Museum and Art Gallery Publishing: from theory to case study

A book of this title will be published by Ashgate in 2016. Case studies are being identified and researched.

Books and catalogues help museums share with visitors the scholarship that supports exhibitions. These resources 'frame' the curator's ideas and themes presented in the show and contribute the information and messages that visitors use to understand the exhibition. Museum publishing has a long history but one that is poorly researched and largely unrecognised by museum studies. This research and publication project focusses on print and digital publications dissemninated to enhance visitors' understanding of collections which are not limited to those of museums and art galleries, but rather encompass botanical gardens, science institutes, libraries and organanisations such as the National Trust and English Heritage in the UK. 

The book is in preparation and the next two years will include research as well as writing. In June 2014, I am visiting the Smithsonian Institution, and museums in New York to identify case studies and conduct interviews with directors and other publishing staff.


This book presents the theory and practice of general and scholarly publishing associated with collections. Museums, art galleries, historic sites, libraries and temporary exhibitions publish physical books and electronic resources in various formats for their visitors and for a wider non-visiting audience. In the UK, all national museums and art galleries produce between 10 and 30 titles annually. These institutions with substantial annual visitor numbers are joined by university, city and regional museums and art galleries that support smaller, but significant, publishing programmes. Of the types of books produced, catalogues for temporary exhibitions are the most common, but guidebooks, catalogues raisonnée and of permanent collections and books on the collections themselves, such as the history of their formation or display make up an eclectic mix of books on all subjects published by collecting institutions. These printed materials represent their institutions locally, regionally and globally while also contributing to the complex media landscape navigated by museum audiences for entertainment and education.

The content examines the production and reception of these texts and consequently is relevant to museum and heritage studies. In the field of museum studies it extends theorists’ and practitioners’ understanding of this important but hitherto overlooked area of institutional representation and global circulation, curators’ and artists’ agency, funding and sponsorship within institutions, marketing, visitor studies, informal education and shopping. As an exploration of the position of printed commodities in institutions and their uses by staff and audiences, the topic also contributes to the current discussions on cultural relevance of books in social and personal practices.

The outline of the content listed below:

1. Introduction – why do museums publish?

2. Follow the money – museum publishing and income

3. Selling the book, selling the museum – books as representation for collections

4. Outlasting the show – book longevity and the exhibition

5. ‘Where is my book?’ – The role of books in the careers of curators and artists

6. Buyers and readers – books for museum and art gallery visitors

7. Audience development and visitor studies – the contribution of museum books

8. Scholarly publishing by collections

9. Conclusion


Dr S A Hughes, Principal Lecturer in Publishing,

Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies, 
Oxford Brookes University, 
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