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Things About Museums that Irk Me!

I love museums! However, there are things that museums could do better. Of course, some museums do these things well but many don't.

-by Susan Marie Ward

Sign reads: You're obviou... in the wrong ..ace.
Bad signage is too common in museums

I love museums! Art museums! Historic house museums! History museums! And more. However, from the perspective of the visitor experience, they often fail to address what I think of as basic issues to help visitors enjoy the museum.

Bad signage

In the museum world, as well as the worlds of airports and hospitals, the word is "wayfinding," providing information to help customers get from one place to another. Think about airports. When you walk off the plane, even at an airport you've never been to before, you can figure out how to get to baggage claim or your next gate with a small amount of searching. There are signs, arrows, even lines on the floor to help guide you. Many museums make wayfinding a minor concern.

Visitors feel comfortable and content when they can easily figure out how to get from the parking lot to the entrance. And from the entrance to the special exhibit they came to see. And from the special exhibit to the restrooms. I hope some day museums will look at siganage/wayfinding as fundamental to the visitor experience.

Limited Seating

Chair for contemplation of art on wall in Chazen Museum of Art, Madison, Wisconsin
Nice job, Chazen Museum of Art!

Seating is part of the visitor experience, part of providing hospitality. Lack of easily accessible seating makes for a poor visitor experience and decreases the chances that someone will return to the museum. Seating is for resting, discussion, contemplation, slow-looking, sketching, quieting a toddler, and more. When I visit museums I take often pictures of seating or the lack thereof.

Boring labels

One of the most common ways for museums to share information, insights, and intriguing information is through object labels, the small signs that are near the objects. Many labels are boring. Or they sound too academic. Or they put the most interesting information at the end of the label. Or the font is too small. My friends know that if they visit a museum with me, I WILL at least comment or very possibly make fun of the labels that we're looking at. If there's no one on staff who can write an intriguing label, museums should ask for help from the community.

Poor hospitality

A few years ago I visited a historic house museum in Savannah. When I knocked on the door I was greeted with, "Yes?" Excuse me but this is the South, the land of hospitality! On the tour at that historic house, two staff people stood at the bottom of the stairs, not far from the tour, speaking very loudly about work issues. How could they be so unaware that they didn't realize there was a tour going on one flight up from where they were?

Preserving art and history is only part of what museums do. If they want visitors to visit, have a good experience, share positive word of mouth, and come back again, museums (of all sizes) MUST provide a positive visitor experience, excellent hospitality. One positive example of very good hospitality is Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. They preserve a historic house and the art, decorative arts, archives, and original landscape design, and they provide an excellent visitor experience.

Person typing on a laptop
Answering emails is critical to the professionalism of a museum, even if they're small

Not answering emails

When I email asking how long a tour takes or if the museum is has an elevator for my friend in a wheelchair due to a broken foot, I expect a response. Not answering emails is unprofessional. If a museum doesn't have enough staff to answer emails they shouldn't be open. Communicating with visitors and potential visitors is basic good business.

Closing early

Even if you're a small museum, if you say you're open until 4:30, stay open until 4:30. Closing early because it's a slow day is unprofessional and gives your museum bad word of mouth marketing.

What irks you about museums?


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