cornerstone of ICOM is its ICOM Code of Ethics for
Museums. It sets minimum standards of professional
practice and performance for museums and their staff.
In joining the organisation, ICOM members undertake
to abide by this Code.
edition has been superseded by the 2004 edition.
However the provisions
of the 2001 edition, although incomplete, remain valid
over a transitionary period. This is available in a
number of languages which are made available here during
this period or until new translations become available.
Code of Ethics for Museums (2001)
ICOM Code of Professional Ethics was adopted unanimously by
the 15th General Assembly of ICOM meeting in Buenos Aires,
Argentina on 4 November 1986 and amended by the 20th General
Assembly of ICOM meeting in Barcelona, Spain on 6 July 2001.
ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums is a means of professional
self-regulation. It sets minimum standards of conduct and
performance to which all museum professional staff throughout
the world may reasonably aspire. At the same time it also
provides a clear statement of what the public may justifiably
expect from the museum profession. Although the Code
cannot take precedence over the law it may also take on a
quasi-legal role where national law is ill-defined or non-existent
on the matters covered. Like the law, codes of ethics are
influenced by social change as well as developing professional
practice. This has been particularly pronounced with museums
as their contribution to society has expanded from the academic
through education to leisure and tourism, and in the promotion
of cultural identity. In addition the last two decades have
seen profound changes in certain countries with the transfer
of public services to the private and commercial sectors and
the establishment of specialist agencies to service museums.
Such change can have a deconstructing effect on a profession.
All involved with the collection and interpretation of the
natural and cultural heritage should find a common professional
bond in this revised ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums.
Membership of ICOM is an affirmation of this Code.
Each section of the Code has now been critically reviewed
by ICOM's Ethics Committee in the light of contemporary museum
practice and edited accordingly. At the same time the Code
has been presented in a less prescriptive manner. This is
the first stage towards a fuller review which, it is intended,
will present the principles of professional practice with
guidelines for meeting them; this is planned for 2004. The
present work would not have been possible without the full
support of the President and Secretary General of ICOM and
the large number of constructive comments received from the
Committees and members of ICOM during a year-long consultation
period. The brunt of the work fell on members of the Ethics
Committee who met for this purpose on three
occasions and took part in three electronic discussions.
ICOM issued its Ethics
of Acquisition in 1970. The first full
Code of Professional Ethics was published in 1986,
the present revision was approved unanimously by the 20th
General Assembly of ICOM in Barcelona, Spain, on 6 July 2001.
Like its precursors, the present Code provides a global
minimum standard on which national and specialist groups can
build to meet their particular requirements. ICOM wishes to
encourage the development of such national and specialist
codes and will be pleased to receive copies of them. These
should be sent to the Secretary General of ICOM, Maison de
l'UNESCO, 1 rue Miollis, 75732 Paris Cedex 15, France. E-mail:
Chair, ICOM Ethics Committee
Ethics Committee for the period 2000-2003
Geoffrey Lewis (UK)
Members: Gary Edson (USA); Per Kňks (Sweden); Byung-mo
Kim (Rep. of Korea); Jean-Yves Marin (France); Bernice Murphy
(Australia); Tereza Scheiner (Brazil); Shaje'a Tshiluila (Democratic
Rep. of Congo); Michel Van-PraŰt (France).
section assumes that the institution is a museum providing
a public service, as defined in the ICOM
annex) Where the institution is not a museum
but provides services to museums, these paragraphs are also
Basic Principles for Museum Governance
Minimum Standards for Museums
The governing body of a museum has an ethical duty to
maintain and enhance all aspects of the museum, its collections
and its services. Above all, it has the responsibility of
ensuring that all collections in its care are adequately housed,
conserved and documented.
minimum standards for museum finance, premises, staffing and
services may be defined by law or other government regulation
in some countries. In others, guidance on and assessment of
minimum standards may be available in the form of "Accreditation",
"Registration" or similar evaluative schemes. Where such standards
are not defined locally, guidance can be obtained through
the National Committee of ICOM, the appropriate International
Committee of ICOM, or the ICOM Secretariat.
Each museum should have a written constitution or other document
setting out clearly its legal status, mission and permanent,
non-profit nature, which is in accordance with the appropriate
national laws. The governing body of a museum should prepare
and publicise a clear statement of the goals, objectives and
policies of the museum and of the role and composition of
the governing body.
The governing body holds the ultimate financial responsibility
for the museum and for protecting all its resources, including
the collections and related documentation, the premises, facilities
and equipment, the financial assets and the staff. It is required
to develop and define the purposes, and related policies,
of the institution, and to ensure that all assets are used
properly and effectively for museum purposes. Sufficient funds
must be available on a regular basis, from either public or
private sources, to carry out and develop the work of the
museum. Proper accounting procedures must be adopted and maintained
in accordance with the relevant national laws and professional
accounting standards. The collections are held in public trust
and may not be treated as a realisable asset.
The governing body has an obligation to provide a suitable
environment for the physical security and preservation of
the collections. The buildings and facilities must be adequate
for the museum to fulfil its basic functions of collection,
research, storage, conservation, education and display. They
should comply with all appropriate national legislation in
relation to the health, safety and accessibility of the premises,
having regard for the special needs of disabled people. Proper
standards of protection should be in place at all times against
hazards such as theft, fire, flood, vandalism and deterioration.
The course of action to be taken in the event of emergency
should be clearly specified.
The governing body has an obligation to ensure that the museum
has sufficient staff and expertise to meet its responsibilities.
The size of the staff and its nature (permanent or temporary)
will depend on the size of the museum, its collections and
its responsibilities. Proper arrangements have to be made
in relation to the care of the collections, public access
and services, research and security.
governing body has a particularly important obligation in
relation to the appointment of the director or head of the
museum and should have regard for the knowledge and skills
required to fill the post effectively. The director of a museum
should be directly responsible to and have direct access to
the governing body in which trusteeship of the collections
governing body should ensure that when the appointment, promotion,
dismissal or demotion of any member of staff occurs, such
action is taken only in accordance with appropriate procedures
under the legal or other constitutional arrangements and policies
of the museum. Even when such action has been delegated to
the director or senior staff, it should ensure that such staff
changes are made in a professional and ethical manner, and
in the best interests of the museum.
of the museum profession require appropriate and continuing
academic, technical and professional training in order to
fulfil their role in the operation of the museum and the care
for the heritage. The governing body should recognise the
need for, and value of, a properly qualified and trained staff,
and offer adequate opportunities for further training and
re-training to maintain current awareness and an effective
governing body should never require a member of the museum
staff to act in a way that could reasonably be judged to conflict
with the provisions of the ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums,
or any national law or national or specialist code of ethics.
Friends of Museums and Supporting Organisations
Museums depend on the public to encourage their growth and
development. Many museums have Friends and supporting organisations.
It is the institution's responsibility to create a favourable
environment for such support, recognise its contribution,
encourage the practice, and promote a harmonious relationship
between such organisations and the professional staff.
Educational and Community Role of the Museum
A museum is an institution in the service of society and of
its development and is generally open to the public (even
though the participating public may be limited in the case
of certain specialised museums).
museum has an important duty to develop its educational role
and attract wider audiences from all levels of the community,
locality, or group it serves. It should offer opportunities
for such people to become involved in the museum and to support
its goals and activities. Interaction with the constituent
community is an integral part of realising the educational
role of the museum and specialist staff are likely to be required
for this purpose.
Museum displays and other facilities should be physically
and intellectually accessible to the public during reasonable
hours and for regular periods. The museum should also offer
the public reasonable access to members of staff and to collections
not displayed or exhibited, by appointment or other arrangement.
As holders of primary evidence, museums have a particular
responsibility for making collections available to scholars
as freely as possible. Access to requested information about
the collections should be granted, subject to restrictions
for reasons of confidentiality and security (see
Displays, Exhibitions and Special Activities
The primary duty of the museum is to preserve its collections
for the future and use them for the development and dissemination
of knowledge, through research, educational work, permanent
displays, temporary exhibitions and other special activities.
These should be in accordance with the stated policy and educational
purpose of the museum, and should not compromise either the
quality or the proper care of the collections. Museums should
be aware that the display of material without provenance may
be seen to condone illicit trade in cultural property. The
museum should seek to ensure that the information it publishes,
by whatever means, is accurate, honest, objective and well-founded
External Funding and Support
Museums may seek and accept financial or other support from
corporate or private sources. A policy is needed to define
clearly the relationship between the museum and such support.
It is of particular importance that neither the standards
and objectives of the museum nor the interests of any living
communities associated with an event financed in this way
are compromised by such a relationship.
Many museums provide visitor facilities such as shops and
restaurants that have income-generating potential. In some
cases there are other opportunities for income generation
in collaboration with commercial or promotional activities.
To address these issues the governing body should have a clearly
defined income-generating policy regarding the use of collections,
and the purpose of the museum that does not compromise the
quality or care of the collections or the institution. This
policy should clearly differentiate between knowledge-driven
and income-generating activities. Income-generation should
be financially beneficial for the museum but consistent with
its non-profit status. All such activities should be planned
and operated as an enhancement to understanding the museum
and its collections.
voluntary or commercial organisations are involved in income
generation, relationships with the museum must be well defined
with a clear understanding of the activity in its museum context.
The related publicity and products should conform to agreed
standards. If replicas, reproductions or copies of items in
a museum's collection are made, for whatever purpose, they
must respect the integrity of the original and be permanently
marked as facsimiles. All items offered for sale should comply
with relevant national and local legislation.
Each governing body should ensure that the museum complies
fully with all legal obligations, whether in relation to international,
regional, national or local legislation and treaty obligations.
The governing body should also comply with any legally binding
trusts or conditions relating to any aspect of the museum,
its collections and operations.
Acquisitions to Museum Collections
Each museum authority should adopt and publish a written statement
of its collections policy. This policy should address issues
relevant to the care and use of the museum's existing public
collections. It should state clearly the areas of proposed
collecting and include guidelines for maintaining the collections
in perpetuity. Instructions should also be included in the
policy on acquisitions with conditions or limitations (see
3.5) as well as a restriction against acquiring
material that cannot be catalogued, conserved, stored or exhibited
properly. Collections policies should be reviewed at least
every five years.
objects acquired should be consistent with the objectives
defined in the collections policy and selected with the expectation
of permanency and not for eventual disposal. Acquisitions
of objects or specimens outside the stated policy should only
be made in very exceptional circumstances and then only after
careful consideration by the governing body of the museum.
The governing body should have regard to the professional
opinion available to them, the interests of the object or
specimen under consideration, the national or other cultural
or natural heritage and the special interests of other museums.
However, even in these circumstances, objects without a valid
title should not be acquired. New acquisitions should normally
be made known in a regular and consistent manner.
Acquisition of Illicit Material
The illicit trade in objects and specimens encourages the
destruction of historic sites, ethnic cultures and biological
habitats and promotes theft at local, national and international
levels. It places at risk endangered species of flora and
fauna, violates the UN Convention
on Biological Diversity (1992) and contravenes
the spirit of national and international patrimony. Museums
should recognise the destruction of human and natural environments
and loss of knowledge that results from the illicit servicing
of the market place. The museum professional must warrant
that it is highly unethical for a museum to support the illicit
market in any way, directly or indirectly.
museum should not acquire any object or specimen by purchase,
gift, loan, bequest or exchange unless the governing body
and responsible officer are satisfied that a valid title to
it can be obtained. Every effort must be made to ensure that
it has not been illegally acquired in, or exported from, its
country of origin or any intermediate country in which it
may have been owned legally (including the museum's own country).
Due diligence in this regard should establish the full history
of the item from discovery or production, before acquisition
addition to the safeguards set out above, a museum should
not acquire objects by any means where the governing body
or responsible officer has reasonable cause to believe that
their recovery involved the unauthorised, unscientific or
intentional destruction or damage of ancient monuments, archaeological
or geological sites, or natural habitats, or involved a failure
to disclose the finds to the owner or occupier of the land,
or to the proper legal or governmental authorities. Nor should
a museum acquire, directly or indirectly, biological or geological
material that has been collected, sold or otherwise transferred
in contravention of any local, national, regional or international
wildlife protection or natural history conservation law, or
treaty, of the museum's own country or any other country.
professional conflict can exist when an acquisition, highly
desired by a museum, lacks provenance. However, the ability
to establish legal title to the item must be an overriding
factor when considering acquisition. In very rare cases an
item without provenance may have an inherently outstanding
contribution to knowledge that it would be in the public interest
to preserve. Such discovery is likely to be of international
significance and should be the subject of a decision by specialists
in the discipline concerned. The basis of the decision should
be without national or institutional prejudice, based on the
best interests of the subject discipline and be clearly stated.
Field Study and Collecting
Museums should assume a position of leadership in the effort
to halt the degradation of the world's natural history, archaeological,
ethnographic, historic and artistic resources. Each museum
should develop policies that allow it to conduct its collecting
activities within appropriate national and international laws
and treaty obligations, and with a reasonable certainty that
its approach is consistent with the spirit and intent of both
national and international efforts to protect and enhance
the cultural and natural heritage.
exploration, collecting and excavation should only be conducted
in accordance with the laws and regulations of the host country.
Planning for field studies and field collecting must be preceded
by investigation, disclosure and consultation with the proper
authorities and any interested museums or academic institutions
in the country or area of the proposed study. This consultation
should ascertain if the proposed activity is both legal and
justifiable on academic and scientific grounds and should
include arrangements for sharing the information obtained
and the research results with the appropriate authorities
in the host country.
field programme must be executed in such a way that all participants
act legally and responsibly in acquiring specimens and data,
and that they discourage unethical, illegal and destructive
practices by all practical means. Where the fieldwork involves
a living community or its heritage, acquisitions should only
be made on the basis of informed and mutual consent without
exploitation of the owner or informants. Great care is necessary
to respect the wishes of the community involved, which should
Co-operation Between Museums on Collections Policies
Each museum should acknowledge and endorse the need for co-operation
and consultation between museums with similar interests and
collecting policies, and should consult with such other institutions,
where a conflict of interest is possible both on acquisitions,
and in defining areas of specialisation. Museums should respect
the collecting areas of other museums.
Gifts, bequests and loans should only be accepted if they
conform to the stated collections and exhibitions policies
of the museum. Offers that are subject to special conditions
may have to be rejected if the conditions proposed are judged
to be contrary to the long-term interests of the museum and
Loans to and from Museums
The loan of objects, incoming and outgoing, and the mounting
or borrowing of loan exhibitions can have an important role
in enhancing the interest and quality of a museum and its
services. As temporary custodians of incoming loans, museums
must protect the objects and ensure their prompt return at
the conclusion of these activities. These principles also
apply to material left at the museum for an opinion as well
as items being considered for the permanent collections. There
should be clear policy guidelines on all material temporarily
housed in the museum.
should not be accepted or exhibited if they are of undocumented
3.1-3.3) or do not have a valid educational, scientific
or academic purpose, consistent with the museum's objectives
The museum should ensure that it retains complete authority
over the use of the loaned material and its interpretation,
which should accord with that required for permanent collections
Any conflict of interest should be avoided (see
3.7) particularly where the lender is also funding
the exhibition (see
2.10) or is associated with the museum exhibiting
from a museum collection should be loaned only for scientific,
research or educational purposes. They should not be loaned
to private individuals.
Conflicts of Interest
The collections policy or regulations of a museum should include
provisions to ensure that no person involved in the policy
or management of that museum, such as a trustee or other member
of a governing body, or a member of the museum staff, may
compete with the museum for objects, or may take advantage
of privileged information received because of his or her position.
Should a conflict of interest develop between an individual
and the museum, those of the museum should prevail. Special
care is also required in considering any offer of an item,
either for sale or as a tax-benefit gift, from members of
governing bodies, members of staff, or the families and close
associates of these persons.
Disposal of Collections
General Presumption of Permanence of Collections
A key function of almost every kind of museum is to acquire
objects and keep them for posterity. Consequently, there must
always be a strong presumption against the disposal of objects
or specimens to which a museum has assumed the formal title.
Any form of disposal, whether by donation, exchange, sale
or destruction requires a high order of curatorial judgement
and should be approved by the governing body only after considering
this and any appropriate legal advice.
considerations may apply to certain kinds of specialised institutions,
such as "living" or "working" museums and some teaching and
other educational museums. Museums and other institutions
that display living specimens, such as botanical and zoological
gardens and aquaria, may find it necessary to regard at least
part of their collections as replaceable or renewable. In
other cases destructive analytical techniques undertaken for
the advancement of knowledge may result in the loss of part
of a specimen or object. There is a clear ethical obligation
to ensure that such activities are not detrimental to the
long-term survival of examples of the material studied, displayed
or used and that a detailed report of all such activities
becomes a permanent part of the collections record.
Legal or Other Powers of Disposal
The laws on the protection and permanence of museum collections
and the power of museums to dispose of items from their collection
vary greatly from one museum to another. No disposals are
permitted by some institutions, except for items that have
been seriously damaged by natural or accidental deterioration.
Elsewhere, there may be no explicit restriction on disposals.
the museum has legal powers permitting disposals, or has acquired
objects subject to conditions of disposal, the legal or other
requirements and procedures must be complied with fully. Even
where legal powers of disposal exist, a museum may not be
completely free to dispose of items acquired with financial
assistance from an outside source (e.g. public or private
grants, donations from a Friends of the Museum organisation,
or private benefactor). These disposals normally require the
consent of all parties who had contributed to the original
the original acquisition was subject to mandatory restrictions
these must be observed unless it can be clearly shown that
adherence to such restrictions is impossible or substantially
detrimental to the institution. Even in these circumstances
the museum can only be relieved from such restrictions through
appropriate legal procedures.
Deaccessioning Policies and Procedures
Where a museum has the necessary legal powers to dispose of
an object, the decision to sell or otherwise dispose of material
from the collections should be taken only after due consideration
Such material should be offered first by exchange, gift or
private treaty sale to other museums before sale by public
auction or other means is considered.
decision to dispose of a museum object or specimen whether
by exchange, sale or destruction should be the responsibility
of the governing body of the museum acting in conjunction
with the director and the curator of the collection. The manner
of deaccessioning should reflect the ethical and legal responsibilities
of the museum, the character of its collections (whether renewable
or non-renewable) and the public trust it fulfils in preserving
its collections. Complete records must be kept of all such
decisions and the objects involved and proper arrangements
made for the preservation and transfer, as appropriate, of
the documentation relating to the object, including records
in photographic and other technological media, where practicable.
of the museum staff, the governing body, or their families
or close associates, should never be permitted to purchase
objects that have been deaccessioned from a collection. Similarly,
no such person should be permitted to appropriate items from
the museum collections, even temporarily, to any personal
collection or for personal use.
or compensation received from the deaccessioning and disposal
of objects and specimens from a museum collection should be
used solely for the benefit of the collection and normally
for acquisitions to that collection.
Return and Restitution of Cultural Property
The UNESCO Convention
on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import,
Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property
(1970) and the UNIDROIT
Convention on Stolen and Illegally Exported Cultural Objects
(1995) provide the principles on which museums should approach
the return and restitution of cultural property. If a country
or people of origin seek the return of an object or specimen
that can be demonstrated to have been exported or otherwise
transferred in violation of the principles of these conventions
and shown to be part of that country's or people's cultural
or natural heritage, the museum concerned should, if legally
free to do so, take prompt and responsible steps to co-operate
in its return.
response to requests for the return of cultural property to
the country or people of origin, museums should be prepared
to initiate dialogues with an open-minded attitude based on
scientific and professional principles (in preference to action
at a governmental or political level). In addition the possibility
of developing bilateral or multilateral partnerships with
museums in countries that have lost a significant part of
their cultural or natural heritage should be explored.
should also respect fully the terms of the Convention
for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed
Conflict (The Hague Convention, First Protocol,
1954 and Second Protocol, 1999). In support of this Convention,
museums should abstain from purchasing, appropriating or acquiring
cultural objects from any occupied country.
section assumes that the museum professional is employed in
a museum. Where the individual provides a service to a museum
through a specialised agency or directly, these paragraphs
are equally applicable.
Ethical Obligations of Members of the Museum Profession
Employment by a museum, whether publicly or privately supported,
is a public trust involving great responsibility. Therefore,
museum employees must act with integrity and in accordance
with the most stringent ethical principles as well as the
highest standards of objectivity in all activities.
museum professional should be guided by two important principles.
The first is that museums are the object of a public trust,
the value to the community being in direct proportion to the
quality of service rendered. Second, that intellectual ability
and professional knowledge are not, in themselves, sufficient
to work in the museum profession, but these must be inspired
by a high standard of ethical conduct.
director and other staff members owe professional and academic
allegiance to their museum and should always act in accordance
with the approved policies of the museum. They should comply
with the terms of the ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums
and should also be aware of any other codes or policies on
ethics relevant to museum work. The director (or principal
museum officer in charge) should urge the governing body to
comply with these standards whenever appropriate.
Loyalty to colleagues and to the employing museum is an important
professional responsibility and must be based on allegiance
to fundamental ethical principles applicable to the profession
as a whole.
for any professional post should divulge frankly and in confidence
all information relevant to the consideration of their applications
and, if appointed, should recognise that normally museum work
is regarded as a full-time vocation. Even when the terms of
employment permit outside employment or business interests,
the director and other senior staff should not undertake other
paid employment or accept outside commissions that are in
conflict with the interests of the museum. In accepting any
paid or unpaid assignments museum staff should be alert to
the personal and institutional ethical principles that could
While members of a profession are entitled to a measure of
personal independence, museum professionals must realise that
no private business or professional interest can be wholly
separated from their institution or other official affiliation,
despite disclaimers that may be offered. Any museum-related
activity by the individual may reflect on the institution
or be attributed to it. The professional must be concerned
not only with actual personal motivations and interests, but
also with the way in which such actions might be construed
by the outside observer.
employees and others in a close relationship with them must
not accept gifts, favours, loans or other personal benefits
that may be offered to them in connection with their duties
for the museum (see
8.5). Occasionally professional courtesy may include
the giving and receiving of gifts. Such interchange should
always take place in the name of the institution concerned
and not the individual.
Professional Responsibility to the Collections
Acquisitions to Museum Collections
The director and professional staff should take all possible
steps to ensure that a written collections policy is adopted
by the governing body of the museum and thereafter reviewed
and revised at regular intervals. This policy, as formally
adopted and revised by the governing body, should form the
basis of all professional decisions and recommendations in
relation to acquisitions.
Care of Collections
It is a crucial professional obligation to care for the collections.
An important professional responsibility, therefore, is to
ensure that all items accepted temporarily or permanently
by the museum are properly and fully documented to facilitate
provenance, identification, condition and treatment. All objects
accepted by the museum should be properly housed and maintained
having regard also to any particular requirements of material
associated with living communities.
attention should be given to the development of policies to
protect the collections against natural and man-made disasters
and the means of ensuring the best possible security as a
protection against theft in displays, exhibitions, working
or storage areas, against accidental damage when handling
objects and against damage or theft in transit. Where it is
the national or local policy to use commercial insurance arrangements,
the staff should ensure that the insurance cover is adequate,
especially for objects in transit and loan items, or other
objects which are not owned by the museum but are its current
of the museum profession should not delegate important curatorial,
conservation, or other professional responsibilities to persons
who lack the appropriate knowledge and skill, or who are inadequately
supervised, to assist in the care of the collections. There
is also a clear duty to consult professional colleagues within
or outside the museum if at any time the expertise available
in a particular museum is insufficient to ensure the welfare
of items in the collections.
Conservation of Collections
An essential ethical obligation of every member of the museum
profession is to ensure the proper care and conservation of
collections and individual items for which the employing institutions
are responsible. The intention must be to ensure that the
collections are passed on to future generations in as good
and safe a condition as practicable, having regard to current
knowledge and resources.
and respect for the cultural and physical integrity and authenticity
of individual objects, specimens or collections are fundamental
values in conservation work. For sacred works this includes
respect for the traditions and cultures of the communities
that used them (see
6.6). It is essential, therefore, to include the
proper documentation of the object or specimen, its condition,
an analysis of its composition, the recording of its condition
and a description of any deterioration.
museum professionals concerned with objects and specimens
have a responsibility to create and maintain a protective
environment for the collections whether in store, on display
or in transit. Such preventive conservation is an important
element in museum risk management.
condition of an object or specimen may require interventive
conservation and the services of a properly qualified conservator.
This may include restoration or repair, but the principal
goal should be to stabilise the object or specimen. In zoos
and aquaria, conservation practices may include elements of
environmental and behavioural enrichment. All conservation
procedures should be documented and reversible, and all added
materials and physical or genetic modification should be clearly
identifiable from the original object or specimen.
Documentation of Collections
The recording and documenting of collections in accordance
with appropriate standards is an important professional obligation.
It is particularly important that collection documentation
should include a complete description of all items, their
provenance and source and the conditions of acceptance by
the museum. Collection data should be maintained and augmented
for as long as any item is part of the museum collection.
Such data should be kept in a secure environment and be supported
with retrieval systems providing access to the data by the
staff and other legitimate users (see
2.7). When collection data are made available on
the Internet or published by other means, particular control
must be exercised to avoid disclosing sensitive personal or
related information and other confidential matters.
Welfare of Live Animals
Where museums and related institutions maintain living animals
for exhibition or research purposes, the health and well-being
of any such creatures must be a basic ethical consideration.
It is essential that the animals and their living conditions
are inspected regularly by a veterinary surgeon or other equally
qualified persons. The museum should prepare and implement
a safety code for the protection of staff and visitors that
has been approved by an expert in the veterinary field.
Human Remains and Material of Sacred Significance
Collections of human remains and material of sacred significance
should be housed securely and respectfully, and carefully
maintained as archival collections in scholarly institutions.
It should be available for legitimate study on request. Research
on such material, its housing, care and use (exhibition, replication
and publication) must be accomplished in a manner consistent
with professional standards and the interests and beliefs
of members of the community, ethnic or religious groups from
which the objects originated. When sensitive material is used
in interpretive exhibits, this must be done with great tact
and with respect for the feelings of human dignity held by
for removal from public display of human remains or material
of sacred significance must be addressed expeditiously with
respect and sensitivity. Requests for the return of such material
should be addressed similarly. Museum policies should clearly
define the process for responding to such requests (see
The acquiring, collecting and owning of objects for a personal
collection by a museum professional may not in itself be unethical
and may be regarded as a valuable way of enhancing professional
knowledge and judgement. However, no member of the museum
profession should compete with their institution either in
the acquisition of objects or in any personal collecting activity.
In some countries, and in many individual museums, members
of the museum profession are not permitted to have private
collections and such rules must be respected. Where there
are no such restrictions, a member of the museum profession
with a private collection should, on appointment, provide
the governing body with a description of the collection and
a statement of the extent of the collecting practised. An
agreement between the museum professional and the governing
body concerning the private collection must be formulated
and scrupulously followed (see
Professional Responsibility to the Public
Upholding Professional Standards
Members of the museum profession should observe accepted standards
and laws and uphold the dignity and honour of their profession.
They should safeguard the public against illegal or unethical
professional conduct. Every opportunity should be used to
inform and educate the public in the aims, purposes and aspirations
of the profession in order to develop a better public understanding
of the contributions of museums to society.
Relations with the Public
Members of the museum profession should always deal with the
public efficiently and courteously and should respond promptly
to all correspondence and enquiries. Subject to the requirements
of confidentiality, museum professionals should share their
expertise with the public and specialists, allowing controlled
but full access to requested material or documentation in
their care even when it is the subject of personal research
or a special field of interest.
Members of the museum profession must protect confidential
information obtained in the course of their work, including
the source of material owned by or loaned to the museum (see
3.6), information concerning the security arrangements
of the museum, or of private collections and locations visited
during official duties (see
about items brought to the museum for identification is confidential.
Where this information contributes to knowledge, the owner
should be made aware of the desirability of sharing it with
8.3). However, it should not be published or passed
to any other institution or person without specific authorisation
from the owner.
is subject to a legal obligation to assist the police or other
proper authorities in investigating possible stolen, illicitly
acquired or transferred property.
Professional Responsibility to Colleagues and the Profession
Members of the museum profession have an obligation to follow
the policies and procedures of their employing institution
and to accept its decisions. They may properly object to proposals
or practices that are perceived to have a damaging effect
on a museum or museums, or the profession and matters of professional
ethics. Such differences should be expressed in an objective
Members of the museum profession have an obligation to share
their knowledge and experience with their colleagues and with
scholars and students in relevant fields. They should respect
and acknowledge those from whom they have learned and should
pass on such advancements in techniques and experience that
may be of benefit to others without thought of personal gain.
training of personnel in the specialised activities involved
in museum work is of great importance in the development of
the profession and all should accept responsibility, where
appropriate, in the training of colleagues. Members of the
profession who have responsibility for junior staff, trainees,
students and assistants undertaking formal or informal professional
training, should give these persons the benefit of their experience
and knowledge, and should also treat them with the consideration
and respect customary among members of the profession.
the development of beneficial volunteer work depends on a
positive relationship between members of the museum profession
and volunteers. The professional staff of museums should give
constructive attention to volunteers to sustain a viable and
harmonious working environment. Volunteers should be fully
conversant with this Code and take it into account in conducting
museum and personal activities (see
of the profession form working relationships with numerous
other people, professional and volunteer, within and outside
the museum in which they are employed. They are expected to
conduct these relationships with courtesy and fair-mindedness
and to render their professional services to others efficiently
and to a high standard.
Research to establish provenance, or for interpretation, publication,
and other appropriate purposes, should be encouraged. While
the level of research may vary from museum to museum, it should
relate to institutional objectives and conform to established
legal, ethical and academic practices including the conditions
defined by national and international copyright legislation.
The acknowledgement of intellectual sources in all forms (published,
transmitted, spoken, depicted, or other means of traditional
or technological communication) is an ethical obligation.
The results of research should be shared with the public and
museum personnel prepare material for presentation or to document
field investigation as part of their duties, the museum retains
all rights to the work, unless there is an agreement to the
No member of the museum profession should participate directly
or indirectly in any dealing (buying or selling for profit),
in the natural or cultural heritage. Dealing by museum employees
can present serious problems even if there is no risk of direct
conflict with the employing museum and should not be permitted
Article 7(5) of the ICOM Statutes).
Other Potential Conflicts of Interest
Generally, members of the museum profession should refrain
from all acts or activities that may be construed as a conflict
of interest. Museum professionals by virtue of their knowledge,
experience and contacts are frequently offered opportunities,
such as advisory and consultancy services, teaching, writing
and broadcasting opportunities, or requests for valuations,
in a personal capacity. Even where the national law and the
individual's conditions of employment permit such activities,
these may appear to colleagues, the employing authority, or
the public, to create a conflict of interest. All legal and
employment contract conditions must be scrupulously followed
and, if a potential conflict arises, the matter should be
reported immediately to an appropriate superior officer or
the museum governing body and steps taken to rectify the situation.
care should be taken to ensure that outside interests do not
interfere in any way with the proper discharge of official
duties and responsibilities (see
3.7 and 5.2).
Authentication and Valuation (Appraisal)
Sharing knowledge and expertise with professional colleagues
and the public is fundamental to the purpose of museums and
should be conducted to the highest scholarly standards (see
7.2). However, conflicts of interest can arise
in the authentication and valuation or appraisal of objects.
Opinions on the monetary value of objects should be given
only if permitted and on official request from other museums
or competent legal, governmental or other responsible public
authorities. Where the employing museum may be the beneficiary
for financial or legal reasons, appraisal must be undertaken
of the museum profession should not identify or otherwise
authenticate objects that they believe, or suspect, have been
illegally or illicitly acquired, transferred, imported or
exported. They should not act in any way that could be regarded
as benefiting such activity, directly or indirectly. Where
there is reason to believe, or suspect, illegal or illicit
conduct, the appropriate authorities should be notified.
Every member of the museum profession should be conversant
with national and local laws and the conditions of their employment.
They should avoid situations that could be construed as corrupt
or improper conduct of any kind. No museum official should
accept any gift, hospitality, or any form of reward from any
dealer, auctioneer or other person as an inducement in respect
to the purchase or disposal of museum items or for taking
or refraining from official action.
avoid any suspicion of corruption, a museum professional should
not recommend a particular dealer, auctioneer or appraiser
to a member of the public. Nor should a museum employee accept
any "special price" or discount for personal purchases from
any dealer with whom the individual or employing museum has
a professional relationship.
Application of the ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums
Status of the ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums
This Code is the statement of professional ethics referred
to in the ICOM
Statutes, Articles 2 (2), 9(1(d)), 14(17(b)),
15(7(c)), 17(12(e)) and 18(7(d)). Membership of ICOM and the
payment of the annual subscription to ICOM is an affirmation
of the ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums.
Use of the Name and Logo of ICOM
As a professional organisation, membership of ICOM confers
many benefits on an individual or institution. This distinctive
position may not be abused by the use of the words "International
Council of Museums", "ICOM" or its logo to promote or endorse
any commercial operation or product.
The authentication and valuation of an object or specimen.
In certain countries the term is used for an independent
assessment of a proposed gift for tax benefit purposes.
Conflict of interest
existence of a personal or private interest which gives
rise to a clash of principle in a work situation, thus restricting,
or having the appearance of restricting, the objectivity
of decision making.
Buying and selling items for personal or institutional gain.
requirement that every endeavour is made to establish the
facts of a case before deciding a course of action, particularly
in identifying the source and history of an item offered
for acquisition or use before accepting it.
concept or thing, natural or artificial, which is considered
to have aesthetic, historical, scientific or spiritual significance.
Activities intended to bring financial gain or profit.
intended to further knowledge and understanding, resulting
from the interpretation of objects or ideas.
right to ownership of property, supported by written evidence.
legally established body, corporate or unincorporated, whose
income (including any surplus or profit) is used solely
for the benefit of that body and its operation. The term
Not for profit has the same meaning.
full history of an item from the time of its discovery or
creation to the present day, from which authenticity and
ownership is determined.
Unambiguous right to ownership of property, supported by
Definition of the Museum and Professional Museum Workers
Adopted by the 16th General Assembly of ICOM (The Hague, Netherlands,
5 September 1989) and amended by the 18th General Assembly
of ICOM (Stavanger, Norway, 7 July 1995), and by the 20th
General Assembly of ICOM (Barcelona, Spain, 6 July 2001)
2 - Definitions
A museum is a non-profit making, permanent institution in
the service of society and of its development, and open
to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates
and exhibits, for purposes of study, education and enjoyment,
material evidence of people and their environment.
The above definition of a museum shall be applied without
any limitation arising from the nature of the governing
body, the territorial character, the functional structure
or the orientation of the collections of the institution
(b) In addition to institutions designated as "museums"
the following qualify as museums for the purposes of this
natural, archaeological and ethnographic monuments and
sites and historical monuments and sites of a museum
nature that acquire, conserve and communicate material
evidence of people and their environment;
(ii) institutions holding collections of and displaying
live specimens of plants and animals, such as botanical
and zoological gardens, aquaria and vivaria;
(iii) science centres and planetaria;
(iv) non profit art exhibition galleries; conservation
institutes and exhibition galleries permanently maintained
by libraries and archive centres;
(v) nature reserves;
(vi) international or national or regional or local
museum organizations, ministries or departments or public
agencies responsible for museums as per the definition
given under this article;
(vii) non-profit institutions or organizations undertaking
conservation, research, education, training, documentation
and other activities relating to museums and museology;
(viii) cultural centres and other entities that facilitate
the preservation, continuation and management of tangible
or intangible heritage resources (living heritage and
digital creative activity)
(ix) such other institutions as the Executive Council,
after seeking the advice of the Advisory Committee,
considers as having some or all of the characteristics
of a museum, or as supporting museums and professional
museum personnel through museological research, education
Professional museum workers include all the personnel of
museums or institutions qualifying as museums in accordance
with the definition in Article 2 (1), having received specialized
training, or possessing an equivalent practical experience,
in any field relevant to the management and operations of
a museum, and independent persons respecting the ICOM
Code of Ethics for Museums and working for museums as
defined above, either in a professional or advisory capacity,
but not promoting or dealing with any commercial products
and equipment required for museums and services.