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Should museums charge for enquiries?

Rebecca Atkinson, 01.09.2014
Vote in the poll and have your say
The issue of whether it’s ethical for museums to charge for enquiries from members of the public was the subject of a recent thread on the Natural Sciences Collections Association discussion list.

Jan Freedman, the curator of natural history at Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery, has written a blog and a comment piece for the Museums Association website setting out some of the challenges for short-staffed museums dealing with public enquiries.

Despite charges making financial sense, Freedman wrote that this is against the remit of museums “to engage, inspire and educate people using our incredible collections”.

The article prompted further discussion on the site and on social media. Some thought repeat enquiries should carry a charge, while others argued that asking for a donation was more appropriate.

Do you think museums should charge for enquiries? Vote in the poll and have your say in the comment box below.

Poll

Should museums charge for enquiries?



Comments

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Chris Wood
MA Member
03.09.2014, 19:45
I agree with Jan's conclusion. After all, answering enquiries is surely what a museum engaged with its community does. Nicely written piece too!

In the comments to Jan's piece the issue of using charges to deter irksome enquiries was raised. There is some sense to that, but it should be a case of 'We may have to charge for enquiries that take up unreasonable staff time', rather than a blanket statement that the time is chargeable (even if the charge is rarely made), as that puts people off in the first place.
Anonymous
MA Member
03.09.2014, 15:05
Enquiries come in all shapes and sizes - I'm presuming the poll is referring to collection based enquiries. While all research builds knowledge, very limited resources should be used with care - time on one activity may mean another cannot be undertaken. Also charging can convey value and help the enquirer focus on how much they need the information. In an ideal world (or even one of a few years ago) with plenty of staff and volunteers and easily accessible records and history files I would say answer every enquiry for free now I don't think we have those resources and in helping one we may deprive many more of access.
Anonymous
MA Member
03.09.2014, 14:59
For general public enquiries definitely no. This is a core function of museum expertise to provide information. Where there might be a commercial connection or the information used for commercial purposes then there seems to be no question.
Emily Millward
MA Member
Museum Collections Assistant, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
02.09.2014, 09:06
Surely research enquiries are part of the access service provided for by collections departments. As have many others have stated in their comments below, enquiries are part of a sharing of knowledge between researcher and collection. Enquiries that I receive at work often help to expand our own knowledge of a particular object, through our own research to answer the enquiry or indeed by the individual themself offering information.
I also see it from another viewpoint; as someone who is just completing their PhD in Egyptology, I have had to contact a few museum during the 4 years of my research. All of those contacted were most helpful and were very keen for me to pass information of my research on to them, once again as an exchange of knowledge.
01.09.2014, 19:17
Although research and enquiries take up staff time, they are a key part of providing access to our collections. They allow the public access to parts of the collection that are often not on display e.g. archive and library collections. They also allow people who are not in a position to visit the museum to share in and use the collections. Charging people for this service would exclude or put people off enquiring; it would be a barrier to access for some. I just don't know if it is fair to charge people for information that they can only access through the museum. A nominal charge for things like postage and copying is acceptable to cover costs. I think it is also fair enough to suggest to an enquirer that they may prefer to visit the reading room to explore the subject in greater depth. Or to give them a brief answer with suggestions for further research. From personal experience, enquiries are a brilliant way of engaging with a vast and diverse range of people.
Anonymous
MA Member
01.09.2014, 17:03
Research enquiries take up a great deal of staff time and organisational resources, especially in organisations where there are limited staff undertaking multiple roles.
Having a cost attached to research can provide some useful revenue to put back into the organisation and cover some of the staff time.
Rebecca Atkinson
MA Member
Online Publications Editor, Museums Association
01.09.2014, 15:53
Comment from Twitter: All knowledge expands the world to which we all belong, so maybe we should all support research and enquiries