Society is operated by a system of discipline, the law. It is enforced by a controlling authority in a sense of conduct. The community recognizes these sets of rules as binding. Still, the world needs these restrictions to be able to function properly. There is also regulation for every profession existing out there. Building code, for example, specifies the standards for any constructed objects, including buildings and non-building structures. Similarly, ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums “sets minimum standards of professional and performance for museums and their staff.” (ICOM, 2017)

An overview of ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums
ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums_

History | Code of Ethics

The word “museum” was originally inspired by “mouseion” which meant “a shine to Muses” in Greek. It later was derived into the term widely referred to as “an institution dedicated to preserving and interpreting the primary tangible evidence of humankind and the environment” according to the definition of Encyclopedia Britannica (Lewis, 2021). Despite some ambivalence in the use of “museum”, the formal idea of a place established to preserve and display a collection to the public was officially introduced in the 18th century (Lewis, 2021). Because of the development of these constructions, there is a need for an assembly of general principles to manage the apparatus of museums. ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums is a representative of the international museum community.

The International Council of Museums (ICOM) is created in Paris in 1946 at the initiative of Chauncey J. Hamlin, who became the first president of the organization. ICOM continued to grow until the early 1970s, its existence was put at risk due to chronic debt. The only solution was to increase its own resources (membership and corresponding dues). The Statues were revised. In 1977, ICOM began to reach for the developing countries. Following the timeline of ICOM on the official website, “A resolution adopted in Moscow in 1977 provided support to Asian, African, and Latin America developing countries for the training of museum staff and restorers.” This led to the adoption of a Code of Ethics in 1986. The ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums was first published in three official languages: English, French, and Spanish. Nowadays, the Code has been translated into 38 languages. The document is divided into nine chapters including a glossary.

Institution Policy

Legal documents are essentials for the museum to officially operate. Museums are required to obtain a written and published constitution, statute, or other public documents under national laws. In addition, museum policy should acknowledge other international legislations in interpreting the ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums. The governing body should ensure physical resources for the museums. A proper space allows the museums to carry out their daily tasks. Public access is maintained during reasonable hours. People with special needs should be taken into consideration referring to access and movement in the building. Health and safety also need to be guaranteed for the community’s experience at a museum.

Employment Policy | Code of Ethics

Museum employees should act and be treated following the policies of the museum as well as local and national regulations. Training is requisite to give all museum personnel access to adequate opportunities for continuing education and professional development for effective workforce maintainability. Museum staff should never comport themselves with contrast against the provisions of ICOM Codes of Ethics for Museums, or any national authority’s enactment even under the pressure from the governing body. Research by museum personnel should be relevant to the museum’s mission and goals while satisfying established legal, ethical, and academic practices. Members of the museum should be respectful and appreciative to those from whom they have learned and continue to share their knowledge and experience with colleagues, scholars, and students in related fields. Cooperation with other institutions that share similar interests is the key to the museum’s development. Thus, employees should be willing to work with other organizations. Volunteers and museum partners also should be conversant with ICOM Codes of Ethics for Museums.

Collection Policy

The museum must hold a valid title for the acquisition of any object or specimen obtained by purchase, gift, loan, bequest, or exchange. Regardless of circumstances, legal documents of acquired objects from the owner or occupier of the land, or governmental authorities should be disclosed. If the legitimate issue is not satisfied, “museums should be prepared to initiate dialogue for the return of cultural property to a country or people of origin” (ICOM, 2017). Besides, the way that collections should be used and cared for depends on the specific type defined in chapter 2 of ICOM Codes of Ethics for Museums. A few of those listed are “culturally sensitive material”, “protected biological or geological specimens”, “living collections”, and “working collections”. Items from the museum collections are to be passed on to the future generation and not for any personal gain of museum personnel, the governing body, their families, close associates, or others. Only people, who are knowledgeable of the profession enough, should be assigned to handle the collections to keep them safe against disasters and other matters involving sensitive personal or related information.

Funding Policy | Code of Ethics

Since ICOM had suffered from financial hardship in the early 1970s, there is a funding section mentioned in ICOM Codes of Ethics for Museums: “The governing body should ensure that there are sufficient funds to carry out and develop the activities of the museum.” (ICOM, 2017). In addition, any money or compensation received from the deaccessioning and disposal of items from a museum collection should be used only for the benefit of the collection. The museum should strictly follow the guides of ICOM Codes of Ethics for Museums regarding income-generating activities which “should not compromise the standards of the institution or its public” (ICOM, 2017).


  1. The cornerstone of ICOM is the ICOM code ICOM code of professional ethics (2017). Available at: (Accessed: February 19, 2023). 
  2. History of Icom (2022) International Council of Museums. Available at: (Accessed: February 18, 2023). 
  3. Lewis, G.D. (2021) Museum, Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. Available at: (Accessed: February 18, 2023). 

Vy Nguyen, is a senior student majoring in interior design, in love with East Asian architecture and philosophy. She is full of passion for art, literature, film and cats. The ocean is her home at heart and the whale is her spirit animal. Her latest focus includes architectural illustration, building material science and instant photography.