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Friday Finds (#7)

1. Visitors Helping Visitors

Today I saw two great moments where visitors encouraged other visitors. The first was a family where the kids wanted to play with a game in the exhibit, but the parents wanted to move on. The parents told the kids to keep playing, as they were both old enough and the adults were four feet away in an open room.

2. Follow the Pirate Flag!
Sometimes we have to adapt or create activities for visitors on the spot. The other day we had a small group of preschoolers in an exhibit that is kinda scary (we did not expect this reaction from kids until it opened), so I decided to lead them through one of the scariest parts. We marched through while I waved a “pirate flag”, a pink, zebra-striped bandana. It worked!

3. A Change of Scenery
We have a new ticket desk! We used to have a temporary movie theater-like booth. It is amazing to see how visitor interactions have changed now that we have a booth (they still think our exhibits are movies, though).

4. The Best Questions
This week I’ve gotten the best questions from visitors. Last Friday, when we opened the pirate exhibit, I had two young visitors (under 10) ask me about cannon. One had been reading the exhibit text and wanted to know where the letter A was on the trunnions, and then asked what a trunnion was. I didn’t know, but was able to tell him later. My second young visitor asked me how cannon are fired. It was AWESOME. I don’t get to hear questions from kids that often (one dad even discouraged his daughter from asking me a question the other day because I “don’t know anything”.) so I love every kid interaction I get. And if you engage the kids, the adults then follow. We also had an event where tour guides from an area company visited the museum. It was fabulous. I got so many great questions!

5. Bringing History to Life Through Craft
I found the American Duchess blog in my freshman or junior year of college through the first project, an 18th century inspired owl costume. I’ve followed the blog sporadically since then, but I love how it brings history to life through scholarship and craft. I know I’m not the only one that loves the new trend focused on vintage and “what’s old is new” and with a little steampunk thrown in there, too. I love this trend because I see the potential for history education inside of it. Plus American Duchess sells really awesome historic reproduction shoes. And I normally don’t care about shoes at all, so this is high praise coming from me. Granted, I haven’t bought any, because I don’t do costume work, but if I did, I know where I’d go.

What have you been finding in museums?


Friday Finds (#6)!

Today’s Friday Finds is not going to be as happy as they usually are because of some family stuff going on right now.

1. Bullying

Bullying is (unfortunately) something I see at least once a week. Kids have hidden behind me to keep from being punched (third graders), and on Monday two girls said cruel things to another girl, an absolute stranger. The teased girl’s response? “You all must really hate me or something.” She must have been about fourteen. How sickening. How do you prevent or stop bullying in your museums?

2. Research!

This past week has been spent researching pirates. This means that I’ve been ensconced in 18th century pirate lore, which is pretty cool. One question: why do traveling exhibits now keep their bibliographies on separate websites instead of in the companion books? This makes research difficult for folks who want to keep up to date with exhibit information.

3. Friendly Visitors

Our visitors this past weekend were all super friendly. I think this was partly due to the holiday weekend, and partly due to the fact that everyone was coming to see our one main exhibit! Woohoo!

What have you found in your museums in the past week?

Friday Finds (#5)!

I have had a very rough week in my personal life, so this will be short, sweet, and to the point!

1. Singing in a Bird Exhibit
We have an exhibit on birds right now, and it’s great. Unfortunately, it’s not great for kids under 5 without a LOT of adult supervision. We had 60 under-5’s visit today, and it was soon a mess. I led the kids in singing songs about birds, and we went on a “bird hunt”. It was fun, but I really, really need to reacquaint myself with my under-5’s materials.

I highly recommend keeping songs in your back pocket for circumstances like this one.

2. Keeping Magic Alive
Have you seen this video from the National Museum of American History? I love the way that they keep magic alive and have tie-ins to museum objects and careers! What a fabulous project!

My boyfriend and I went to the Botanical Garden (next to the Capitol Building) yesterday and found fairy houses in a hallway. They’re intricate and beautiful and subtly magical.

What have you found in your museum his week?

Friday Finds (#4)!

Hello all! How has your week been in your museum?

One of our two exhibits, 1001 Inventions: Discover the Golden Age of Muslim Civilization, left this past Sunday. What a weekend we had! On Saturday we had 1,500 visitors, which meant our little museum was pretty packed! Since it left (and we only have one (ticketed) exhibit), we’ve had under 100 visitors each day. Talk about variability! We’ve found ways to keep entertained with trivia and counting games, which encourage us to pay attention to exhibit content. Let’s see what I’ve found this week:

1. When it Rains, it Pours
Have you ever noticed that on the days that museums get busy, they get really busy? Ours sure did! Questions of the same kind also seem to pile up — after a month of nobody asking me for a brochure, everyone wanted one! We also have a well-known speaker program through my organization, and our spring pamphlet just went out. Tonight’s wolf program sold out two weeks ago, but everyone wants a ticket now! I love how excited people are about our programs.

2. Autism in the Museum Blog
I am super excited about a blog I found this week: Autism in the Museum I really want to make our museum accessible for our autistic visitors and their families, and this looks like it will be a great resource.

3. Quiet Exhibit Fun!
It was very quiet in the museum Monday and Tuesday and we decided to learn more about the exhibit — we pcounted the number of screens (37) and stuffed birds (14) in our birds exhibit. It’s a super visual exhibit, and actually doesn’t have a lot of text. I like exhibits like it because they’re a little less visually exhausting (but I do miss having some text).

Got a favorite way your museum staff has fun when there are fewer visitors? Let me know in the comments!

Friday Finds (#3)

It’s Friday (night!) and what a long day it has been. Between the groups (8 scheduled, 6 visited) each with 50-100 students (and in one case, seniors), the ending of an exhibit, and after a long week… I’m ready for a good night’s rest. Tomorrow we expect 6 groups and over 1000 visitors, when our museum does not often have over 1000 on a weekend. Yeah, it’s going to be exhausting. The good thing is that I’ve learned a WHOLE LOT this week alone, especially from the school groups.

Things I’ve found in the museum:

1. Things in Places They Should Not Be

I found a waterbottle and a packet inside one of our exhibit structures today. I once found a kid inside of the structure (he couldn’t reach over the wall to play the game, so he climbed inside of the game) when the exhibit first opened, but I’ve never had to climb inside of it to pull something out. Now I can say I’ve been inside of a game.

2. Kids Need Structure

I admire teachers for all that they do. Many of our visiting teachers are great, and I really admire what they do with their students. I also understand that they and the chaperons are sometimes unprepared for what they are going to do with the students inside of the museum. This is something that I try to absolve by introducing the exhibit through a conversation. First I ask the kids what they should do inside the museum. They answer, and I ask until we reach the most important answers. I then ask what they shouldn’t do in the museum. This usually gets more hands… and the most interesting answers. My “favorite” answer today was that they shouldn’t fight inside the museum (fourth grade girl, which made me wonder about what has happened in previous museum trips with this school). This prepares the kids because they are hearing it from each other. I had to return to one group recently to remind them how to behave at a museum. One chaperon gathered his designated group around to hear. This was great. Then, when I started talking, I realized that I had a cluster of elementary school kids surrounding me with big grins — not just because someone was paying attention to what was going on, but because someone had decided to take charge. This experience repeated itself three times today (one child even suggested how to get her classmates’ attention). Sometimes we had extra time between exhibits, so I asked the kids content-related but easy questions. They didn’t have packets, they didn’t have anyone telling them what to do, but these kids actually learned something! Woohoo! I still  believe that structured time would have been much more successful for our hundred-plus fifth grade students. What if their groups traded places with each other at each pod (location in the exhibit) at a certain time? Most of our exhibits are interactive/video based content, so that could be easily feasible. Structure probably would have prevented the bullying that I stopped outside the exhibit today, too.


3. City Access New York

My dream job would be to run public programs for children and adults with disabilities, as well as working with museums to make their spaces more inviting to those with disabilities. Yesterday I discovered City Access New York ( WOW! How did I not know this organization existed? It’s an organization/group that is dedicated to bringing visitors with disabilities to the museum. Does anyone know if there are any organizations like this in the Washington, DC area?


4. Staff

My museum is a unique museum because it is part of a much larger organization. We often have staff walking through the hallways between the two exhibits. Some have gotten to know us, and some haven’t. Today I was approached by multiple staff members about how busy we’ve been and I have been asked about what is coming in next. I love the fact that the other staff are taking an interest. It fosters and ownership that I did not see when I started working at the museum. I recently started my own mission when it came to the non-museum/non-exhibit staff: say hello to every one that passed my spot. I’m starting to see it work. A number of staff members that I say hello to are now replying, and I’m seeing them show visitors where to go. It’s amazing, beautiful, wonderful and I love my job so much more now, because I am seeing an impact that I am making on my museum.


5. Conversation of the day: 

[In elevator]

Staff member: Are you busy today?

Me: Yeah, we have a lot of large groups of kids today.

Staff member: I like large groups of kids.

[Exit elevator, walk out to main hall, where a ton of students are standing]

Staff member: I like small groups of kids!


6. Question of the day:

“Are the female birds (of paradise) all the same or are they different like the males?”


What have you found this week in your museum?

Friday Finds (#2)

Hello! I spent about half of yesterday (technically today, I’m writing this on Thursday) at the National Museum of American History, which is one of my very favorite museums.

My background with NMAH is a long one — my first visit (that I remember) was when I was a young elementary aged Girl Scout, and I paid at least two subsequent visits in the years before the renovation. When the museum reopened in 2009, I visited twice and then reached The Life-Changing Event, also known as my internship there.

And so, in honor of my internship, I’m going to post five things I’ve found in NMAH.

1. Fellowship

Julia Child’s kitchen is in a new home since 2009. It currently sits in an exhibit about food. At the center of the exhibit is the most interesting thing I’ve ever seen in a non-living history museum: a kitchen table. This table was long and had dials that explained the food pyramids (look out for the dog food pyramid, too). There were chairs around the table, and they were being used. What a great way to promote fellowship!

I always love to talk with the volunteers that run the visitor’s services desks and the touch carts (my internship had me working at both in addition to the theater programs). The woman I spoke with today was so welcoming! We talked for a while about our favorite exhibits (Within These Walls and Written in Bone at the Natural History Museum next door) and about the many changes to the museum. She even walked over to me later and we talked more about an object on display. I have noticed that the welcome centers don’t get much attention from visitors all the time, which is really a missed opportunity when the volunteers there are so caring.

About a year ago, I visited NMAH with a good friend, and we watched as a curator dismantled Julia Child’s kitchen to move it. She saw our curious looks and came out to tell us about the exhibit and how it was being moved. I mentioned my internship, and her immediate response was “Welcome home.” There is a fellowship in that museum that I have seen in other museums as well. Once you were there, you know the museum, it’s home to you and others. Every time I walk in the museum’s doors, I hear myself saying “Welcome home.”

2. Apps!

Did you know that the Smithsonian makes apps? I sure didn’t! What a pleasant surprise to find the American Stories app (for its exhibit American Stories) in the museum! It is bilingual and is a tool geared towards visitors with low sight. I downloaded it onto my iPod just because I wanted to hear/see what others were saying about the exhibit. The basic concept is that you either listen to or record your own experiences with the exhibit objects, and the public votes on favorites. What a great way to bring an exhibit to everyone. I really can’t express how awesome and accessible apps like this one make museum exhibits.

American Stories

This panel was great to explain the app as well (I’m sorry for the poor iPod photo quality). I just wish that the placement was more visible in the exhibit and that the Smithsonian promoted these apps a bit more. Even though I only visit Smithsonian exhibits once every six months or so, I really wish I could experience parts of the exhibits from home or on the Metro.

3. Wireless Internet?

Speaking of the app, its only downside was that it had to be internet connected, which meant I couldn’t listen more on the Metro (nuts!). What I did find, however, was that they had wireless in American Story! Did I see anyone misusing the wireless in the room? Nope. I was the only one using it, I think. I have been thinking about how great it would be if museums did make wireless accessible. I would love for museums to open up to this idea more because museums are great places to hang out in, but they don’t feel like they welcome you to hang out. As someone who either speeds through exhibits (when I’m with people) or takes them slowly (alone), I want to feel comfortable in a museum, even if it’s just to sit down for a minute to rest. I wouldn’t be surprised if the community, in hearing about internet capabilities in the museum, would start to visit. Then they would “hang out” and actually start looking at those things on the walls and then start asking questions and interacting. That would be such a great experiment opportunity. Hmmm.

4. Where Have All the People Gone?

I am a huge fan of one-on-one interactions inside exhibits. People ask about tours at “my” museum all the time (we don’t give them, the exhibits are not built in a way that is suited for tours), and I do wonder if it’s not about the content, but the delivery of the content. When visitors interact with other people, they are forming emotional connections to the people/objects. Many people pointed out the MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat, military food) at the touch cart I helped run at NMAH next to the war exhibit. “We have a ton of those from the hurricane!” “My Mom/Dad brought those back for me.” “I ate a lot of those.” It opened up the gateway to interaction at the exhibit.

At my current museum, I wear a big button with what looks like a blue smiley face or mustache on it. It’s actually a Superb Bird of Paradise. Many visitors ask me what it is, and I tell them. It opens the gateway for conversation when visitors don’t know who to ask about the exhibits. I’ve seen visitors look at me, then turn around and ask the security guards for help. The guards then send them over to me.

It is possible for a museum to look and feel lonely. NMAH felt lonely. There weren’t people in the halls with touch carts or talking to visitors. I didn’t see any staff members my entire visit, except for in the store. I am an innately shy person, but that doesn’t stop my need for emotional connection to the exhibits. My friend asked me many questions about the Star Spangled Banner exhibit, and I was overcome with the feeling that something was missing from our experience. While my friend’s questions were great questions, there was not much emotional interest behind them. She became a citizen fairly recently. She pointed out a naturalization ceremony photo to another friend and I at the end of the exhibit. That was where she felt an emotional connection, which highlighted the absence of one for the rest of us. I went back to look at the flag and spent some time thinking about how my friends would walk out of the exhibit already on a new topic of conversation, while I would walk out feeling that the Star Spangled Banner was part of my history, and that I wanted it to be there forever. It has become something that is not just a symbol, but my flag. How do you share these strong feelings about the exhibit? A living history program and flag folding activity were how we did that in the past. They led to my strong attachment to the flag.

I know that NMAH has gone through changes, and it makes sense to not have programs out when the museum has only a small number of visitors. I can’t help but wonder, though, if the emotional connection is still the same when there are no floor staff.

5. Tell Me/Show Me

NMAH has a new initiative that I love — they encourage visitors to respond to large questions and small questions, even asking what objects we, the visitors, would like to see inside their exhibits! What a great way to give back and take ownership! My only issue was that there was no paper available for me to respond, but there is a website, so maybe my suggestion of Depression Glass will actually get there. The only downside was that there were just as many off-topic answers as real ones. I did notice a number of teens hanging around this talk back area, and while they might have had some silly answers, their answers were very interesting as well.

We have comment books at the exits of our exhibits at work. I love to read through them, and they offer us important clues into who our visitors are and why they are there. One visitor commented that she was finally proud of her heritage (Muslim) and not ashamed because of our exhibit. I snapped a photo of it and refuse to delete it because I know that our exhibit changed someone’s life for the better. Even if we have a different faith heritage (I’m a practicing Christian), I can still appreciate the impact a museum exhibit has had on my life.

And that, my dear friends, is a topic I am leaving for another day.


What have you found in your museum or museums you have visited recently? Got a favorite museum app, iOS or Android? Make sure you share it in the comments!

Friday Finds!

Welcome to Friday!

I’ve decided to start a new tradition: highlighting things that I’ve “found” inside museums. I hope to use an interactive, strange found objects, and maybe people.

1. Riflebird Bird of Paradise Kinetic Sculpture


I LOVE this Riflebird sculpture found in the Birds of Paradise: Amazing Avian Evolution exhibit at the National Geographic Museum. Adults love it because of the vegetable steamer and the film reels in the wings, and kids live it because it moves. I like it for both reasons… and I just love riflebirds!

2. 3 Pieces of Yarn and a Plastic Bead

Sometimes, you know that you have lots of kids in a museum because of the large numbers of leftover pencils in the exhibits. On Wednesday, I found three inch-long pieces of pink yarn (a super soft yarn that I want to knit with) and a white pony bead.

3. Diversity

Without counting the kids, we have a diverse group of visitors. On Wednesday, we had four school groups. One school group was from a private Muslim school, one was a bilingual school, and the others were from inner city DC. We had a minimum of three languages represented just by the children alone.

4. My Director

The museum director visited the floor the other day to help out with the large number of kids in the museum. She also has helped us out with our 3D movies. I see her at least twice a week and just love the fact that she is so involved. She also volunteers her son to help us. I deeply respect her for her presence.

What have you found in your museum this week?

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