g., collection manager, registrar, director, educator, curator, exhibit specialist, IT and network manager and librarian.

Can I combine this specialization with another specialization in an area like information technology, digital preservation, or archives and special collections?

Yes, students may choose to take other courses to complement their interest in museum studies in areas such as digital preservation, archives, information architecture and/or create their own career specialization within museum studies.

Can I complete this specialization as part of an online degree?

Yes, students can complete the coursework required for both the museum studies specialization and the M.L.I.S. degree online.

Do I need to be a SLIS student to take these courses?

No, the courses may be taken by graduate students in other Kent State departments such as public history or art education. Similarly, students in museum studies or other graduate programs at other colleges or universities may take these courses, with approval.  

What if I have other questions?

For more information, contact Dr. Latham at kflatham@kent.edu.

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