Interpretation in Museums
Welcome to the Collections Caretaker e-Newsletter from Northern States Conservation Center. The newsletter is designed to bring you timely and helpful content that is pertinent to situations we all encounter in our museum and archives work. Feel free to let us know what topics you would like to see featured in Collections Caretaker or even contribute an article.
In This Issue

Interpretation in Museums
Featured Courses
Covid-19 Resources
July Courses
August Courses
September Course
Conferences and Meetings
Interpretation in Museums
By Karin Hostetter
Museums are all about collections and education, right? So what is interpretation
Archeological resources at Mesa Verde National Park. NPS photo. 
and what does it have to do with museums? According to the National Association for Interpretation (NAI), "interpretation is a mission based communication process that forges emotional and intellectual connections between the interests of the audience and the meanings inherent in the resource." Right away, you should be interested as it proclaims to be mission-based. Since we all look for ways to support our mission and spread it to the public, let's look closer at this.
Interpretation is a communication process. Communication involves at least two people. It is difficult to have communication if all the information and talking comes from one entity. As a process, it means that the information exchanges continually change and evolve. As visitors and staff exchange information, understandings and realizations continually change, grow, and deepen.  
Interpretation forges emotional and intellectual connections. Take a look at your exhibit labels. Probably, they are very strong on intellectual information. How much of the information connects to emotions, especially of the visitor or user? Linking emotions to intellectual content accomplishes a couple things. First, everyone has emotions and when you can connect to those, you can connect to each person. Second, factual information connected to emotions increases the likelihood that the facts will be remembered. And let's face it, many museum professionals state that they want their visitors to remember the facts.
Interpretation connects interests of the audience with meanings inherent in the resource. Can you put into words the meanings inherent in your resources? Why is it special, what made it a place to preserve? How is it different and special from every other history museum, historic home, art museum, or nature center? After you can put that in words, then you need to identify the interests of the audience. You might know some general interests of most of your audience, but the more you know, the more connections you can make. The best way to get this, is to ask the guest. Training staff and docents to ask questions of guests about what their interests are will improve exhibits, tours and donation requests.
So how is interpretation different from education? Education focuses on the factual content. If some emotional connections are made, that is great and welcome, but the emotional connections are not necessary or required. Interpretation places equal value on factual and emotional content. In fact, many interpretation programs are more focused on the emotional connections and we are happy if some content is gained along the way. If you ask for the goals of an educational program, you will get statements like "participants will learn, recite, name, know, etc." Ask the same question of interpretive programs and you probably will hear answers like "participants will feel, realize, understand, value, etc."
Where might you use interpretive skills in a museum? Exhibit text seems an obvious use and that includes self-guided brochures, audio tours, and exhibit labels. Try interpretation in your write-ups of programs and special events and see the number of reservations climb. Focus on interpretation in donor questions and watch the dollars increase. There is a strong reason that many TV fundraising campaigns use emotional images and stories - it works. Incorporate some emotional connections in a request and your application will be remembered in the pile of others. Try it at your museum and see what happens.
With such an emphasis on person-to-person interactions, what challenges has COVID-19 presented to interpretation? To be sure, getting to know the specific interests of the audience as well as multi-directional communication have been harder to do. Camp-in-a-box and virtual tours help, but they are not the same. Interpreters have refined and developed their questioning skills, providing guests the opportunities to reflect and make connections on their own. It has also provided interpreters avenues to reach audiences beyond their site. A Zoom virtual tour may not be the same as being at the museum in person, but its potential geographic reach is much greater.
If you want to learn more about interpretation, visit the NAI website at . You can also sign up for John Veverka's free journal on interpretation. The ways in which interpretation can enhance the effectiveness of your museum's connection to various audiences is almost limitless.

Karin Hostetter has over thirty years experience with museum education. With a career that includes natural history museums, cultural history museums (including first person interpretation), nature centers, and zoos, Ms. Hostetter is experienced in interpretive writing, program and curriculum development, and staff and volunteer training. Ms. Hostetter is owner of Interpret This, a consulting company specializing in interpretive writing, program and curriculum development, and volunteer program management. When she is not consulting with other museums, she likes to volunteer and contract teach at them with a special love for preschool and family programs.
Special Opportunity for Certified Interpretive Guide training offered by the National Association for Interpretation
Several courses offered in our course list work with the concept of interpretation. Compared to traditional education which emphasizes learning content, interpretation focuses on connecting content and emotions to forge meaning for the visitor. Interpretation is based on researched concepts and has a bank of teachable skills.
The National Association for Interpretation (NAI) offers training for foundational interpretive skills through their Certified Interpretive Guide program. Training covers a wide range of topics including the history of interpretation; knowing your audience; using the senses in learning; creating meaning using themes, tangibles, intangibles and universals; understanding visitor motivation, and harnessing creativity. Students participate in a 32 hour course, present a 10 minute presentation, and develop a program outline. Those wanting certification also complete an open book literature review. More information on the Certified Interpretive Guide program can be found at
Normally, this course is offered only in person around the country. Due to COVID-19, NAI is allowing trainers to offer the course online. One of our Museum Classes Online instructors, Karin Hostetter, is a trainer for NAI and is offering the CIG course just for Museum Classes Online participants Aug. 3- 28, 2020. If you would like to take this course, please email Northern States Conservation Center at and state your interest. You will then receive a link to our specific course for registration. You will need to set up an account with NAI to register for the course. If you have any questions about the course or how to register, contact Karin at .
Embracing the benefits of having a digital presence for our museums will help us fulfill our missions and expand our reach. How can you optimize your educational outreach and build your community by making the wider world aware of your museum during the digital age? Learn valuable tools for how to best leverage the power of social media for both marketing and educational purposes.  Discover the various ways in which you can provide live educational programming using social media livestreams and video-conference platforms for your social media following, school groups, or private revenue generating tours.  Highlight your museum collections using digital tools and be a part of the growing use of AR/VR experiences to reach more visitors. Explore how digital tools help meet visitors' basic and growth needs, enabling them to potentially reach the peak experiences described in Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. The result is a deeper connection to your museum from a wide range of visitors.  At the conclusion of this course, you will have the digital tool kit you need to digitize your museum education and an understanding of best practices when providing digital education programming.

Want to get more out of your digital programming? Join Karin Hostetter and Erin Gates for this new course, MS274 Social Media with an Educational Purpose, starting July 6, 2020.
Covid-19 Resources

Many organizations have put together information on resources for Museums and Covid-19.  Here are a few links to those Resources.  Check back with these organizations for updates.

Mountain-Plains Museums Association Covid-19 Resources page

Western Museums Association Covid-19 Resources page

Association of Academic Museums and Galleries Covid-19 Updates page
Use the drop-down menu in the upper right to find Webinars, Virtual tours and more

American Alliance of Museums Covid-19 Resources

American Association for State and Local History Covid-19 Resources

Early Bird Discounts Available for Full Length Courses
An Early Bird Discount is available for anyone who signs up for a full length course from 30 days prior to the start of that course.  
Sign up for a full length course up to 30 days prior to its start and save $100.00!
For our course list or to sign up:  
To take advantage of this discount, you must enter coupon code EARLYBIRD at checkout at
The Early Bird Discount deadline for August Courses is July 4, 2020   
The Early Bird Discount deadline for September Courses is August 8, 2020  
July 2020 Courses
July 6 to 31, 2020
Instructor:  Laura Elliff Cruz
Is your collection stacked, packed and stressed? Museum Storage Techniques has the solution. The course builds on its sister course, Museum Facilities and Furniture, which looks at the bigger storage environment. The Museum Storage Techniques course emphasizes the needs of individual objects and collection groupings. Guidelines for specific materials are provided. Participants learn about storage materials and mounts and the most effective use of trays, drawers, shelves and cabinets.
MS 207: Collections Management: Cataloging Your Collection
July 6 to 31, 2020
Instructor:  Peggy Schaller
Cataloging may not be the most exciting museum task, but it is among the most important. Without a clear knowledge of your holdings, you can't protect, care for, research or exhibit them. Without knowledge of an item's history, you can't properly appreciate its value to your museum. Cataloging Your Collection covers all details needed to catalog a collection. Procedures for handling, measuring and describing all types of objects and materials are discussed in detail. Participants receive sample forms and learn the best practices for numbering artifacts, performing inventory and assessing the condition of objects. Participants practice describing everyday objects and cataloging items from their own collections or households.
July 6 to August 14, 2020
Instructor:  Christina Cain
The only thing worse than mice or cockroaches in your kitchen, is finding them in your museum collection. Participants in Integrated Pest Management for Museums, Libraries and Archives learn low-toxicity methods of controlling infestations. IPM is the standard method for treating incoming items and monitoring holdings. Integrated Pest Management for Museums, Libraries and Archives discusses how infestations occur, helps identify risks, provides feasible mitigation strategies, discusses the different techniques of treating infested materials, and helps you complete an IPM plan and monitoring schedule for your institution. The course covers pest identification, insects, rodent, birds, bats, other mammals and mold infestations, as well as other problems raised by participants.
July 6 to 31, 2020
Instructor:  Peggy Schaller
This course will examine the role of ethics in museums and related institutions. Topics addressed will include the differences in ethics, laws, and morals; what ethics are and where they come from; the ethical codes that museum professionals follow; how ethics affect professional practices; why ethics are important; and how ethical standards can help museums and related institutions better serve society. Participants in the course will gain an understanding of the importance of ethics in professional museum practice, how codes of ethics are written and why they are important, and will develop an understanding of the most significant codes of ethics subscribed to by museum professionals.
July 6 to 31, 2020
Instructor:  John Veverka
It's often difficult to teach interpretive techniques and principles to others when you may have not had any formal training in interpretation yourself.  The course provides ways to develop and deliver interpretive training courses and workshops for cultural sites and staff charged with developing interpretive training for their docents, volunteers, seasonal interpretive staff, or full time interpretive staff.
This course includes a copy of our new e-textbook, The Interpretive Trainers Handbook.
July 6 to 31, 2020
Instructor:  Karin Hostetter; Co-Taught by Erin Gates.
Optimize your educational outreach to the digital generations or individuals who cannot travel to your site using several digital platforms.  You do not have to be an expert at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, You Tube, your organization's website, or any of the other common digital platforms.  The course will explore how to get started and then how to maximize your use and impact of these education outreach venues.  Develop a plan for trying live steaming, blogs, short videos and other approaches for your site. Discover how to integrate the formats for even more extended reach.
August 2020 Courses 
August 3 to 28, 2020
Instructor:  Elizabeth Burton
Cobwebs in the gallery, dust on the dinosaur skeleton, mice in storage - a dirty museum results in poor visitor experience and poor collections preservation. In a museum, cleanliness really is next to godliness. Museum Cleaning Basics explores everything you need to know about cleaning your collections. Participants learn when to clean - and when not to clean. They also learn how to make those decisions. Topics range from basic housekeeping to specific techniques for specific objects. You will learn why cleaning is important and how to prevent damage when cleaning. We will look at specific techniques that minimize damage while getting the work done. And we will discuss when to call in a specialist, such as a conservator. Students will create a housekeeping manual for their institution.
August 3 to 28, 2020
Instructor:  Karin Hostetter
The world of museum education is as varied as the imagination. From school field trips to online blogs, from 2-year-olds to senior citizens, and from formal programs to volunteering, it is all part of the educational delivery system of a museum. In Education in Museums, survey the education programs offered at your site. Determine what exhibits and collections need better representation through education. Develop a long term plan of education program development for your site that you can use to improve services to your community.
August 3 to 28, 2020
Instructor:  Stefani Pendergast
Moving collections is a daunting task. Fragile items need special packing and care to be safely transported. Large, heavy or awkward items like dinosaurs and oversized sculptures require special equipment and support from local authorities. How do you design your project to meet the budget and timing demands of your administration? Are your collections over-packed in acidic boxes and does your move includes improving their storage and care? Collections often take up more room when they are stored properly. How do you determine your needed storage space when the collection is decompressed? Moving Collections provides an overview of how to plan and manage a move to avoid the many pitfalls. The course includes: defining your project, developing a Request for Proposal (RFP), developing a work plan, staffing, and packing protocols. Whether you are moving part of the collection within your building or moving the entire collection to another facility, Moving Collections provides a blueprint for you to follow.

September 2020 Courses
September 7 to October 2, 2020
Instructor:  Diana Komejan
The seasonal closure of a museum presents unique challenges and opportunities for collection preservation. This is an introductory-level conservation course exploring simple collection preservation methods for seasonal museums. The target Audience for the course is curators and other museum personnel, volunteers, site managers, maintenance personnel. No prior conservation training necessary. Participants will learn about the challenges and opportunities associated with caring for collections in seasonal facilities. They will learn about the risks to collections and how to mitigate them through closing and re-opening procedures, as well as throughout the winter season.
September 7 to October 2, 2020 NEW DATES
Instructor:  Elizabeth Burton
Caring for paintings requires some knowledge of the component structure of paintings and the reaction of those components to both natural and man-made environments. This course looks at the painting structure, the effects of damaging environments, and proposes simple steps for basic care. Topics include the structure of paintings, proper condition reporting with standard damage vocabulary, and basic care and handling including environments, storage, and transport. The course is intended to help those entrusted with the care of paintings in any environment.
September 7 to October 2, 2020
Instructor:  Tom Bennett
Matting and Framing teaches the materials and techniques of conservation-quality framing. For display, matting and framing provides both protective and aesthetic contributions to art on paper. Students will learn about different types of enclosures, different mat styles and cutting methods, the pros and cons of different backing boards and glazing, and different methods of attaching items to a mat, some of which do not involve adhering hinges to art on paper. Lectures, illustrations, product resources, and additional informational references will be provided.
September 7 to October 2, 2020
Instructor:  Karin Hostetter
Have you done some evaluation but did not get helpful information? Do you wish you could do evaluations, but think it is too hard or too expensive? Do you wonder how to get people to use an offered program more? Evaluations are feasible and easy. This course will help you determine what you really want to know, choose the right process to gather the information, develop meaningful questions, and figure out what the results tell you. Please have a program or text in mind (real or imagined) to work with during the course. Note: this course will not be looking at statistical analysis.
September 7 to October 2, 2020
Instructor:  John Veverka
There is more to a guided tour than information - you also need inspiration.  This course will help curators teach and coach their docents and volunteers to create interpretive stories and experiences that will help make their presentations "come to life" for their visitors.
September 7 to October 2, 2020
Instructor:  Sarah Kapellusch
Every museum has a few stray items. Some lost tags long ago. Others turn up as surprises during inventories. A few are all that remain from long-ago exhibits. While you'll want to keep some, others may be deteriorating. Even worse, some pose significant hazards for staff and the rest of the collection. All raise legal and professional questions. How do you deal with objects that have no records? Or loans from unidentified or deceased lenders? Found in the Collection addresses how to identify abandoned objects and old loans. It further covers the application of state laws and rules for identifying owners or establishing ownership.

Due to ongoing concerns over the Covid-19 Pandemic many of these Conferences may be cancelled or postponed this year.  Check each organization's website to verify dates.
Conferences and Meetings
Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums
Association of Midwest Museums, Milwaukee, WI  
July 22-25, 2020 
Society of American Archivists/Council of State Archivists, Chicago, IL
August 2-8, 2020
Native American Museum Studies Institute
University of California, Berkeley, CA
August 17-20, 2020
Mountain-Plains Museums Association, Planning to go Virtual 
September, 2020 Exact dates TBD 
Oklahoma Museums Association, Enid, OK
September 16-18, 2020
Smithsonian Institution and Office of Protection Services
National Conference on Cultural Property Protection, Los Angeles, CA
September 21-23, 2020  
American Association of State and Local History, Las Vegas, NV
September 23-26, 2020
Western Museums Association, Portland, OR
October 8-11, 2020 
International Foundation for Cultural Property Protection
October 8-13Washington, DC
Southeastern Museums Conference, Louisville, KY
October 19-21, 2020
New England Museum Association, Newport, RI
November 18-20, 2020
National Association for Interpretation, Saint Augustine, FL
November 10-14, 2020
Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums, Wilmington, DE Dates TBA
American Alliance of Museums, Chicago, IL
May 9-12, 2021
Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums, Archbold, OH  
National Association for Interpretation, Palm Springs, CA
November 3-December 4, 2021
American Alliance of Museums, Boston MA
May 19-22, 2022
National Association for Interpretation, Cleveland, OH
November 29-Decemver 3, 2022
American Alliance of Museums, Denver, CO
May 19-22, 2023

Submissions and Comments
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If you would like to submit an article, notice of an organizational meeting or upcoming workshop for an upcoming Collections Caretaker Newsletter, send your submission to .  
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Northern States Conservation Center (NSCC) provides training, collection care, preservation and conservation treatment services. NSCC offers online museum studies classes at in Collections Management & Care, Museum Administration & Management, Exhibit Practices and Museum Facilities Management.
Helen Alten, Director
Peggy Schaller, Publications Manager