What is a museum?

The Museums Association (MA) agreed a definition in 1998. It says: 'Museums enable people to explore collections for inspiration, learning and enjoyment. They are institutions that collect, safeguard and make accessible artefacts and specimens, which they hold in trust for society.' This definition includes art galleries with collections of works of art, as well as museums with historical collections of objects.

How many museums are there in the UK?

It is estimated that there are about 2,500 museums in the UK, depending on what you include. Over 1,800 museums have been accredited. Registration under the Accreditation Scheme indicates that a museum has achieved a nationally approved standard in management, collections care and delivery of information and visitor services.

Find a museum is a database that is published online by the MA and updated all year round. It offers the UK’s most comprehensive list of current museums and their staff. It is searchable by collection type, region and facilities.

Click here for more information about Find a Museum

What different types of museum are there?

There are several different types of museum, depending on how they are owned, managed and funded. These include:

• National museums are run and funded directly by the central government of each UK nation. They are generally larger institutions that hold collections considered to be of national importance. All national museums in the UK offer free entry to their permanent collections.

• Local authority museums are owned and run by town, parish, borough, city, or county councils and other local authority bodies. They generally house collections that reflect local history and heritage.

• University museums are owned and managed by universities and their collections often relate to specific areas of academic interest.

Independent museums are owned by registered charities and other independent bodies or trusts. They are not usually funded directly by the state but may receive support through government programmes. Some may have funding agreements with local authorities.

• Historic properties and heritage sites are buildings, monuments and sites of historic interest, many of which also house collections. They are managed by non-departmental public bodies in each UK nation: English Heritage; Historic Scotland; Cadw in Wales; and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.

• National Trust properties are similar to English Heritage sites, but are owned and run by the National Trust (or the National Trust for Scotland), an independent charity. The National Trust remit extends to historic houses and gardens, castles, industrial monuments and social history sites, as well as areas of natural beauty.

• Regimental museums and armouries collate and preserve Britain's military heritage and are often managed by the armed services.

• England’s unoccupied royal palaces are run by Historic Royal Palaces, an independent charity.

Are all museums in the UK free?

The free admissions policy applies to national museums and collections that are funded directly by the central government of each UK nation. It is free to access the permanent collections in all national museums, though they may still charge for temporary exhibitions. Almost all university museums and a large number of local authority museums also operate a free admissions policy. Most - but not all - independent museums charge an entry fee.

I’m looking for a job in museums and galleries

Museums Journal advertises jobs for the museums and heritage sector. If you are a non-member you can also access our Find a job search when you register for free on the website. 

Click here to join the Museums Association

Click here to access Find a job

How can I train to work in museums and galleries?

There are lots of training and development opportunities for people who want to develop a career in museums. At the MA we offer several professional development schemes to help those volunteering and working in museums get ahead. Our extensive range of museum specific training is open to everyone working in the sector, whether you are already employed or trying to get that first job.

Starting your career...

Professional development...

Events and training…

Most people following a professional or management career in museums have a postgraduate professional qualification, but this may not be necessary for other roles.

Find out more about the qualifications you may need

How much do people working in museums earn?

Although many people find working in museums and galleries a rewarding and interesting career, it is not a very well paid one.

The MA published a salary survey in 2004 which found that almost everyone working in museums earned less than people working in comparable roles elsewhere. A second survey in 2009 found that the situation had improved slightly, but singled out entry-level pay at non-national museums as particularly low.

According to recent figures, the starting salary for many museum jobs falls between £17,000 - £23,000, with front-of-house pay lower still. The MA is committed to addressing the issue of low pay and will be updating its best practice salary guidelines shortly.

Click here to read the salary guidelines

I want to volunteer in a museum

Almost all museums and galleries have volunteers working for them. They work in all sections of the museum from front-of-house to exhibitions departments. Some museums are entirely run by volunteers.

Although the MA does not set up placements, you can find tips and resources on our website on how to get started as a volunteer.

Click here for more information on volunteering

It is best to approach individual museums and galleries directly to find out if they need new volunteers. Many large museums have volunteer managers. Don't get put off if national museums have no volunteer vacancies - many local authority and independent museums will welcome your services.

Museums usually offer different kinds of opportunity to long term volunteers, and students looking for work experience, so make it clear which you are interested in.

I would like to work for the Museums Association

The MA is an equal opportunities employer, which means all our jobs are advertised externally. It also means you should not send us CVs on spec.

Click here to find out about career opportunities at the MA

How many people visit museums?

Visits to museums have greatly increased in recent years. There is no up-to-date figure for total visits in the UK but it is likely to exceed 100 million a year.

According to 2013 research, 52% of adults living in England made at least one museum visit in the previous year.

The MA's ...Love Museums advocacy scheme has compiled further statistics on UK attendance rates.

Click here to see ...Love Museums facts and figures

The top five most visited museums in the UK in 2013 were*:

1. British Museum - 6,701,036
2. The National Gallery - 6,031,574
3. Natural History Museum - 5,356,884
4. Tate Modern - 4,884,939
5. Science Museum (South Kensington) - 3,316,000

*Source: Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (www.alva.org.uk)

I want to donate something to a museum

Try contacting museums with suitable collections directly. Or you could place a notice in Museums Journal. Please send details to: The List, Museums Journal, 42 Clerkenwell Close, London EC1R 0AZ, Fax: 020 7566 7836, Email: journal@museumsassociation.org

Museums wishing to find or dispose of objects can advertise for free on our Find an object database.

Click here to access the Find an object database

I want to set up a new museum

Anybody thinking of setting up a new museum should consider how it could be sustained over time. The climate for setting up a new museum is difficult, public money is not easily available and existing museums are finding it increasingly hard to meet revenue costs. 

The Association of Independent Museums (AIM) has published a series of guides for museums, including one called Successfully setting up a new museum. This contains up-to-date information for anyone considering setting up a museum in the UK.


Big Questions, Big Answers, published by Museums Galleries Scotland also offers useful step-by-step guidance on the planning process for anyone considering opening a museum. To obtain a copy contact: Museums Galleries Scotland, Waverley Gate, 2-4 Waterloo Place, Edinburgh EH1 3EG. Tel: 0131 550 4100


Where can I find out about copyright?

The best guidance can be found in A Guide to Copyright for Museums and Galleries, produced by the Museums Copyright Group and published by Routledge, ISBN: 0-415-21721-0.

Written by three legal specialists, Peter Wienand, Anna Booy and Robin Fry, the book offers a wealth of practical advice and information, including a series of photocopiable sample legal agreements covering matters such as filming, publishing, licensing rights and multi-media issues.

Available from bookshops or directly from the website: www.routledge.com

Further resources are available on: www.museumscopyright.org.uk

I want to find…

...a museum-related company or consultant

Look no further. The Museums Association website has a large, searchable database of over 400 companies catering for over 120 different categories.

Click here to access the Find a supplier search

You can also order free copies of the Museum Services Directory, which is comprehensively updated and published in April every year.
Email: info@museumsassociation.org

...a museum in the UK

Find a museum is the Museums Association's extensive online directory of museums and their staff in the UK, listed by region and collection type.

Find out more about subscribing to Find a museum

Culture24 is an online resource with a search facility for museums and related articles, events and educational resources.


...a museum abroad

German publisher De Gruyter Saur publishes a museum directory called Museums of the World, ISBN 978-3-598-20696-2, offering information on over 41,600 museums in 199 countries.


Alternatively, other museums associations around the world publish their own online museum directories. A search engine may help you find the one you're looking for.

...a particular kind of museum collection

The MA's Find a museum directory is searchable by collection type and carries brief descriptions of each museum's collections.

Click here for Find a museum

Cornucopia is an online database of information about more than 6,000 collections in the UK's museums, galleries, archives and libraries. It allows you to search museum collections by type.


Collections Link is a network that enables people working in archives, libraries and museums to share their collections knowledge. The organisation has an online directory of subject-specialist networks that may help you identify where specific collections are held.

Click here to visit the Collections Link website

Other reference books include: Directory of Museums, Galleries and Buildings of Historic Interest, 4th Edition, edited by Bob Duckett, ISSN 0950-4125, Taylor & Francis Group; The Essential Guide to Collectibles: A Source Book of Public Collections in Europe and the USA, Alistair McAlpine & Cathy Giangrande, ISBN 1-84159-080-0.

…a conservator

ICON, The Institute of Conservation is the lead voice for the conservation of cultural heritage in the UK. It operates an accreditation scheme and the Conservation Register, a national database of conservators and restorers.

Click here to visit the Conservation Register website

...someone to value an object

Museum staff are happy to offer information about objects brought in by members of the public for identification, but they do not give financial valuations.

If you would like to find out the commercial value of an object you need to find a reputable dealer or auction house. Museums have to concentrate on what they do best - informing and advising on the historical and cultural significance of an object.

The expertise of curators and museum professionals differs from those in the commercial sector. Most do not keep up with current trends in the art or antiques market, so they would be unable to offer a member of the public the most well-informed and accurate valuation.