“Upon entering our building, seventy percent of visitors immediately turn right.”
“Really?” I replied, shocked.
We were in a meeting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City discussing the location of audio tour distribution points. A representative of the Met’s digital staff was explaining their flow of visitors.
“Yes, right,” he continued, “because they know that’s where they’ll find the mummies.”
I’ve visited the Met probably over a hundred times. I cajole family, friends, and even dates to come see my favorites – a Greek vase with what appears to be an eight legged horse, a large sculpture of bears, the display of medieval arms and armor, and a set of cups used specifically to drink hot chocolate. But every single time, I immediately turn left into a welcoming great white hall full of Greek and Roman antiquities.
Turning right would bring me to the mummies – something I was scared of as a young child and have never quite reconciled. So while seventy percent of visitors immediately turn right, I am one of the thirty percent that instinctively turns left.
In my current job as digital interpretation specialist, it’s my job to think about how my museum should be conveying information to our visitors. While I don’t work with Egyptian antiquities, I often think about that conversation at the Met. Is the information I want to share appealing to that seventy percent of people who have vastly different tastes than me? Or am I creating content that attracts only thirty percent of people? And to what end should populist opinion be driving museum interpretation?
The mummies in the Met might draw in seven out of ten people who want to ogle at a real person from long ago in a glass case, but to me – and from afar – the mummies keep me aware of the diversity of visitor interests and striving to create content that appeals to everyone.
Blaire Moskowitz is a second year PhD student at the University of Leicester in the School of Museum Studies. Her doctoral research examines the prospect of museums interacting with online communities and using the Web’s culture as a resource. She is also the Digital Interpretive Specialist at the New York Botanical Garden.