Museums score high on public trust but low on visits

Museums are one of the most trusted sources of information but one of the least used, a preliminary study into …
Felicity Heywood
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Museums are one of the most trusted sources of information but one of the least used, a preliminary study into public perceptions of museums, libraries and archives has revealed.

The research, undertaken by the University of Sheffield and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Board, is an attempt to find out whether technological advances will result in a perceived loss in the value of using museums, libraries and archives for information. The results put museums second to libraries as being considered the most trustworthy places of public knowledge compared with sources such as television, newspapers and the internet.

The research consisted of an ICM telephone poll of more than 1,000 people, plus focus groups of between six and ten members that were held in each of England's nine regions. The focus groups consisted of museums, libraries and archives professionals; known users of museums, libraries and archives; ethnic minorities; parents of school-aged children; people aged 18-25; and the over 55s. The survey has been conducted over two years and the full findings will be published at the end of this year.

The survey found that 59 per cent of those questioned trust museums as compared with 42 per cent trusting television. But 94 per cent used television, while only 22 per cent used museums.

Bob Usherwood, a professor of librarianship at the University of Sheffield, undertook the research. He said the results indicated that museums, libraries and archives needed to present themselves in a different way. 'Shouldn't we be saying something about how to promote them as trustworthy institutions?'

He said the tension between seeing museums as a learned place or a good day out came out strongly within many of the focus groups.

'It is for policy-makers, curators and professionals to look at the data and decide what weight they want to put on it,' Usherwood said. 'Do museums want to be part of the entertainment business or the scholarly world?

'My own view is that there is a real issue between having to increase social inclusion, which is fine, and the challenge of doing that without altering the scholarship. It ought to be possible to square that circle.'

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