Museums are more active and visitors-focused

Toomas Mattson | 9/2/2011 | 3:11 PM

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TALLINN, 2 September 2011 - The follow-up audit conducted by the National Audit Office indicated that in the last six years museums have been more active and profitable, and more focused on visitors and researchers, but lack of space and unsuitable storage conditions are problems that still need to be resolved. The manner in which museums keep record of their assets still does not meet requirements, which means they don’t have a comprehensive overview of their collections.

The biggest change in comparison to 2005 when the National Audit Office audited museums for the first time is the opportunity to view museum collections in the joint online museum information system MuIS. However, not many collections have been entered in the information system so far and very little information about the exhibits is included. There are cases where the description is limited to minimal information about the exhibits, e.g. ‘chair’, ‘plate’, ‘document’ – which cannot be considered sufficient. It will be impossible to complete the required work with the existing labour in a reasonable time and entering all required information, or completing the existing information, will probably take decades.

Although people visited museums less in 2010 the number of visits to museums has generally been on the rise and increased more than in other cultural institutions. The Ministry of Culture has also acted (incl. in the distribution of investments) largely in the interest of increasing the number of visits to museums.

Audit Director Tarmo Olgo said that “on one hand, museums focus more on serving visitors and researchers, but on the other hand, they have been forced to increase their own income as a result of budget cuts. The museums’ own has doubled during the audited period. Museums that put old pots on shelves simply cannot cope anymore.”

Although most of the investments and more than a third of the operating expenses in the area of government go to museums, the museums themselves still consider the lack of money and the resulting shortage of labour their main problems.

The overview of the collections of the state museums in the area of government of the Ministry of Culture has improved, but some of the assets still have not been appropriately recorded. Moreover, museums also have materials that have not been recorded at all.

Less than a half of all museums have managed to record their collections as required. A total of 8% of all exhibits have not been recorded at all. The collections, however, are growing fast and the amount of work required to record them is increasing. The size of the audited state museum collections in 2010 was 4.1 million exhibits. The total increase in collections when compared to 2005 is 16.5% (an average of 3.3% per year). Growth of up to 2% is considered ordinary growth at the international level.

Lack of space remains one of the biggest problems of museums. Some exhibits are therefore kept in unsuitable conditions in workrooms, cellars, attics or sheds. The storage conditions are good or satisfactory in approximately one-half of all museums. Although a lot of money has been invested in museums in recent years, storage facilities have not been considered a priority, as support from the European Union cannot be used to build or renovate them.

The Ministry of Culture has not followed many of the recommendations made by the National Audit Office in the audit completed in 2005. Many important source documents have not been developed. There is still no single national collection policy that would make it possible to agree on a division of work between museums. This means that the preconditions for a coordinated and balanced collection of museum assets have not been created. The guidelines of the Ministry of Culture for the preparation of the documents of the museums’ collection policy have also not been finalised.

The museum information system has not been legalised as the basis for keeping record of exhibits. The principles for streamlining collections have not been reviewed, which means that no streamlining can be done even if past collection activities were not thought through or justified.


The National Audit Office conducted the audit in order to assess the changes that have taken place in the management, storage and exhibiting of museum collections after the National Audit Office’s Audit ‘Recording, Preservation and Use of Museum Assets’ conducted in 2005.

The audit covered all of the museums belonging to the area of government of the Ministry of Culture (incl. the AH Tammsaare Museum at Vargamäe where the founder’s rights are exercised by the Ministry of the Interior). The activities of 28 museums were audited. According to Statistics Estonia, the total number of museums in Estonia in 2010 was 245 – 89 belonged to the state, 81 to local authorities and 75 were in private ownership. The total number of exhibits in all museums in 2010 was 10 million.

Approximately €70.5 million was allocated to museums from the state budget for the purpose of investment from 2005 to 2011. Over €13 million was planned for the operating expenses of museums in 2011.

The assets of museums are subject to be permanently preserved by the state. Exhibits that have been included in a museum’s collection can be excluded from the collection only in exceptional cases (the exhibits are damaged beyond repair, destroyed, lost, transferred to another museum or returned to the owner).

Toomas Mattson
Head of Communication Service
National Audit Office
Telephone: +372 640 0777
Mobile: +372 51 34 900
E-mail: [email protected]

  • Posted: 9/2/2011 3:11 PM
  • Last Update: 11/10/2015 5:47 PM
  • Last Review: 11/10/2015 5:47 PM

Museums of Virumaa have shown for years that history and historical objects can be presented attractively. On the photo a family from Sankt Petersburg by cannon "Ööbik" at Rakvere Castle.

Virumaa Teataja/ Scanpix Baltics

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