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Category Archives: Visitors

Warehouse 13 as a Museum #1

It’s no secret that one of my favorite television shows is Warehouse 13 (just read my first post, Wonder). It is smart, funny, has a heart, and often leads me down the history nerd rabbit hole. Warehouse 13 has an interesting way of presenting history — it does not always adhere to actual fact, but uses an empathetic fact and object lessons to help viewers feel the historical emotional truth that lies underneath.

Warehouse 13’s first episode starts off with an introduction to its two leads, Myka Bering (Joanne Kelly), and Pete Lattimer (Eddie McClintock), “coincidentally” inside a museum. They both work for the Secret Service, and are there to protect the President. I don’t want to spoil the whole story, but I will tell you that the events send the two agents to a new job — working for Warehouse 13.

The Warehouse is a repository of objects that have been effected by the historical people and events that they are connected to. From ancient history to modern history, from folklore to literary figures, if you like a period of history, it’s probably been mentioned in the series. Every object has been collected because it does something weird. From a chair that makes people act out their deepest (angry) desires to a teapot that puts people inside of video games, to a kettle that grants wishes (or creates ferrets), every object does something. Artie, the agent in charge of the Warehouse, describes it like this: imagine giving Thomas Jefferson a radio. What would he have done with it? Artie says that after studying it, Jefferson would have probably locked it away. This is what the Warehouse agents do: snag (collect artifacts), bag (diffuse them) and tag (basic accessions), the unofficial catchphrase of the series.

This leads to a few of my own wonderings about museums.

When we put objects inside of our museums, why are we putting them there? To protect them? To protect the story they tell? To retell their story? To share them with the public (obviously not what the Warehouse agents are doing)?

What do you think? What is the function of the museum in this day and age?

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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?

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 (http://www.cityaccessny.org). 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?

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