Wednesday March 7th, Sarah and I hosted an experimental tour for a small group of high school students. This tour, funded by HPP/Pew Charitable Trusts gave us the opportunity to explore a rather routine area of our work (student tours) with a new creative eye. Our task was to improve this tour in ways that ordinarily didn't seem possible due to constraints like time, money, people, etc.
Through a couple sessions with creative staff from other institutions and HPP we shaped and fleshed out our ideas till we had a clear sense of what this tour would accomplish. It was going to be an information finding mission. To gather the widest purview of feedback we would try to expose more of the building and include more staff stories and collections than before. This meant visiting the basement and other areas normally not shown on the tour. It also included a 'surprise' visit by our popular ghost Albert J Edmunds. After this hour long tour culminated we would meet in a conference room and discuss the tour and lastly, ask the students to do an interpretive project about their impression of HSP.
Seeing this project to completion this week we were amazed with how good it felt to give the tour and hear immediate feedback. The tour was given to a small group of students from Abington Junior High School who showed persistent interest in the various departments, collections and building features. Upon reviewing the tour with them it was interesting to note how no two students had the same impression. When asked a question like: given what you saw tonight what job at HSP would interest you most; no student picked the same one. In fact, one student wanted to be a janitor even-though that wasn't directly included on the tour.
As well, we went out of our way to create a reenactment of the ghost Albert J Edmunds. Our thinking was it would at least provide a dynamic moment half way through the tour incase anyone was falling asleep. One minor preoccupation was that this would be an overwhelmingly popular moment and the rest of the tour wouldn't be as exciting. This notion, however, was dismissed. No one fawned over the amazing ghost but they all warmly agreed it was interesting along with other things like: seeing the documents up close, learning that photographs could be printed on tin and that sometimes translators are employed to help us interpret collections.
While we wait for the students' projects to come we are excited to see what new insights their projects may reveal to us about what appeals to them (or doesn't) about HSP. This will help us serve this elusive and complicated age bracket so fondly referred to as "youths." More info to come!