Do your guides have access to primary source materials?

I found this blog post, “A seasonal ranger ponders “The State of History in the National Park Service,” by Jennifer Burns, very thought-provoking on two different levels: as an administrator and as a docent. Burns discusses the National Park Service report, Imperiled Promise, and admits she isn’t surprised by much of what she found in the report. She hones in on an important distinction that the report may have failed to make: the knowledge of the administrators versus the knowledge of the staff/volunteers.She points out that the people consulted for the report were in management level positions, and that she, as a seasonal ranger, held differing views. What I found to be an interesting point in her post was that she felt her training on the interpretative aspects of her site was extremely lacking, and she didn’t exactly feel comfortable asking for access to the primacy source materials to enrich her own tours.

Now, the NPS is its own beast, so I’m not going to tackle that here. But I do want to use Burns’ post as a reminder to remember your interpretative messages, and include them in your docent training. As an administrator, you may think you have done this – but go along on some docent-led tours and see if your interpretative themes are being communicated correctly. And make your source material available to those staff/volunteers who are willing to do some digging to enrich their tours – they can pass on their information to the entire group!

If you are a staff person or volunteer, do you know the interpretative themes for your site? If not, ask! And don’t be afraid to do some of your own research into aspects of the historic story that interest you. Just be sure to vet any new information you plan on sharing during your tours with the site manager or curator to be sure your interpretation of the information is on point.

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