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Spreading the Word

In 2011, a group of Maryland museums and heritage organizations received an IMLS grant to create an exciting series of workshops: Creating a Visitor-Centered Museum.

This idea came out of lessons we learned from three years of successful training workshops. While training is important for front-line volunteers and staff, many small museums can’t provide these opportunities. The staggering cost, labor, and number of hours needed often discourage smaller institutions from making these programs a priority.

Front-line staff members have the most contact with visitors, so workshop organizers decided to develop engaging and educational workshops specifically for them. Over the past year, we’ve offered five different workshops. Session topics include museum education, connecting visitors with objects, interpretive techniques, demographic changes, and empowering visitors. We limit session size, so participants can engage in visitor-centered practices and conduct meaningful discussions.

These workshops, all with lengthy waiting lists, help participants take a more visitor-centered approach. On average, at least half of the participants have attended a previous workshop. About 60% of the participating organizations have also sent representatives to at least one other workshop.

The feedback we’ve received has been overwhelming and gratifying. Overall, we’ve found that staff members and volunteers at small museums are so busy doing their jobs, they rarely have time to stop and evaluate their experiences. Many participants work alone and don’t have a chance to talk with anyone other than visitors. Most of the folks, though, tell us they enjoy comparing notes and discovering the various challenges they all share.

Our workshop series, through this grant, has been exploring ways to focus on and respond to the museum visitor’s experience. We hope that this approach and its guiding philosophy will continue well after the grant ends.

This workshop series is open to anyone able and willing to attend.  If you are interested in receiving more information, please contact Rod Cofield at: rodcofield@historiclondontown.org

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