Adult Education Philosophies and Practices in Art Galleries, Museums and Libraries in Canada and the United Kingdom

Darlene E. Clover, Kathy Sanford, Lorraine Bell, Fatma Dogus, Kay Johnson

In 2010, we began to explore the adult education philosophies and practices in museums, art galleries, and libraries in Canada and the United Kingdom.

Although the adult education function of public museums, galleries and libraries has long been recognized (see for example, UNESCO, 1997), there has been a major shift in its definition and importance within these art and cultural institutions in Canada and the United Kingdom. This shift offered significant potential for much-needed reconsideration through an adult education theory lens. Contemporary global changes have modified the social and cultural structure in which education and learning take place. Within a milieu of the new knowledge economy, changing citizenship, and increasing social inequities, the very nature of adult education, both what is meant by the term and expected of these institutions, has changed. As public museums, galleries and libraries become more dominant and are increasingly called upon to create learning opportunities for public debate about issues of relevance today and assist in community development, how those responsible for adult education understand and articulate it becomes vital.

Yet when we embarked on our study, detailed international understandings of how these adult educators envision and practice their work remained largely unexplored. Indeed, although museums, galleries and libraries feature prominently in the popular imagination of adult educators, our recent study of 60 years of academic publications showed few actual studies existed (Clover, Sanford and Jayme, 2010).

Drawing upon critical theory and pedagogy, the first phase of this international qualitative study documented, analysed and theorized the contemporary philosophies and practices of adult education and learning held by librarians, museum and gallery educators in Canada, England and Scotland. Our aim was to enhance knowledge by uncovering how, within two socially and culturally similar, complex and rapidly changing societies, adult education was being conceptualized and practised and the impact this might have on the institutions? ability to contribute to knowledge creation, community and cultural development, citizenship, social justice or change.

Phase Two

   We are now in Phase Two of this project, and it has four parts.

Training and Professional Development in Museums in Canada and the UK

Public art galleries and museums in Canada and the United Kingdom have been challenged to bring issues of equality, justice and human rights from their margins to the centre (Nightingale & Sandell, 2012). Many of these institutions now aim to address issues such as racism and homophobia, to strengthen social cohesion and to expand cultural democracy through more critical, learner-centred approaches. The First Phase of this study above showed this task fell to the leadership of the institution, but equally importantly, to the adult educators and community practitioners, the majority of whom were women whose backgrounds were in non-educational or community development fields and who often worked part-time (Ellis, 2002). These adult educators are now tasked to re-conceptualize their practices to educate increasingly diverse populations in increasingly complex social, cultural and political times both within and beyond the institution. This raised the question: How are these adult educators and community practitioners being prepared to educate and engage with the public? In 2000, Chadwick and Stannett lamented the limited opportunities for staff training and the dearth of studies and knowledge of those that did exist. Today a variety of education and training programs and activities exist in Canada and the UK but they remain under-investigated and under-theorized. This five-year cross-national study is in the process of exploring how formal and nonformal education, training, and professional development programmes and activities in Canada and the UK are preparing gallery and museum adult educators and community practitioners to educate more critically and responsively. Using the lenses of feminist, critical and cultural theory, our study are documenting approaches and practices, theorizing their potential to prepare women to take on complex social and cultural issues within and beyond the institution?s walls, and highlighting the challenges and limitations through current political and institutional contexts.

Librarian Training and Preparation

Similar to the above, we are exploring how librarians in Canada are being educated formally in universities, and trained non-formally through professional development activities, to meet complex, contemporary community needs. In our 2011-2014 study, we found that public libraries were in the midst of a push and pull of competing beliefs in their role. On one side, governments, the funders, have put pressure on these public institutions to provide more services to adults, particularly adult literacy and employment related skills development, including much technology training and upgrading. On the other side, librarians (and scholars) who believe libraries need to play a more socially responsive, educational role. Problems such as racism, sexism, religious intolerance can be found in the large urban areas of this country, and scholars believe the public library is in the best position to act as a place of encounter, a space where people can come together to learn about, debate and discuss issues that affect their lives.

Some libraries tend to stay with the more liberal, jobs-related activities. But Durrani (2014). In his book Progressive librarianship: Perspectives from Kenya and Britain, 1979-2010 reminded us that

Conservative librarianship, by its very nature, cannot take up the challenge [of combatting capitalism/neo-conservatism], hiding as it does behind false concepts of neutralism. It is only progressive librarianship that is willing and able to undertake this socially important task. (p. 3)

Rising to this challenge were others who were determined to keep the social purpose of the library alive, positioned it as an ?art? institutions, and were engaging in critical and creative activities such as theatre, and the Human Library project, which provides an opportunity for people from different walks of life who hold biases and problemtic assmptions about ?the other?, to come togther in conversation. What makes or can make the difference? While there are a number of reasons such as age, leadership and economics, participants in our past study often alluded to their backgrounds and training. Yet no studies on adult education and public libraries have focussed on this. The question guiding this aspect of our study is: How are today’s librarians being educated (in formal institutions) and trained (through nonformal and professional development activities) to acquire the diversity of skills and knoweldge libraries require to meet community needs? What is the balance between technical learning and the more socailly engaged or responsive learning?

Feminist cross-national study of adult education in musuems and art galleries in Canada, UK and United States

As more women enter the museum profession in the Middle East, Malt (2006) argued, they are using ?their influence as instruments of change to put forward issues of women?s equality in?and thus ultimately help shape the future image and status of women? (p. 115). As feminist adult educators and museum researchers, this assertion begged a totally unexplored yet important question: How are women museum adult educators in Canada, the United States and Britain, articulating, understanding and taking up women?s or feminist issues today, and what are the implications for gender and social justice and change?

Public museums have a well-deserved reputation as exclusionary, and sexist (e.g. Hooper-Greenhill, 2007; Levin, 2010). Often also reduced to mere conservers and preservers or sites of entertainment, UNESCO (1997) reminded us they are first foremost education institutions, providing a plethora of learning opportunities for hundreds of adults. As social and cultural fabrics fray under current political neo-conservative and economic neoliberal polices and practices in Canada, the United States and Britain, museums have been challenged to become more socially responsive (e.g. Nightingale & Sandell, 2012). Adult education scholars are now beginning to realize their importance as public engagement and pedagogical sites (e.g. Mayo, 2012; Styles, 2011; Taylor & Parrish, 2010). Yet gender is seldom part of the discourse of the new social responsibility agenda ? or even its critiques (e.g. Hewison, 2014). Equally unacknowledged is the fact that the bulk of museum adult educators tasked with carrying out change agendas, is women, whose work is often part-time and viewed as marginal within the institution (Ellis, 2002).

As the first of its kind, this study is employing a feminist, cross-national approach to explore women adult educators? perceptions and practices around women and gender and its implications. It is also significant in larger social terms. In the Future of Feminism, Walby (2011) reminded us that despite the gains of the feminist movement, gendered regimes remain in tact yet more and more invisible in institutions and society. According to a 2013 global review, 35 per cent of women have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence, although national figures suggest it is closer to 70% (UN Women, 2013). Hundreds of Indigenous women have gone missing or been murdered over the decades in Canada, yet this is all but ignored by governments and police alike (Taber, 2015). Increasing misogynistic activities in universities and social media, to name but a few sites, led the past Governor General to characterize Canadian culture as ?a culture of rape? (Clover, Butterwick & Collins, In Press). Women still on average earn less than men, and bear the burden of reproductive roles (Manciom & Walters, 2012; Walby, 2011). Yet research by feminist adult educators uncovers a problematic refrain: ?women have already attained equality so feminism is no longer needed? (Taber & Gouthro, 2005, p. 59). We cannot be allowed to forget how embedded social constructions continue to inform understandings and actions, and the impact this has on substantive gender and social change.


Clover, D.E., Butterwick, S. & Collins, L. (In Press). Women, adult education and leadership in Canada. Toronto: Thompson Educational Publishing.

Ellis, L. (2002). The backlash to access. Engage 11, 40-42. Hewison, R. (2014). Cultural capital: The rise and fall of Creative Britain. London: Versobooks.

Hooper-Greenhill, E. (2007) Museums and education: Purpose, pedagogy and education. London: Routledge.

Levin, A. (2010). Gender, sexuality and museums. London: Routledge.

Malt, C. (2006). Women, museums and the public sphere. Journal of Middle East Women?s Studies, 2(2), 115-136. Manicom, L. & Walters. S. (Eds.). Feminist popular education: Creating pedagogies of possibility. New York: Palgrave.

Mayo, P. (2012). Museums, cultural politics and adult learning, in L. English and P. Mayo, Learning with adults. Rotterdam: Sense Publishing. Nightingale, E. & Sandell, R. (Eds.) (2012). Museums, equality and social justice, 3rd edition. London: Routledge.

Styles, C. (2011) Dialogic learning in the museum space. Ethos,19(3), 12-20.

Taber, N. (2015). Learning gendered militarism in Canada: Lifelong pedagogies of conformity and resistance. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press.

Taber, N. & Goutro, P. (2005). Women and adult education in Canadian society. In T. Fenwick, T. Nesbit & B. Spencer (Eds), Contexts of adult education: Canadian perspectives (pp. 58-67). Toronto: Thompson Educational Publishing.

Taylor, E. & Parrish, M. (Eds). (2010). Adult education in cultural institutions: Aquariums, libraries, museums, parks and zoos. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

UNESCO (1997). Museums, libraries and cultural heritage: Democratising culture, creating knowledge and building bridges. Hamburg, Germany: IEU.

UN Women (2013). Ending violence against women. Accessed on April 24, 2015 from and-figures

Walby, S. (2011). The future of feminism. Cambridge: Polity Press


Clover, D.E., Sanford, K., Bell, L. & Johnson, K. (Eds.) (In Progress). Adult education, museums and art galleries: Aesthetic, social and cultural animation for change. Rotterdam: Sense Publishing.

Clover, D.E. (2015). Adult education for social and environmental change in contemporary public art galleries and museums in Canada, Scotland and England. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 1-16.

Clover, D.E. (2014). Public art galleries and museums as contested and emancipatory sites of adult education and learning, In P. Guimarães, C. Cavaco, L. Marrocos, C. Paulos, A. Bruno, S. Rodrigues, M. Marques (Eds), Proceedings of the Local Change, Social Action and Adult Learning: Challenges and Responses Conference (pp.69-81). Institute of Education, University of Lisbon, Portugal

Sanford, K. & Clover, D.E. (2014). Agents of Change: Adult education and learning in libraries, art galleries and museums in Canada and the United Kingdom, (with K. Sanford). In D. Plumb (Ed), Proceedings of the 33nd Annual Canadian Association for the Study of Adult Education (pp.205-208). St Catharine?s: Brock University Clover, D.E., K.

Sanford & Dogus, F. (2013). A study of women, adult education and community development work in art galleries and museums in Canada and the United Kingdom (UK). In C. Kawaliak & G. Groen (Eds.), Proceedings of the 32nd Annual Canadian Association for the Study of Adult Education (pp.90-96). Victoria: University of Victoria

Sanford, K., Clover, D.E., & Dogus, F. (2013). An international study of the adult education philosophies and practices in public libraries in Canada and the United Kingdom. In C. Kawaliak & G. Groen (Eds.), Proceedings of the 32ndt Annual Canadian Association for the Study of Adult Education (pp.535-541). Victoria: University of Victoria

Clover, D.E. (2013). Educación de personas adultas en los museos públicos: Una exploración del campo. Revista Cuestiones Pedagógicas, 22, 169-180.

Clover, D.E., Bell, L. (2013). Contemporary adult education philosophies and practices in art galleries and museums in Canada and the UK. Adult Learner: Irish Journal of Adult and Community Education, 1 (1), 29-43.

Clover, D.E., Sanford, K., & Dogus, F. (2012). A discourse and visual analysis of adult education and learning on public art gallery websites: A cross-national study of Canada and the United Kingdom, Proceedings of the 31st Annual Canadian Association for the Study of Adult Education (pp.76-81), Waterloo: University of Waterloo

Clover, D.E., Sanford, K. & Oliviera de Jayme, B. (2010). Adult education, museums and libraries: A content analysis of journals and proceedings in the field. Journal of Adult and Continuing Education, 16(2), 5-19.

Special Edition Academic Journal

Clover, D.E. & Sanford, K. (2010). International perspectives on adult education and arts and cultural institutions. Journal of Adult and Continuing Education, 16(2).