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Addressing Fears in the Museum

Have you ever missed an opportunity because you were afraid of something? I have.

I’m naturally shy (and I work in visitor’s services, weird, right?), which sometimes holds me back from interacting in museums. I see touch carts and people with objects (or living history museums in general) my tongue freezes in my mouth and I get really shaky. Here’s the strange part: I love touch carts and living history. I learn best from those types of interactions, and I credit them with my interest in the museum field today.

I conquered my fear of public interaction by interning at the National Museum of American History in Visitor’s Services/Public Programs. I stood behind the cart, so now whenever I walk up to the cart, I try to interact as much as possible, even if I’m afraid.

I recently asked a few people and brainstormed about museum related fears. I placed them in three categories (although even those are very loose): accessibility, content, and other.

Accessibility:
1. Will I be able to see most of the museum in a wheelchair?
2. Are there subtitles on the videos?
3. Are there audio tours?
4. Will I be able to afford it?
5. Will my (autistic or sensory sensitive) child disturb the other visitors if he or she gets overstimulated/hyper/angry/upset?

Content:
1. Will it be a wax museum?
2. Will it have mummies?
3. Will it have taxidermy?
4. Will I be able to pull myself away?
5. Will I be able to see all of it in a day?
6. Will it be scary for my child?

Other:
1. Will someone not take me seriously/make fun of me because I’m unfamiliar with art/history/science? (This one makes me angry, because I know that it happens and it shouldn’t)
2. Will there be a lot of kids?
3. Is the content for kids?
4. Will it be worth the cost?
5. Will I be the only person of my own demographic (age, race, body type, ability)?

As you move throughout your museum today, think about these questions. I don’t have many answers to these, but couldn’t many of these fears be addressed in a FAQ portion of a website or brochure? Shouldn’t we already have the answers to these questions? Shouldn’t Docents/floor staff be (and most of the ones I have met are) trained how to handle/answer many of these questions?

This week, we opened a new exhibit. The marketing and activities are geared towards kids. Guess what exhibit is scary for kids under ten? Museums can be scary places, but they don’t need to be. These fears still persist. How do you address them in your museum? Did you have your own fears entering the museum field? How did you resolve them?

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