Friday, September 28, 2012

Museums of Salt Lake City

I'm not able to be in Salt Lake City next week for the AASLH Annual Conference. I'm trying really hard not to sulk. I so loved being on the program committee, reading all the proposals and helping to shape the conference's message. I've registered for the online conference, though, and that will have to tide me over.

Hopefully, there will be less snow next week. The mountains will be just as gorgeous, though.
When I was in town for the program committee meeting in January, I did a fair amount of museum visiting. I'll do a quick recap of the places I went here, for anyone who's lucky enough to get to the conference and wants an overview.

Temple Square

Open rehearsal of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Amazing.
You can't miss it. Literally everything in the city radiates out from this central location, and of course there's the massive temple. It's a lovely public space, with some wonderful historic buildings. The visitor centers have exhibits both about the history and current practices of Mormonism. If you get the chance, go to the open rehearsal of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on Thursday night.

Church History Museum

Entrance to the Church History Museum.

Adjacent to Temple Square, this is the museum for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It's got everything, up to and including Joseph Smith's death mask and an original hand cart used by a Mormon pioneer. Make sure you get upstairs to the children's galleries, and if you're pressed for time turn down the offer of an individual tour. I learned a ton and had great interactions with my guide, but it took over two hours to get through the (relatively small) galleries.

Natural History Museum of Utah

I'm pretty sure there is no such thing as a bad photograph of this building.
The building is brand new, the collections have been completely re-installed, and the only drawback to this museum is that it is really difficult to get to, involving several different types of public transportation or a costly taxi ride. If you can make it up, though, there were some absolutely phenomenal exhibits and participatory elements.

Salt Lake City Public Library

Cafes and stores in the courtyard of the library.
So it's not a museum, but it's one of the best public cultural spaces I've ever seen. I was in absolute awe. If you get the chance even to just walk through, definitely do so.

The Leonardo

This interactive sculpture responded to its environment by moving around and reaching out in a way that was simultaneously awe-inspiring and deeply creepy.
Also brand new, this might take the prize for quirkiest museum space I've ever visited. It bills itself as a contemporary art, science, and technology museum, and it seems to have taken a whole bunch of interactive and educational elements and put them in a blender. Every which way I turned there was something fascinating, and much of it was very well-done, but I'm not sure it sent me away with a coherent overall message other than "COOL!"

This is certainly not a complete overview of every museum in Salt Lake City - there were plenty I didn't get to, unfortunately. It's a highly selective list of what I was able to do in a day and a half. I'd love to go back someday and dig deeper. If you're going to the conference, are there any museums on your list to visit?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Museum Mules

The American Museum of Agriculture, a new museum under construction in Lubbock, Texas, recently purchased and euthanized two mules in order to mount their hides for use in a new exhibit.

The incident has gotten a fair amount of play in the press recently - Google "mules museum" and after a link to the American Mule Museum - which sounds like a cool project - just about the only results are negative news articles about the Lubbock museum.

The furor seems to have been started when the museum itself issued a press release on September 17 stating that it had purchased two mules - aged 28 and 32 - either directly from their owner or through the intermediary of a livestock dealer. The animals were no longer suitable for work and would have been transported to Mexico to be slaughtered for their meat.

The museum has been working with exhibit developer Museum Arts in Dallas, TX to create new galleries and dioramas, including one showing the McCormick Reaper (presumably) being pulled by two mules. Phil Paramore of Museum Arts stated that the exhibit's authenticity absolutely depended on presenting stuffed, rather than fiberglass, mules: "The reason that you use a real animal is to most accurately show the way the activity was done at the time. A fiberglass replica just doesn’t convey the same message."

This has gone over about as well as one would expect. An equine rights advocate named Elaine Nash started a campaign to save the mules, based on conflicting reports about the scheduled date of their euthanization, and a Lubbock area rescue named Ranch Hand Rescue started an online petition to do the same.

Nash told newspapers, in response to the museum's statement that they saved the animals from inhumane slaughter methods, "All they saved the mules from was a nice rescue home grazing under an apple tree — loved and petted and given treats … they could have had a wonderful life."

I think there have been a few major missteps in this whole situation that are going to haunt this museum for some time.

First: why the press release? It starts off reading like a triumphal announcement of future quality, and then degenerates into a defensive morass. Was the museum being threatened with exposure? Were they trying to be up front and transparent about the creation of their exhibit? Were they genuinely proud that they had saved these animals from slaughter? Did they have any idea of the anger the press release would invoke? Why not just stick with reporting on the exciting new exhibits?

Second: saying "they should have been rescued!" is a simplistic analysis. As the recession grinds on, thousands of horses have been neglected or abandoned, and every horse rescue in America is bursting at the seams. If they hadn't suddenly become famous, these two mules would not even have been a blip on the radar of the lucrative business of hauling horses across the border for slaughter. (Slaughter in the United States was abolished several years ago, which has led to only a small decrease in the numbers of horses meeting that end, and means that all horse slaughter now takes place in other countries, beyond the USDA's sphere of influence.)

If the mules genuinely were aged, no longer comfortable in work, and their owner would have trucked them to slaughter, then humane, veterinary euthanasia may have been a blessing for them. It's possible they were in chronic pain after a lifetime of hard work, and would not have been comfortable or happy in prolonged lives.  They would not have whiled away their hours in a field eating apples and adored by small children. Many would argue that responsible rescues should devote time and resources to animals that can have a second chance. These mules would have faced an uphill battle to be placed with an owner who could afford to keep two non-working animals.

Third, and most difficult to get at, is Paramore's claim that the exhibit would have suffered in impact with fiberglass reproductions of mules. I'm trying to think if I've ever seen another museum exhibit in which mounted & stuffed animals - of any species - were used as supporting evidence. Generally, animals displayed in that manner are the provenance of natural history museums. I know of a few prominent stuffed horses in museums - Winchester, Comanche, and Misty all come to mind - but all were famous in their own right and died natural deaths. Their identity as witnesses to history is the source of authenticity in their exhibits.

We talk a lot in museums about the power of objects. We argue that the real thing, the actual physical historical object, is the draw. For all that there are some excellent discussions to be had about the educational uses of reproductions, awe is usually reserved for the actual thing itself. Does that awe extend to the more ancillary pieces of an exhibit? Would I be less awed by an original McCormick Reaper if it were pulled by fiberglass mules? To use a comparison: am I less awed by equestrian armor at the Higgins Armory because it is displayed on a fiberglass horse?

I really don't think so. I believe the museum erred in taking Mr. Paramore's advice. I couldn't tell whether Museum Arts has used this technique with success in the past. Their website shows one possibility in its portfolio gallery of the East Texas Oil Museum, but it's tough to say whether the horses in the photo are reproductions or mounted. I would be extremely interested to see any studies or evaluations done on exhibits - history exhibits, not natural history - comparing the effectiveness or impact of stuffed & mounted animals as opposed to recreations.

It seems to me that in taking life in order to embellish its galleries (not for scientific purposes), this museum has crossed a line. They are reaping the consequences of that action now as well; as of September 25, the Museum of Agriculture's Facebook page had 392 likes, and the Save the Lubbock Mules campaign's had 1,266.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Workshop Notes: "I love my job, but..."

I Love My Job, But...Raises, Transitioning, and Advocating for More Responsibility
presented by the New England Museum Association's Young & Emerging Professionals PAG
April 26, 2012 at the Tufts University Art Gallery

The NEMA YEPs host a series of mini-workshops each spring, evening presentations with a focus on career advancement in museums. I've attended all but one for the last few years. I'm happy to say that as of June I have been serving as co-chair of the YEPs, and am helping to plan the upcoming workshop series. This particular session was one of my favorites, for its frank discussions of important issues and for the clear engagement shown by the audience.

The speakers were Dan Yaeger, President of NEMA; Douglas Stark, Museum Director at the International Tennis Hall of Fame; and Laura Roberts, museum consultant and professor of museum studies at Harvard University. I believe the workshop is best summarized in a series of questions with their answers following.

How do you talk about salary in an interview?

Never talk about salary until they fall in love with you! Even if a job asks, really try to avoid giving salary requirements in a cover letter. Keep in mind, too, that salaries aren't really negotiable like they are in the for-profit world; museums are highly budget-oriented.

When is the best time to ask for a raise, and how do you do that?

Annual performance reviews are key. You should go into your annual review with ammunition, a list of things you've done well over the past year. If you don't get reviewed by your supervisor, then create your own annual review. Really sit down and assess your own performance over the past year.

You should also make sure to broach the subject of a raise while the budget is still being discussed - don't wait until it's anywhere close to finalized!

Keep in mind that a job description should be like any other document in a museum's strategic plan. It should be revisited and revised according to reality. If you've taken on additional duties, you should advocate to tweak your job description, and with that can come a natural conversation about more pay.

You should also get to know everyone in your institution so that you can build good relationships. That way everyone will be able to vouch for your value.

How do you seek out and ask for professional development?

Keep in mind that your boss - unless you have a really rare, really wonderful boss - does not care about your career as much as you do. His priority is the institution and himself, so you need to make the case for professional development in those terms. Offer to come back and share what you've learned from a particular workshop or conference. Even if you haven't made the offer, do so anyway! Write up summaries for everyone of anything you think was particularly useful. Remember, as you progress through your career and your job you are building political capital that you can use for things just such as this.

What do you do when people feel threatened?

This is a topic particular to young and emerging professionals, who are often energetic and eager to be on the cutting edge and can make more established staff members feel nervous. To help combat this, you should be self-aware but also be authentic. Share your enthusiasm for your work and make very sure to credit those around you for their help and advice. Sometimes, though, the institution just isn't a good fit for you - too moribund or resistant - and you will need a transition.

What do you do when you realize it's time to move on?

First, beware of inertia and fear! Job hunting is a pain, but change is necessary. On that note, be aware that the museum field is a small one; don't gratuitously alienate anyone, because they will come back to haunt you in unexpected ways. Once you've made the decision to move on, put your network into action - but make sure that you've built up your social capital with your network. (Keep in mind the "what have you done for me lately?" corollary.)

Apply to jobs even when you're happy in your job - people always interview better when they're happy. If you have a good enough relationship with your boss you can bring up the subject of looking elsewhere, but be careful with this!

Be brave enough to get out there and meet people. Don't just sit behind a computer. Build a network you can trust, and when it comes time to job hunt, assume everything will be broadcast, so be polite and discreet.

Any final messages?

Think about the messages you convey with your behavior and work and adjust accordingly - make sure the message is always under your control.

Keep in mind that career paths are not always what you think, so stay open to change and opportunity.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Book Review: Museum Masters by Edward P. Alexander

I wrote this book review for the Tufts Museum Studies Blog in January 2012. I'm reprinting it here as the first in what will be many book reviews, all indexed on my new bibliography page.

Museum Masters: Their Museums and Their Influence
Edward P. Alexander

First published in 1983 by the American Association for State and Local History, Alexander’s broad overview of energetic museum founders and their famous museums is only a little bit worn around the edges. Much of the information he considers belongs to the historical past rather than the more recent past. Only when he finishes each chapter with small “where are they now” updates and refers to the Soviet Union or East Germany does he really go wrong.

Alexander set out to write short biographical histories of several men and women whose life work culminated in the founding of a famous or influential museum – Sir Hans Sloane and the British Museum, Charles Willson Peale and the Philadelphia Museum, Dominique Vivant Denon and the Louvre, and so on and so forth. The chapters are arranged chronologically and are self-inclusive: each is its own essay, and can be read independently. The structure makes this an easy book to pick up and put down repeatedly, and each individual chapter is 25-40 pages long and can be read in a day.

Alexander’s writing style is lively but informative, and for the most part he manages to organize and present large varieties and volumes of information succinctly and well. Many of the figures he cover had extensive careers even before they turned their attention to museums; in fact, for some of them, their museum work was nearly an afterthought. One of the strengths of his approach, however, was connecting the energy and innovation of individuals to institutions, and then to the larger museum world. He specifically sought out museums whose course was fundamentally altered by a single personality for his study.

I read this book hoping to see how individuals could change the course of museums, and while I don’t think I found the key I was looking for, I did come away with a great deal of respect for the clear visionary leadership that each individual showed. Some chapters stood out in that regard: Denon and the Louvre, Ann Pamela Cunningham and Mount Vernon, Artur Hazelius and Skansen, and John Cotton Dana were all especially good in showing how vision could create new archetypes for museums.

In summary: recommended for those who are seeking out examples of how clear vision can change the museum world, and who are interested in the backstory behind some of the world’s greatest museums.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area

My National Parks geekery continues: Sunday morning we took the ferry out to Georges Island for a picnic and an exploration of Fort Warren.

Looking across the parade grounds back west in the direction of Boston.
The fort itself was terrific. There were some great views of Boston and the rest of the harbor, plenty of space  to walk around, all of it beautiful. There were conveniently placed picnic tables and grills and the landscaping was a nice balance of cut back and yet still a bit wild in parts. Exploring the fort itself was exciting; some parts were pitch-dark and required a flashlight. I wished occasionally for more interpretation (we went into a building that housed enlisted men during the Civil War; how many? how, exactly, in those cavernous rooms?) .Fort McHenry had the jump there, with its re-creations of military fort life.

Some interesting - and outdated - political graffiti supporting the Irish Republican Army.
My favorite interior space by far - imagine a steampunk or costume ball in here!
The small museum on the island did some interesting things with its exhibitions. In particular, I liked the case showing the typical rations for those in different walks of life, from Confederate prisoners of war on up to Union officers.

Six different examples in all, starting in the near left.
The most sumptuous meal on the table.
I also liked the way the exhibits described daily life on the island, by breaking things down into the various times of the day, then providing object cases that visitors could open to see artifacts related to activities at those times of the day.

I would've liked more specific object labels inside the cases, though!
Finally, I thought the museum made brilliant use of space for its short film describing the history of Fort Warren - the screen descended from the ceiling to cover up a display about World War II, then rolled back up after the eight minute film was completed.

The film itself was pretty good, too, juxtaposing historic photographs with modern views from the same perspective.

Monday, September 17, 2012

150 years ago right now...

I've been thinking a lot about how historic sites allow you to time travel. Setting foot on the field, or in the room, where history happened gives you a real, visceral link to that history. I can't even count how many places have given me chills, where I could feel the incredible gravitas of the moment. Louisa May Alcott's bedroom at Orchard House. The stockade field at Andersonville. Notre Dame in Paris.

For me, the connection is stronger on anniversaries, which may be why we make so much of them. Today is the 150th anniversary of the bloodiest day in American history: the battle of Antietam. I woke up this morning at 7:00 a.m., opened my eyes, and thought that precisely 150 years ago, my great-great-great-grandfather, Captain Richard Gustin, was leading his regiment, the 12th Pennsylvania Reserves, through the cornfields at Antietam.

Cornfields at Antietam, looking south.

I've always felt an affinity for Richard - as evidenced by my two-week Civil War trip and my years of on-and-off research into his life. He was an extraordinary man. Having now walked in his footsteps, it means the world to me that I can close my eyes and easily picture that cornfield, the fence at the road where the Confederate forces held their ground, the dells and trees of the small shielded part of the field where the regiment eventually fell back.

Other end of the cornfield, looking back north.

Ahead, the trees where the 12th Pennsylvania and others took cover after the morning's fighting.

That's what we're ultimately looking for, isn't it, in interpreting historic sites, and to a certain extent, in history museums? That bone-deep connection to the past? I spend so many of my waking hours trying to foster that moment in others that when I can take a step back and experience it for myself it's really special.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Integrating STEM into History Museums

Conner Prairie Interactive History Park, which has been through some rocky times lately, just got some terrific news: the National Science Foundation has granted the living history $2.3 million to embark on a study of how to integrate STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) curriculum elements into history education and exhibitions.
According to the press release, "This new approach will integrate interactive, science activities, observation, measurement and experimentation with time- and place-specific narrative that characterizes historic learning experiences." The grant was received in collaboration with the Science Museum of Minnesota, and will be used to really pioneer new techniques for the field. Here's what they say about the planned initiatives:
The $2.3 million NSF grant will be used to:
  • Fund  research in creating exhibits and programs that fully integrate science and history, including a small prototype exhibit at Conner Prairie.
  • Engage participants from other history museums to create a model to reproduce integrated science- and history-learning experiences at the participants’ sites. These participants include: Mystic Seaport: The Museum of America and the Sea in Mystic, Conn., Minnesota Historical Society in Saint Paul, Minn., California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento, Calif., and Wabash County Historical Museum in Wabash, Ind.
  • The findings will then be distributed to museums throughout the country. Conner Prairie, the Science Museum of Minnesota and participating museums will be in a position to lend authority and nationwide visibility to the newly developed approach by writing papers, articles and speaking at conferences as well as making the research and results readily available.
I think there's huge potential here, for at least two reasons. The first is that there is major funding in STEM education. From a purely mercenary point of view, it's a very smart move for history museums to try to integrate science into their narratives. The second is that science is already there. History is the story of everything: that includes STEM subjects as well as art, music, gender, politics, race, you name it. It's all in there. History that's just names + dates + factoids is bad history. I am thrilled to see some major funding put behind the development of innovative new exhibition and education planning in less-commonly-explored topics in history museums.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Small Museums & Task Saturation

I'm an avid follower of the blog at the Small Museums Online Community, a professional affinity group of AASLH. It's updated infrequently, but it always gives me something to think about when there's a new post.

Recently, one post talked about the dangers of task saturation for employees in small museums. I've been thinking about it on and off since.

More and more studies are saying that multitasking can be detrimental to overall productivity, and blogs like Unclutterer emphasize a more focused, one-task-at-a-time approach to work and life. I've thought for some time now that the instant gratification attention grabbing distraction that is the internet is a danger for me personally - I rarely even turn my home computer on unless I'm home for a full day, in order to concentrate on reading, offline writing, or tasks that are right in front of me in the real world.

There's also no doubt that many small museums struggle to get everything done with limited resources, as the blog post eloquently describes. I don't see any horizon past which things will get easier, either.

Here's the thing though: the kind of task saturation they're describing? It's exactly why I love small museums.

Cleaning the bathroom one minute and writing a grant proposal next, then leading a school tour and writing a collections article later in the afternoon? That sounds like pretty much the best day ever for me. Before I learned about the field of public history, I knew that I loved history, but I struggled with the prospective narrow focus of an academic career. I love research and writing and teaching, but spending all day, every day, doing just that wasn't for me. I'm an active, energetic person by nature who needs lots of new things to try and lots of different things to do.

I suspect that a lot of public history professionals who are drawn toward small museums feel the same way. Yes, burnout is a real danger, but for some of us the demand and variety of tasks in a small organization are a reward, not a penalty.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Teaching students civic engagement and activism

I knew Dena Simmons at Middlebury College, and she was a smart, energetic advocate then; since our undergraduate days, she's only gotten smarter and more active in her work, which encompasses education and activism.

She recently wrote on introducing activism to students, and I think her ideas here are a great roadmap for thinking about teaching activism in a museum setting, as well.

I was particularly struck by what she had to say about mapping community - both from the students' perspective and from the educator's perspective. I found myself wondering how many of those maps of community include museums - and if not, why not?

Friday, September 7, 2012

AAM Rebranding Roundup

There's been quite a bit of discussion about the rebranding of the American Association of Museums as the American Alliance of Museums, revealed on September 5.

The direct coverage and explanation from AAM comes in a couple of forms. First, their general announcement, with an outline of the changes, is pretty good, and has links to learn more. (Was I the only one who noticed the website lagging in the first few hours after the announcement? Guess it caught everyone's eye!)

The Center for the Future of Museums has had a few blog posts about the changes. The Fractal Taxonomy of Museums, by founding Director Elizabeth Merritt, talks about the commonalities of museums (and aquariums and public gardens and all sorts of other spaces that fall under the museum rubric). The post-announcement statement by AAM President Ford W. Bell, The Future of Museums, and AAM personalizes the changes and re-affirms his commitment to advocating for museums.

I've read some good, thoughtful analysis about the changes in a few places. Max van Balgooy at Engaging Places did a really terrific overview of the impact of those changes on historic sites. I agree with him that AAM has felt at times like an art museum's playground. The changes in the organizational membership structure in particular sound like they'll be beneficial to smaller museums.

Jamie Glavic at Museum Minute points out that there's a difference between "association" and "alliance," and that difference really can signal a shift in thinking.

The Western Museums Association calls the new AAM the "Rebel Alliance" and argues that the name and logo changes are necessary because the entire organization has changed.

Lee Rosenbaum at CultureGrrl is more skeptical, however. She blogged about the odd reveal via website change and then post at the Center for the Future of Museums here, and now wonders if the shift might be more of a marketing ploy and membership drive than anything else. Ford Bell responded to her questions in a guest post soon afterwards.

ArtInfo quotes Lee and has found one museum that already appreciates the new membership system.(Wow, that was really fast!)

I'll choose optimism. I think the changes really do open things up for smaller organizations to get a foot in the door and begin the process of professionalization, while banding everyone together.

I remain, however, troubled by the way the changes were made. I appreciate that AAM has done member polling, but I am frustrated at the lack of communication about the upcoming changes. There was no "changes coming soon!" press release or member email, just an unannounced total makeover of the website that went up a week before the changes were even explained. I would have much preferred a graduated rollout with a series of announcements.

I am particularly uncomfortable with the new logo. Quite frankly, I find it ugly. I don't see A or M in there. It's busy. It makes me mostly think of a school of fish.

On the plus side, my old AAM logo water bottle is now a collector's item.

PS - in case anyone was wondering, the other AAM, the Automobile Association of Malaysia, went through its own rebranding in June.

Edited to add:

From Peabody's Lament, "the official blog of the American Hysterical Society," a museum & public history satire blog, comes this tongue-in-cheek coverage.

Brand New, a blog about corporate logos, does an utterly fascinating post about the new AAM logo, which I complained about above. I'm still not sure I like it, but I get the concept much more now.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Should we syndicate museums?

In my other life, I am an avid equestrian. I compete at the extreme low end of a sport that has recently garnered a great deal of attention for its Olympic profile and because Presidential candidate Mitt Romney's wife, Ann, is involved in owning and riding competitive horses.

The vast majority of riders at the Olympics did not own their own horses. They rode horses owned by other people who pay the bills - much like jockeys don't own the racehorses they sit on. The Romneys co-own their mare, Rafalca, with one other person, and have been getting flak for the amount they spend on her. One thing that's been overlooked in coverage is a new trend in horse ownership at the upper levels: syndication.

Here's a great article about syndication, its structure, and what it offers both owners and riders.

Obviously, even with syndication, we're still taking serious money. These people are deeply invested in the horses and riders they support, and they have a certain degree of disposable income.

What about syndicating a museum?

At a certain level, that's what a membership program is for - charging a higher fee than regular admission in return for a series of tangible benefits. At another level, any major gift program is also going to have some guidelines for recognition of and ongoing relationships with its donors.

It strikes me, however, that there's something about syndication - in the way in which these equestrian supporters go about it - that's fundamentally more involved than simply writing a check and expecting a pat on the back. They are invested in the successes of their horses. They are able to bond with other syndicate members in a common cause. They experience joy at success and grief at failure. Some owners retire upper-level horses to their own backyards.

What is it about this system that can be transferred over to museums, and would it be helpful? Would soliciting a multi-year, large figure donation from a patron of a museum, and truly integrating that patron into the successes and failures and joys and challenges of the museum help that museum, or is that a recipe for disaster?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Making things easy for visitors

As readers are no doubt sick of hearing, I just finished a 14-day road trip visiting historic sites up and down the eastern seaboard. I learned a ton, and loved (almost) every minute of it. (I'll be honest, the very loud coyote at our campsite in Fredericksburg was not my favorite.)

One thing I kept bumping up against time and time again was whether a museum or site had made it easy for visitors to get there or not. You'd think this would be basic, right? And yet. After perusing several dozen websites in an attempt to get directions, hours, and other visiting information, here are my thoughts on making this process as easy as possible.

1. Always, always provide a GPS address.
I can't even tell you how many sites provided only directions from major cities, or major highways. Those are helpful things. I'm not saying get rid of them. What is absolutely crucial is an address to which those who may not be familiar with the area can point a GPS. Don't have a street address? Follow Appomattox Court House National Historic Park's example and provide tips for using a GPS, including specific coordinates.

2. Make your hours easy to understand.
Lots of places have hours that change seasonally or even daily. I get that. Make sure your current hours are at the very top of the page. Change that page regularly if you must, but don't make me dig through a whole page to find the "July - August" hours. Don't be like Monticello, which makes you click on a calendar for the exact day you're visiting. (In all fairness, Monticello also has the very nice feature of putting today's hours in a prominent place on their front page, which is terrific for spur of the moment visitors but not as much for those planning ahead.)

3. Give me an estimate of how long it will take to visit your site.
Is your site or museum enormous, like the Manassas National Battlefield (5,500 acres)? Is it relatively small, like Appomattox Court House? Will I spend all day there, or can I do it in two hours? Yes, I know we'd all like to have visitors spend the whole day luxuriating in our collections, but realistically, people are on a schedule and it is enormously helpful to give them an idea of whether they'll feel frustrated or satisfied if they only have three hours in a location. The best example of this that I saw was the Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania National Military Park, which provided tiered suggestions depending on how much time visitors had to spend.

4. Extra information for special interest groups.
Some of your visitors have accessibility issues. Some have small children. Some are avid history geeks looking to follow the particular steps of a particular person at a particular time. Every site is going to have additional groups that may have a particular interest in a particular part of their site. Providing information for those groups will really help enhance their experience. At the very least, every site should contain some basic information on accessibility features and accommodations, as well as some basic information on bringing children. Going further than that - providing, say, a one page sheet about how to find information on a particular ancestor's regiment at you battlefield - can go a long way toward garnering support among people whose passion is invaluable.

5. Try having a one page printout with all necessary information
I printed out a lot of pages of directions, hours, and "what to do" information. Some sites had as many as three or four different pages with this information, and when they printed out, it used up twice as much paper as necessary because of the way the website had been coded. (I'm looking at you, Stone Mountain.) What if a site created a one-page PDF that included an address, directions, hours, highlights, and contact information that visitors could print out? Make sure it's clean, easy to read, and above all, useful. (While I'm at it: if there is a page on your website that you think people will print out - ANY page - make sure you have an option to print it out cleanly.)

Does anyone else have suggestions to add to these? Frustrations in traveling or visiting? Something you think a particular museum or historic site does really well?