The Challenges facing Italian University Museums

Digitalizing cultural heritage to boost sociality and network collaboration

After the unexpected closures due to the pandemic, even the University Museums found themselves for the most part unprepared, and were forced to become more participatory. Since then, many have enhanced their websites, and have beefed up social networks (such as Youtube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter), to make themselves better known to the public, as well as to maintain their engagement in educational activities with schools. Now, as they are reorganizing their activities, it is important that the University Museums be put in a position to provide continuity in the use of social networks and monitor the user’s access to social media and user’s account. Museums can take advantage of the necessary enhancement of these new technologies to design a digital plan for the digitization of museum assets, as well as for the methods and timing of digital communication and a structured use of social media and computer platforms.

The National Museum System

Another challenge that the University Museums will have to face, possibly with a working group that this journal can be a forum for, is the accreditation procedures for their inclusion in the National Museum System, established by decree n. 113/2018 of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism (MIBACT). As stated in the decree, the System will act as an inclusive network of cultural heritage made up of public and private cultural institutions, such as museums and other cultural sites that wish to promote the development of Italian Museums via the adoption of good governance principles for the  proper management of Italy’s cultural heritage based on sustainability, innovation, participation and accessibility.

The creation of the National Museum System is founded on Ministerial Guidelines. Technical-scientific criteria regarding standards for the functioning and development of museums, decreed by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities on May 10, 2001 which combine the need for conservation, enjoyment and promotion of museums, identifying minimum standards in eight areas, based on  the Code of Ethics for ICOM Museums.

The tool for accreditation in the National Museum System – a questionnaire that can be filled out on a voluntary basis, organized around minimum quality standards, LUQ (Uniform Quality Levels) – will allow each museum to verify its organization, the legal and economic management of its collections and of its relationship to its surroundings. This is certainly a complex procedure, as recently demonstrated in the recognition or accreditation processes carried out in recent years by many regional Italian governments for non-state museums, with regional laws that were based on the Ministerial Guidelines.

The questionnaire will initiate a self-assessment of the museums, which, through the verification of certain requirements, will hopefully be useful in evaluating the basic functions for assessing the value of Italy’s cultural heritage and for defining programmatic objectives for implementing an effective development plan. This development plan will ensure the attainment of the desired objectives  in  controllable time with sustainable resources and achievable results to stimulate the role of the museums as patrons of their territories.

It is significant that, in the event certain requirements are lacking, there be a path to meet them, for which the governing bodies of the Universities will have to commit formally. Inevitably, Universities will be faced with important choices for the future of their museums, if they want to be part of the National Museum System and become part of a national network that will enable them to share knowledge, and exchange good practices for a common development.

It is important that the National Museum System be based much more on these inter-connections than on the ownership of the museums themselves, fostering collaboration between the Central Government, Regions, Municipalities and other Local Authorities, Universities and the entire educational system, in order to create a shared process, aimed at improving management culture not only of the museums, but of all of Italy’s cultural heritage. The possibility of connecting approximately 8,000 Italian museums is fundamental to consolidating  meaning and value of its cultural heritage and promoting significant development of cultural tourism.

The System will heighten the enjoyment of cultural heritage at the national level and exalt the particularities of Italian museums and places of culture. A homogeneous model for the fruition of cultural institutions and sites, uniform and verifiable procedures for the conservation and enhancement of buildings, places, collections, codes of conduct and shared museum policy guidelines, will guarantee quality access to visitors and an improvement in the protection of Italy’s cultural heritage. A national accreditation system, respecting regional and provincial autonomy along with the different types of museums or cultural sites, in addition to promoting the development of culture can generate economies of scale, in particular for the shared development of professional skills and services with specific reference to the training of staff.

The experience of the Network of Italian University Museums

For the Italian University Museums that have already joined the Network, the stimulating experience has been shared with satisfaction for almost a decade now. The Network, established thanks to a pilot project approved and funded by the Ministry of Education, University and Research (MIUR) under Law 6/2000 regarding the dissemination of scientific knowledge and practices, under the coordination of the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia (UNIMORE), has been able to create its own web portal. In the portal, after the monitoring and cataloguing of the most significant collections in collaboration with the Central Institute for Catalogue and Documentation of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism, 80 narrative paths have been included, 18 of which are dedicated to the environments, 19 to the landscapes, 25 to stories, 9 to the histories of the Universities and 9 to the stories of scientific instruments and methodologies, creating multiple contexts that explain the relationships between objects and the exhibits, not often easily understood upon their displaying.

In 2015, thanks to a second project approved and funded by MIUR with the coordination of UNIMORE, 56 experiential educational paths, dedicated to the method and scientific culture, have been included in the second section of the portal. The paths have been realized through the identification and sharing of operational methods, the adoption and use of a common language and tools, above all through the use of information technologies. They are dedicated to three main themes: 9 to biodiversity and the other 47 to color and time. The latter are divided into 7 sub-themes: color and shapes in nature, color in art and science, color in physics, geology and fossils, measurement of time, human evolution and the evolution of Antarctica.

Elena Corradini

Elena Corradini

Adjunct Professor of Museology and Restoration at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, now she teaches Monumental Buildings Restoration History. She is technical-scientific evaluator of the MIUR and Coordinator of the Italian University Museums Network ( She was board member and Deputy President of ICOM-UMAC. From 1980 to 2006 she worked for the Ministry of Cultural Heritage as Director archaeologist in Modena, Bologna and as Manager in Rome. She is freelance journalist, author of more than 170 publications about museology, history of collecting, conservation and valorisation of cultural heritage, recently about the University heritage. She has directed restoration works and has been curator of several exhibitions.