Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Good Host

From the desk of Tim Willis, 
Director of Exhibitions 
& Visitor Experience 
Royal BC Museum

A terrific cashier assisted us when we arrived... What a marvelous 'front desk' persona he brings to his job. His manner was very friendly, he was helpful …You must be so proud of staff like him.  For visiting Aussies - what a great guy and what a magnificent museum!
                                            ~ A museum visitor from Australia
One could not ask for more than that as a first impression. I’m intrigued by the importance of positive (and negative) human interaction in shaping a memorable visitor experience.
As a child, I have a memory of visiting a place called Cheddar Gorge in England.  The caverns at Cheddar are spectacular - but what I recall most clearly is one thing: the Guide standing with his hand out (for tips!) at the end of our tour.  This unseemly act has stuck with me for 40 years.
We have clearly articulated that providing superb service as a priority for our organisation. For us, it’s a both business consideration and a critical aspect of shaping an enjoyable visitor experience. It’s also personal. I think we understand that when someone comes to our place, we want to be gracious hosts.
And to that end, we have created a Visitor Service Team made up of representatives of all parts of the organisation and our business partners who help us run Royal BC Museum – the Friends Foundation, the Café, and the magnificent IMAX Theatre. The team has done some great work in sorting out some longstanding irritants that got in the way of good service. They have also shaped a Service Philosophy [see below] to which we have all committed.

Our latest service winner – Venus Orance
Manager of the Museum Café
posing with the magnificent "Service Staff"
The other part to our initiative concerns awareness and training. We want to foster a “culture of great visitor service”–which we all [staff and volunteers] own. A highlight of this program is the monthly award of the Service Staff. Each month, a person is nominated by their peers for modelling some aspect of the Service Philosophy. The winner is recognized at an all staff meeting, receives a certificate, an edible treat and the “Service Staff”–a stick worthy of Gandalf himself.
Our award winners have one thing in common. They view themselves as a host to the guests in their house. And none of them stand at the door with their hand out!

Our Service Philosophy - we declare that that we will be:
Responsive:       We respond to visitors’ inquiries and requests for service in a  prompt and efficient manner.
Accountable:     We take personal responsibility for managing customer needs, expectations and safety.
Courteous:        We deliver services in a considerate, respectful and professional manner.
Understanding:  We work hard to understand visitors’ diverse needs and expectations – to put ourselves in the shoes of others.
Credible:           We deliver service in a knowledgeable, skillful and ethical manner.

Tim Willis

Monday, July 18, 2011

Getting the Word Out

From the desk of Colleen Wilson,
Conservator at the Royal BC Museum

Visible light is  a small part of the radiation 
received from the sun.

Although our job is to preserve the museum’s collections, RBCM conservators actually want to preserve everything.   To that end we speak frequently to local groups who have an interest in history and are happy to answer enquiries about caring for the things they collect. 
But too much talking (and writing) cuts into the time we spend actually conserving.  So this summer, in addition to the Discover talks in the gallery by members of the department, there will be eight in-gallery presentations weekly by docents who have had a crash course in Basic Conservation Issues.
These dedicated volunteers will be found in the Old Town, probably in or near the Chinatown streetscape.   They will be recognizable by their out-going and captivating personalities (and possibly their second-hand lab coats); they will be prepared to share information about “Light, Dust and Insects.”

Light (Radiation)
Visitors frequently comment on the low light levels in the exhibits.  Placing our treasures on display means that people can enjoy and learn from them, but the risk of loss from light damage is great.  Light damage is irreparable (once faded a colour is gone) and cumulative (more exposure means more damage); we frequently have to choose between exposure and preservation.
Part of a quilt that was 
protected from 
overexposure to light
The same fabric 
from an area  that 
was in direct sunlight.

Conservator Kjerstin Mackie 
dusts John Lennon's 
Rolls Royce weekly.
Dust presents two problems in the Museum:  it makes the exhibits look … dusty.   And removing it is time-consuming, expensive and hard on the objects.  Although open exhibits are much more engaging, they are much more likely to get dusty – the forest and seashore dioramas look quite a bit less convincing when covered with lint and fluff.  But removing the dust has to be done extremely carefully, particularly in the artifact-rich settings of the Old Town.  Cleaning can be risky for materials that were not designed to be wash-and-wear, and it is essential that only dust that has fallen in the museum be removed; soil that is part of the artifact can contain valuable information.

In our temperate climate, insects are an ever-present threat.   Some arrive with potential donations, some come in with floral décor, some hitch-hike in on visitors fresh from the garden.  Once inside the Museum they seek out their preferred food groups, but they can gain sustenance from food scraps along the way.  Part of our Integrated Pest Management strategy are weekly patrols of the windowsills to remove dead flies (that could provide a strengthening meal for protein eaters); detailed examination of all flowers and props that are used in the galleries; and a ban on casual food and drink above the ground floor.
Moth larvae have dined on the wool cover of this 
WW1 water bottle.

The volunteer presenters will have examples to share, equipment to test and explanations for much that is not apparent to the average visitor.   They will have suggestions for things to look for in the galleries, and recommendations on how to care for treasures at home.  Best of all, their enthusiasm is sure to inspire visitors with a greater understanding of the complexities of preserving our cultural heritage.   

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Underwater Cables and Canadian Innovation

From the desk of Sean Rodman
Strategic Partnerships Manager 
at the Royal BC Museum

As you surf along the internet, take a moment to ponder the signals that are transmitted along the tangle of wires and cables from your computer. Those cables stretch out and around the world, making the internet possible. But the idea of a global network of cables for communication isn't a new one. In fact, it's 133 years old. And, in the wake of July 1st, it's also a very Canadian story.

In July, 1898, the "All Red Route" was born. A group of representatives from Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand decided that a cable communications line would be created that would completely circle the globe. It would run only though the countries of the Commonwealth, hence the "All Red" moniker. Remember - we're not talking about fibre optic cables, but copper. This was an earlier information revolution, allowing the transmission of dots and dashes over land and under sea.

"The All-Red Line Around The World"

Canadian visionary Sir Sanford Fleming had actually pitched the idea back in 1879, but it wasn't until nearly 20 years later that his plan came close to being completed. The last piece of the network of cable to be laid was the run from the west coast of Canada, under the Pacific to surface at a small island in the middle of the ocean. From there, onwards to Australia. And from there, the line would connect with existing cables across Asia and back to Great Britain.

"Cable Station, Banfield, Vancouver Island, BC"
After various expeditions up and down the west coast, the location for the starting point of the trans-Pacific submarine cable was decided upon. Bamfield, here on Vancouver Island, would be home to the Pacific Cable Board (PCB) Cable Station. In 1901 the cable ship Colonia set out from Bamfield to lay over 4,000 kilometers of undersea cable line to Fanning Island, a speck in the ocean some 1,600 kilometers south of Hawaii.

Meanwhile, construction of the cable station proceeded. The job fell to Francis Mawson Rattenbury, superstar architect of his day. He was also responsible for many of our province's famous landmarks including: the British Columbia Parliament Buildings, the Empress Hotel and the Vancouver Courthouse.

On November 1st 1902, the first telegraph message to encircle the globe travelled around the All Red Route. Sir Sanford Fleming sent, and recieved, the message in Ottawa.

Wally II's Test Crawl
Today, communications cables continue to play an important role in bringing our world together. And Vancouver Island continues to be on the cutting edge: the University of Victoria has created the Neptune and Venus projects, which laid cables of "underwater observatories" across the sea floor. You can watch, live, what's happening 800 metres down.

If you want to dig deeper into the history of underwater cables, come down to the Royal BC Museum. On our 3rd floor, we have a display of cables and the first telegraphs to be sent along the "All Red Route."