Characteristics of a public library, museum or art gallery

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The following are separate DGR categories:

  • a public library
  • a public museum
  • a public art gallery
  • an institution consisting of a public library, public museum and public art gallery or of any two of these.

Although they are different DGR categories, they have common characteristics. Each category has all of the following features:

  • It is either  
    • a charity registered with Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC), or operated by a registered charity
    • an Australian government agency (or operated by an Australian government agency).
  • It has public ownership agency.
  • Its collection is made available to the public.
  • It is constituted as a library, museum or art gallery, other people recognise it as such, and it conducts itself in the ways that are consistent with such a character.
  • It is an Institution.

See also:

Public ownership and control

Non-government institutions must be owned or controlled by people or institutions who, because of their tenure of some public office or their position in the community, have a degree of responsibility to the community as a whole. Church authorities, school principals, judges, clergy, solicitors, doctors and other professional people, mayors, councillors, town clerks and members of parliament would satisfy this requirement.

In the absence of other public participation, a society comprising a small group of close friends and business associates would not be accepted as public irrespective of whether the membership included responsible persons.


A train enthusiast sets up a company. Its members and board are the enthusiast, his solicitor and his accountant. The public control requirement is not met.

If a library, museum or art gallery is carried on by an organisation and operated for the profit or gain of its owners or members, the facility is not public.

End of example

Available to the public

A public library, museum or art gallery makes its collection available to the public. Limits that make a collection substantially available only to members of an association or employees of a particular employer are not acceptable.

If limits are in place only to improve availability, they can be acceptable. For example:

  • a public library's books may be available only to residents of a particular town
  • certain exhibits of a public museum may be available only to people carrying out research.

A school library can be a public library if the school is open to the public. This includes primary and secondary schools run by government or religious bodies and TAFE colleges. It does not include schools run for the profit of their owners.

Library, museum or art gallery

The terms 'library', 'museum' and 'art gallery' have their ordinary meanings. They have been described as follows:

  • A library is a place set apart to contain books and other literary material for reading, study or reference.
  • A museum is a building or place for the keeping, exhibition and study of objects of scientific, artistic or historical interest.
  • An art gallery is a building devoted to the exhibition of works of art; a collection of art for exhibition.

The constituent or governing documents of a public library, museum or art gallery must be consistent with its character. Also, an organisation's activities, acquisitions policy, staffing, advertising and membership will be relevant.

The ways an organisation collects, preserves, maintains and makes its collection available must be consistent with how a library, museum or art gallery operates.


A public library, museum or art gallery will be either a:

  • separate legal entity, such as a corporation, unincorporated association or trust
  • part of a legal entity where that part has a separate institutional character.

For a part of an organisation to be a public library, museum or art gallery, it will be necessary that all of the following apply:

  • The affairs of the library, museum or art gallery are separate from the general affairs of the organisation.
  • The public can readily distinguish the library, museum or art gallery from the rest of the organisation.
  • The collection is readily identifiable to the public as the collection of a library, museum or art gallery.
  • The accounts of the library, museum or art gallery are separate from those of the rest of the organisation.
  • Any gifts made to the library, museum or art gallery will be used only for library, museum or art gallery purposes.
    Last modified: 12 Oct 2016QC 26452