Museum professionals anywhere will say that the most important part of a museum is their audience. If not for them, why do museums exist? But every museum brings visitors with different motivations and a myriad of expectations of their experience. Authors John H. Falk and Lynn D. Dierking outline seven of the most common motivations in their book, The Museum Experience Revisited, any combination of which may be experienced by any given visitor.
However, some museums attract visitors with a certain type of visit expectation. I spoke with Nicole Retzler, Assistant Curator and Exhibit Preparator at the National Baseball Hall of Fame about her museum’s audience. She said what made the Hall of Fame unique was that a large majority of visitors come with an element of pilgrimage in their motivations. Cooperstown is a fairly isolated location, and many visitors make the effort to travel here specifically to see the museum, often for a once-in-a-lifetime visit. As a result, the museum staff is pressured to make the experience worth their while and inspire them to return or encourage others to visit.
This requires the staff to purposefully create exhibits and programs that appeal to various other motivations of their audience. The Hall of Fame staff makes an effort to be as inclusive and engaging as possible by considering the diverse personal, sociocultural and physical contexts of their visitors. It’s no small challenge, but is something the Hall of Fame staff takes seriously when planning new directions for the museum.