Image by Andrea Joseph on Flickr (CC-BY-NC-ND).
Amidst the Twitter updates, questions about opening hours and praise for the website, sometimes there’s an email in our webmaster@ addresses that makes us frown, forward the message to colleagues and wonder what to respond. Good-natured visitors send us well-intentioned emails with the strangest comments or requests. We, webmasters of 2010, know we’re the face of our organisation ever more often. Yet, that doesn’t always make it easier to respond to these emails.
After having talked about this with some colleagues from other museums, I decided to get together some examples. Not to laugh about them, but to create awareness of these important messages and the importance to respond to them correctly. Below are some examples received from different museums. Anonymous, so nobody might feel offended or laughed at.
A son not worthy of working at a Nobel Prize-winning desk?
A lucky man finds himself to have inherited the desk of a Nobel Prize laureate, maybe. His uncle has saved it over 50 years ago from the landfill and given it to the writer. Not sure what to do with the desk, and whether it’s the real thing and thus might be valuable to a museum, he asks a science museum for advice. Especially, because his own son doesn’t seem to be enough of a student to deserve such a special desk for his studies. Maybe it’s better off in a museum?
The correct size of a photographed painting
An art museum received an email by a recent visitor. For his private collection of photos of paintings he had made a photo of one of the paintings on display. To store the photo in the correct size, he had browsed the online collection and found the painting to be 24 by 21 cm. However, resizing his photo to this size gave a rather distorted painting. The writer acknowledges that his view of “realistic paining” might be unrealistic, but asks the museum to measure the painting again to get the correct size, for which he sends his thanks in advance.
A kind offer to make an exposition more representative
After visiting a fashion exposition in a city museum, a visitor is kind of disappointed by the lack of flower power, rock and soul fashion. Luckily he has saved his own attire from that time and is more than happy to lend it to the museum to make the exposition better. The email contains photos of self-made trousers and shirts so the curators might select the best items.
Enthusiastic seniors embrace a crowd-sourced project
Sometimes the audience can be quite amazing. For a storytelling project a local archive asked people to share personal stories from long ago. The reactions were stunning. Also, the audience seemed to be way more web-savvy than expected. Someone digitized a family video, uploaded it to YouTube and then lost the second part of the movie, asking the curators to relocate it. Another had trouble with a recent shift from PC to Mac and had to be helped sending the story in a readable format.
Do you accept advertising?
Of course our websites are beautiful and a good place to be. A heritage institute did such a great job on their website, obviously, that they received the question if they accepted advertisement for an international campaign. The writer had looked all over the website and hadn’t seen any, but thought it would never hurt to try, as the website was so good.
Not everybody is 2.0 yet
And finally, not all is sent by email. For a crowd-sourced exposition a museum asked people to upload photos to a website. Halfway in the project, a letter arrived with a printed photo and a little hand-written note. The note explained the writer had heard about the project, but had no idea how to use the internet. The photo, however, should definitely be included. Thanks in advance.
How do you respond to these kinds of emails? Does your institution have a clear policy for this? What are – from your experience – do’s and don’ts?