In several (admittedly non-scientific) surveys I've done recently with local organizations, friendly staff and volunteers rank incredibly high on a list of community desires for museums. I arrived at the museum at 3:30, half an hour before they closed. I've visited museums where volunteers or staff have said, oh, it's too close to closing time, and discouraged entrance. Here, a volunteer said, "oh, it's only half an hour til closing, so we won't charge you, but I'll take you on a quick tour." And she enthusiastically did.
I'm always interested in people's own stories about how they came to be in a place, and so asked when my guide had first started coming to Sanibel. She told me her story, and then, when we came to a photo showing the unpaved sand roads, said, "This is just what it looked like when we first came," making the photo real in time for me.
Seeing places in a new way
We've been coming to Sanibel for more than a decade. As the guide and I visited the buildings on the site, we entered the one-room schoolhouse. The guide said it had been the school for white children only--but that the schoolhouse for African-American children still stood--but greatly changed and told me the location. Sure enough, it was now a jewelry store, and one I had gone by repeatedly, without ever thinking about the island's diverse history. Now I won't go by it again, without remembering my visit and my glimpse back into the region's past.
These elements are something that every museum, no matter it's size, can do. But it does, I think, require a shift from an object-centered museum to one centered around the visitor.
And one more thing--I even got a free prize--a key lime from the museum's tree!