Recently I visited a lot of venues over three days. At Westminster Abbey, Apsley House, HMS Belfast and the Churchill War Rooms we were given hand held audio guides which worked with varying degrees of success. We noticed that wherever they were being 'successfully' (extensively) used, they turned most visitors into zombies. My travelling companion made the observation in the cartoon above.
I know that audio guides are a good way to control visitor flow and visit times, ensuring people get an overview while also pushing them through sites at a suitable speed. They can provide a reliable service not always possible unless you employ a large pool of highly trained staff, such as language options, BSL on video screens, child friendly tours. They can be a flexible tool, such as at Apsley House, offering visitors a choice of tours depending on their specific interests. They allow historical venues to be free from obtrusive signs. From the visitor's point of view, their experience can also be enhanced by a good audio guide, with music, interviews from behind the scenes staff, and video clips.
However, using so many audio guides in a short time highlighted two - to me - unpleasant side effects. The first is how much people were attuned only to the audio guide, to the detriment of all else. The second was the isolation of the user.
Through barred and dirty doors, across mausoleum quiet lobbies, and down, down winding stairs to a monument of human ambition fallen foul of progress.
I was recently fortunate enough* to go on one of London Transport Museum's rare tours of the abandoned Aldwych Underground station, originally known as Strand. Why an abandoned tube station? Well, it's a beautiful little time capsule to another age of design, site of many well known film and tv scenes, and a we got a very good little tour giving insights into how the Underground was originally run.
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I'll admit, London Transport Museum was not at the top of my 'must see' museums or sites in London, but I now stand very corrected. As we had to go to there to collect tickets for a guided tour, and had the offer of half price entry, we gave it a go.
I was expecting a possibly interesting look at some old buses, and some info on the development of the underground. What I got was seriously enjoyable couple of hours discovering how London's growing population has needed increasingly complex transport, how transport has helped spread London's suburbs and who the people are using and providing these services.
It's a transport musuem with people at the heart of it - and this makes for an accessible and story based experience I'd recommend to quite a variety of visitors. (Great bonus: free kid's entry goes up to age 17!)
Note - All images in this review can be clicked on for a larger view.
So I've heard some quiet outrage about the 9/11 Memorial and Museum having a gift shop, and my reaction is a positive one, which leaves me feeling in a strange place.
You can see some of their store items here www.911memorial.org/catalog These are what I've based my reflections on, so there may be items in the physical store at odds with these, please do let me know if you;re aware of anything else.
I went to a Titanic exhibition at the MOSI a good few years back, and was horribly jarred stepping from the room listing all the names of the dead, through to the gift shop. The issue there was in the main part going from a somber, well presented, touching area, directly into a brightly lit, brightly coloured, overly commercially aware space. There was also issue though with some rather odd choices of merchandise, such as the iceberg ice tray. Nice.
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