The Docent Handbook 2 - Revised Edition

cover2First published in 2001 and revised in 2017, the Docent Handbook 2 is a valuable resource for docents, guides and interpreters from museums and cultural institutions of all types in the US and Canada. A stimulating and informative "nuts and bolts" manual, the Docent Handbook 2 is useful for new and veteran docents, as well as an important tool for museum educators in their training of docents and guides.

The Docent Handbook 2 updates and expands the original handbook with new sections, material, and additional references to reflect the increasingly diverse audiences for museums, the arrival of our digital world, and evolving tour strategies geared to museums of all kinds. Included are sections on learning styles; seeing or learning from objects; family groups, school groups and serving visitors with special needs; appropriate language and guidelines for current practice in addressing arts and artifacts of indigenous peoples; dealing with problems; technology and the docent; and much more. Examples in the handbook reflect a wide range of museum settings. In addition, the handbook serves as a workbook. Each section in the chapter gives you ideas and best practices as well as space at the end of the chapter to write “Your Personal Notes.”

Print Version: ($30 + tax & shipping)

Digital Version:

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  • Introduction
  1. Foundations
  2. Points of Departure
  3. On Language, or: What's in a Word
  4. Learning Styles
  5. Know Your Audience
  6. On Seeing or Learning from Objects
  7. Asking Questions: Observation-based Touring
  8. Act it Out! Hands-On!
  9. Sensitive Issues
  10. Dealing with Problems
  11. Looking Back & Facing the Future
  • History of the National Docent Symposium
  • Suggestions for Additional Reading/Resources

Act it Out! Hands On!

“A wide range of movement and theater activities exist that involve visitors visually, physically, emotionally and intellectually with a painting, object or diorama.”

Suggestions are provided for activities that can be incorporated to enhance tours for both children and adults. Here is a sampling:

Take a Pose “Posing can be used to illustrate differences between objects or living things.

For example, you might look at:

• The difference between an animal poised for attack and one at rest or
• The difference between an Egyptian and Greek sculpture

Ask students to assume the two poses. By experiencing the different poses, visitors arrive at a better understanding of techniques and insights used in creating the two sculptures.”

Hands On! “Touchable objects on carts or presented by you on your tour offer a range of experiences that can enhance visitors’ viewing and understanding of museum objects and specimens that are ‘do not touch’”…

This is a sampling of the 9 suggestions provided:

• Pass around samples of marble, aluminum and lead to allow the visitors to feel and weigh the specimens as they look at sculptures
• Feel the difference between meat-eating and plant-eating teeth
• Examine and feel the different size animal hair brushes used by artists

Further development of the chapter topic includes sections on Role Play, Historical Interpretation, Gallery Activities, and Storytelling with suggestions for Preparation, Telling Your Story, and Interaction After the Story Has Been Told

San Antonio Museum of Art

The updated Docent Handbook is a must-read for docents with all levels of experience. For the more-recently minted, new insights, tips and techniques will come fast and furiously. But even the more experienced will benefit from the opportunity to reflect on and refine current practices. To discover that one’s own style and approach is considered a “best practice” can be reinforcing and validating. The suggestions for further reading, including journals, books and websites, should prove valuable to all.

The Docent Handbook 2 offers a multitude of tips and techniques, for example, suggesting visitors be treated as personal guests; how to attend to your guests’ physical, psychological and intellectual comfort; and the importance of enjoying oneself (a personal favorite). One chapter explores different styles of thinking and learning, and how to design questions on tours to accommodate each different style.

Ideas for best touring practices are concrete and tangible; this is not an academic treatise but rather a wealth of clearly-presented suggestions any docent can easily incorporate into their own practice.

Gallery activities…ideas for approaching sensitive issues such as nudity in art and discussing religious and sacred objects…suggestions for dealing with restless or talkative or “difficult” kids…how to respond to “but I could do that!” in front of contemporary art…ways to incorporate tablets and smartphones into touring.

These are just a few examples of the richness of the content of the handbook.

I must mention the lay-out and formatting of the book. Chapters are short and concise. Pages are laid out well – the use of wide margins, italics, bullet points and double columns makes the book eminently readable. Blank pages have been included at the end of each chapter for personal notes. I found these useful because so many of the ideas of the authors prompted others of my own.

In summary: buy this handbook. You will want to add it to your library and refer to it often in the future.

Submitted by Mica Meadow, Docent

The Mint Museum, Charlotte, NC

The Docent Handbook 2, revised 2017, is an excellent synthesis of research into museum audience engagement techniques. New docents will find the information to be both informative and accessible. The handbook can be used as a means for prompting discussions around good docent practices. References, include within the handbook will allow for deeper research into many relevant topics.

Submitted by Joel Smeltzer | Head of School and Gallery Programs

As a veteran docent, I can wholeheartedly recommend The Docent Handbook 2, revised 2017, for any docent class! Even with my extensive experience I found that while reading the handbook I was highlighting and reviewing useful tools to assist me with best practices. Kudos, the new edition is an excellent review for even the most experienced docent.
Submitted by Holly Hall, Mint Museum Docent President, 2017-18 The Docent Handbook 2, revised 2017, in conjunction with docent training is very meaningful.

The Handbook is written in accessible language and is both comprehensive and insightful. It explores a variety of encounters that will be useful to new docents as they face the challenge of introducing their museum to an increasing variety of groups from their surrounding communities. The index is clear and allows for quick reference to a variety if useful topics for both the new and experienced docent.

Submitted by Nancy Maloney EdD, new docent trainee 2017-18

The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, MD

The Docent Handbook 2 is both a refresher course for the experienced docent and a source of inspiration for my tours. It has been several years since my initial training, so it is important to revisit touring ideas and contemplate new strategies. For example, the timbre of the relationship I have with students on tours can change if I think of them as audience or visitor or a guest.

Also, reviewing the sections on learning styles and questioning techniques has made my tours more relevant. I think that reading Docent Handbook 2 would be a great introduction for individuals thinking about becoming docents. Thank you for this great resource!

Submitted by Jill Reynolds, Docent