As museum professionals I think we forget sometimes to step back and look at things from a visitor’s point of view. Our visitors are incredibly brave. They come up to a a strange building, with rules that they don’t know, and are expected to go in and explore (maybe on their own) and learn. That is a lot to ask!
For me, it really hit home when I dug into Elissa Frankle Olinsky’s “Hierarchy of Museum Visitor Needs” Based off of an educational philosophy commonly called Maslow’s Hierarchy, it really puts into perspective what visitors go through.
Just to get in the door, visitors are assessing if they are safe and welcome. Assuming they feel like they are able to walk in, then they need to make sure all of their basic needs can be met in this space. Can they find a bathroom, a place to eat, understand the rules and how they are supposed to behave.
Once they’ve jumped those hurdles they need to feel like they understand the purpose of the space. What they will learn and how they will learn it.
Only then, after overcoming three difficult levels can they start to take in, process and apply the things in your museum and really come away with those core components that they you have put so much effort into creating for them.
So, have you given your museum visitors enough credit? Are you recognizing everything it takes to just get into your space and be able to learn there?