Simon Stephens, Issue 115/11, p4, 01.11.2015
Code of ethics vital for maintaining integrity
I am unaware of any research into the total number of objects held in UK museums
– it is certainly many hundreds of millions.

But whatever the figure, the sector has a massive responsibility to preserve and care for all these objects for past, present and future generations.

Not only that, it has to share knowledge about these artefacts, helping people across Britain and the rest of the world to understand their culture, history and identity.

The objects range from those worth millions of pounds to others that are of little or no monetary value but of great personal significance to maybe 
just one or two people. Many are unlikely to ever go on public display, but can be vital for research.

And the range of objects is remarkable – art, social history, industrial, ethnographical, archaeological, the list goes on and on.

It is within this context that the Museums Association (MA) has carried out an in-depth consultation across the sector to update its Code of Ethics.

Caring for such a huge number and range of items puts museums in a unique and privileged position, but it is also complex and challenging. So having an ethical framework to help guide us is vital.

And in light of the pressures museums and galleries face today, which are probably greater than ever, a Code of Ethics to support our work seems even more important. Visitors are flocking in increasing numbers to most museums, just as public funding
to support these visits is being reduced.

As a result, museum and gallery staff at all levels are having to make tough decisions – over collections care, acquisitions, outreach, partnerships, education, staffing, sponsorship and lots more.

The MA’s updated Code of Ethics does not pretend to have all the answers to the ethical issues that museums face. With so many organisations, funded in so many different ways, caring for so many objects, how could it?

But the Code of Ethics does set out some clear principles that will help museums and
galleries to recognise and resolve ethical issues and conflicts. Having this resource should help all museums to maintain the support and trust of the public, as well as the many other stakeholders that make our work possible.

Simon Stephens, editor, Museums Journal
simon@museumsassociation.org www.twitter.com/simonastephens