An image of a building sitting on a green lawn under a blue sky behind a purple banner that reads “AASLH Online Course Museum and Education Outreach” with a white icon that reads “Small Museum Pro!”

Online Course: Museum Education and Outreach

An AASLH Small Museum Pro! Online Course

Course Description

At their heart, regardless of type or size, museums are engaging, dynamic places of education. This AASLH online course, Museum Education and Outreach, is about how we can facilitate visitors’ meaningful and memorable experiences in the informal environments of museums. The program looks at the larger umbrella of programming at sites and explores the large concept of who our audiences are, how best to connect with them, and what is needed to develop various methods.

This course requires regular check-ins, sharing and commenting on peer work, and participation in scheduled live chats. Participants will help shape the flow of the course in addition to providing resources and insights on each other’s work. Assignments are made weekly to allow for regular feedback and dialogue. While work can be done at your own pace, meeting deadlines is encouraged to maximize the experience. Throughout the course you will develop a toolkit of strategies, policies, and documents ready for immediate implementation.

  • Week 1: Defining the Museum / Museums and Memory
  • Week 2: Interpretation Strengths, Weaknesses, and Best Practices
  • Week 3: Audiences and Identifying Your Key Ones
  • Week 4: Education Program Planning, Management, and Evaluation
  • Week 5: Organizing of Museum Education and Outreach
  • Week 6: Community Partners and Funding
  • Week 7: Leading Staff and Volunteers
  • Week 8: Action Plan for Future Programming at your Museum

Details

COURSE DATES: March 2 - April 26, 2020

COST: $195 AASLH Members / $295 Nonmembers

OPEN REGISTRATION: November 1, 2019 - February 23, 2020; 25 participant limit

REGISTER HERE

Course Logistics

FORMAT: Online, instructor-led, weekly-paced course

LENGTH: 8 weeks

PARTICIPATION STYLE: Bi-weekly one-hour online chats - schedule to be determined by the instructor at the start of the course - if you are unable to attend a chat you can read the transcript and then post your thoughts/questions in the General Forum; weekly readings and assignments; final course assignment. Students should expect to spend approximately 5 hours per week on the course.

MATERIALS: One required text: The Museum Educator's Manual: Educators Share Successful Techniques, Second Edition, Anna Johnson, Kimberly A. Huber, Nancy Cutler, Melissa Bingmann and Tim Grove, 2017. (Texts are NOT INCLUDED with your registration. You must order the book separately from the book seller of your choice.)

CREDIT: Successful completion of this course (80% or higher) will earn one credit toward the Small Museum Pro! certificate from AASLH.

Participant Outcomes

At the end of this course you will be able to:

  • describe the characteristics and learning needs of various museum audiences;
  • summarize what we know about learning in museums;
  • assess the strengths and weaknesses of interpretive techniques and program approaches;
  • utilize a system for planning, operating, and evaluating museum educational programs;
  • access resources to assist you in future development of effective learning experiences

Who Should Take This Course

This course is a beginning level course designed for professional staff and volunteers of historical organizations and libraries with historical collections who have little to no experience with developing education programs and goals for museums. Successful participants should be ready to look past traditional methods and challenge themselves to work around site-specific hurdles.

Instructor

Tanya Brock is one who tends to take leaps and jumps rather than the straight path. Her career has spanned museum education, visitor services, exhibit planning, historical research, educational program consultant, and community partner liaison. Whether teaching food preservation classes or designing and running the nation’s first functioning historical brewery or running a brewpub co-op, her passion has always been centered on food—its power to unite and act as a storyteller for communities.

Her education is a patchwork of cultural anthropology, food preservation, heritage interpretation, and museum administration. This background has built a foundation of various perspectives from which she draws from when designing programs. Over a 20-year period she has worked with audiences of all sizes, ages, and backgrounds yet believes at the end of the day, it is the guest who drives the conversation and the experience.


Open Now: the 2020 National Visitation Survey

By John Marks, Senior Manager, Strategic Initiatives, AASLH

AASLH is calling on all history organizations to complete the 2020 National Visitation Survey. The questionnaire should only take about five minutes to complete. You can access it here. Your response is critical for helping the history community better understand national and regional trends.

Last year, more than 1,250 institutions responded, allowing us to provide a comprehensive assessment of visitation at history organizations around the country. Our analysis revealed that visits to historic sites, museums, and other history institutions rose nearly 6 percent between 2013 and 2018, with the strongest gains occurring at small history organizations. The data helped us identify other trends as well, like how paid-entry institutions fared better than those with free entry, and that visitation rose at museums and historic sites but declined at historical societies and libraries. You can read about our findings in greater detail in the 2019 National Visitation Report.

Last year’s report raised many new questions as well, and your response to the 2020 survey can help us answer them. For example, the 2019 report identified a small decline in visitation from 2017 to 2018; this year's data will be essential for understanding whether that dip represents the beginning of a new downward trend. In addition, a larger number of survey responses will enable AASLH to dig deeper, offering more finely-grained analysis of trends at every budget level and every institution type. Such analysis will allow us to speak with more confidence about the differences between small historical societies and large ones, for example, or between historic sites in New England and those in the West. More responses will help AASLH produce a report that will be more detailed and more useful for history professionals.

By taking five minutes to complete the survey, you're helping advance the work of the history community. Better data on national trends will help all history institutions as we advance advocacy, fundraising, strategic planning, and other work critical to the health of the field.

Please complete the National Visitation Survey and share it with your colleagues! The survey will close later this winter.


The AASLH National Visitation Report: The View from Small Museums

By Sean Blinn, Bedminster Township (NJ) Historic Preservation Commission and AASLH Small Museums Committee

Recently, AASLH featured a series of blog posts summarizing the new National Visitation Report, showing strong growth at small history organizations, and discussing historic house museum visitation. In short, the report found that visits to history museums, historic sites, and historic house museums increased significantly since 2013. Since the report came out, several of us in AASLH’s Small Museums Affinity Community have been talking about what it means and why this trend is happening.

Small museums are often dedicated to serving a local constituency or a focused mission. While our budgets and exhibitions are smaller than other museums, that comes with a different set of benefits – including audience growth. Dr. Elizabeth Stewart, Director of the Renton History Museum in Renton, Washington, said “Although the survey doesn’t speak to the reasons behind the higher visitation numbers at small museums and historic sites, I know my own small museum has redoubled our focus on engaging with our community, being more inclusive, and regularly evaluating their needs and interests. It may be that small museums have more flexibility in meeting community needs, because serving our public(s) is imperative to our survival.”

Small museums can move quickly in response to current events and issues, and develop programs to reach out into our communities and address issues of concern. In the same vein, people may feel a greater sense of ownership and support for a community museum whose programs and exhibits reflect them and their interests. A recent survey by Conner Prairie supports this, showing high and growing levels of interest in visiting historic sites that help visitors understand the world of the present. The immediacy of a small museum visit can help provide a personal connection for visitors, which may help explain the growth we have seen.

Sign at the Stratford-Perth Museum in Stratford, Ontario, Canada. Photo by Sean Blinn.

Other people I have talked with speculate that as more people live longer and have larger disposable incomes, interest in genealogy and personal meaning-making also increases. Small history institutions are well-placed to meet these needs and provide the personal connections people seek.

What does this mean for the future of our field?

Small history organizations should feel confident in assuming leading roles in their communities; there is broad public support waiting to be tapped. Planning is already underway for America’s 250th anniversary in 2026, and small organizations should be active in this planning. We have unique stories to tell, and this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reach much wider audiences than ever before. We can use our core strengths of flexibility, immediacy, nimbleness, and relevance to serve the public in the way that only we can.

What’s your opinion? The survey leaves open the question of why these trends are occurring. Why do you think small institutions are outperforming their larger cousins? We would be delighted to hear your insight.


Learn more about our Small Museums Affinity Community on their webpage.


More Visits to Paid-Entry Institutions

By John Garrison Marks and W. Maclane Hull

This is post number four in our series exploring the National Visitation Report. Read the posts from Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday here. View the report at learn.aaslh.org/national-visitation-report.

Some of the most interesting findings in our National Visitation Report came from breaking down the data by institutions’ cost of entry, whether free or paid. We received roughly an equal number of responses from institutions with free entry (632) and paid entry (624). Both types of institutions saw an overall increase from 2013 to 2018, and both experienced a slight decline from 2017 to 2018. Deeper analysis, however, reveals more interesting results.

Among our respondents, free institutions received more visitors on average (58,899 in 2018) than institutions with paid entry (42,282). But, paid entry institutions experienced a much larger increase in visitation than their free counterparts: 10.5 percent versus 1.8 percent. At first glance, those results might be surprising, but additional research suggests perhaps they shouldn’t be. For example, audience research analysis by Colleen Dilenschneider suggests that “admission fees are generally not a primary visitation barrier” at cultural organizations, finding that people who do not visit typically cite factors other than cost.

Analyzing visitation trends based on cost of entry for institutions with different budget sizes yields further insights. Institutions with free entry tended to be clustered among the smallest budget levels, while those with paid-entry were distributed more evenly. Organizations with annual budgets of less than $250,000 made up 72 percent of free entry institutions but only 44 percent of those with paid entry. This distribution raises interesting questions about the revenue models of U.S. history organizations: why are the organizations with the smallest budgets so much more likely to provide free entry to their institution?

That question is complicated even further when we isolate the visitation trends for small institutions. When we consider our whole sample, visitation increases were more than five times larger at institutions with paid entry than at free ones. However, for small organizations the opposite is true. Paid entry institutions with an annual budget under $50,000 experienced effectively no growth, averaging just one visitor more in 2018 than they did in 2013. Paid entry institutions with budgets between $50,000–$250,000 reported a visitation increase of 8.3 percent. Small-budget, free institutions, meanwhile, reported much larger visitation growth, outperforming both small, paid-entry institutions and large, free institutions. Visitation to free entry institutions with a budget under $50,000 rose nearly 25 percent from 2013 to 2018, while those with a budget between $50,000–$250,000 saw a 16 percent increase.

Overall Under $50,000 $50,000–$250,000
Free Entry +1.8% +24.7% +16.0%
Paid Entry +10.5% +0.0% +8.3%


These conflicting data points raise several questions for further research. Why are paid entry organizations experiencing so much more visitation growth? What are small, free organizations doing that their paid-entry or larger counterparts aren’t? Why are free organizations clustered among small budget institutions? Our National Visitation Report can’t answer these questions directly. We hope, however, that by providing these data, the report can help clarify some of the issues, questions, and challenges facing the nation’s historical organizations and can serve as a strong foundation for future study.


A close up of a red house. The house has white shutters and a dark gray roof. There is a tree change yellow leaves in front of the house.

Visitation at Historic House Museums

A close up of a red house. The house has white shutters and a dark gray roof. There is a tree change yellow leaves in front of the house.
By John Garrison Marks and W. Maclane Hull

This is post number three in our series exploring the National Visitation Report. Read the posts from Monday and Tuesday, and view the report at learn.aaslh.org/national-visitation-report.

Bringing together preservation, interpretation, education, and many other aspects of historical practice, historic houses can showcase the very best of what our field has to offer. Although the size, focus, and approach of historic houses can vary widely—from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in central Virginia to La Casa Cordova in Tucson, Arizona, to Cliveden (of the National Trust) in Philadelphia—the vitality of these institutions is often viewed as an important indicator for the history community more broadly. For that reason, historic houses have been the subject of intense debate across the field in recent decades.

Following a surge in interest in preserving and visiting historic houses during the era of the Bicentennial, interest in many of these sites waned, prompting practitioners and institutions to ask tough questions about sustainability. As Kenneth C. Turino and Max A. van Balgooy have noted in their recent book, historic houses have been encouraged since the mid-2000s to focus on “becoming more relevant to the surrounding community, working collaboratively with nearby museums, recognizing that interpretation should evolve, and taking advantage of modern planning and evaluation tools.”

At least by one measure, many historic houses have proved themselves up to the task. AASLH’s National Visitation Report reveals that visitation to historic houses increased over the past several years. Average annual visitation to historic houses rose nearly 9 percent between 2013 and 2018. From 2013 to 2017 visitation rose about 14 percent, but in 2018 it fell 5 percent from the year before, in what could potentially be a longer decline starting back in 2016. Nevertheless, average annual visitation in 2018 still represented a substantial increase over 2013 numbers.

Although these broad trends hold true for historic houses of different budget levels, that analysis also raises some new questions. For example, why have the smallest historic houses struggled to keep pace with their larger counterparts? Historic houses with annual operating budgets under $50,000 reported just under 5 percent growth since 2018—the smallest increase of any budget level. This conflicts with what we found for history organizations generally and for other institution types, where the under $50,000 category reported some of the largest gains. So although visitation has increased, this disparity raises new questions about the nation’s many small, all-volunteer historic houses. Other small historic houses, however (those in the $50,000–$250,000 range) saw a much more substantial visitation increase: more than 20 percent over the period we surveyed. Interestingly, institutions in the $250,000–$500,000 range not only saw visitation grow more than 18 percent since 2013, they were the only budget level that did not experience a slight decline after 2017.

Detail of organizations with lower visitation from the graph above.

Across the country’s six major regions, we found a consistent pattern of growth since 2013 with a slight downturn in 2018. Historic houses in some regions saw particularly large gains, like in the New England (22 percent), Midwest (20 percent) and Mountain Plains (38 percent) regions. Other regions saw more modest gains, including the Southeast (9.5 percent) and Mid-Atlantic (6.4 percent).

We hope that these results not only answer some broad questions about historic houses, but serve as a foundation for asking new, better, more specific questions as well. Are historic houses with a particular focus or interpretive approach experiencing more substantial growth than others? Are historic houses focused on particular eras or sub-fields performing particularly well? What are the smallest historic houses doing (or not doing) that distinguishes them from their larger counterparts? At the very least, the increased visitation to historic houses we’ve found in our report suggests that many are doing something right, engaging audiences with compelling and relevant exhibits and programs.

Want more analysis like this? Access our Full Report at learn.aaslh.org/national-visitation-report.


Small is Mighty: Visitation Growth Strongest at Small History Organizations

By John Garrison Marks and W. Maclane Hull

Over the course of this week, we will be providing deeper dives on various components of our 2019 National Visitation Survey. For an introduction to this series, see Monday's post. For the free report summary, visit the AASLH Resource Center.

As we continue our exploration of trends from the 2019 National Visitation Survey (NVS), some of the most intriguing -- and encouraging -- results come from small history organizations. Over the past several years, isolated but well-publicized reports of visitation declines at large, high-profile history organizations like Gettysburg National Military Park and Colonial Williamsburg have led to soul-searching questions about the appeal and effectiveness of our institutions. Are Americans still interested in history? Are we doing enough to reach our audiences? Such conversations about visitation, however, rarely consider the trends affecting small history organizations, the institutions with annual budgets of less than $250,000 that make up the majority of our community (and 59 percent of our survey respondents). The results of our survey reveal that while history organizations nationwide have experienced visitation growth over the past several years, the largest increases have been at small organizations.

Among our respondents, visitation to the smallest institutions (those with an annual operating budget of less than $50,000) has increased 18 percent since 2013, the single biggest jump of any budget category. In addition, while nearly every budget level and the national average experienced a slight decline in visitation from 2017 to 2018, that was not the case for under $50,000 institutions, who saw continued growth of more than 1 percent that year. 

In the next budget level -- $50,000 and $250,000 -- visitation increased nearly 13 percent. These figures place growth at small institutions well above the national average, where visitation has grown 5.7 percent since 2013.

Average annual visitation to history organizations with budgets under $250,000 per year, by institution type.

This pattern of growth among small organizations holds true for many different types of institutions, from museums to sites to historical societies. Among museums, for example, respondents with annual budgets under $50,000 saw a 27 percent overall increase in average attendance since 2013, while those in the $50,000 to $250,000 range increased about 13 percent. Both figures exceed the national average for visitation growth at history museums of just under 11 percent. Visitation to historical societies provided perhaps the best example of this trend: the two smallest budget ranges saw huge increases (37 percent and 22 percent, respectively) while overall, historical societies experienced a decline in visitation.

These patterns held true in most regions across the country as well. In almost every region, the largest visitation increases occur within the smallest budget ranges. In the Southeast, for example, visitation in the $50,000 to $250,000 range increased more than 15 percent, while no other budget level experienced an increase greater than 12 percent. In the Mountain Plains, visitation at the three lowest categories was around 30 percent, at least double the growth for any other budget level in the region. The exception to this trend is New England organizations with a budget under $50,000 experienced a decrease in visitation of 1.9 percent, the only region in which the smallest budget level did not see visitation grow. New England institutions in the $50,000 to $250,000 range, however, experienced an increase of more than 40 percent, the biggest increase in the region.

Across the country in institutions of all types, the smallest history organizations have reported visitation growth that exceeds that of their larger counterparts. Our survey does not, however, allow us to answer why these institutions are outperforming the national average. Perhaps more small institutions are eschewing tourist audiences and increasing their focus on community engagement. Maybe they are placing greater emphasis than their larger counterparts on locally relevant histories that resonate with visitors. The findings from our survey provide plenty of leads for future research. More broadly, that the institutions that make up the majority of our field have reported such strong visitation growth over the past several years provides reason for optimism about the health of the history enterprise.


Announcing the AASLH National Visitation Report

By John Garrison Marks, Senior Manager, Strategic Initiatives, AASLH

AASLH is excited today to publish our first-ever National Visitation Report. After surveying more than 1,250 institutions around the country, we can share that visitation to history organizations increased nearly 6 percent over the past several years. From 2013 to 2018, average annual visitation increased 5.7 percent; it rose 7.7 percent from 2013 to 2018, and declined slightly (1.9 percent) from 2017 to 2018. Further, our analysis has revealed that some of the strongest visitation growth occurred at the small history organizations who make up more than half of our field.

To access our full report and download a free summary, visit: learn.aaslh.org/national-visitation-report.

“At local historical societies, national museums, and everywhere in between, historical organizations are making the past more inclusive and relevant to their audiences," noted John Dichtl, president and CEO of AASLH. "Increased visitation to historic sites and a growing American engagement with history provides a strong foundation to build on as the country looks ahead to its 250th anniversary in 2026.”

Among the findings in the report are:

  • Small institutions reported the strongest gains. Organizations with annual operating budgets of less than $50,000 reported an 18 percent increase in visitation from 2013 to 2018. Those with a budget between $50,000–$250,000 reported a 12.7 percent increase. More than half of the history organizations in the country have annual budgets under $250,000 per year.
  • History museums (10.7 percent), historic sites (10.2 percent), and historic houses (8.8 percent) were the institution types reporting the largest visitation increases.
  • Visitation increased in every major region, with the Mountain Plains leading the way at 19.4 percent.

These findings align with other research suggesting increased American engagement with history. A 2017 survey by the National Endowment for the Arts found that 28 percent of Americans reported visiting a historic site in the previous year, an increase of more than 4 percent since 2012. A 2019 survey by Conner Prairie, a living history museum in Indiana, found that nearly 90 percent of Americans were likely to visit a history museum if it promised to connect them more meaningfully to their past and helped them understand the world today. History sites within the National Park Service, including battlefields, historical parks, and monuments, have also seen their visits increase since earlier in the decade. All of these sources suggest a growing number of Americans have found their way to history organizations in recent years.

This week, we’ll be publishing a series of blog posts diving a bit deeper into several aspects of the report, offering a closer look at trends for institutions of different types and sizes; please continue to check this space. We hope this report and the posts that follow offer a useful benchmark for history organizations around the country and provide a foundation for further study. 

Next year’s National Visitation Survey will open in January 2020. Please be on the lookout for our announcement and take the time to respond. The more responses we get, the more representative of our community our data and analysis will be.


From California to Italy, Visitor Engagement and Meaning-Making Matter

By Alexandra Rasic, Director of Public Programs, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum

As summer comes to a close, many of us are thinking back to vacations we enjoyed or recovering from a busy tourist season at work (maybe both!). The Homestead Museum where I work is a historic site located a little over fifteen miles east of downtown Los Angeles, not in an area frequented by tourists. We are in the City of Industry, which is just that: a city dedicated to industry. About two hundred people live here, and about 80,000 come in and out to work every day. While the City is surrounded by diverse, long-standing communities, we struggle to engage them.

Recent off-site evaluations in our surrounding communities confirmed a lot of what we felt we knew. A little more than 40% of the people interviewed said that they aren’t interested in visiting the Homestead because they don’t like history. The h-word, as we sometimes call it, is a barrier to visitation (as is our location), so we are always thinking of different ways to explain who we are and what we do. We’re not abandoning history; we’re just trying to get people to understand that history is about much more than "the past."

History organizations need to do a better job of letting people know that we want to be places that enable and inspire them to make their own meaning. One way to do this is to acknowledge that visitors have needs and wants, too, such as providing experiences for children, nurturing an interest or curiosity, wanting to have a choice in how they experience a place, and simply having fun with family or friends.

As a public historian and tourist, I was ruminating on visitor engagement while I was on vacation with my husband and our two boys in Italy this summer, never expecting that I was going to learn about an organization that was grappling with similar concerns. When we arrived in Venice, I wanted to find a place that would give my boys a sense of how people lived in this remarkable city long ago. In doing my research, I found the Fondazione Querini Stampalia. Established in 1869 after the death of Count Giovanni Querini (a descendant of one of Venice’s founding families), his will called for his ancestral home to become an institution to foster education. The Foundation includes a library, a museum comprised of the family’s living quarters as they looked in the 1700s, and space for temporary exhibits.

The exterior of the Fondazione Querini Stampalia in Venice’s Castello district.

Exploring the Foundation’s website, I clicked on the Events page and began reading. I wasn’t sure if I was understanding correctly when I saw a listing about a workshop focusing on visitors. I was intrigued. We visited the Foundation the next day and it ended up being one of the most memorable experiences of our vacation.

As you see in the cover image, one of four individuals’ faces is circled, which gave me the impression that this was going to contain information about people, and indeed it did!

Aside from friendly staff in the museum’s galleries, they gave us a fantastic visitors’ guide called Palace Voices. "How did people used to live in a Venetian palace?" they asked in the introduction. "What were everyday rituals, passions, and intrigues…?" I wanted to know!

The layering of information in the guide is excellent. Pages about specific rooms contain short descriptions, interesting facts or quotes, and an opportunity for a deep dive with lengthier content about specific topics. I felt like the institution set my family up for a successful visit by giving us a variety of ways to access content as we explored the exhibits. They gave us just the right amount of information about the residence, and those craving a more traditional and deeper museum experience could spend more time enjoying any space, asking questions of the stationed interpreters, and viewing an accompanying exhibit that was also accessible and informative if you took a shorter skim through the rooms.

I left wanting to know more about the Foundation, staff, and the workshop listing I saw. After we got home, I sent an e-mail to the Foundation and received a reply from Nicole Moolhuijsen, who works in the areas of audience access and development. Nicole explained that since 2015 the Foundation has dedicated four days a year to better understanding visitors’ "meaning-making strategies" through dedicated workshops aimed at improving the visitor experience. As a result, she said, "new interpretive materials put more emphasis on the social significances of the spaces rather than on the art-historical elements, as it was in the past." This was evident in the visitors’ guide.

The layering of information in the Foundation’s guide will serve as model for updating self-guided tour handouts at the Homestead.

"Museum Studies as an academic discipline… is relatively underdeveloped in Italy," Nicole wrote. "Here reflections are generally framed within wider discourses of art history or heritage conservation and management." In her observation, this has resulted in a generation of professionals having had few opportunities to address "the complex theme of the museum’s relationship with society and its audiences."

The first workshops took the "topic of interpretation, often stereotypically conceptualised as that of writing labels, as a departing point to open a discussion on the ways to interpret the multilayered significances of collections and to make them accessible to visitors… We addressed issues such as the questioning of authority and voice, as well as the loss of expertise vs. engagement... This year, the title of the course was 'Museum: rethinking audience engagement.' As audience engagement is becoming increasingly discussed in the heritage debate, we wanted to create an occasion to reflect on the complexity of its processes."

Nicole explained that the workshops have been curated by three museum professionals based in Italy with international background and experiences. Each session brought together a mixture of participants including museum professionals, professors and researchers from Italy and abroad, designers, and others working outside the museum field. Being interdisciplinary was important to the organizers. Presenters came from diverse backgrounds, such as design, music, and other performing arts, encouraging "participants to step out from their comfort zones and look at things from diverse perspectives."

Reaction to the workshops has been enthusiastic. While the majority of participants were from public and private museums, the Foundation was surprised by the level of interest from staff at different levels and positions, and not just educators, but also directors and people who work with collections. At future sessions, they hope to include more university students. "From a content perspective," she explained, "one thing that is emerging is the need to speak more about how to support and manage change within organisations."

Like many organizations in large tourist markets, the Foundation knows that both locals and young people are underrepresented groups of visitors. "We have the perception that there may be an issue of unawareness (most local people know our venue for its public library, rather than for its house museum) and also of attractiveness. We haven’t developed further research, as we are already facing the challenge of reaching out and expanding our current audience. There are many tourists who visit Venice and seek experiences out of the masses, in order to get in touch with the life of the city and its authenticity. We know, through audience research, that this is a target we have the potential to increase and as the institution increasingly relies on its revenue (which includes ticketing), this plays a strategic role."

When I asked Nicole if it has been challenging to make visitor engagement a priority within the organization, she said "Fortunately not, but it has been a gradual process." When she proposed the first pilot audience research project back in 2014, leadership was enthusiastic and agreed that this focus was important for the organization. "Through their role, they have made it possible to share data in staff meetings and to slightly involve the whole organisation in new thinking about the experience of visitors. Audience research was not the only driver of change in this direction. As the institution faced severe challenges in terms of economic sustainability, it became evident that thinking afresh on the relationship we wanted to have with our stakeholders (including audiences) was a priority."

So much of what Nicole candidly shared resonated with me, and things I’ve heard discussed with staff from other history organizations. Whether you’re in a large tourist market like Venice, or an industrial zone in the shadow of Los Angeles, understanding as much as we can about visitors and experimenting with ways to engage them is a global challenge that is vital for us to continue exploring. What I find really impressive and inspiring is that the Foundation has committed to having ongoing conversations about engagement both internally and externally. We can’t figure things out on our own. We must continue to ask questions, challenge one another, and share what is working and what isn’t. Nicole sees the conversations as creating exciting opportunities for us to evolve and grow, and I could not agree more.


Workshop: Focusing on Visitors: Public Programming and Exhibits at History Institutions

This workshop provides a broad overview of public programming and exhibits with a focus on active learning. Seasoned educators will direct conversations about museum education and the role of museum educators.

Participants will leave the workshop with information and materials they can take back to their organizations to adapt and apply.Through interactive activities and case studies, participants will gain knowledge and tools for a wide range of relevant topics, including audience types, volunteer management and training, tour techniques, active learning with people of all ages, developing exhibits with visitors in mind, technology, evaluations, planning, and working with others to build programs.

The themes of this workshop are based on the publication The Museum Educator’s Manual: Educators Share Successful Techniques, coauthored by one of the workshop instructors.

Register

Details:

Date: March 30-31, 2017

Location: Atlanta History Center | Atlanta, Georgia

Cost: $280 AASLH Members/$405 Nonmembers
*Get $40 off registration if you book by February 23, 2017!*

Register

Who Should Attend:
This workshop is ideally suited for staff (first-time museum educators, tour guides, volunteer managers, and mid-career professionals), museum studies students, or dedicated volunteers working in all types of museums who are given the responsibility of education and public programming.

Click here for a sample agenda for this workshop.

Faculty:
tim-grove-2-final-smaller-fileTim Grove is the Chief of Education for the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, and co-author of The Museum Educator’s Manual: Educators Share Successful TechniquesThe 2nd Edition of the book is coming out this spring.

Alexandra Rasic is the Director of Public Programs for the Homestead Museum in City of Industry, CA.

Register


Interpreters and Customer Service: The Importance of Good Service in Museums

We’ve all experienced it at one time or another: horrible customer service.  For those of us in the museum world, it is especially offensive when we encounter bad service in a museum.  For those of us working in museum education and interpretation, it’s almost unforgivable to get a cold shoulder, dismissive glance, or a curt/uninformed answer from interpreters-- our own people!  We've all experienced it—maybe at our own museums.  I hope we never get over it when we do.  Experiences like these should strike fear into our hearts.  Think of all the work, dedication, passion, blood, sweat and tears (I may exaggerate about the blood) that go into our work.  Consider all the great, transformative stories we prepare for our guests.  Think about all of the “aha” moments we imagine people having as they engage our interpreters.  All of this can be ruined with one bad interaction.

 

An interpreter at The Henry Ford
An interpreter at The Henry Ford

 

Compared to other front-line staff, interpreters spend long periods of time with guests.  Guests look to interpreters as authority figures—spokespeople for the museum and experts in its stories.  A bad experience with an interpreter will leave lasting impression of the museum as a whole.  Therefore, it’s essential for us to recognize interpreters as customer service ambassadors.  Those who manage interpreters must become customer service zealots.

The Customer Service Revolution, by John DiJulius of the DiJulius Group offers an engaging approach to customer service.  DiJulius uses examples from Corporate America—Starbucks, Chick-fil-A, Ritz Carleton and others—for what he calls

revolutionary customer service.  At first glance, DiJulius’ brand of customer service seems anything but revolutionary.  Instead, it seems rather basic: treat people well, with empathy, with respect, with compassion.  However, this type of service works.  It fosters relationship-building and customer loyalty.  How many of our institutions wouldn't benefit from more loyal guests and members? In The Customer Service Revolution, DiJulius is both theoretical and pragmatic.  He is engaging and dynamic.  While The Customer Service Revolution is geared towards for-profits, its message is vital for nonprofits.  For those of us who work in interpretation, especially for those who manage interpreters, The Customer Service Revolution is required reading.