Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

A Stranger in Strangers’ Hall: The realization that I am one of the only volunteers under 60…

February 13, 2010 · 1 Comment

For those of you who don’t know, I am volunteering at Strangers’ Hall, basically doing whatever odd jobs they have for me. My research paper is somewhat connected to my volunteer work in that I will be observing how small, local museums are run throughout Norwich, especially since many of them are run through one organization, the Norfolk Museum and Archaeological Services. Anyways, back to my day…

On Wednesday I went to a volunteer meeting at the Hall, since it had been closed for a month due to repairs, etc. From volunteering at a few museums before this one, I don’t know why but I always forget that I will always be one of the youngest volunteers. This case was no exception. I was the only volunteer there under 60 (not that I am complaining in the least, I love the company of a person from age 1 to 99). While sipping on my “cuppa”, I listened to their gripes and groans about CRB or the Criminal Records Bureau. Basically the CRB is a background check that allows you (or not) to work with children in any kind of setting. They were complaining about the fact that despite getting a CRB clearance for one museum or organization, you have to get an individual one for each place you have contact with children, which is obviously a pain. Getting this clearance also limits volunteers until they get cleared, so places oftentimes have trouble organizing events because of a lack of volunteers due to the CRB clearance. Unfortunately for me, like a few of you are also experiencing, I will not be able to directly help out with children activities because of how long the CRB takes. It just seems ridiculous to me that it both takes quite a while for a person to get cleared and that you have to get cleared for each place you work at. I learned that the CRB is a fairly recent development and I hope that in future years they will improve it immensely.

Another complaint I was listening to was the problems of running smaller museums through one large institution, like the Norfolk Museums and Archaeological Services. When having an organization like this, they oftentimes don’t focus on the individual needs of every museum but rather use similar regulations for all of them. Although a bit of a minor problem, the volunteers and staff were complaining about the hours the museum has to be open. Strangers’ Hall, although they are open until 4, want to have the guests out of the place by 4, thus having a final tour time. The museum takes at least 20-30 minutes to walk through its entirety (and I’d say that is rushing) so ideally it would be nice for the staffers to have everyone out by 4 and not have any stragglers coming in at 3:55 wanting a tour. Unfortunately, in order to even post a “last call” time, it has to be change by the NMAS, who regulates all the times. Sure those closing times might make sense for other smaller museums, but for Strangers’ Hall, which is a pretty large museum, it doesn’t quite work. This is obviously one of the problems of having so many smaller museums run by one larger entity.

On another note, it makes me sad though that there aren’t as many younger volunteers. Obviously I know that many young kids aren’t going to be as passionate about history and museums as I, but unless we get more youth involved, it will add to (I think, among other things) more museums dying out. In every single museum I’ve worked at, there has been a majority of elders who volunteer and run the place. And they are all so passionate about it. Yes I understand that many are retired and looking for something to do on the side, but why can’t youth consider doing this too? I think with having many older people running and regulating museums, they often lose touch of what might interest younger and future generations today. I hope for the future museums can find a way of balancing these two things in order for them to survive.

Hours logged: 1
Total Hours: 2

Categories: Alli · Museums
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1 response so far ↓

  •   buonacos // Feb 20th 2010 at 17:48

    I can definitely relate to your title. When I volunteered at the Cumberland County Historical Society (CCHS) last year, there was only one or two other college-age interns/volunteers (though I never actually saw them in the building, only their info on the sign in sheet) and the rest were in their 60s and 70s. I’m not sure it’s safe to assume young people aren’t interested in history or museums, though. I think that often times elderly are generally the only people available during the hours that the museum needs volunteers. CCHS, for example, closed by 4pm, which is when younger people are just getting out of school and adults are usually still at work. CCHS is open from 4-8pm on Mondays and from 8am-2pm on Saturdays, but thinking back to my high school schedule, I’m not sure too many young people would be available then. History was my one of my favorite subjects in high school (along with Sociology and English, and despite my school only offering “World Civilizations” and American history) but between homework, AP tests, bowling matches, marching band practice and football games, work, dance lessons, miscellaneous club meetings, and college applications, I definitely wouldn’t have been able to fit volunteering at a museum on my plate. Furthermore, I’m not sure if many smaller, local museums have the funding and structure needed to develop the type of comprehensive internship programs as do larger/famous/national museums that tend to attract the most college students.

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