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Fw; Wake Up Call for Railroad Museums

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  • Harry Marnell
    The following post is lifted from the Railway Preservation News Interchange, at It s from Kurt
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 29 7:42 PM
      The following post is lifted from the Railway Preservation News Interchange,
      at It's from
      Kurt Bell.

      - harry

      "One way the railroad museum community can improve its stature with the
      general public would be in the realm of interpretation. All too often
      railroad museums miss the point--we are always too eager to tell technical
      jargon as the story. The general public could care less about how many
      rivets are on the side of the tender or how many turbochargers are under the
      hood. While the technological story is an important one, it should not be
      the only one. Tell human stories!! I would bet 95% of most railroad museum
      visitors have had little or no experience with trains; what a better way to
      draw people into the subject than by telling stories about the railroaders
      of the past who worked, toiled and dripped sweat on the equipment viewed on
      exhibition. Human stories are ones that everyone can relate to. Otherwise,
      they will be lost in a sea of technical mindlessness and irrelevancy.
      Remember folks, we want them to come back again and again; without their $
      support there would be no museum! Railway museum people need to get outside
      themselves and take an unselfish look at the people who patronize your
      museums and ask, "What do we need to do to improve our visitor experience?"
      Gather people information. Do exit surveys. Conduct oral histories. The last
      generation of steam is quickly fading--get it now! Interview the diesel
      generation and preserve the present oral traditions. Collect objects and
      gather artifacts that tell people stories. Then develop exhibits that allow
      you to tell a human story while incorporating historic locomotives, cars or
      trolleys as extensions of those stories. Find a way of drawing women into
      the interpretive picture. Remember, tourism studies show that wives usually
      plan the family vacation--if you don't have something to offer her, she will
      not go back (and if she has a good experience she'll tell three people; if
      she has a bad experience she'll tell 20). Just having locomotives and cars
      on display is not enough to draw visitors anymore; you must be
      audience-saavy! A good model to follow is the Altoona Railroaders' Memorial
      Museum--they have written the book on the railroad people subject; the
      Smithsonian's new transportation gallery, scheduled to open in 2003 is
      following a similar approach, as is the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania's
      new orientation exhibit, currently in the scripting phase.

      I predict that within the next 10 years there will be two classes of
      railroad museums left: 1) the ones that keep current with the times and
      cater to their visitors' learning interests and expectations; and 2) the
      ones that suffer from "buff" narrow-mindedness, are awash in techno babble,
      and ultimately close their doors because of dwindling revenues from poor

      Where will your museum be in ten years?
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