Before [Richard] Owen, museums were designed primarily for the use and edification of the elite, and even then it was difficult to gain access. In the early days of the British Museum, prospective visitors had to make a written application and undergo a brief interview to determine if they were fit to be admitted at all. They then had to return a second time to pick up a ticket—that is assuming they had passed the interview—and finally come back a third time to view the museum’s treasures. Even then they were wisked through in groups and not allowed to linger.
Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything, p 91. (link via Google Books)
Richard Owen was the “driving force” behind the creation of London’s Natural History Museum, which opened in 1880. In contrast to the British Museum, the Natural History Museum was dedicated to open access and civic engagement, according to Bryson.