About The Author

David Grabitske

David Grabitske is the manager of outreach services at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Are the times truly a-changing? One of the things I’ve noticed traveling the length and breadth of the State of Minnesota is a subtle shift in how the public uses local historical organizations. Many of you have noted not many visitors come to see exhibits any more. When people come it is for a personal reason such as genealogy, house histories, or civic programs. The shift is really telling at new buildings where the exhibit space is quite modest and the research library more robust.

What have you noticed in your visitors? Are they truly shifting their interests away from exhibits and objects? Is this a trend or a fad?

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6 Responses to Shift in Visitor Desires?

  1. Sara Hanson says:

    I’m not sure about whether it’s a trend or a fad, but I do know that for us at White Bear Lake we have seen a dramatic shift from exhibits toward research and programs especially since professional staff was brought on six years ago. As that staff person my personal inclination is to stress the programs and library-both of which can be done elsewhere via off-site presentations through Community Education or other venues and by utilizing the internet for research. For so many of us space is a hot commodity as it is and exhibits take up a tremendous amount of that space if done right. They also take a large amount of effort and resources to keep them "fresh" and interesting.

    Our visitors come-or call, write or email-primarily for the library resources and as an afterthought meander into the exhibit hall while waiting for photocopies, etc. The numbers are about 4 to 1 and those who come in to just "check things out" aren’t really expect an exhibit but do want to see what we have here.

    We just completed our CAP site visits a few weeks ago and that was one of the items that will be heavily discussed when we receive our report and as we plan for the future of our organization. I’d be interested in feedback from other organizations-it may be useful as we work through our future plans.


  2. Jeff Brand says:

    I would like to think that there is room in the desires of museum patrons for a combination of both research and enjoying exhibits. Some of the exhibits that I have looked at over the years however, reflect one side or angle of history. A much more diversified approach is often exxential to capture and entertain as well as include others into the museum. I also believe that we now have to do more to diversify programming to attract more visitors and to also increase memberships. I understand that some others tackled the issues of program diversity in the past set of postings, but I ultimately believe that it essential to the success of a museum. Since we live in the 21st century, I also believe that website development and prducing an online archives or databases are another key component in keeping up with consumer trends. These are just some of my opinions, but I would like to hear some feedback or more advice from others on this situation.


  3. David Grabitske says:

    I agree a diverse approach to services is the way to go. My question is really whether there is a shift in emphasis from exhibits to research library services on the part of our patrons.

    Your comment on websites is important as I sort of see websites as an extension of both exhibits and research libraries. This would be another pulse to check in seeing how the balance between the two sits. Good point.


  4. Sara Hanson says:

    I believe our shift has definitely been patron driven. Essentially, with one staff person and a crew of dedicated volunteers we tend to be pulled in the direction the patrons desire and have to focus on that since we can’t do it all. We also are putting together a technology plan to allow many of our resources to be available on our website and more accessible. I agree with the concept of virtual exhibits as well. I often look at our programs-walking and boating tour brochures, guided walking tours, etc. as extensions of our exhibits as well. Just another way to get information out there.


  5. Mike Worcester says:

    For a long time, I took the bell curve approach to how patrons visited a museum. In other words, there would always be a segment of the population that would visit/attend our programs no matter their quality. On the opposite end were the people whoeven if you threatened them at gunpoint (and no, I never did that)would never even consider being a part of what you do. Then there were the people in the middle, who would come if something you were doing got their interest. It might have been only once or twice a year, but they still came.

    What I have seen in the last couple of years is a shrinking of that first group, stagnancy in the second, and a heavy growth of the third. Of course, what this does is make divining what THEY want to see/read/hear all the more difficult. Compounding this is the explosion of the commuter culture.

    So where do we go from here? One of my board members asked me if we for starters had to resign ourselves to the fact that our attendance may never reach the levels it did when we had the more stable audiences of even ten years ago. As much as I did not want to agree, I did. But I threw in the caveat that we could come close, but only with intensive audience surveying. Which of course, is not even a thinkable luxury for institutions with small staffs.

    Thoughts anyone?



  6. Cathy Walters says:

    Mike,I can’t belive that this is happening,which is a very sad situation!!!! Your school children are your most important people,they will become adults,historians,archaeologiest and the dreamers of the future with children who will hold the past for the future,but they must learn the importance-Why it must be save.


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