The Museum researches, documents, preserves, presents and communicates Slovene and equally important non-European collections in the field of material, social and spiritual culture.
The Slovene collections shed light on the everyday life of Slovenians from the past to the present, and are the result of the maturation of ethnological and anthropological science in Slovenia from the beginning of the 19th century onwards. At the end of the 19th century, the collections were created based on the local identification of three cultural landscapes (the Mediterranean, Alpine, sub-Pannonian). As such, due to their comparative aspect, they were also of great interest to European researchers, who studied similarities and differences relevant to the shared historical and cultural features of the heritage.
Today, the collections are regarded in a modern way as multifaceted information carriers, material witnesses to the everyday and festive life of the rural and urban population, storytellers of creativity, knowledge, wisdom and coexistence with nature.
The Slovene collections are cared for by specialised museum curators and experts within seven departments: the Dwelling Culture Collection, Crafts and Trade Collection, Spiritual Culture Collection, Folk Art and Pictorial Sources Collection, Rural Economy and Transport Collection, Clothing Culture and Textiles Collection and Social Culture Collection. In addition, the SEM holds the Ethnographic Film Collection.
Non-European collections are arranged by continent and donor, with the latter including explorers, world travellers, missionaries, seamen, merchants and diplomats. Notable collections are the Indonesian collection, Skušek’s Chinese collection, Codelli’s collection from Togo, and Baraga’s North American collection, among many others. Non-European collections are kept by the Asian, Oceanian and Australian Museum Collections and the Americas and Africa Collections.
The SEM holds about 40,000 items (30,000 in Slovene collections and 10,000 in non-European ones), of which about 29,000 museum objects are inventoried in the Galis museum documentation system. Moreover, the SEM boasts a collection of more than 110,000 digitised units of pictorial material in its Documentation Department. As part of its role as the National Coordinator for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, a collection of documentation on intangible cultural heritage is also being created.