Docent/ Staff Relations

Ann Holtschlag, Columbia Museum of Art, Columbia, SC, Facilitator    

Valerie Aitken, Musee du Chateau Ramezay, Montreal, Canada        

Margie Burgin, Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati, OH    

Sabina Javits, Freer&Sackler Galleries, Smithsonian, Washington, DC    

Jo Kinkaid, Freer&Sackler Galleries, Smithsonian, Washington, DC    

Cassandra Moore, Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture, Baltimore, MD    

Joan Treacy, Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami, FL    

George Wachob, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA                                            


I. Problems encountered with Docent/Staff Communications

  • New information about museum objects not always passed on, information comes down through too many channels
  • Lines of communication unclear.
  • Territorial guarding interferes with communication.  
  • Unwilling, overworked and unenthused staff members can be an obstacle
  • Docents often feel unappreciated for their volunteer work - staff takes them for granted
  • No communication opportunities for docents with top staff
  • Lack of new blood because of working young women.
  • Older docents sometimes feel ignored when a new class is brought in.
  • And how can docents communicate “up” past immediate supervisors?
  • Docent evaluations – mixed concerns about the involvement of staff.


II. Some Suggested Solutions:

  • Encourage continuing education opportunities through the staff.
  • Suggest a strategy meeting with staff to arrange a communications approach.
  • Use attendance at National Docent Symposium as a credential to share ideas/common problems
  • Try shared leadership to suggest docent input into volunteer or education department decisions
  • Try to find a common ground for the institution’s benefit with emphasis upon the fact thatdocents and staff are not in competition
  • Try to create channels for ideas to reach the ears of senior staff - a place on the Board?
  • Include Education Staff as part of a docent council - perhaps a non-voting spot
  • Give tours to Board members, senior staff, to demonstrate what docents bring to the Museum experience.
  • Sometimes there is a “gatekeeper” who always says no to docent suggestions and ideas -try to go quietly beyond that person and ask for help, suggestions
  • Remember the social component to a docent group   


III. Conclusions:

  • Staff/Docent communications seemed to be a prevalent problem, less so if there was some kind of docent council/officers in place.
  • Some docents groups are well organized and feel included, others don’t.
  • Personalities play a role in staff-docent relations, for which there is no real solution.
  • A strong docent president can solve many of the staff relations problems.

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