Gift Shop

9 Simple Rules for Visiting a Museum Gift Shop

Photo by dullhunk via Flickr.

Ah, the museum gift shop. Many a visitor has dropped a penny or two in these lands of postcards and other pretty things. Gift stores are an opportunity to take a piece of the museum, or a piece of the museum experience, home with you. However, they are also battlegrounds of bad behavior. Here’s a handy guide for minding your manners and getting the most out of your gift shop visit.

  1. Gift shop workers are there to serve you. They are not your servants. It’s a fine line.
  2. Be aware that there are other people in the store. This means that you shouldn’t just stop in the middle of it. This also means that there is bound to be a tall person around to help you reach something on a high shelf.
  3. There are no stupid questions, but…it’s a good rule of thumb to think before you speak.
  4. Try to put things back where you found them.
  5. If you really loved something in the museum, but there’s not a reproduction of it in the store, don’t freak out. Let the gift shop attendants know, they might be able to help or it could be considered for future purchases.
  6. Gift shop employees are great sources of information. Don’t hesitate to test their knowledge.
  7. Don’t haggle over the price. This is not a bazaar and it’s not like the sales tax was made up on a whim.
  8. Mention that you are a member, or inquire if you are eligible for a discount, before the transaction is processed. It saves everyone time.
  9. No museum has a catalogue of its entire collection. And, if they did, you wouldn’t be able to get it home. Instead, ask about what books or items come closest to what you’re looking for.

Any rules you think we missed? Let us know in the comments.


And So the List Grows…

Photo by Charlie Phillips via Flickr.

Whew, I finally managed to get through my Google Reader. But, a new problem has arisen. As if the McQueen show at the Met and the Steins Collect show at SFMOMA weren’t enough to get me excited to go to museums this summer, there is now a whole new crop of exhibits to add to my must-see list.

What museum exhibits are on your must-see list this summer?

I'm A Museum Person

I’m A Museum Person: Adam Rozan

Photo by zigazou76 via Flickr.

My name is Adam Reed Rozan, and I’m a Museum Person.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am a Marketing Manager at the amazing Oakland Museum of California (OMCA). I have the honor of living and breathing art on a daily basis. But that’s only part of the story. I live in San Francisco and I’m highly involved with the arts community in the Bay Area. I run an arts project called Broken Meter. It’s a full-color, full-bleed ’zine and a celebration of city life—more specifically, urban decay. I think of it as a visual recording of the activity, movement, and energy of the urban environment.

Broken Meter is the misspelled sign, the street preacher, the converted U-Haul cardboard trucks, recycled cans and bottles, the graffiti tag, the covered-up graffiti tagged, the re-tagging of the original piece. In short, it’s everything you’ll find in a natural urban environment seen through the eyes of artists.

Why do museums matter to you?

Museums are special places. They provide a connection with our past and our future. They are the keepers of our culture, and the intersection where we come to share ideas, talk, play, and dream.

What is your favorite museum memory?

When OMCA reopened in April, we hosted an online statewide conversation on California. It was held during the reopening party, and the social media staff members from all of the Bay Area museums as well as the Stanford Mobile Phone Orchestra joined in. We even had museums from as far away as Berkley and Los Angeles contribute. Through the shared hashtag #California we were able to cultivate a conversation between these institutions and thousands of online participants. It was a very powerful experience to be able to connect so many people.

Photo by Loren Javier via Flickr.

Which museum would you love to visit?

My next trip is a weekend in Houston, so certainly the Rothko Chapel. I’ve never been there, but it’s been recommended to me as a place of deep reflection and inspiration. Another museum high on my list is the Menil Collection—not only do the outdoor gardens look amazing, I would love to see the installation of rarely exhibited canvases by Mark Rothko that are closely related to those he painted for the chapel.

Photo by M Glasgow via Flickr.

Outside of that, any opportunity I have to go back to London or Paris to see those cities great museums would be amazing.

I do have a rule for any trip I take. It’s my goal to visit a new museum—especially if I’ve never been to that city or town. With every new visit, I discover something to build out my visual library. It’s a priceless experience.

What is your dream museum job?

My dream job is the Curator of Audience Development and Engagement. It’s an integrated position that strives to increase participation and interactivity with the exhibitions and permanent collection, both in person and online. Museum staff members need to find new ways to engage visitors, and transition our institutions into an active, regular presence in the lives of our audiences. Call it a museum 3.0 approach—the position and the person in it should evolve continuously, something the museum experience is doing already. My dream role takes all of these factors into consideration and seeks out alternative inroads to collections, exhibitions, and museums themselves; ultimately the Curator of Audience Development and Engagement opens up new, innovative experiences that visitors can have in a museum.

When you think of the perfect exhibit, what is in it?

Instead of a perfect exhibit, why not consider a perfect gallery or overall museum experience? Live music in the galleries in the afternoon, adult backpacks with supplies, coffee and Wi-Fi areas, book clubs, yoga … I guess what would make for a perfect experience overall is one that was lively—not whispering in a gallery where you can hear a pin drop.

Who is the funnier museum twitterer…@SUEtheTrex or @NatHistoryWhale?

The answer is option C, the tweets from our Gallery Guides. They’re really funny. Our in gallery staff members use iPads all day at work, so they also tweet through the @oaklandmuseumca handle. Their wit makes them worth checking out.

What is the most random item you have bought in a museum gift shop?

Does a metal cowboy pin from the VMFA store count?

What museum would you move into for a month if you could?

I remember reading a children’s story in grade school about a group of friends who ran away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, so I would have to say the Met.

Out of all the museums you have visited so far, which one is your favorite?

Great question, but one that’s very tough to answer. I’ve had so many amazing museum experiences at so many different museums that I’m not sure I could answer that definitively. I can say that I always look forward to going to a new museum, and the opportunity to go back to one that I haven’t visited in a while, especially if it’s a trip with good friends.

What is the most bizarre museum you have ever visited?

Bizarre in what way? I live in San Francisco! On Market Street, near the Civic Center is an enormous storefront window with what seems to be an odd movie display for some lost or ancient land. The sign says “Superb Art Museum of America,” and is formed in foam rocks. You can’t visit the museum, but I imagine that it’s pretty bizarre.

Photo by frontenddeveloper via Flickr.

There seem to be a million books and movies set in museums. Do you have a favorite?

The Thomas Crown Affair, but really any movie that set in a museum, I’ll go to.


Museum Madness in Manhattan

So, MoMA is buying the beleaguered American Folk Art Museum’s building, the Met is moving into the Whitney, and if you only see one exhibit this summer, it should be McQueen.

Whew, say that ten times fast.

I'm A Museum Person

I’m A Museum Person: Betty Brennan

Photo via Wikipedia.

My name is Betty Brennan, and I’m a Museum Person.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I own a planning, design/build exhibit company called Taylor Studios, Inc.  I’m an entrepreneur.  I started the company in a garage and renovated chicken coop.  Twenty years later Taylor Studios has over 300 projects in museums, nature centers, universities, visitor centers, corporate lobbies and anywhere a unique story needs to be told.  I also a humorous, farm girl, horse lover, animal enthusiast, nature admirer, traveler, goal setter, business player sort of girl.

Why do museums matter to you?

From a straight forward point of view, they matter because they support the business and my staff.  Beyond that, we love museums.  They tell the stories of our past, they preserve our history, they can transform you to another time and place, they can touch your soul, they teach, they inform, they are fun, they inspire, they increase knowledge, they are a window to nature, they envision the future, they are places of discovery and the human experience.  If through our exhibits we can touch someone’s urge to know, love or acknowledge the content we have in a ways improved humanity.  With knowledge comes appreciation and sometimes action.  Museums add this richness to people’s lives.  They can brighten our world of understanding.  What a grand thing!

What is your favorite museum memory?

We stopped by the Roswell UFO Museum.  I read a copy panel I have never forgotten.  It went something like this, “we were buck naked in the back of my pick up truck when all hell broke loose.”  I like to say it with emphasis.  Now that copy tells an unforgettable story.  It’s the best copy ever.  I’m still laughing when I type this.  Sometimes humanity needs to lighten up and laugh.  Museums can do that too.

Photo by Jeff Kubina via Flickr.

What museum would you love to visit?

I have been to hundreds of museums.  It’s what I do.  I don’t have a particular one in mind that I must see.  My favorite time period is the Pleistocene.  So, I’ve always intended to visit the La Brea Tar Pits.  I have been to that area of the country many times and have never stopped there.  I would love to continue visiting museums every chance I get.

What is your dream museum job?

I have it.  To own a company that has 20 projects going at one time is quite amazing.  In any one day you could learn about trains, the civil war, prairies, African-American history, a particular fort, a particular time period, etc.

When you think of the perfect exhibit, what is in it?

It’s an exhibit that inspires and engages the visitor.  It provides something more than a book, the history channel or the classroom.  The content is well organized, relevant, thematic and has a point of view.  There is an easy flow.  The copy is concise and poignant.  There are more visuals than words.  The visuals are a variety of media: graphics, photographs, 3D objects, immersive environments and A/V.  If I had a pleasant experience and walked away from the exhibit with a different point of view, new knowledge and the desire to learn or do more, then it is perfect.

Who is the funnier museum twitterer…@SUEtheTrex or @NatHistoryWhale?

I’ll go with NatHistoryWhale.  I mean whales are probably genetically prone to being more funny than a T-Rex.  Check out our tweets @TSIExhibits.  We are really pithy.

What is the most random item you have bought from a museum gift shop?

I buy a lot of museum magnets.  They are all over my fridge.

Magnet Collections Come in All Shapes and Sizes. Photo by Photocapy via Flickr.

To test your museum knowledge, what cities are the following museums in? The High Museum of Art, Experience Music Project, Musee de la Civilisation, the Courtauld Gallery, and the Kuntskammer.

The EMP is in Seattle.  The rest would be a guess or Google search.  I guess I have a lot more museums to go see.

What museum would you move into for a month if you could?

I recently visited Paris and am tempted to say the Louvre given its size.  I could certainly find something new to learn every day.  However, I have a special place in my heart for Natural History museums.  Since, I have never been to London and their Natural History Museum is vast,  I will pick that one.

Out of all the museums you have visited so far, which one is your favorite?

The Field Museum in Chicago.

What is the most bizarre museum you have ever visited?

The Thing in Arizona.  Oh, my gosh all those billboards on the empty desert road eventually suck you into visiting this museum.  I remember the billboards more than the museum. Another all time favorite is The House on The Rock in Wisconsin.  This crazy experience is definitely worth the trip.  I think I recall Santa on a surfboard being chased by a life-sized whale.  You can’t beat that with a stick.

Scenes from the House on the Rock. Photo by ChrisL_AK via Flickr.


Thanks to Betty for sharing her experiences. If you’re interested in participating in the “I’m A Museum Person” series, send us an email at, and we’ll get your story up on the site.

I'm A Museum Person

I’m A Museum Person: SUE the T-Rex

Quite possibly the coolest T-Rex that ever roamed the earth.

My name is Specimen FMNH PR2081, and I’m a Museum Person.

Tell us about yourself.

Well, I’m a Tyrannosaurus rex who roamed the upper portion of the North American continent back when it was a tropical paradise (around the late Cretaceous). I lived to be 29 (old for my species), until I passed away. Scientists debate if this was caused by old age, arthritic gout, or some strange infection, but I like to tell everyone “Meteor Strike” because it sounds cool, and I’m trying to raise awareness of things falling from the sky, which is my greatest fear. After my passing, I was covered in sediment, gradually fossilized over the course of millions of years, trapped under glaciers during the ice age, and eventually discovered by my most favoritest mammals of all time: Sue Hendrickson and her dog Gypsy while they were waiting for their team to fix a flat tire. There was a bunch of other stuff that happened, and next thing I know, I’m here at The Field Museum in Chicago.

Why do museums matter to you?

I live in one! And I have twins that travel to several others on my never-ending world tour!

But if I could get serious for a second Ms. Museumist (can I call you “Mew”?) museums are important because you puny humans are always discovering new and exciting things about the past, how it relates to the present, and how you can apply this knowledge for the future. It’s easy to just slap up a blog post about something, tweet a short thing and hope someone will find it interesting, or even print it on a fancy glossy page in a book or a magazine, but it’s not until you come face to face with something, for instance history’s greatest and most beautiful apex predator (cough), that you really begin to appreciate it.

And another thing that makes it special to be here at The Field Museum: These folks aren’t just about helping the people who come in our doors learn something new, they also send scientists out into the field to explore the planet, and find news things humans didn’t know about before. As a dinosaur with a cantaloupe sized brain, I’m jealous

What is your favorite museum memory?

That’s easy. My Field Museum unveiling in May 2000.

What is your dream museum job?

I already got it. Sorry. (fist pump)

When you think of the perfect exhibit, what is in it?

My 10th anniversary at The Field Museum was pretty sweet. Maybe for the 20th, we can clone me and have everyone get T.rex rides around Chicago. Wait, on second thought, I would probably not like that. Plus, I’m prone to “rampages.”

Photo by Bert Kaufmann via Flickr.

Who is the funnier museum twitterer…you or @NatHistoryWhale?

Is this some sort of joke? I love @NatHistoryWhale! Why are you trying to get us mad at each other? He’s just sitting up there, minding his own business, softly singing whale songs. Why do you have to make this competitive? Besides, I don’t like seafood. Grew up in South Dakota. Not a place to develop a taste for “whale.”

What is the most random item you have bought in a museum gift shop?

This package of green beans from The Field Museum store. LOL! I’m a carnivore! What am I going to do with BEANS! Hahaha!

(deep breath)

Enough joking around. Where’s my order of ribs for lunch?

Photo by via Flickr.

To test your museum knowledge, which cities are the following museums in?

  • The High Museum of Art – Inside the basket of a hot air balloon?
  • The Experience Music Project – Let’s see… Jimi Hendrix made “Are You Experienced?” and he’s from Seattle, so… Seattle? I hope they have a big Sir Mix-A-Lot exhibit. He’s from Seattle too.
  • Musee de la Civilasation – Oh, I loved that video game “Civilization!” It must be huge in France! Or Quebec. Or maybe New Orleans? Where else do people speak French… and love classic turn based strategy games?
  • Courtauld Gallery – This sounds like a place those snooty Velociraptors would go to. (Shakes fist) Oh, Velociraptors! They think they’re just the bee’s knees because they’re smart and can open doorknobs!
  • Kuntskammer – I would pay good money to hear a hadrosaur pronounce this. It would probably sound like Donald Duck burnt the roof of his mouth eating chili.

What museum would you move into for a month if you could?

Besides this one? Um, maybe the aforementioned (and totally imaginary) Museum of Meat? I would spend AT LEAST three hours in the “Hall of Bacon.”

Out of all the museums you have visited so far, which one is your favorite?

If I was forced to choose anything besides The Field Museum? There’s so many of them. Costa Rica was nice. The Scientific Center in Kuwait City was really friendly. And I can’t tell you how accommodating the folks at the Nova Scotia Museum have been these last couple of months. But my homecoming visit to the Faith Community Center on Highway 212 in Faith, SD in 2008 was very special.

What is the most bizarre museum you have ever visited?

In just the last couple of years, I’ve had to play host to pirates, baby mammoths, the White Sox World Series trophy, and lately, horses—what I’m saying is The Field Museum can get bizarre enough. But in my adopted home city of Chicago alone, we’ve got museums for historical medical equipment and holography. Plenty of bizarre to go around.

Photo by puroticorico via Flickr.


Thanks to SUE for sharing her experiences. If you’re interested in participating in the “I’m A Museum Person” series, send us an email at, and we’ll get your story up on the site.


A Fierce Palpitation

Photo by dospaz via Flickr.

Have you ever been truly moved by a piece of art? Perhaps it “spoke” to you on a personal level, or maybe it was so beautiful it simply took your breath away? You may have written about it in your diary or on your blog, it might have been a topic of discussion with friends over lunch, or it may have caused you to run to the gift shop and demand a reproduction. Regardless of your reaction, you no doubt were able to move on with your life.

Some people are not so lucky, though. Those who suffer from hyperkulturemia can be thrown into a full psychosomatic outbreak upon encountering a particularly beautiful work of art. Symptoms include dizziness and an increased heartbeat, which can lead to fainting and hallucinations; a victim is left feeling confused, for lack of a better word.

Hyperkulturemia, otherwise known as Stendhal or Florence Syndrome, draws it origins from the writings of Henri-Marie Beyle, a French author who went by the nom de plume of Stendhal. Beyle was on an Italian tour, when he found himself in the hallowed halls of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence in 1817. As he was taking in the priceless works of art, he began to feel faint from the beauty of it all. Once recovered, he documented his spell for all to read about. Nevertheless, it took over 160 years for this phenomenon to acquire an actual diagnosis, when in 1979 Italian psychiatrist Graziella Magherini published her case studies of her first-hand observations of Stendhal Syndrome at work.

So, if you find yourself before a particularly beautiful piece of art and are “seized with a fierce palpitation of the heart,” you may be suffering from Stendhal Syndrome. But, we advise you seek medical attention just in case.

I'm A Museum Person

I’m A Museum Person: Shiloh Aderhold

Photo by blhphotography via Flickr.

My name is Shiloh Aderhold, and I’m a Museum Person.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am currently an art history and museum studies M.A. student at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I’ve been involved with museums for over five years, wearing many hats—visitor services, curatorial/collections and interpretation. Most of my experience is with historic house museums, specifically those of Frank Lloyd Wright. I currently intern in the curatorial department at the MCA in Chicago, and this summer I will be working at the Chicago Botanic Garden assisting with program interpretation and volunteer management.

Why do museums matter to you?

Museums are laboratories of culture that provide personal connections to both tangible objects and abstract ideas. They are a place to establish a forum for knowledge, create relationships, and share ideas and experiences. It’s important to have places that do this.

What is your favorite museum memory?

When I was studying in Barcelona several years ago, I went to an exhibition at MACBA— this was one of my first exposures to contemporary art. The Janet Cardiff and Georges Bures Miller exhibition was up. How their installations consume all behaviors of the museum visitors is impactful. It changed my ideas of what art can be. It was amazing, very visceral.

Photo by visual panic via Flickr.

What museum would you love to visit?

The Brooklyn Museum. I always seemed to miss this one when I’m in New York. But, it’s on my list for the next trip. I love their involvement with technology/social media and how they incorporate it into their collection, exhibitions, and programs. Plus, Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party.

What is your dream museum job?

Anything where I am able to be knee-deep in the collection: physically or conceptually.

When you think of the perfect exhibit, what is in it?

Interaction and stimulation. Physical or intellectual.

Who is the funnier museum twitterer…@SUEtheTrex or @NatHistoryWhale?

I like Sue’s sense of humor. Plus, I live in Chicago, so I have to represent.

What is the most random item you have bought from a museum gift shop?

A tape measure featuring the designs of Wright’s Coonley windows. It was a father’s day gift.

To test your museum knowledge, what cities are the following museums in?

  • The High Museum of Art- Atlanta! I went to high school outside of Atlanta. This museum was very formative in developing my passion for art and art interpretation.
  • The Experience Music Project- Seattle. This was a question on Jeopardy a few weeks ago.
  • Musee de la Civilisation- Paris, some where in France? Or Canada!?
  • The Courtauld Gallery – London
  • The Kuntskammer – St. Petersburg

Photo by sapoague via Flickr.

What museum would you move into for a month if you could?

Probably the Isabella Stewart Garner Museum. Or any house museum, really. It would be amazing to be transplanted into the life and history of someone else. Plus, there will probably be beds there, ha.

Out of all the museums you have visited so far, which one is your favorite?

I think Calatrava’s Ciudad de las Artes y Ciencias is pretty amazing. The architecture is a museum within itself. The science museum and aquarium are excellent spaces.

Photo by KA13 via Flickr.

What is the most bizarre museum you have visited?

Museum of Death in L.A.

There seem to be a million books and movies set in museums. Which one is your favorite?

You get to see the highlights of the Art Institute of Chicago in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which is awesome. It also demonstrates different museum experiences, such as the children running through the gallery and personally relating to art. Its a little cheesy, but I like it.


Thanks to Shiloh for sharing her experiences. If you’re interested in participating in the “I’m A Museum Person” series, send us an email at, and we’ll get your story up on the site.