Code of Ethics (Museums Australia) a summary

Museums Australia’s Code of Ethics for Art, History and Science Museums (1999) was developed to provide ‘a reference point’ for governing bodies and individual museum workers. The statements in the code are ‘intended to be measuring sticks against which current museum policy and practice can be tested for ethical content’.

 The Code of Ethics deals with institutional ethics and professional conduct.


Institutional ethics covers:

  • minimum requirements for museums
  • acquisitions to museum collections
  • display of collections
  • research into collections
  • disposal of collections

Professional conduct covers:

  • personal responsibilities of museum workers to the collection, the public, the museum and fellow workers
  • museum organisation, working relationships and accountabilities

The following key points from the Code are relevant to community-based museums: 


Institutional ethics:

  • Minimum essential requirements for museums, regardless of size:
    • a constitution, clear aims, written policies and procedures
    • sufficient funds to operate
    • a collection of high quality objects, which are properly housed, preserved, documented and displayed
    • premises adequate for all aspects of museum work
    • safeguards against hazards
    • workers who are well trained
    • programs to educate and inform the public
    • means to promote the museum, its collection and programs
    • public access to the collection and displays
    • physical access for as many people as possible of differing levels of abilities
  • In addition:
    • museums using commercial support and sponsorships must ensure that their standards, goals and integrity are not compromised by such relationships
    • museums should encourage the general community, and specific community groups and individuals, to be involved in museums and support their aims and policies
    • museums should consult with culturally and linguistically diverse groups and Indigenous peoples (or their representatives) as to the context in which their objects are to be displayed and whether they are to be displayed at all
    • museums should make provision in their constitution for the disposal of their property and collections to properly constituted organisations with similar aims
  • In acquiring items for museum collections, museums must:
    • have a written acquisitions policy, regularly reviewed and made public 
    • support UNESCO efforts to control and eliminate illegal international trafficking of art, science and museum objects, including Indigenous items
    • be satisfied that they can acquire legal title to an item before accepting it into the collection, (for example, by checking that a potential donor has the right to make a donation)
    • work in cooperation with museums of similar collecting interests, especially in defining areas of specialisation
    • accept loans, gifts and bequests only if they fit within the museum’s acquisition and exhibition policies
  • In displaying collection items, museums must:
    • display items appropriately and take every care to minimise the possibility of damage or deterioration
    • identify, in labels and other text, items which are not originals
    • ensure that loan items (outwards and inwards) are covered by written agreements
    • appropriately acknowledge contributors to the development of displays
  • In researching museum collections, museums must:
    • spend as much time as possible documenting and interpreting collections
    • share the results of research with the public, as appropriate
  • In disposing of collection items, museums must:
    • check their legal rights and responsibilities first and obtain consent of other parties, if required
    • ensure that decisions to dispose of items are approved by the managing body, and that full records are kept
    • offer items first, by exchange, gift or private treaty sale, to other museums before sale by public auction or other means
    • not allow museum committee members, workers, members or their families or close associates to purchase items that have been de-accessioned from the collection
    • use any monies received for the upgrading of the collection, which may include acquiring other items, or improving the preservation of the collection


Professional conduct

 The Museums Australia Code of Ethics relates largely to museum workers who are paid staff, and covers many aspects of curatorial and research work. The following statements apply equally to museum volunteers.

  • In their own conduct, museum workers should:
    • act loyally towards their museum and treat their fellow workers with respect and courtesy
    • give other museum workers, especially newer or younger ones, the benefit of their experience and knowledge
    • use their influence to ensure that harmony, goodwill and honourable conduct guide their relationships within their own museum and with other museums and related organisations
    • deal with the public efficiently and courteously at all times
    • follow correct procedures for accepting donations into the collection
    • ensure that items accepted into the collection are properly and fully documented, properly handled and cared for, and appropriately displayed and made accessible to the public
    • make known their interest in private collections of a kind represented in their own museum, as there may be a conflict of interest
    • not accept any gift, or any form of reward, as an improper inducement in the purchase or disposal of museum items.

The full Code of Ethics is available online at




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