How are you connected to the Museum?
I am responsible for Visitor Reception and supervise six part-time front desk staff. We greet Montshire visitors and members 363 days a year, answering myriad questions about exhibits and activities. We do a variety of things to serve visitors—helping 1st and 2nd graders understand the implications of sales tax when making purchases in the Museum Store and providing shopping suggestions for grandmothers. We help visitors locate bathrooms and Science Park, explain the benefits of Museum Membership, and assist people with their gift selections.
What do most people not know about the Museum?
At various times, our Lost and Found contains one of the Upper Valley's premier collections of wet towels, lunch boxes, and a full range of seasonal clothing from bathing suits to orphaned hats and mittens. The saintly Sue Tallman goes through all those scary lunch contents, and folds, sorts and stores all the clothing and towels. When the mountain of unclaimed items exceeds our storage space, she hauls it off to SEVCA's thrift store. Over the years we've managed to track down the owners of a Mont Blanc pen, a wedding ring that spent the winter in Science Park before being mailed back to its owner in Hawaii, and a $1200 bundle of money that fell off the roof of a car driving out of our parking lot.
Our Members and local visitors also might not realize that the Montshire desk staff does an excellent job of offering concierge service to visitors asking for suggestions on other tourism attractions in New England, as well as where to shop, eat, or spend the night in the Upper Valley. We're good with custom maps.
When did you first come to the Montshire and how long have you worked here?
I first took my kids to the "old" Montshire on the Lyme Road in 1980. My grandkids now enjoy coming. I was first hired in the fall of 1989, in anticipation of the move to the new Museum. Except for a 3-year break in the mid-90s, I have worked here ever since.
What do you wish we could do that we aren't doing now?
It is always hard to disappoint visitors who arrive expecting that we have a café/coffee bar or that our Community Room is always available for picnicking. Fortunately, the recent construction of the Hughes Pavilion will be great for school groups and visitors as an alternate dining and gathering space.
What is your favorite exhibit?
Especially during the winter months, I love to look in on the inhabitants and the lush environment of our frog and toad tank. An added bonus is hearing their recorded songs when a visitor presses the various call buttons.
What do you find most rewarding about your job?
Talking with our visitors—both the regular Members we see almost weekly and those who are coming in for the first time. We ask non-Members for their zip code and that can start an interesting conversation about where they are from. The interaction we have with children is great fun. They are excited about coming to the Museum and very forthcoming with information.
What is something that has changed since you first started working here 20 years ago?
The first 4 years we were open in our Norwich location, I worked every weekend greeting visitors and answering the phone. This was before people could check online for information. Callers assumed the Montshire would have a natural science expert manning the phones 24/7, but they got me instead. Calls often were of an emergency nature: how to remove a skunk, squirrel, snake, or bat from various locations in someone's house; identify a mushroom or strange bug; or save the life of an injured bird. After hearing about some of these stories, my creative teenagers would occasionally call the Montshire with a somewhat disguised voice and present me with a phone-in animal drama.