Book Review: Museum Basics by Timothy Ambrose

Museum Basics, by Timothy Ambrose and Crispin Paine, 3rd edition released in 2012, published by Routledge with ICOM support.

Museum Basics was written to address “the continuing need at an international level for an everyday handbook for museums with few professional staff and limited financial resources.“  In other words, the 99%.  Developed by Ambrose and Paine (two British consultants, active with the UK Museum Association) with contributions from writers in Africa, South America, Europe, Asia and the US, this nearly 500-page paperback is aimed especially at small and middle size museums at all points of the globe.  It covers the gamut of:  balancing collection care while making collections as widely accessible to the public as possible, marketing and audiences, and managing staff/volunteers, assets and physical resources.  Check out the table of contents on Amazon for the  individual topics covered – there are waaaay too many in this impressive third edition to cite here. All the basics from A to Z are treated, then some,  including several subjects normally omitted from museum science texts, like oral histories,  museum archives, writing for the public, new media, field work, networking, future planning, accidents, sustainability of buildings, visitor pace and flow, etc, etc.  Very, very thorough in the number of areas addressed –– however, can this single paperback volume even begin to cover all of these subjects in a more than superficial way?  The answer is not all the time, but Museum Basics certainly hits the key points and even manages to state some obvious but often unmentioned challenges, eg, how to address the public’s common reservations “[the museum is] not for people like us”, “It’s too tiring”, and to lay down some line-in-the-sand advice like “Every museum should have a programme of object research going on all the time,” to cite just a couple of the authors’ plums.  The new third edition is accompanied by a Museum Basics website (www.routledge.com/cw/ambrose), helpful for keeping supplemental resources up to date.

Many ‘museum manuals’ lean toward one area reflecting the author’s special expertise, or they beg the question “Has this person actually worked in a museum?”  This is not one of those books.  Available on Amazon for as low as $32-40,  this useful guide should be on every small/medium-size museum’s bookshelf, serve as a basic textbook for any museum studies course or for interns, and, for large museums, be on hand to help staff understand their co-workers’ departments and the big picture.

In a seemingly disjointed world, Museum Basics underscores the noble purpose and global connectivity of people striving to preserve their cultural heritage in the most caring, responsible way possible.

 

Review by: Renee Montgomery is Assistant Director, Risk Management, for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California.

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