The Restroom.

In the past few weeks, I distinctly remember two positive, unique museum experiences.  One relates to a museum’s mission statement, the other is a continuation of an exhibit; both of them took place in restrooms!

  1. At the Schenectady Museum, the mission statement is hung on the wall where visitors can (and do) read it while washing their hands.
  2. After sitting on the toilet at the USS Constitution Museum, visitors immediately notice an exhibit-board on the back of the stall door that describes how sailors in the early nineteenth century used the “toilet.”

    Photograph from the USS Constitution Museum Restroom (Courtesy of Catherine Bayles)

These experiences amuse and impress me.  Often, a restroom is just a place museum visitors seek out of necessity, but in each of these cases, the museum extends into the restroom as a place of learning or to reinforce the overall museum message.

In The Museum Experience, Falk and Dierking posit that the museum experience as a whole includes restrooms, food, and the museum store as well as the exhibits, and my experiences reflect these findings – I rarely visit a museum without somebody I’m with using the restroom.  The trip to the restroom is so ordinary, it is easily overlooked, but pleasant or negative experiences in the restroom (or in finding the restroom) can color the memory of the entire visit.

Take a cue from the examples above and others, such as the Field Museum, and use an understanding of the museum experience to transform a necessity into a learning experience and a fun memory.

-Falk, John H. and Dierking, Lynn D. The Museum Experience.  Washington, D.C.: Whalesback Books, 1992.

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One Response to The Restroom.

  1. Visitors always remember fi the museum restrooms are clean, if the food is good or bad and if the shop has interesting things for sale. Your comment is a point well taken. Putting interpretive material in the bathroom is an opportunity. Pointe a Calliere in Montreal, an archaeology museum has case of objects in its restrooms.

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