At it’s most basic core, museum work falls into the realm of tourism. Attracting and dealing with visitors is a tremendously important component of a successful institution. With that being said, few within the museum world set out to work in visitor services or acknowledge the tourism side of the business. Many gatherings of museum professionals, be they emerging or established, inevitably settle into a familiar pattern of sharing interesting visitor stories. As much as museum professionals rely on/complain about visitors, how many actually focus on their own visitor experiences?
Upon reading T.H. Gray’s article about museum professionals as museum visitors, I was forced to examine my own visitor experiences at other institutions. I have to admit to being guilty of about 75% of the transgressions presented in Gray’s post. I encourage you to read on and then share with us your experiences visiting other museums as a museum professional.
Museum professionals, especially curators, are fond of likening themselves to doctors. While that remains a dubious comparison, there is one way the two professions are similar: doctors make lousy patients and museum professionals make terrible visitors.
We know how we expect museum visitors to behave and what we want from them. We want them to come in, stay behind the lines, listen to what we’re saying, and spend as much money as possible. All of which is precisely what museum folks don’t do.