Friday, February 23, 2018

Museum Etiquette

Please don’t feed (or touch) the bears! – Photo from Candace Smith’s visit to the Anchorage Museum, Anchorage, Alaska

Museums are a place of wonder, housing visual aspects of culture, imagination, and history. The primary reason to visit museums is to educate yourself in some way. But even though a good educational experience involves interaction, not all museums encourage this. Some pieces are meant to only be viewed.

For the Best Experience

I don’t know of any place that requires greater vigilance to the rules than does a museum. It’s important for you to know what to expect, and the behavior expected of you. Keep in mind, however, that rules, though seemingly stringent, are created to provide all visitors a meaningful experience while protecting the valuable art and artifacts that are kept there.

Rules will be posted at each facility, but here are ones that will apply at any museum:
  1. Do not bring food or liquid into a gallery and do not chew gum.
  2. Politely comply if you are asked to place backpacks and large bags in a locker.
  3. If it is not a self-guided museum, stay with your tour guide at all times.
  4. Never touch exhibit displays. 
  5. Please don't run or play around. When you least expect it, something will be knocked over or be broken.
  6. Touch only the pieces designated for touching, such as interactive displays and buttons that turn on audio or video.
  7. Always walk at the specified distance from displays and never cross ropes to get a closer look. This is usually at least a one-foot distance.
  8. Do not take pictures unless expressly permitted. Usually, photographs are permitted as long as no flash or lights are used.
  9. If you are in a group led by a guide, it would not be considerate to take pictures while the tour is being conducted unless invited to do so.
  10. Talk quietly so you don't interrupt or annoy others listening during a guided tour, or who simply want a thoughtful experience.
  11. Ask questions of your guide, but avoid monopolizing her time.

When visiting the Anchorage Museum, I walked through an exhibit featuring three colorful bears. I was fascinated! Though there was a sign clearly posted to warn me, I instinctively reached out and touched one of them...

When Enthusiasm Takes Over

If you love to visit museums and learn new things, there will be times when you see something exciting and can't contain yourself.

I'm certainly no exception. When visiting the Anchorage Museum, I walked through an exhibit featuring three colorful bears. I was fascinated! Though there was a sign clearly posted to warn me, I instinctively reached out and touched one of them. I know, but I couldn't help myself!

I immediately pulled my hand away and told our guide, who was standing next to me, "Oh, I am sorry!" I kept guard of my straying hands after that incident.

When enthusiasm takes over, do your best to be mindful of your movements. Museum curators enjoy knowing how much guests like the works they've installed, but don't risk letting your excitement ruin a piece of priceless art.

If you do happen to touch something (or worse), find a staff person and tell him or her. It may be necessary that they clean the piece to remove the oils and bacteria from your fingers, or right whatever wrong has accidentally happened.

Visit Museums Often

Museums are a wealth of knowledge waiting for you to explore. Though some people are a little put-off by the rules in place, it is entirely possible to visit, learn information, and be inspired by the things you will see - all while having fun. The most important rule is to enjoy yourself while doing your part to protect and preserve the art work, and to be mindful that others will come after you, hopefully for many years to come. 

Meet our newest contributor, Candace Smith... A retired, national award-winning secondary school educator, Candace Smith teaches university students and professionals the soft skills of etiquette and protocol. She found these skills necessary in her own life after her husband received international recognition in 2002. Plunged into a new “normal” of travel and formal social gatherings with global leaders, she discovered how uncomfortable she was in many important social situations. After extensive training in etiquette and protocol, Candace realized a markedly increased confidence level in meeting and greeting and dining skills and was inspired to share these skills that will help others gain comfort and confidence in dining and networking situations. Learn more at

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J. Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia

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