These staff members give the tours, talking about the artifacts in our collections. They tell the visitor why the site and its collection is important to the community's heritage and culture. Often times, as part of 'other duties', they assist curators in mounting exhibits, they keep things clean, including the toilets, they provide security for each other, the site, and the valuable collection.
And yet, they are often the lowest paid people on staff, if they are paid at all...
We need to start appreciating these folks better than we are currently. Paying them better would be nice, but not every site has a fabulous budget, in fact, many of our sites run on no budgets at all. We can work around this by providing better resources to the front line staff members to do their jobs better, maybe to even live their lives better.
- Are your staff members university students? Apart from many government programs that you can apply to, to help pay them a wage for the summer, could working for the site earn them university credit?
- Do your staff wear historic costume? Do they show an interest in building and owning their own kit? You could run workshops during the winter months to help them build accurate pieces of clothing. Staff who have their own clothes take pride in those clothes. They learn how they were worn and why. They also tend to stick around as occasional volunteers after working for the site.
- Do you have the resources to help front line staff develop accurate and informative tours? Can you offer them time to research, other staff to help guide them in good directions? A librarian on staff can do wonders for the overall quality of knowledge production for the site. Developing good relationships with community librarians also helps, if you don't have a library on site. Schedule research trips to other sites in the community to see how other sites work, share resources.
- How do you engage the community? Are you sitting back, waiting for them to come to the site, either as a visitor or as a potential employee? Can you develop better methods of engagement with the communities, yes plural, in your area? Who are you missing from your community outreach? What stories aren't being told because of those missing community members?
- Finally, how do you develop a cadre of volunteers?
Recently, a group of living historians approached a small historic site with a solid interpretation plan and an offer to animate the site for a weekend. A group of hard working, dedicated volunteers put together a scenario of a Tailor and Bookbinder's shops in an over/under building. They gathered together all the things you would find in those environments, the living history interpreters not only knew the information that pertained to their chosen persona, they also intimately researched the site and the local community. Over the weekend event, the number of visitors rose significantly than during regular days opening. The visitors also stayed longer and were more engaged with the interpretation programming.
|View of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Dominic Serres 1765, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia|