Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 26.djvu/390

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376
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

THE ADVANTAGES OF LIMITED MUSEUMS.
By OSCAR W. COLLET.

BY a museum I do not mean a storehouse of things curious in art or nature—a repository of curiosities, as Worcester defines the word, although in most large towns there are places called museums, and realizing his definition—but a building in which are collected books, and natural or artificial objects that relate to, and are preserved, classified, and conveniently arranged to illustrate, one or more departments of knowledge, and from which objects of mere curiosity are excluded. Assuming that this description is sufficiently accurate and comprehensive for present purposes, it would seem that a museum should be regarded primarily as an instrument to communicate knowledge, and its growth subordinated to such instrumentality that the efficiency of the instrument may be assured. But the instrumentality is passive, not active, and consists in being a repository or source of knowledge for all that choose to avail themselves of it.

Knowledge really valuable, subjectively considered, is thorough; and therefore the instrument of its communication should be adapted and adequate to the purpose to which it is to be applied. Thorough knowledge is not a general acquaintance with everything, but knowing masterfully what one professes to know. If a museum is a storehouse from which knowledge is to be drawn, as knowledge is of many kinds, the repository should be so filled that nothing is wanting. But in most cases this is impossible. There is no reason, theoretically, forbidding an attempt to form a general museum which shall lack nothing necessary to its integrity, but practically failure is certain to result from the want of sufficient means. This difficulty is encountered the world over, and in part has led to the establishment of special museums—natural science, natural history, archaeological museums, and the like.

This much premised, we now proceed to the subject of this paper, museums in the Western part of the United States. Respecting these museums we lay down two propositions: 1. They should be limited, not general museums; 2. That each one should select some specialty, and the more distinctly its boundary-lines are drawn the better, even if it be necessary, on the one side or the other, to run them somewhat arbitrarily as to inclusions and exclusions.

The value of every collection intended for scientific purposes and public use—books, natural science objects, ethnographical specimens, it matters not what—does not depend upon quantity or variety, but the completeness of its classes or their subdivisions. A reference library, for instance, that contained every publication of consequence relating to the Mississippi Valley, would be preferable to one more numerously