The soul of a museum is the essence of identity by which it is defined; it is that which makes a museum a museum. The museum has identifiable requisites without which it would not be a museum. By using creative methods of exhibition, interpretation, and education as well as effective methods of collection and conservation, the museum becomes an integral aspect and a valuable resource in society. There are unique distinctions between the museum and other cultural institutions. Although the basic requirements of the definition of the museum have remained predominantly unaltered in modern history, the role of the museum in society has changed. Museums unite in purpose through their characteristics and features, are different from other cultural institutions, and have changed over time with respect to their role in society.
The prerequisites of a museum are the collections and exhibitions that are open to the public. Museums unite in purpose by way of the collection of objects, the preservation of those objects, the exhibitions, the research, and the education, all in an effort to serve the public good. The International Council of Museums defines a museum as "... a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment." Frequently, many museums will echo this definition within their mission statement. For example, even a specialty museum such as the National Civil Rights Museum will make use of portions of that definition in their mission statement:
The National Civil Rights Museum, located at the Lorraine Motel, the assassination site of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., chronicles key episodes of the American civil rights movement and the legacy of this movement to inspire participation in civil and human rights efforts globally, through our collections, exhibitions, and educational programs.
The noble ambition of the museum is to serve the public good by way of collecting, preserving, researching, interpreting, and exhibiting. Stephen Weil argues, "Vague as those purposes may first appear, so multifarious are the potential outcomes of which this emerging museum is capable that to use terms any more specific than 'quality of life' or 'communal well-being' would be unnecessarily exclusive." That vagueness provides freedom to each individual institution and at the same time creates a bond of unity amongst all museums.
The feature that most distinguishes the museum from other cultural institutions lies within the definition of the museum; it is the exhibit. In the past, it would have been argued that the collections were the distinguishing feature. Collections can be found in many forms, public and private. The collection, in and of itself, does not make a museum. The South Dakota School of Mines and Technology used...