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 Post subject: Re: Curb Your Docents
PostPosted: Mon Oct 02, 2006 5:09 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 9:11 pm
Posts: 81
Location: Where ever I am at the time
Steve C wrote:
. . .one guy who was dressed in full gear, heavy coat, hat, gloves, scarf... you name it. ( it was mid summer at the time) He sat in the vestibule and shouted out orders at anybody he could see. I could tell that this guy's cheese had slipped off his cracker, but I am sure that a lot of the other passengers just thought that he was some hard nosed employee.


We had one of these at Trainfestival 2004 in Dennison too.


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 Post subject: More thoughts on my own post
PostPosted: Mon Oct 02, 2006 5:39 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 1:51 pm
Posts: 9262
Location: Somewhere north of Prescott, AZ on the Santa Fe "Peavine"
Another aspect to consider when instructing docents or guides:

There exists the real danger of a museum or operation imposing near-Draconian "censorship" upon their guides in an effort to address the problems of the blowhard spouting opinions that are not "the party line". This can be almost as bad as letting them run off at the mouth.

I( can'tr begin to count the number of times I have managed to get to someone "behind the scenes" and "talked turkey" in a way that would no doubt horrify any PR personnel the place might have, but in the long run such conversations may well have helped said projects in the long run. When you hear a coherent "they don't consider that a viable option because. . . " or "the reason we did this is because. . ." explanation, you can refocus not only your efforts, but thoise of others, towards a more viable solution to the perceived problem. Or, for example, you can mention to the guys repairing a tower's interlocking where there may be a big stash of usable spares at another project, or you can mention another car to match the consist that they may not know about, or.....

The problem is always talking to the "right" people. In private. And the right people deciding whether or not you are a source of useful information or not. A lot of the people I consider to be the "sharpest" minds in railroad preservation, including on here, pretty much refuse to totally affiliate themselves to one single project, in part because such institutions often demand the equivalent of the beer megabrewers' "100% share of mind" policy.


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 Post subject: Re: It goes both ways
PostPosted: Mon Oct 02, 2006 6:42 pm 

Joined: Mon Aug 23, 2004 12:08 pm
Posts: 255
Location: Western Railroad Museum - Rio Vista
The best approach that I have found for sharpshooting rail fans is to say,
"That's a very intersting point. I doubt most of the other people in this tour are interested. Let's not waste their time right now. Let's talk after the tour is over." This, of course, is said with a smile.

If they try to interrupt again (usually they don't), you can say something like, "Would you please be considerate of the other people on this tour. We'll talk later."

After the tour is over, the troublesome railfans usually have gone since they have lost their audience. If they are still around, you can take them to talk to a supervisor or shop person who will set them straight.

fk


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 Post subject: Re: It goes both ways
PostPosted: Mon Oct 02, 2006 7:11 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 7:19 am
Posts: 5686
Location: southeastern USA
Dennis Storzek wrote:
Which raises an interesting question. Many people make the statement that it doesn't matter if we change the brake schedule, or the fuel, or whatever on an engine, because the public won't know, or won't care. So why are we worried about what we tell them?


I think "won't care" and information overload gets in the way of the interpretive value of the larger experience.

Mom, Dad and 2.7 small children want to take a short ride on a time machine to experience something about how their grandparents lived. Whether the time machine is halted with 26 or 6 is immaterial to the quality of their experience.

Absolute authenticity is impossible in any case because the context in which the interpretive program is delivered is no longer that which is being interpreted. If it was interpretation would be unnecessary. I'm pretty sure Leland Stanford didn't have an air conditioned visitors center with indoor plumbing available for the 1869 driving of the Golden Spike, but i am equally sure today's visitors to Promontory Point would be very disappointed were there not one. It isn't dishonest to provide one.

Which doesn't mean it is allowable to provide wrong specific information. Call a replica a replica, answer questions about modernizations honestly, and represent all elements as what they are. If anybody wants to explore a detail in specifics, find an appropriate time and person to do so, but don't bore your casual visitors with information they don't want to know about that doesn't enhance their experience of your program.

dave

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Santayana: "He who does not remember the past is condemned to repeat it."
Corollary: "He who does is doomed to watch those who don't repeat it anyway."


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 Post subject: Re: It goes both ways
PostPosted: Mon Oct 02, 2006 8:09 pm 

Joined: Mon Aug 30, 2004 3:24 pm
Posts: 456
Location: Scranton, PA
One thing I've found is that humiliating the visitor might shut them up, but it makes your museum a lot of enemies.
The group you are leading is already on your side, and they will tune the blowhard out. And yet, the blowhard wants to speak to someone. My way of approaching the situation is to explain that the tour has a limited amount of time, approximately an hour. I have only that much time to explain what I need to on the tour, and we can discuss these other matters when the tour ends. When said in a sincere manner, this will quiet that one person, but also gives him a chance to respect what we do and the other people. Usually by the end, this person tells me that I really know my stuff. His point may or may not resurface, but we are both satisfied at the end of the day. That is what really counts.


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 Post subject: Re: It goes both ways
PostPosted: Mon Oct 02, 2006 11:39 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 10:56 am
Posts: 1330
Location: Roanoke Va.
Speaking as a veteran of guiding hundreds of tours and taking a fair number myself, I have found this to be a fascinating topic, with a lot of "truths" expressed. Besides rail preservation, I have been involved in a number of interests, including Civil War reenacting, vintage cars and motorcycles, and architectural preservation, as well as making a living in the small business world. My observation is that society in general, and therefore our interests by default, has a majority of nice, well rounded, hard working, and intelligent people. It also has (and so does our field) a considerable number of egotists, jerks, self appointed experts, people with personal political agendas, power junkies, eccentrics, and downright nut-cases. (in reenacting, there is a certain faction that seems to actually still be fighting the Civil War) I agree that training of docents is a critical factor. However, I think that there are other factors that go into the making of a good tourguide as well, whether they are a volunteer or a paid staff member. The guide has to be knowledgable about the subject. People with a genuine interest rather than someone who wants to feel good by "serving the community" have an advantage here. I have seen a volunteer from the latter category giving a tour at a major state supported museum who had no clue whether or not a particular locomotive was steam or diesel. Salesmanship is a huge plus. A good salesman can read his customer (in this case, tour group) and tailor his spiel accordingly. You can't use the same exact tour and be effective with a 10th grade school group, a busload of senior citizens, and a bunch of visiting British railfans. If your tour includes a Pullman like the "Lake Pearl" and you have African-Americans in your group, you need to be able to tie in the mobility of Pullman porters with the roots of the Civil Rights movement. Likewise, while explaining the operating principals of a steam locomotive, you don't need to bore John Q. Public with a bunch of technical details. (although that might work well for the British railfan group) They are more interested in knowing that that Berkshire you have is similar to what their grandad had to wait for at a RR crossing in 1947. Humor is a good tool, as well as tie ins with modern society. They'll like the fact that your coach was just on a PBS show, or that 4-8-4 was used as a background for a Mercedes-Benz ad. In the same vein, while some guides may be perfect for some groups, like the retired engineer for the British fans, he could be all wrong for the 10th graders. (too technical) All too frequently, museums large and small schedule guides and groups based on the availability of a warm body who can talk at the time the group is scheduled. Unfortunately, we have to do this since the two things most lacking in rail preservation are money, and warm bodies that will work (see lack of money). As leaders, managers, and directors, while none of us want to turn away warm bodies who are willing to work, we need to manage our people wisely. Use those with enthusiasm but no people skills in important jobs, but with with little public contact, such as maintenance, or restoration, so that their efforts are validated and appreciated by their peers. Put the diplomatic salesmen on the public contact jobs, whether it is guiding tours or traincrewing. And learn how to make the troublemakers and nut cases not go away mad, but just go away. Whether it is a for pay or volunteer operation, the same rules apply. Those managing for-pay operations have a slight advantage because economic terrorism is an effective management tool. However, it is no substitute for wisdom and common sense in managing people, because an organization in turmoil is never as productive as one with teamwork and common goals.

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Gary


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 Post subject: Steamtown and Strasburg
PostPosted: Tue Oct 03, 2006 12:53 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 9:35 am
Posts: 8139
Location: Wilton, NY
AS a footnote, I paid to take the Steamtown and Strasburg shop tours (anonymously) in June and both were excellent. Ranger Bill Clark at Steamtown and a person named Scott at Strasburg (on their busiest Thomas day) couldn't have done much better. I was very impressed with both!


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 Post subject: Re: It goes both ways
PostPosted: Tue Oct 03, 2006 1:51 pm 

Joined: Mon Aug 23, 2004 1:05 am
Posts: 1140
Location: San Francisco
Folks,

I still give occasional tours and train people who give them also.

It was mentioned above but bears repeating. The "I don't know" phrase usually followed by I'll look it up is really important.

Not everyone wants to be a walking encypedia of railroad facts and but those that do go out in front of people should be pretty close. Am my museum we have a cib sheet full of dates and places that are important for the artifacts. It sure helps.

Also good Interpretation is as much about why as when and where. for me I like to know that the line ran on 600 volts not 1200 or vice versa. But then I am an historian and a preservationest in addition to being a rail fan of several sorts.

So was that car built in 1903 or 1904?

Ted Miles


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 Post subject: Re: It goes both ways
PostPosted: Tue Oct 03, 2006 3:12 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 7:19 am
Posts: 5686
Location: southeastern USA
I can vouch for the quality of Ted's engine room tours - made a definite contrast to the quality of information I got when touring the engine room of the O'Brien with a volunteer docent who wasn't as informed about steam technology, but didn't want to admit it.

dave

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Santayana: "He who does not remember the past is condemned to repeat it."
Corollary: "He who does is doomed to watch those who don't repeat it anyway."


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 Post subject: Re: Curb Your Docents
PostPosted: Wed Oct 04, 2006 9:10 am 

Joined: Thu Jan 26, 2006 11:08 am
Posts: 47
Location: Bonsal, NC, USA
Dave wrote:
And then there are the genuinely mentally ill...


We have all seen those, but I would add to the list the overly enthusiastic volunteer.

I would imagine everyone has them around, and we are no exception. They mean well, and are honestly trying to ensure visitors have a good time at the facility, but they do spread a vast amount of misinformation to the general public. That is never a good thing.

I can point (but no names here) to one individual in particular. He loves the idea of being a sort of "tour guide" at the facility, but really does not have adequate knowledge about the equipment and history to do that job. The worst part is he honestly thinks he does know what he is saying, and so far, has resisted most efforts to get him into docent training.

The good news is we are making progress with him, and he is a LOT better than he once was. The issue here, however, is not this single individual, but the need to deal with all vounteers having contact with the public.

Draconian management systems never work with volunteers, and I would never suggest we do anything to "force" everyone into some sort of cookie-cutter method of providing information. My profession, outside of the railroad, is marketing and public relations, and while that means I understand the importance of image and a brand, there are better ways to handle these situations than being dictatorial.

Again, it comes back to training. Training as a docent, even if they do not actually do the job on a regular basis, should be open to all volunteers and staff. Everyone from locomotive enginners and conductors to museum store clerks and ticket agents should have the opportunity to learn as much about the facility as possible. This will go a long way towards ensuring correct information is provided to the public.

Now, if we could only get that outsider guy in the conductors suit into a class...

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Bob Crowley
Corporate Secretary
New Hope Valley Railway
North Carolina Railroad Museum
East Carolina Chapter, NRHS
Bonsal, NC, USA
www.nhvry.org


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 Post subject: Re: Curb Your Docents - Williamsburg Woes
PostPosted: Wed Oct 04, 2006 11:21 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 7:25 pm
Posts: 1892
I just finished reading "The New History in an Old Museum: Creating the Past at Colonial Williamsburg ", a study of programs at Colonial Williamsburg. They, too, suffer the same problems. The writer went into a detailed discussion of how the official script written by the curatorial staff gets watered down by the time it is filtered through the chain of command to the line staff.

I highly recommend the book as it covers a variety of the same issues we face in railway presevation.

Wesley


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 Post subject: Re: Curb Your Docents - Williamsburg Woes
PostPosted: Wed Oct 04, 2006 1:47 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 11:50 am
Posts: 195
Location: Lakewood, CA
There may be a fine line between "mentally challenged" and "mentally unstable". We have one fellow at our museum who shows up on a daily basis dressed in engineer's garb, and hangs around the steam locomotive talking to it in low tones. He often intercepts visitors and spews nonsensical facts about steam locomotives, most visitors are too nice to just walk away and let him ramble on. At what point do we consider these people potentially violent? Do we do something about them before they go off on a Museum volunteer or one of our guests? I am fairly new to this particular Museum and don't know much of this this fellow's personal history, but I have encountered him at various venues over the last 25 years, and have seen him lose some degree of reason when he is around operating steam. Have any of you effectively been able to either banish or at the other extreme help these people? Aside from the typical foaming at the mouth what are the signs that these people may turn violent?

Chris Allan

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WP 165 Restoration Blog:
http://wprrsteam.blogspot.com


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 Post subject: Re: Curb Your Docents - Williamsburg Woes
PostPosted: Wed Oct 04, 2006 2:25 pm 

Joined: Wed Jan 25, 2006 5:00 pm
Posts: 808
Location: NJ
I doubt there are any real "signs" that the person will go off at any time so in light of today's sue happy society, get him off the premises before he does go off or gets himself hurt around the steam. You can bet the house that his family will be the first ones to bring a law suit if he gets hurt.

Now around our little group of rolling stock, I will stop working to talk to people when they come down the trail if they are showing any interest in the cars at all. I exclude the folks who are just walking the trail. I tell them what type of car it is, approximate year built and what we are planning on doing to it. I do answer questions to the best of my ability and I do not get into discussions with railfans because time has proven you can never win that discussion.

Later!
Mr. Ed


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 Post subject: Re: It goes both ways
PostPosted: Wed Oct 04, 2006 10:54 pm 

Joined: Mon Aug 23, 2004 1:05 am
Posts: 1140
Location: San Francisco
Dave,

Thanks for that!

I really enjoyed showing you around!

I would be glad to take other members aboard our engine collection that have hulls wrapped around them!

Ted Miles


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 Post subject: Re: Curb Your Docents - Williamsburg Woes
PostPosted: Thu Oct 05, 2006 12:41 am 
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Joined: Fri Oct 01, 2004 2:46 pm
Posts: 2060
Location: Pac NW, via North Florida
wsflco wrote:
There may be a fine line between "mentally challenged" and "mentally unstable". We have one fellow at our museum who shows up on a daily basis dressed in engineer's garb, and hangs around the steam locomotive talking to it in low tones. He often intercepts visitors and spews nonsensical facts about steam locomotives, most visitors are too nice to just walk away and let him ramble on. At what point do we consider these people potentially violent? Do we do something about them before they go off on a Museum volunteer or one of our guests? I am fairly new to this particular Museum and don't know much of this this fellow's personal history, but I have encountered him at various venues over the last 25 years, and have seen him lose some degree of reason when he is around operating steam. Have any of you effectively been able to either banish or at the other extreme help these people? Aside from the typical foaming at the mouth what are the signs that these people may turn violent?
Chris Allan

Man, now there's a good question!
I have a few hobbies other than RRs, but all history related. My mani hobby really other than RRs is military history, and you see some pretty scary folks in that hobby as well. Eevery hobby has their own problems.
But I've had to deal with a guy like Chris is talking about. I belong to a WW2 living history group (well, more like a display group that wears uniforms, if you call a spade a spade...). Once, we would have this total nut job who'd show up at all our functions. Nobody knew how he was finding out where we'd always be, as we never had any online posting of our appearances or anything. Anyway, he was simply mentally unbalanced. He'd drool and stand there with his eyes glazed over when he saw something he liked (seriously, one of our guys with an original WW2 USMC flame thrower had to towel it off. I'm not kidding!). He'd show up with a set of "dickie" tan work clothes with modern shoulder patches sewn to them and would stand off to the side, telling everyone how he founded our organization! We'd ask him nicely to stop telling people that, then evetually we posted a sign stating the name of the guy who really founded the group, then after a few months of this, we started telling him to leave the events. Soon afterward, he would just walk among the public in his "uniform" and make the most bizarre comments and was scaring people away. Eventually, he picked up a rifle with a bayoney attached off a display table, yanked off the scabbard, and started screaming he was going to "demonstrate the proper way to defend against underwater cavalry," and started sceaming what would best be described as some kind of African war cry. The cops were on him immediately. Thank god he didn't hurt anyone...


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