Understanding the museum

The word ‘Museum’ is derived from the Greek word ‘Museion,’ which means abode of Muses. Muses were daughters of Zeus, (Olympian deities). Since they were good in singing and dancing, they helped men to forget their sorrow and anxiety. Hence, “Museion” came to be associated with a place where men’s mind found rest and aloofness from everyday affairs.

Before the advent of modern Museums, different societies adopted different ways of preserving objects and collections they saw as important. In Asia, precious items were deposited for safe keeping in temples, while in Nigeria, various shrines and temples in different communities serve as traditional Museums. Also Obas, Obis, emirs’ palaces acted as repositories for various cultural objects. But today, Museum have come to be accepted by men to “safe keep” as well as preserving or protecting the objects from loss or possible deterioration.

Today, according to International Council of Museum (ICOM), the Museum is a non-profit making permanent institution in the service of the society, and it is open to the public for researches, relaxation/leisure/education.

One of the fundamental objectives of Museum is to educate its numerous audience (children, youths and adults) using its vast collections and exhibits, either in its natural state as artifacts or as slides.

Museum Audience: These are the people who visit the museum for the purpose of recreation, learning, research and enjoyment.

Audiences are grouped into two main categories, namely, visitors (museum users) and non visitors (non Museum Users). The most striking thing about Museum visitors is that they are heterogeneous in age, background, interest, sex, physical ability, language, educational attainment, income and reasons for being in the museum. Just as a wise merchant comes to know his potential customers, the Museum Education Officer must know the categories of Museums visitors. Therefore, for the Museum Education officer to effectively interpret the museum collections to its diverse audience, understanding the various categories and characteristics of museum visitors is necessary.

There are many factors used in segmenting or dividing the Museum users; they include age, sex, income, education, among others. Using age as determining factor, museum users may be subdivided into children, youths and adults.

The Education officer must realise that people use the Museum to meet all kinds of need. Some are in search of information, while some are in the museum for recreation and enjoyment.

Finally, Museum education in Nigeria has tried to conform with the need to diversify museum programmes but much still needs to be done in that area. The effect is that the level of public awareness about the museum, its functions and mission is still low in Nigeria.


  • Omiwole is of the National Museum, Ile-Ife, Osun State.