Thursday, May 1, 2008

Making House Tours Better

Yesterday, I facilitated an early morning session at the AAM conference called, "Why Are Historic House Tours So Boring?" To my surprise, almost fifty thoughtful, passionate museum staff members from all over the country turned out to share ideas, concerns, and perspectives on the topic. In a future post, I'll summarize the conversation, but here are links to some of the resources that came up during the conversation.

Shared docent training: Historic sites in Portland, ME have joined together to develop a joint twelve week docent training program called Portland's History Docents. A great idea on how to make limited resources go further and create a group of participants who feel connected to each other--and the group of sites.
Learn more here.

Several participants who had come to historic sites from the realm of interpreting the natural world highly recommended the materials developed by the
National Association for Interpretation. They offer training and certification for guides, trainers, planners and managers, as well as a wide variety of training materials.

Few participants made use of front end or formative evaluation in developing tours or other interpretive materials. Resources on these types of evaluation can be found at:

National Park Service, Harpers Ferry Center, Media Evaluation and Visitor Research:
basic explanation of front-end and formative evaluation and examples of evaluations from sites as diverse as the Grand Canyon, the African Burial Ground in New York City, and the visitor center at the Gulf Islands National Seashore.

Committee on Audience Research and Evaluation (CARE) includes great materials introducing the concepts and techniques of visitor studies from sessions presented at AAM conferences.

Resources for thinking about civic engagement--making your sites matter more to your audiences:

International Coalition of Historic Sites of Conscience

And, for additional information on developing interpretive plans, tours, and training docents:

Two books: Great Tours: Thematic Tours and Guide Training for Historic Sites by Barbara Abramoff Levy, Susan Porter Schreiber and Sandra MacKenzie Lloyd; Exhibit Labels by Beverly Serrell (great for thinking about those Big Ideas), and Interpreting Historic House Museums, edited by Jessica Foy Donnelly (all published by Altamira Press).

Photo: the courtyard of the hospital in Arles. No reason, other than it was very snowy coming back from Denver and this was an antidote to the late winter!

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