Monday, August 17, 2009

Children's Museums & Libraries Part 3: what's in it for them?

[Justine Roberts Guest Posting]

So what’s in it for a children’s museum? Why would a children’s museum want to be part of a library? I worked my way to an answer by looking at where libraries and children’s museums are different:

  • Children’s museums have high activity levels and tolerate noise and mess. They often have technology, loose parts, and require skilled maintenance. Libraries are quiet. They have many cues telling parents that noise and physical activity only belongs in children’s rooms. This points to underlying differences in culture, training, and experience.
  • They have different patterns of use and operating hours. Librariyy circulation picks up in the evening. They are closed on holidays, during school vacations, and often on Sundays. Children’s Museums are at their peak during holidays, vacations and on weekends and are usually closed by 5pm.
  • Libraries don’t often have development or marketing departments. Instead, they typically have an MOU with the City that covers space, utilities, technical support, maintenance, and buildings and grounds. Museums might wish for a city safety net, but it’s a trade-off with their diversified funding model and experience raising capital and operating money.

Together, a library and a children’s museum functioning as a single organization might be open from 9am-9pm, and offer different services at different times of day. They might combine City funding with grant-writing and annual campaigns and even have an endowment. They could be designed to provide activities for families while maintaining areas for quiet, focused, learning for adults.

Bottom line is a blended model might be more flexible, serve a broader audience, and lead to a more robust funding model than would be possible as a stand-alone organization.


David Smith said...

The Strong Museum in Rochester, NY is a branch library of the Rochester public library system There are a number of book shelves and reading nooks scattered around the exhibit space (even before they built a great exhibit hall about narrative) and there is a circulation desk where you can sign out your choices. You can return books to any branch, so no need to readmit people just to drop off books. I'm just a casual visitor (once/year when visiting my parents, but I thought it was a very elegant integration.

Dave Smith, Da Vinci Science Center

Justine said...

I have been to the Strong - before the new exhibit hall you mention - and I like the way they layer books and reading into the exhibits. Their mix of extensive collections, interactives, and books is unique. And I think their partnership with the library is unusual also. Most of the examples I have seen focus less on bringing library services into the museum and more on bringing interactivity to libraries. But you are right to point out that the synergies work in both directions!