By Olaniyi Comfort Dolapo
Over the years, the role of museums in societal development have been on the upward trend globally; Nigeria not an exemption. This largely is because of the fact that museums are agents of power. They are repositories of power and reflect the state of hegemony which is very useful for cultural diplomacy. Little wonder, ICOM on August 24th 2022 rising from her 26th General Conference held in Prague adopted a new definition for museum. According to ICOM “a museum is a non(not)-for-profit, permanent institution in the service of society that researches, collects, conserves, interprets and exhibits tangible and intangible heritage. Open to the public, accessible and inclusive, museums foster diversity and sustainability. They operate and communicate ethically, professionally and with the participation of communities, offering varied experiences for education, enjoyment, reflection and knowledge sharing”.
Despite this upward trend in the museum’s role in societal development it is pertinent to note that museums remain in active (inactive) without people. Hence the constant repetitions of phrases like “open to the public…” “In the service of the society…” and “…with the participation of communities”, in the different definitions of museums by the International Council for Museums (ICOM) over the years. It is therefore not out of place to say that no people, no museums. Or put differently, the core of museums is the people. This clearly is because the various artifacts and objects exhibited and put on display in museums galleries are purposely put there for the people to inspect either for their entertainment, education or otherwise. The number of visitors that museums receive therefore is a major determinant of the effectiveness of the museums in her role in societal development.
This therefore brings to the fore the importance and of esteem, the place of Museum Tour Guide. People when they come visiting the museum, don’t just move around and inspect the object put on exhibition in the various galleries on their own accord. For a better experience during their visitation, and for them to fully comprehend and indeed appreciate the cultural import/significance of the museum at large, they need to be guided on the tour by a Museum Guide. No matter how important an object or artifact might be, ditto an exhibition it goes without argument to say that they cannot speak for themselves as they have no mouths. It is the Museum Guide that is their mouthpiece and “enhancer”.
Who then is a Museum Guide? According to Wikipedia definition; a “Museum Guide or docent as it is popularly called in United State of America is a title given to people who serves as guides and educators for museums”. They can be seen as ambassadors, educators and entertainers for the museum. These individual possess a thorough knowledge of museums’ exhibits, which allows them to explain an exhibit or artifact’s significance, and answer any question that visitors might have. Museum Tour Guides use their expertise to keep visitors engaged. This sometimes involves leading large groups of individuals in a wide range of age groups including children. In like manners, a Museum Guide can be seen as a creative, imaginative, enthusiastic individual, who provides interpretative services to museum visitors through guided tours and workshops, as well as special events such as family programs, exhibit openings, adult activities and museum outreach programs, locally and state-wide.
A Museum Guide Conducting Visitors Round the Gallery
Duties of Museum Guide
The tasks and duties of Museum Guides vary in nature; depending on the type of museum. Suffice it to write that Museum Guides in private owned museum have their task a bit invariance from those of public/government museums. In the same way, tour guides in botanical museums would have their duties different from those in an ethnographic museum. However, generally speaking the duties of Museum Guides includes amongst others: escorting/conducting individuals or groups on cruises, sightseeing, tours, or through places of interest such as industrial establishments, art galleries, monument and sites. They also monitor visitors’ activities within the museum to ensure compliance with established museum rules and regulations and safety practices. Museum Guides also greet and register visitors and issue any required identification badges or booklets/directories, show audiovisual presentations and explain museums processes and operations within the galleries and sites. Also, they make research on various topics including the artifacts/objects/monuments and sites history, environmental conditions, and the visitors skills/abilities, so as to plan appropriate commentary, instruction and expedition.
Lastly, the one vital (skill) duty of the Museum Guides is to (be) multilingual in other to be able to communicate with visitors of diverse language background.
Skills of Museum Guides
At this juncture, it is expedient to state the various necessary skills required from Museum Guides to achieve their expected duties/tasks. Tour Guides in museums must possess a variety of skills, if the whole process and profession is to be effective. These skills includes: communication: A Tour Guide in a museum must communicate with visitors in a way that is clear informative and engaging. Aside from sharing information they must also possess active listening skills so that they can listen to those in their tour groups, monitor their enjoyment and level of understanding and thoughtfully address any questions they might have.
Time management: A Museum Guide usually conducts tours that are within particular time limits. In order to visit each exhibit and share its pertinent information within that time frame, these professionals must have well developed time management skills to make it back in time to meet their next tour group.
Public speaking: There are times when Museum Guides leads very large groups, which is why it is important that they have great public speaking skills. They must be able to protect their voice and engage with visitors of all ages and backgrounds regardless of the size of the group they are leading.
Multilingual: Though this is rarely a requirement, the ability to communicate in more than one language is extremely valuable in this profession of Museum Guide.
Research: Museums Guides must be skilled at gathering information about their field, or the specific exhibits in their museums so that they can be fulfill their roles. Using the information they gather through research a museum docent can engage with visitors in a meaningful way and craft thoughtful responses to any questions they might have.
Adaptability: As a Guide, one comes in contact with a wide range of people and age groups. A great Museum Guide should be able to adapt his presentation to the group he is leading.
Charisma: Since Museum Guide interacts with people all day, an outgoing personality is vital. Having well developed interpersonal skills and an enthusiastic personality helps ensure that they are able to engage with visitors and make them excited about the museum’s exhibit. This invariably leads to a larger and increased patronage of the museum.
Modern Trends in Museum Guide
In discussing effectiveness of Museum Tour Guides; the place of technology can never be overemphasized. For many years, museums relied on human tour guides to assist their visitors with finding objects, discovering new collections and learning about the history and important of objects they care for. But in recent years, may museums have turned to technology to reduce costs and improve the reach of tours. So without the need of a human Tour Guide, the content of the tour becomes much more malleable. Prerecorded tours can be replayed for those who need additional time to digest, translated into many languages that staff members of museum do not speak and made cheaper or even free to use.
The first audio (tour)four was made available to the public in 1952 at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. The impacts of those first audio tours were felt throughout the museum industry. Hence most museums have had a form of audio tour at some point in time. Whilst many others have now been adopted the use of personnel phone technology and apps in Museum Guide. However, the audio tour still remains a strong contender in the quest for technologically driven Museum Guide. Today over 2.5 million people own a smart phone and this is allowing many museums to utilize the technology already in the hands of their visitors to reduce hardware costs and instead concentrate on providing content for their apps and downloadable tours. We still need ‘knowledgeable’ Tour Guides with the ability to teach and inspire, but now they can reach hundreds of visitors at once instead of small groups.
Other technologies that are trendy in Museum Guide includes ‘Museum Hack’ as used in the USA, ‘mixed audio and augmented reality tour’ adopted by the museum of Celtic Heritage in Salzburg, and finally ‘Pokémon Gol’ launched in 2016 amongst others.
Challenges Encountered by Museum Guide
Despite the seemingly great prospects of Museum Guides in achieving sustainable development especially in the cultural sector, there still exist a lot of challenges hindering the effectiveness of Museum Guides. These challenges range from lack of adequate museum facilities to inadequate training and retraining of museum guides by their employers to keep them abreast with modern trends in the profession. Other challenges include poor remuneration packages, amongst others. In fact a school of thought see them as the most affected person in the tourism industry, as visitors to most museum blame them for many problems during their guided tours to the museums. Museum Guides always work under great pressure, as they are required to have many competencies, personal communication and negotiation skills as well as to be able to communicate information effectively to visitors.
In conclusion therefore, it would not be out of place to say that given the enormous roles of Museum Guides in the society and given the attendant evolving place of museum in societal developments, government and relevant cultural public and private agencies like the National Commission for Museums and Monuments should ensure that all machineries needed for Museum Guides to effectively carryout the functions should be put in place. As the saying goes, “to whom much is given much is expected”; an inverse or reverse inference can also be can also be deduced as follows; “to whom less is given, much cannot be expected”. So for Museum Guides to achieve much and be effective in their duty much have to be given to them by government and their respective employers. An enabling environment has to be created for them by addressing the various challenges facing them as enumerated above.
Olaniyi, is the Principal Museum Education Officer, National Museum, Ilorin