|Docents, Hosts Help Museum Visitors Understand the Past
Today's typical museum visitors are looking at items their parents, grandparents and great grandparents grew up with. The majority are from a generation whose only perceived contact with trains has been limited to grade crossings, they didn't grow up riding streetcars to work or to the store, or passenger trains to travel for business or vacation.
Today's typical museum visitors are not nostalgically familiar with many of the items exhibited at museums, including streetcars, interurban cars or the name passenger trains.
Fulfilling Expectations Visitors Bring to the Museum:
Visitors typically arrive at the Museum with many of the following general expectations:
Understanding How Ancestors Lived: Surveys conducted at other museums in the last few years have found that visitors to history and technology museums want to know how their ancestors lived. Relevance has shifted from the objects themselves to the people that used them. Who used the exhibited objects, such as the streetcars or locomotives? How and when were they used? Why were these items important in a person's daily life? How did using them change the way people lived?
As visitors learn how their ancestors lived; how they used the street railways, interurban railways, and railroads in the past; and how freight trains contributed to the quality of life of their parents, grandparents and great grandparents, they may also discover the relevance of rail transit and rail transportation today.
Visitors primarily learn by viewing the exhibited cars, locomotives, smaller artifacts, photographs, documents and associated labels to help provide answers to their questions. Shared stories are often a part of this process.
Most museums also provide visitor guides which also help visitors understand the layout and other information about the museum and exhibits.
Docents and Exhibit Hosts Assist Visitors
A Docent is one who teaches, typically as a volunteer at a university or at a museum. Docents guide the museum discovery and learning process, using the exhibited locomotives, streetcars, interurbans, sleeping cars, railway post office cars, passenger cars, freight cars, cabooses and other objects through talks, demonstrations and building tours. At Orange Empire Railway Museum and other local museums, docents are members who have completed a training program and have more advanced knowledge about the Museum's collection and the history, technology and impact of the rail transportation industry in Southern California and the West.
Exhibit Hosts are museum volunteers who make the collections available to visitors and help visitors understand how to view the exhibits. Exhibit hosts also help answer basic questions and ensure visitor safety. Exhibit hosts should know the safety rules, exhibit policies, layout of the museum and basic introductory information for area they are hosting. At Orange Empire Railway Museum and other local museums, volunteers first serve as exhibit hosts, then participate in a more extensive development program in order to become a Docent.
Uniformed Conductors, Brakemen, Motormen and Engineers also help railway museum visitors learn what past travel by rail was like as they experience a ride aboard operating historic streetcars, interurban cars and trains. At Orange Empire Railway Museum all members who participate in these roles first go through a railway operations training program.
Docents use Process of Interpretation to Facilitate Learning:
Interpretation of the objects by knowledgeable docents helps the public understand meanings and relationships, what the objects are, who used them, how and when they were used, and why they were important. By using interpretation docents help visitors and other members understand how the objects relate to each other and how their introduction may have changed the way people lived. Docents also help research the history, social impact and technology of the objects. Read more about interpretation.
Pages on rail history, train technology and railroad operation are included as part of this web site to provide an overview of different aspects of the railroads. The majority of these pages were developed from class materials used to train docents who help visitors understand the past at Orange Empire Railway Museum in Perris, California.
To further help docents and other educators learn more about interpretation, the history of rail transportation, and the impact of rail transportation on the West, a recommended reading list is also provided.