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  • 1.  Visitor-caused damage

    Posted 01-10-2017 12:21 PM

    Please post to the Museum Junction Open Forum:


    We have been experiencing something of a rash of visitor-caused damage in our exhibits.  Interactives have been abused and broken, walls written on, barriers crossed and artifacts handled, etc.  Our security staff is too small to watch every part of our very large building and cameras seem not to deter aggressive visitors.  We are wondering how other museums provide meaningful interactive experiences for the majority of visitors, while deterring those few who would do damage.


    Becky Willems Livingston
    Curator of History
    Panhandle-Plains Historical
    D: 806.651.2259  |  T: 806.651.2244


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  • 2.  RE: Visitor-caused damage

    Posted 01-11-2017 09:35 AM

    Hi Becky:

    We have similar issues with our brand new galleries, which were designed with barriers that are generally very easy to cross or reach over. All of the problem areas have barriers that are knee high for an adult. We've had issues with people handling or hugging our taxidermy especially for some reason, which as you may know, is not good due to arsenic contamination.  Other artifacts have had issues too, but I can't tell you how many times I've been called upstairs because this muskrat (not sure why he's a target) we have up there has been pulled out of his platform and is lying on his side.

    We've done two things to try and deter the problem and the first was signs that are placed on or near problem artifacts.  Ours just say, "Please don't touch.  Help us preserve these artifacts for future generations." Signs near the animals also mention arsenic. I think if you wanted to, you could offer a bit more interpretation.  I saw a sign at another museum that had photos, and showed/explained the effects of touching on artifacts that I thought did a good job of making the point.  A sign might also work well for exhibit furniture and components that are problematic.  With signs, I find that it likely deters some people but it definitely doesn't deter everyone.

    The second thing we did was to beef up one of our barriers by adding fake foliage around one of the platforms with taxidermy, which as I mentioned, are particularly problematic for some reason.  It went up in late summer, and I haven't been called to right the muskrat since.  Some kind of added barrier like that might not work for everyone but so far it has worked well for us.

    I hope you find something that works well for you. 

    Geoffrey Woodcox
    Assistant Curator of Collections
    State Historical Society of North Dakota
    Bismarck ND

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  • 3.  RE: Visitor-caused damage

    Posted 01-12-2017 08:25 AM
    Hi Becky,
    This has been a problem at every museum I've ever worked at, and you're right, staff can't be everywhere at once and it only takes one individual to influence others or cause harm. Signage, cameras, and prepping tour groups on great behavior only go so far in protecting things that are exposed. What I've learned is that if it is something (interactive, touchable, etc.) we're encouraging visitors to use, we have to build in maintenance funds to deal with breakage. If it is an artifact, diorama, etc. that people are not supposed to touch, then we need to be clearer as museum folk about the message we send to visitors, including the actual design of the space and the type of barriers we use. The desire to feel an object is too strong for even some of our best visitors, so barriers need to account for that, and the physical distance between the visitor and object also needs to be out of arms-length. This is definitely hard to do with large objects like vehicles, for example, so we have to look at what is the worst that can happen, and can we manage to fix it after the fact. If you have staff or volunteers at the door and on the floor, they could help set the tone and explain the things you have in the gallery that identify what a visitor can interact with and what they can help the Museum protect and care for (by not touching, etc.). That way visitors may feel a greater investment and ownership over stewardship of artifacts for the future.

    Margaret Koch
    Interim Director
    Bullock Texas State History Museum
    Austin TX

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  • 4.  RE: Visitor-caused damage

    Posted 01-11-2017 02:20 PM


    I have problems with visitors passing barriers in one of my exhibits as well. What we have done is put stones as the base (around the motorcycle which is the object ). This way when people step on the platform it makes a big noise and people tend to back off once they feel they can get caught through being heard. That coupled with larger signage has helped lessen visitors not respecting the barrier. 

    Colleen McCartney

    AAM Annual Meeting & MuseumExpo, Baltimore, May 16-19, 2024, click to learn more

  • 5.  RE: Visitor-caused damage

    Posted 01-11-2017 05:30 PM
    I have also experienced the problems caused by visitors not respecting the barriers, the signs, and the displays. 

    At one museum I volunteer with, we have installed security cameras.  This has helped somewhat lessen the problem.  However, we still experience the abuse.  

    I am looking into new new ways to display. Unfortunately for the many good visitors, the misbehavior of the few means that the displays become somewhat less user friendly. 

    For my own mobile museum, I have unpaid volunteers who are authorized to take whatever action is deemed necessary.  This includes contacting law enforcement.   In addition, we are constantly redesigning our displays to make them sturdier and less likely to be damaged. 

    If i I might suggest one way to combat your problem is by using retired individuals from the community as watchdogs. 

    Robert Ratliff Director, History Fanatics Houston TX

    AAM Annual Meeting & MuseumExpo, Baltimore, May 16-19, 2024, click to learn more