Museum Etiquette


Visiting Museums 101

Oklahoma is home to more than 500 museums.  From art museums to zoos and botanical gardens, every visitor can find a unique way to explore the state.  Oklahoma’s museum network includes museums, historical societies, historic sites, historic homes, living history museums, tribal cultural centers, zoos and botanical gardens.  To discover your next destination try searching the web for options or use the Oklahoma Museum Association’s museum directory.

Museums are wonderful institutions to have.  They are places where you can explore the past, present and the future.  Here you will find a number of general rules used by museums.  Many rules are put in place to protect the artifact and collection from damage for future generations.  All museums have their own rules so before you make a trip to a museum please be sure and do a little research.

The Goal of the Museum

Each museum, cultural center, zoo and botanical garden strives to achieve its mission.  The mission is the foundation on which the museum operates.  In general, such institutions try to collect, preserve, and share.  While the types of things you will see at a site will vary greatly, this one ultimate goal is true for all organizations.

Museum Etiquette

Below are a number of items to consider when visiting a museum.  Remember, these are only intended as helpful guidelines.  Please check with the institution you plan to visit concerning the rules or if you have any additional questions.

1. Eating and Drinking

The first standard rule you should know about museums is that eating and drinking are prohibited in museum galleries.  You will be asked not to bring any food or drink into the museum.  You may want to plan your museum visit after a meal or check to see if the institution has a café available.  In some instances you may be able to bring a picnic or sack lunch.  Please check with the site before your visit.  Also, many museums do not allow gum or candy in the museum galleries.  Always ask permission first.

2. Photography and Video

Light, both visible and invisible, is damaging to most objects. Museums try to eliminate all natural light from their galleries and use filters to prevent damage from interior fixtures.  Today many museums will allow visitor to take photographs in the museum however you should always ask first.  If photography is allowed make sure to follow instructions on flash photography.  Some institutions do not permit photographs or videos be taken of permanent or changing exhibits.  Always abide by museum rules on photography.

3. Touching

Every museum tries to ensure the preservation of its artifacts.  In order to preserve the items that are on display visitors are cautioned not to touch objects and works of art.  The oils that are on our hands and in our skin can damage the museum’s pieces.  Remember, “Fingerprints are forever.”  Many museums do offer visitors interactive areas.  Find out what areas of the museum are hands-on friendly.

Check with the museum you want to visit.  Many museums provide special programming that might involve active participation or hands-on learning opportunities.

4. Horseplay

Running, shoving, pushing and other physical activity can damage museum artifacts. Many institutions are fieldtrip destinations for students or serve as family getaways.  If you plan on taking children to the museum find out what the site has to offer you. 

5. Noise

People visit museums for a variety of reasons.  To respect other visitors you should avoid making loud noises by talking or laughing, singing, whistling, etc.  Try to use your indoor voice when visiting the museum. 

6. Sketching/drawing

Visitors may be allowed to sketch in museums.  The museum will provide guidelines on what can and cannot be used such as the type of medium.  Most museums will only allow the use of pencils in the galleries. 

7. Tobacco

The use of tobacco is prohibited in museums.  If you do have to smoke, plan on leaving the building.  Smoke deposits can damage museum pieces, particularly paintings and other paper artifacts.

8. Pets

Pets are not allowed in museums. 

In addition to those listed above, museums have a number of rules specific to each institution.  Museums reserve the right to refuse visitors if they are found violating the rules.  Following proper museum etiquette helps ensure that all visitors will have a meaningful experience while at the museum.