Monthly Archives: July 2016

Water Water Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink: The Water Bottle Debate

I am a somewhat shy person. The idea of being in trouble makes the five-year-old kid in me want to run screaming in the other direction. The rules of behavior in a museum have probably been ingrained in me since the same age. Eating or drinking in a museum gallery is unthinkable to me. Is it, however, the best course of action? Might it alienate a visitor? I have read that the museums of the future will be more like coffee shops than the galleries we are used to. Perhaps it is time to rethink food and beverages, and water bottles might be an acceptable first step.

For several weeks, I have been contacting museums across the United States, inquiring about their policy on bottled water. Is it allowed in the museum? Is it allowed in the galleries? If it is, can the visitor drink from it in the gallery or must it remain capped and stowed? What kind of signs express this policy to the public? After interviewing thirty museums, there is almost no pattern other than a sharp divide between history and art museums, history being the more lenient. Otherwise it is totally dependent upon the institution, and the wording of their policies is just as varied.

As an intern I am in no position to suggest to the National WWI Museum and Memorial whether or not they should amend their “no water” policy in the galleries. I can, however, give them suggestions on how to implement either policy. Writing the policy as clearly and specifically as possible is key. For instance, “Food and drinks are allowed in designated areas” is perhaps the least helpful and yet most common wording I have come across. “No food or drinks is allowed in the museum galleries” is better. If water bottles are allowed then spell out where and what kind. Make sure that there is one policy and that it is the same on signs, websites, and by word of mouth.

This issue goes back to the buzz word, accessible. A museum’s success depends on its accessibility to the public. Therefore, what seems like a trivial issue, becomes highly debated. Is the artifact or the comfort of the person viewing it more important? Would allowing people to drink water in the galleries really increase the number of happy visitors? It depends on who you ask. Until a conclusion can be drawn, I will leave you with my favorite policy from The Jewish Museum in New York, “We know visiting museums can really work up an appetite, but eating and drinking in the galleries just isn’t kosher.”

May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor: Beta Testing the Tour

I have heard that when athletes visualize their activity-what the ideal sprint or dive or jump looks like-that it is as effective as physically practicing it. The same cannot be said for giving a tour. I always visualize the ideal audience; engaged, interested, and knowledgeable. This is not realistic. Therefore no matter how well I finesse my tour on the page, nothing compares to road testing it. I have also never given an adult tour before, therefore experience is not on my side.

Fortunately my beta test went well. The odds, however, were in my favor. I co-delivered the tour with Lora Voght, Curator of Education and seasoned expert at giving tours. I also had the pleasure of giving the tour to the ideal group of people, the Young Friends of the museum The Modernists. They were engaged, excited, and forgiving. I had also done my homework. This tour has been in development for a month and a half and I have most of it memorized. I am also comfortable speaking to people, a factor which cannot be taken for granted.

Regardless of the points in my favor, I was still nervous, tripped over my tongue, and played the fool; a definite no. Not playing the fool goes back to setting the guest up for success. The visitor should always be at ease in the fact that you, as tour guide, are the leader and that they will not be made uncomfortable. This means no question should make them feel ignorant and no response should belittle them. When nervous, I revert to self-deprecating or dead-pan humor, both of which are not ideal for a tour. They are simply too risky with a group of strangers and could alienate the audience.

While humor is a fine balance, it is also an essential part of a successful tour-depending on the content you are covering. Making people laugh is the best way to keep them engaged. Banter with them, make it a game (where they are the winner), and keep it intimate and personal. These are points that I cannot always write into a tour but am learning with each delivery. Practice, therefore, is crucial. The next time I give a tour, it will be better. The next time I write a tour, it will be smoother because the “firsts” are out of the way, and the odds will be ever more in my favor.

Fall 2016 Internships at the Missouri History Museum

The Missouri History Museum has a number of internship opportunities available for fall 2016. Opportunities include:

  • Archaeological Collections Research Internship
  • Archives Processing Internship
  • Audiovisual Internship
  • Communications Internship
  • Development Internship
  • Environmental History Collections Internship
  • Museum Shop Internship
  • Retrospective Registration Internship

Information on all of these internships, including application instructions, can be found at the Missouri History Museum’s website here.

A Three Hour Tour? More Like Thirty Minutes: The Tour Writing Process

This is my first experience writing a tour and the process has been both fascinating and frustrating. The description is: a thirty minute, free, outdoor, walking, architectural tour of the National World War One Museum and Memorial. In the hope that my experience as a novice tour writer will help someone else, let me pass along a few tips. Before writing a tour have a list of parameters such as length, number of stops, time allotted at those stops, route, theme and questions. Because I did not have these spelled out, I did a lot of unnecessary research and writing. While this was frustrating, I find subtracting much easier than adding.

Let “less is more” become your mantra. Chris Anderson from Ted Talks relates, “The biggest problem I see in first drafts of presentations is that they try to cover too much ground.” This was also my biggest problem. As much as you might care about a year-by-year historical account, most people will not. Give them a framework, a few in-depth facts or details, some impressive figures, and anecdotes. This is not an essay or a lecture, it is story time.

It is also a conversation which means both parties talk. Make sure that there are questions at each stop and those questions set the guest up for success. Alan Gartenhaus describes, “Questions should invite, rather than limit, participation…most visitors do not attend museums to test prior knowledge.” Questions that can be answered by observation or the content of the tour itself are the better choice.

When it comes to research, mine your colleagues for resources. Someone might already have written a historical synopsis or fact booklet which will save you a lot of time. When you have that preliminary draft done take it to a colleague as soon as possible for review especially if that colleague has given a similar tour in the past. Even better, watch them give that tour or ask for any notes they might have made. Afterward, perform the tour for them or another sample person or group. The only way to test a tour is to give it, which is my next step. Hopefully I will be able to keep it from being a three hour tour.

Anderson, Chris. “How to Give a Killer Presentation.” Harvard Business Review. Harvard Business Review, June 2013. Web. 30 May, 2013.
Gartenhaus, Alan. “Asking Good Questions (from Minds in Motion: The Docent Educator).” Center for Urban Education. DePaul University, n.d. Web. 30 May, 201.