Experiencing Museums: As Told By An Insider

This week we have been talking about the Museum Visitor’s Experience. To add to the discussion, Gretchen recommended I talk to Mary Olsen, a former CGP student. We corresponded through email, and the questions I asked Mary focused on personal experiences she had and what she heard from the visitors in her museums. Mary did clarify that she recently got a job at PacSci and has only been working there for a month. Her responses include her experience working at PacSci and the Museum of Science in Boston. I edited down the email correspondence to keep the size manageable.

Q: As the current Science Project Manager, have you seen an exhibit in your museum achieve positive responses from an unexpected demographic?

A: I suppose it depends on what you mean by demographic.  MoS was careful not to collect certain sorts of data.  Our Evaluation team did sort museum goers into wonderful (and hilarious) groups.  Such as young education minded couples, family groups, etc.  I think we had a lot more couples (people without children) than we had expected in the museum in general.

Q: Was there even an exhibit that received negative feedback?

A: Every exhibit receives negative feedback in some way.  Whether it is placement, light levels, content that they didn’t understand, content that was missing, lack of interactives, broken interactives, etc.  Some exhibits just don’t attract people (we had an exhibit that was three large projections with voice over, very artistic, that no one liked) but they just won’t enter that gallery.  Because the MoS was a larger place and the gallery was more experimental, no one was upset over it.  The most important thing about feedback is to respond to it.  The galleries at PacSci rotate every 6 months, so visitor feedback is important for modifying the next exhibit.  For exhibits that are on display longer (Dead Sea Scrolls at MoS) we would try to mitigate problems as they arose (added additional signage, etc.).

We have also had people disagree with information or the presentation of material.  In general, these people are individuals and not groups.  So they can be dealt with as they arise.

[Imaged Added By Editor]

Q: Most people have positive associations with museums based on a childhood memory of a museum visit. Do you have one to share?

A: I remember going to the Field Museum in Chicago as a child.  I remember loving the dinosaur exhibits and the ancient Egypt exhibit (you could lift a fake cage of crawfish out of WATER!  As a child this was the most amazing thing ever.  I don’t know what it was trying to teach me to this day.  But there was water involved.).

[Water is cool. -Editor]

Talking to my Mom more recently, I think we only went once a year (maybe) on free days in the summer (which sounds terribly crowded to me now).  But the way I remember it we went all the time.

I’d like to extend my thanks to Mary Olsen for her willingness to answer questions!

I was personally surprised when she commented on couples without children. I remember going to the St. Louis Science museum with my boyfriend for our second anniversary, but I thought we were a rare oddity there.

So what’s your feedback, CGP students? Did something interesting catch your eye in Mary’s interview? Or was there ever a time you were surprised by a museum visitor? Share with the blog in the comments!

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One Response to Experiencing Museums: As Told By An Insider

  1. Cyndi T. says:

    My favorite museum exhibit as a child was an Egyptian exhibit as well. It was in third grade and we were studying ancient Egypt in an afterschool program. I found it particularly exciting because were able to go see something that we were learning about in school and I was able to make connections between our school curriculum and things that really existed. It was probably the first time that history was really brought to life for me.

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