Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Seven Things Your Visitor Services Repesentative Would Like You To Know

 
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The latest entry in Ricochet’s “What Your [Service Provider] Wants You to Know” series.

For most of the past eight years, I have worked and/or volunteered in visitor services at several high-profile museums and sites in Washington, DC. This type of gig can be exhausting and repetitive, especially during peak tourism season. But often it is a lot of fun, it’s great to hang around museums all the time (a personal priority), and to learn about the relevant history/artifacts/exhibit subject matter is endlessly fascinating.

Herewith, several tips to help museum visitors make the most out of their visits. (And if you’re ever in DC, let me know and I’ll hook you up with advice and freebies!)

1. Do your research. At busy tourist sites, open hours, schedules, events, exhibitions, procedures, and prices change all the time. Just because your 2011 guidebook says hours are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and you don’t need a ticket doesn’t mean that this will be true forever. There is this amazing thing called the Internet where organizations will post their most up-to-date information about visiting. Please check a few websites, look at a map, and do a little planning before setting out for your day of touring. This will help you avoid disappointment, confusion, needless backtracking, and wild goose chases.

2. Things change. This is a corollary to rule #1. Museums tend to rotate their exhibits on a pretty regular basis. Even museums with extensive permanent collections and displays will switch objects out from time to time for loans, cleaning, conservation, research, etc. I’m glad you have fond memories of visiting [iconic site] 40 years ago, but please don’t be quite so surprised (and, inevitably, disappointed) that the experience isn’t the same in 2015 as it was then.

3. Not every site is appropriate for every visitor. Young children might be bored at a fine art museum. Adults who are not interested in 19th century American history should not put Civil War battlefields on their A-list. Elderly visitors might not like to use cell phone audio tours. If you are not sure whether a particular site or exhibit is appropriate for small children/visitors with mobility limitations/non-English speakers/teenagers/blind people, please ask! Visitor services peeps are happy to make suggestions and let you know about questionable content or recommended guidelines. For every visitor who leaves an exhibit enthusing about how awesome it was, there is another complaining that the whole thing was a waste of time. We are sorry about the latter (really!), but it’s just not possible to appeal to everyone. Going back to rule #1, a little advance research will greatly improve your enjoyment-to-disappointment ratio.

4. There is (probably) a method to the madness. It can be frustrating to wait in line and to follow a site’s visitation procedures. And yes, absolutely, some policies are dumb. But in general, a lot of thought goes into the best way to get visitors into and through a site while maximizing both capacity and visitor enjoyment. If a particular policy seems opaque or unnecessary, please ask us to explain it. If you then ask us to bend the rules in some way, it is much more effective to be kind about it than to begin your request with angry complaint.

5. Know how to visit a museum. The way most (traditional) museums work is that you look at objects and read things. Regardless of subject matter, museum visits generally include a lot of looking at and reading. There might be guided tours or in-person interpretation or interactive elements, but please understand that a lot of the museum experience is self-guided and self-motivated. If you’re not feeling up to reading exhibit labels, check out a couple of videos or read the brochure and look at the exhibit map instead to find something of interest. Museums take a little effort on the visitors’ part to engage the material.

6. You will not be alone. My number one piece of advice to out-of-town visitors to our nation’s capital is to come in January, when you really can have Washington, DC all to yourself. Pretty much any other time of year, it’s going to be crowded. And often hot. There will be huge groups of school children everywhere, all day, every day. There’s no point in being resentful about this; did you really think that you were the only family who wanted to see the cherry blossoms this year? Big, important, capital cities and high-profile tourist attractions are worth seeing and therefore many people want to see them. It can’t be helped, and complaining to the staff at a crowded tourist site that it’s crowded will not make it less so.

7. Read the signs. Visitor services staff don’t mind answering questions, but if you are standing in front of the “Ticket Line Begins Here” sign and then ask where the ticket line begins, we might be tempted to roll our eyes. This ties into rule #4 — the signs and wayfinding mechanisms are intended to inform and streamline your visit, so it’s a good idea to read them first. And then if something still doesn’t make sense, ask for help.

I’ll see everyone in DC in January!

There are 35 comments.

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  1. MLH Inactive
    MLH

    Do you billet people, Char? If so, you just might see me in DC in Jan!

    • #1
    • August 20, 2015, at 8:52 AM PDT
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  2. Rodin Member

    Thanks, Charlotte! Good read/advice.

    • #2
    • August 20, 2015, at 9:10 AM PDT
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  3. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    But do You validate parking?

    • #3
    • August 20, 2015, at 9:13 AM PDT
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  4. Charlotte Member
    Charlotte Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    MLH:Do you billet people, Char? If so, you just might see me in DC in Jan!

    We might be able to arrange something. But only if you promise never (again) to call me Char.

    ;-)

    • #4
    • August 20, 2015, at 9:16 AM PDT
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  5. Charlotte Member
    Charlotte Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Jimmy Carter:But do You validate parking?

    No! But come on Sunday, when street parking is free!

    • #5
    • August 20, 2015, at 9:16 AM PDT
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  6. Charlotte Member
    Charlotte Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Rodin:Thanks, Charlotte! Good read/advice.

    Thanks for reading, Rodin!

    • #6
    • August 20, 2015, at 9:16 AM PDT
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  7. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Charlotte: No!

    Well, thanks for nothing, Char.

    • #7
    • August 20, 2015, at 9:19 AM PDT
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  8. Charlotte Member
    Charlotte Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Jimmy Carter:

    Charlotte: No!

    Well, thanks for nothing, Char.

    Think nothing of it, Jimmah.

    • #8
    • August 20, 2015, at 9:23 AM PDT
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  9. James Gawron Thatcher
    James Gawron Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Charlotte,

    I haven’t been to DC in forever. When I was an undergrad in old Pittsburgh we’d make the 5.5 hr drive down on a three day weekend. I just loved those Museums and everything else. One question for you. Is there an app for visiting DC?

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #9
    • August 20, 2015, at 10:07 AM PDT
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  10. Charlotte Member
    Charlotte Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    James Gawron:Charlotte,

    I haven’t been to DC in forever. When I was an undergrad in old Pittsburgh we’d make the 5.5 hr drive down on a three day weekend. I just loved those Museums and everything else. One question for you. Is there an app for visiting DC?

    Regards,

    Jim

    Hi Jim! Thanks for reading. I prefer to believe that *I* am the app for visiting DC. :-)

    There are many fine apps for individual DC sites; for example, the official Smithsonian app is excellent, and the ones for the US Capitol and the National Gallery of Art are also very well done. The Metro system app (public transportation) is pretty solid. The National Park Service, on the other hand, just can’t seem to figure out digital media, and their apps and websites are next to useless. I have not yet found a single all-encompassing “Visit DC” app that would effectively take the place of a quality guidebook.

    I harbor a little dream of going into business as a private DC trip planner. Sadly, laziness/inertia continues to win out.

    • #10
    • August 20, 2015, at 11:28 AM PDT
    • Like
  11. James Gawron Thatcher
    James Gawron Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Charlotte:

    James Gawron:Charlotte,

    I haven’t been to DC in forever. When I was an undergrad in old Pittsburgh we’d make the 5.5 hr drive down on a three day weekend. I just loved those Museums and everything else. One question for you. Is there an app for visiting DC?

    Regards,

    Jim

    Hi Jim! Thanks for reading. I prefer to believe that *I* am the app for visiting DC. :-)

    There are many fine apps for individual DC sites; for example, the official Smithsonian app is excellent, and the ones for the US Capitol and the National Gallery of Art are also very well done. The Metro system app (public transportation) is pretty solid. The National Park Service, on the other hand, just can’t seem to figure out digital media, and their apps and websites are next to useless. I have not yet found a single all-encompassing “Visit DC” app that would effectively take the place of a quality guidebook.

    I harbor a little dream of going into business as a private DC trip planner. Sadly, laziness/inertia continues to win out.

    Charlotte,

    As I remember you can spend days in the National Gallery of Art and the other sites you mentioned. Those big new smart phones have lots of memory so downloading all of the apps wouldn’t be a problem. Why don’t you collect’em all on your smart phone and use them. It would be great to plan ahead and walk through the Gallery knowing in advance what you wanted to see or have an “expert” guide program recommended highlights for you.

    DC is beautiful. Well, one must ignore the politicians. Then it’s beautiful.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #11
    • August 20, 2015, at 11:44 AM PDT
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  12. MLH Inactive
    MLH

    Charlotte:

    MLH:Do you billet people, Char? If so, you just might see me in DC in Jan!

    We might be able to arrange something. But only if you promise never (again) to call me Char.

    ;-)

    OK. But it is better than Lottie, no? We had neighbors, when I was little, who were honorary relatives: Uncle George and Aunt Char. So, I meant it fondly.

    • #12
    • August 20, 2015, at 12:40 PM PDT
    • Like
  13. EThompson Inactive

    January? I’d have to fly to Minnesota to buy the proper boots and parkas. :)

    Seriously, you are correct about the summers in D.C. Even as a Floridian, I was overwhelmed by the humidity and have had “four shower” days there in August.

    “It can’t be helped, and complaining to the staff at a crowded tourist site that it’s crowded will not make it less crowded.” Excellent advice and I’d even suggest going the extra mile. My husband had the good fortune to meet the Marshall of the Supreme Court and charmed her into getting us two seats in the section reserved for attorneys or special guests at oral arguments. This, needless to say, was the thrill of a lifetime and I was able to witness the irrepressible wit of Justice Scalia … live … from Washington!

    • #13
    • August 20, 2015, at 12:56 PM PDT
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  14. GLDIII Temporarily Essential Reagan
    GLDIII Temporarily Essential Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Folks

    You need to come a visit Charlotte for her tour of Ford’s theater. (I am look right at you Titus you Lincoln-o-phile). She was the most gracious of hosts when Mrs III and I took her up on the offer of a “private” off hours tour.

    I just should have read up a little better so I could ask less than dumb questions.

    III

    • #14
    • August 20, 2015, at 1:31 PM PDT
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  15. Charlotte Member
    Charlotte Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    MLH:OK. But it is better than Lottie, no? We had neighbors, when I was little, who were honorary relatives: Uncle George and Aunt Char. So, I meant it fondly.

    No real offense taken, MLH. I would love to meet you in January. :-)

    • #15
    • August 20, 2015, at 1:45 PM PDT
    • Like
  16. Charlotte Member
    Charlotte Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    EThompson: Excellent advice and I’d even suggest going the extra mile. My husband had the good fortune to meet the Marshall of the Supreme Court and charmed her into getting us two seats in the section reserved for attorneys or special guests at oral arguments. This, needless to say, was the thrill of a lifetime and I was able to witness the irrepressible wit of Justice Scalia … live … from Washington!


    Nice, Liz! One of those very special “only in DC” experiences. Yes, connections always help. Along with the standard “catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” scenario. :-)

    • #16
    • August 20, 2015, at 1:48 PM PDT
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  17. Charlotte Member
    Charlotte Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    GLDIII:Folks

    You need to come a visit Charlotte for her tour of Ford’s theater. (I am look right at you Titus you Lincoln-o-phile). She was the most gracious of hosts when Mrs III and I took her up on the offer of a “private” off hours tour.

    I just should have read up a little better so I could ask less than dumb questions.

    III

    I got a lot of Rico meetup mileage out of Ford’s Theatre. One ten-person tour/meetup, private tour and play with the IIIs, private tour with Mike LaRoche, and private tour with one other member whose name/handle I can’t remember.

    • #17
    • August 20, 2015, at 1:51 PM PDT
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  18. EThompson Inactive

    Charlotte:

    EThompson: Excellent advice and I’d even suggest going the extra mile. My husband had the good fortune to meet the Marshall of the Supreme Court and charmed her into getting us two seats in the section reserved for attorneys or special guests at oral arguments. This, needless to say, was the thrill of a lifetime and I was able to witness the irrepressible wit of Justice Scalia … live … from Washington!

    Nice, Liz! One of those very special “only in DC” experiences. Yes, connections always help. Along with the standard “catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” scenario. :-)

    One of the reasons I married the man that I did. :)

    P.S. He sent the Marshall a dozen roses afterwards.

    • #18
    • August 20, 2015, at 2:14 PM PDT
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  19. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    You must deal with an awful lot of people and a firecracker like You can’t be Mary Poppins all day every day.

    Care to share a story of when You were a little feisty with someone?

    I’m guessing:

    Charlotte: if you are standing in front of the “Ticket Line Begins Here” sign and then ask where the ticket line begins, we might be tempted to roll our eyes.

    that’s got to happen several times a day and it’s got to get old.

    • #19
    • August 20, 2015, at 2:57 PM PDT
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  20. Charlotte Member
    Charlotte Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Jimmy Carter:You must deal with an awful lot of people and a firecracker like You can’t be Mary Poppins all day every day.

    Care to share a story of when You were a little feisty with someone?

    My dirty little secret is that I basically hate everyone (I am a misanthropic semi-introvert) but for some reason I am really good at faking it (AKA “customer service”).

    I did lose it with a middle-aged male visitor who was getting handsy when I was talking to him. For some reason he thought it would be appropriate to start rubbing my arm while I was explaining our ticket policy. I took a huge step backward and yelled, “I’m pretty sure you don’t need to be touching me while we’re having this conversation!” and he walked out in a huff. Everyone in the vicinity was superbly entertained (and on my side).

    • #20
    • August 20, 2015, at 3:05 PM PDT
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  21. Charlotte Member
    Charlotte Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Jimmy Carter:that’s got to happen several times a day and it’s got to get old.

    Yes. And yes. :-)

    • #21
    • August 20, 2015, at 3:09 PM PDT
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  22. Archibald Campbell Member
    Archibald Campbell Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member