Added to Medium, November 2, 2017
Museums continue to work to make educational programs, events, and exhibits more visitor-centered. One of the first things museum professionals should consider is to understand the visitors perspective. It is sometimes easy to forget what it is like to see the museum one works for with a fresh perspective. When we learn from the visitors, we are able to appeal to visitors and potential visitors.
I previously wrote about visitors in past blog posts, and by developing this topic now we see that it is still relevant in the museum field. To best understand our visitors, we should observe as well as talk with our visitors.
When we are able to observe visitors during their experiences, museum educators especially can learn how to make programming more engaging, fun, and educational for participants.
In the Museum Notes blog, visitor observation and perspective discussion was developed in the post “Observation: Seeing, Un-seeing, Re-seeing”. According to the blog post, it stated “Without thoughtful observation, what can we know and understand about what is happening around us in our museums, in the experiences we create, and the connections we hope to foster?” They brought up a good point since we need to learn what our visitors want or need from their experiences, and if we do not observe how visitors react to our programming our field cannot move forward and would not be relevant within our community.
To find out how we can observe visitors effectively, museum educators should find the best methods that would be the most appropriate and effective for their institution. Museum Notes stated that “we engage in both formal and informal observation in research and evaluation, during prototyping, and sharing visitor comments.” When we find out how we observe visitors, we follow through with the method, and hopefully gather results that will make our services better for visitors and potential visitors.
We also need to keep in mind when we observe we do not exclude our own actions within the museum. Museum Notes points out that,
“As good observers, we must also be observers of ourselves, studying our attention, checking our assumptions, and registering our focus. Questioning ourselves as we observe reminds us that we arrive at subjective interpretations, partial findings, and, hopefully, new questions.”
When we observe ourselves, we learn what we are currently doing to provide what the visitors want or need from our museums programming, events, and exhibits.
As we learn more about our visitors and ourselves, we should keep in mind what visitors’ rights are while they are participating in museums activities and interacting with the exhibits. In this month’s Brilliant Idea Studio blog, Seema Rao wrote about visitors in the short blog “Bill of Rights for Museum Visitors” which lists a number of certain rights museum visitors have while they are inside the museum. Some of the rights she listed are
“They have the right to just listen, to ask, to share, to question.
Again, they have the right to question.
They have the right to ask and question when their story isn’t included.
They have the right to notice when museums are doing it wrong.”
Visitors have various levels of interest in the material museums present depending on their reasons for visiting the museums in the first place. Sometimes they want to spend hours in the exhibits, and sometimes they want to walk through the exhibits to briefly see the exhibits. There are other times that visitors want to only attend programs such as a seminar, a family program, and an exhibit opening then leave.
Also, visitors should know how they can feel connected to the stories museums present as well as why they are significant within the community. If they feel they cannot relate to the museum and what it has to offer, then there would be no point from their perspective to go in.
Most importantly visitors need to feel that they can trust museums to allow them to express their desires for attending museum programs/exhibits/events, and for museums to trusts its visitors. They have many reasons for why they visit a museum, and if they feel the museum can provide a safe place or simply a place for them to relax visitors are more likely to continue their patronage to the museum. Visitors should also be able to provide feedback not only because it will help the museum continue to be relevant to its patrons but visitors also have a way to express what they enjoyed and what can be improved upon for future visits.
How does your museum or institution learn about its visitors? What feedback have you received from visitors that surprised (or not surprised) you the most?