Museums are not the same as they once were. Well, to be honest they haven't been for a long time. Museums have been making the change from being simply objects in cases to more interactive displays for years - the Mammals' Gallery at the Natural History Museum has a Mutoscope, or "What the Butler Saw" machine, demonstrating dolphin locomotion dating back to before the second world war!
But one thing that hasn't changed in all this time is the presence of "The Man", a fierce-looking man in a uniform who tells you off should you dare to run, touch the artefacts, or even speak above a whisper. Every child who's become a bit overexcited in a museum has heard those dreaded words "You behave yourself, or The Man will tell you off", like he's some uniformed version of the bogeyman, preying on unruly children and punishing them in some undefined way that strikes fear into the hearts of all children. But does "The Man" deserve this reputation for ferocity?
For many years I was "The Man" in the old Mary Rose Museum (in the museum bogeyman sense; even in my most egotistical moments I would never consider myself "The Man" in the urban sense!) My name badge actually said "Front of House Team Member", but that didn't stop parents referring to me by the more traditional name. The thing was that, although on occasion it was necessary to ask kids to not run around the museum, or adults to turn off the flash on their cameras (seriously, if you don't know how to turn it off, why do you think it's appropriate to use it anyway?), most of the time I was helping people, not disciplining them.
Despite the reputation of "The Man", museum staff and volunteers aren't actually allowed to 'tell you off', the worst we can do is ask you not to do whatever you did again (and it has to be something bad, like climbing on artefacts or ignoring barriers). Despite what some old-school visitors might think is best, we don't require children to walk around the museum in silence - discussion about the collection is the best way to get them interested - although we do prefer they use their indoor voices, rather than shouting to each other across the galleries (although this rarely happens). Also, despite what some parent tell their kids, we certainly never lock children in a cage, nor do we sell them off to the Navy!
The role of a museum's front of house team is twofold; to look after the museum, and to look after the visitors. Yes, they keep an eye out for people misbehaving, or anything that might damage the collection, but that's not the main part of their job. They're there to help people who look lost, answer questions about the collection and assist in case of an emergency. We make sure they're capable of answering the most frequently asked questions (the most common one, which seems to be universal, is "where's the toilet"!)
Museum guides are also there to help with that most worrying of problems - a lost child. If a member of our team sees a small child on their own, they will talk to them to find out if their parents are nearby, which can prove difficult if they've been taught to fear "The Man". So, if your child is misbehaving, don't threaten them with "The Man", he's there to be friendly, not scary.
Also, often "The Man" isn't actually a man - in our museum we have a 50-50 spilt between male and female staff and volunteers, of all ages. You're just as likely to see a young woman on our decks as an older man, but they'll be equally as qualified to answer your questions.
So, rather than warning your child to not anger "The Man" (or "The Lady"), encourage them to talk to museum staff and volunteers; chatting about history to children is always nice, and you never know, you might learn something along with your child!Suggest a correction