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Museums in a Troubled World: Renewal, Irrelevance or Collapse? (Museum Meanings) [Paperback]

Robert R. Janes
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

May 18, 2009 0415463017 978-0415463010 1

Are Museums Irrelevant?

Museums are rarely acknowledged in the global discussion of climate change, environmental degradation, the inevitability of depleted fossil fuels, and the myriad local issues concerning the well-being of particular communities – suggesting the irrelevance of museums as social institutions. At the same time, there is a growing preoccupation among museums with the marketplace, and museums, unwittingly or not, are embracing the values of relentless consumption that underlie the planetary difficulties of today.

Museums in a Troubled World argues that much more can be expected of museums as publicly supported and knowledge-based institutions. The weight of tradition and a lack of imagination are significant factors in museum inertia and these obstacles are also addressed. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, combining anthropology ethnography, museum studies and management theory, this book goes beyond conventional museum thinking.

Robert R. Janes explores the meaning and role of museums as key intellectual and civic resources in a time of profound social and environmental change. This volume is a constructive examination of what is wrong with contemporary museums, written from an insider’s perspective that is grounded in both hope and pragmatism. The book’s conclusions are optimistic and constructive, and highlight the unique contributions that museums can make as social institutions, embedded in their communities, and owned by no one.

Frequently Bought Together

Museums in a Troubled World: Renewal, Irrelevance or Collapse? (Museum Meanings) + Museum Administration: An Introduction (American Association for State and Local History) + Making Museums Matter
Price for all three: $91.81

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Editorial Reviews


'Ultimately, in sounding this warning so loudly and clearly, Museums in a Troubled World is a courageous book. It is Janes’ gift to a field that has frustrated him for decades but for which he still has great passion and hope.’ – Museum Management and Curatorship

'Intelligent, passionate and provocative, Janes reminds us all that the museum can – and must – play a leading role in building a sustainable future.'James M. Bradburne, Director General, Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, Italy

"I can’t remember when a book has so engaged, enraged and encouraged me. Jane’s book provides a challenging guide for all of us who continually agitate and seek to understand the consequences of our actions, renewing and refreshing a museum’s position in its community." --Museum

'I commend the book to anyone who wants to share in iconoclastic and original thinking about museums and their roles in society now and in the future.'Suzanne Keene, Reader Emeritus at University College London, UK

'Robert Janes is not only one of Canada’s most distinguished museologists but a fine writer. Museums in a Troubled World reaches far beyond the exhibition gallery to become a wise and witty critique of the forces that threaten the cultural health of our civilisation.'Ronald Wright, author of A Short History of Progress

'Museums in a Troubled World, lays out the challenges facing the museum field in the 21st century and issues a clearly crafted, articulate charge for museums "to help create the future, grounded in their unique blend of the past and the present." This is an important work that should be read, and enjoyed, by museum professionals everywhere.'Ford Bell, President of the American Association of Museums

'First, a hot tip. Save yourself hundreds if not thousands of dollars on museum conferences for the next year or two by buying and reading this book. It explores all the issues that any conference will cover, and more. These are the issues that museum people and many others should debate vigorously if a sustainable future
for museums as meaningful contributors to society is to be found.'
Stuart Davies, Curator: The Museum Journal

About the Author

Museums Consultant

Product Details

  • Series: Museum Meanings
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (May 18, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415463017
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415463010
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.7 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #848,040 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Book Review

Museums in a Troubled World

Robert Mac West

Bob Janes, through his writings and public presentations, offers an interesting, useful, and often challenging perspective on the current and future role of museums. Museums in a Troubled World explores the very important relationship between the museum world and the larger world of the natural and social environment of our planet. Janes' view is that museums have figured out how to do some things very well (e.g, exhibitions and collections) and are trying desperately to integrate these functions into the business/corporate world of the 21st Century. He is very concerned that this emphasis does not serve the best interests of museums and their visitors/customers/advocates and that museums are becoming increasingly irrelevant to the major issues that face society today.

The book is a good and entertaining read. Many readers, me included, stop periodically and have to reread a paragraph, asking, in so many words, "How did he come up with that analogy?" or "golly, I never thought of it that way" or "that is complete horses..." This is good, as it means that he is challenging his readers and forcing them to look at their industry/profession through some distinctly different eyes.

We often read of the continued search of museums for relevance. It pervades the writings of Liberty Science Center's Emlyn Koster and is central to John Falk's recent book Identity and the Museum Experience (2009). But what does relevance really mean? Janes asks us to look both at the personal relevance of museums and their offerings as well as the much larger picture--how are museums relevant to the 21st century and its social and environmental challenges?
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