Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 64.djvu/214

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210
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
THE FUNCTIONS OF MUSEUMS: A RE-SURVEY.
By F. A. BATHER, M.A., D.Sc. (Oxon),
PRESIDENT OF THE MUSEUMS ASSOCIATION; BRITISH MUSEUM, NATURAL HISTORY.

WE are rapidly approaching, and some parts of the world have already reached, that millennium desired by the writer—was it not Professor E. S. Morse?—who exclaimed 'Public libraries in every town! then why not public museums?' With this increase in number has come a change of function, or at least an added function or two. Such a change is in the nature of an adaptation to the new surroundings, and is necessary for the vigorous life and propagation of the modern type of museum. How great the change is may be realized by contrasting, let us say, the American Museum of Natural History, which not only arranges attractive exhibits, but makes them known by its popular Journal, with some museums in Europe that still appear to be maintained in the interests of their staff, while the public is only admitted for a few hours each week, to gape at an unorganized crowd of objects which it can not comprehend. The student of science or of art who has to make his living as a curator in a public museum, which is public in fact and not merely in name, often envies those colleagues who, undisturbed by the profanum vulgus, spend a peaceful life in original research, such as he can only squeeze in at the close of a hard day's work. But in America and Britain we can never go back to those old days when visitors, after securing tickets by prayer of some high person, assembled at the gate of the British Museum and were conducted around it by a verger with a livery and a black wand as his chief qualifications for the task. Nor indeed can we now find ourselves in the position of that eager spinster, who, after many a vain attempt, journeyed from her suburban residence through mire and fog to those giant portals. 'Which department, Madam?' said the majestic policeman on the threshold. 'Oh! just a general look around, thank you.' 'Museum closed to-day, Mum, except for students.' Back on a 'bus to Brompton, and 'No more British Museum for me!'

No, the times have changed and are still changing. A stage in the advance was marked when Flower and Brown Goode gave us their masterly surveys of museum organization. They laid down the lines on which we have all been working. But still the outer conditions are changing, and in some respects we fail to keep pace. The occasion for