Thursday, June 11, 2009

Come-To Place for Science

When I first arrived at the Science Museum in January 2008 as just the 3rd director in nearly 40 years, I heard a lot of staff and Board members tell me they wanted SMV to become the “Go-To” place for science. When pressed into specifics, this usually came down to a student or any individual that had a question related to science contacting the Science Museum via phone or internet and getting their question answered. This sounds innocuous enough, however, on further inspection, you might see how challenging this type of exercise might be.

First, we have to be ready to field the question. Customer service norms today would say you might have as much as 24 hours to respond. Since our museum is now doing everything it always did with 25% fewer folks, our staff are now almost all engaged in direct museum operations, so there is no one sitting back at base camp awaiting these science questions. Second, we would of course need to know the answer. Our education staff is very talented in a number of areas, however, the chances of one of our 11 full time educators being expert in the field being queried is probably pretty remote.

So, trying to get a timely answer and accurate answer would have us then doing some basic research, perhaps trying to get in touch with someone in the field and then maybe (just maybe) we might be able to satisfy the inquiry, maybe not. When you really think about, Google (or one of the other search engines that make up the other 18.5% of market share – I didn’t actually know this I Googled it) is probably better positioned to take the role of “Go To” place.

So where does that leave your favorite science museum? We can be the science relevance place. Not as catchy as “Go To”, but no less important. We can be the place that takes science that is happening all the time, all around us and make a personal connection for our audiences. We can tell you why it is important to overhaul the Hubble telescope, or why planting native plants in your yard is good for the environment or how art & business students at VCU can make an engineered product better than if it was left to just engineers. I could go on and on, but that’s really the Science Museum’s job. To go on and on about how better understanding the science in our everyday lives can make our everyday lives richer and fuller.

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