Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Who Goes There? How to Get Visitors Behind the Scenes

Recent visitors, Fans and members may already know about our plans for the upcoming exhibition Royal BC Museum: Behind the Scenes opening on June 25, 2010. While the curators have been busy selecting artifacts and writing labels we, in the Learning and the Visitor Experience department, have been planning the public programs and thinking about how to actually get you behind the scenes.

Despite being an avid museum visitor myself, I have not encountered many behind the scenes opportunities. The times I have, it gave me a real feeling for what the museums were all about and a sense of amazement and privilege, even for someone like me who has worked in museums for over a decade. So why aren’t there more behind the scenes opportunities? Below are a few of the challenges that we are facing in our own preparations.

A lack of physical space. When our facility was built in 1968, visitors were not a factor, let alone a priority, when it came to the areas where artifacts were being prepared and stored. These collection areas are now close to overflowing with artifacts and in many cases there is no room for a small group to gather.

Don’t feed the animals. Although people working in the museum understand the value of a good exhibition, we’d rather not be on display while working. It’s hard enough to work with a deadline looming over you, let alone with 10 pairs of eyes watching you. To the left: artist Adrienne Aikins working literally "inside the scenes" at the the Royal BC Museum.

Please do not touch. In the public galleries we work hard to ensure that there are hands-on opportunities whenever possible but specimens, artifacts and records behind the scenes are protected from all sorts of things including light and handling. How can we give visitors a glimpse of the vastness of the collections without putting the objects at risk?

Who leads the tours? In addition to their own research, curators, collection managers and other staff spend a lot of time with the public doing presentations and answering questions. Is leading a guided tour the best use of their time?

Could we become a victim of our own success? We took these issues into consideration and spoke with people in the know. Over Spring Break we ran a total of twelve test tours into three different collection areas. The first day we had to turn away as many people as we could take on the tour.

What’s next? More planning, testing and training have to take place before we launch the tours in July of this year so we can end up with an experience that is enjoyable for you and also sustainable for us.

You can comment here to help us with this planning. Have you ever taken a behind the scenes tour? Where was it and what was it that made it special? What would you like to see behind the scenes at the Royal BC Museum?


  1. I would love to go on a behind the scenes tour. I think they are so cool when they happen, but you're right that they are not often available at museums. How can I sign up?

  2. Hi Anonymous,
    Signing up is one of the issues that we need to massage a little more. We don't want to create a big administrative hassle, but demand for the tours does dictate that we have some sort of sign up proceedure.
    We tried having people sign up on the day starting one hour before the tour. That worked ok, but wasn't ideal. I am toying with the idea of posting tour times only to our Facebook Fans. In that way, we spread the word, but without creating too much demand and maybe we can even do some sort of online sign up.
    Still a work in progress? Any feedback?


The Royal BC Museum is located in Victoria, British Columbia on Canada's west coast. We preserve BC's human and natural history and share it with the world. How do we do that? That's what this blog is about.

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