Back in the 1950s a debate raged through the taxonomic world: were the lagomorphs—rabbits, hares, assorted fuzzy bunnies—a homogenous phylogenetic group with unique defining features? Or were they just a rag-tag collection of random rodents with some superficial similarity, but which really had nothing special in common? In 1957, paleontologist Albert Woods marshaled the physical evidence and concluded that Flopsy, Mopsy, and Peter did indeed constitute a coherent taxon. He published his findings in the delightfully titled paper, What, if Anything, Is a Rabbit?

Today, we apply this same question to museums. The term adheres to institutions representing a broad range of sizes and disciplines. Most have collections, but many do not. Some hire trained professional staff, while others are run by experienced, knowledgeable volunteers. Historic houses, interpretive centers, zoos, and aquariums are part of the family, while libraries, commercial art galleries and private collections generally are excluded.

view the entire article What if Anything Is a Museum? by Eugene Dillenburg