Visiting Museums – my personal bugbears!

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I’ve been on the road again visiting museums and heritage sites around Ireland. For the most part I’ve loved it. I learnt a lot and met many interesting people along the way. But I’ve also noticed that there are many things that could be done better and while there are specific things that could be improved at individual sites there are also a number of things that repeatedly drive me mad – things that could be fixed without any great investment of time or money.

I’m in the process of drawing up a list of things that have a negative impact on the visitor experience (and suggest some things that are easy (and cheap) to do that might save other visitors the irritation I’ve felt). This is just a start…I’ll have lots more to say when I go through my notes, but if anyone has suggestions of things to add to my list – things that drive them mad, or examples of where things have been done really well, please drop me a line and and I’ll include them.

To start here’s a few that immediately spring to mind:

List the correct opening days and opening hours on your website. There’s nothing worse than driving for hours to get to a site only to find that it’s closed when the website said it would be open. In some instances I’ve found sites that have different opening hours listed on different (official) sites. On one occasion I rang the site the day before I wanted to visit and was told that the last tour was at 4.00pm so we turned up at 3.30 only to discover that the last tour had already left.

tullow locked

A padlocked door – never a good sign during supposed ‘opening hours’

Don’t spend lots of money on technology. It’s expensive, prone to breaking down and difficult to get fixed. It also goes out of date almost as soon as it’s installed. I can think of only one site I’ve visited where all the technology has been working when I’ve been there. There are occasions when it’s great and enhances the experience, but so often it really is a waste of money.

Be friendly and welcoming. In most cases those at reception and tickets desks are very friendly and helpful, but not always and a grumpy or sullen ‘welcome’ really does impact on the rest of the visit. More than once I’ve waited to buy tickets while the person behind the desk has continued a lengthy (and clearly personal) telephone call. On one very recent visit the man at the ticket desk never once looked at me or spoke to me while he took my money and begrudgingly handed me a receipt.

Death by Text. Many museums have an enormous number of panels stuffed full of information. No one will ever read all of them. And in rooms full of them many people will read none of them. Keep it short and sweet and direct visitors to books about the topics that the interested visitor can buy instead.

Less is More. Don’t put all your artefacts on display. Curate them, rotate them. Tell interesting stories about the ones that are there. Visitors will remember those stories, and they’ll come back to hear new ones when the displays change.

Tell memorable stories. I want to know about the buildings and the architectural detail can be fascinating, but I also want to know about the people who lived in these buildings. Too often I learn about the bricks and mortar, the naves and architraves, the mullions and machicolations without any proper explanation of what they are or why they’re there. Often I learn nothing about the people associated with these places. Frequently I bring children with me on these trips and the language used is often not appropriate – what 12 year old knows what a machicolation or a mullion is. Complex things can be explained using simple language.

But it is mostly good news. There are some brilliant things being done in museums and heritage sites across the country and I will write up a post about some of the best places I’ve visited recently when I’ve got over my irritation about driving for several hours to visit a site only for find it closed for a a private function!

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