Day 1: Volunteering at the Newseum

10 05 2009

I had written a previous post about an excellent two-day training course to prepare Member Service’s volunteers for their assignments at the Newseum.  Well, on Sunday, May 3, I launched into my new experience and worked the 12:30PM to 5PM shift.

The day was wet and blustery as I walked from the Smithsonian Metro train stop on the National Mall to the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue.  I was surprised by the number of folks who were braving the elements at around 11:45AM to visit the various Smithsonian galleries.  The rain was not deterring intrepid visitors who were arriving by buses and disembarking into a blustery DC Spring welcome.

As I approached the Newseum, the mood was more subdued.  There were no lines to enter the building although there were a number of buses awaiting to collect tour groups of secondary school children and their teachers.  I entered the building through the group entry at the back of the building and was pleased to be out of the driving rain that had drenched the legs of my trousers.  Upon entering, I was immediately greeted with a huge smile by the security guard who pointed towards the staff entry door as I showed my badge.

I needed to obtain an ID photo for my badge and once again, the security team were very accommodating and welcoming on my first day.  Everyone who works at the Newseum exhibits an extraordinary level of customer service and goes out of their way to treat all visitors and staff with great respect.  I thought to myself: I’m going to enjoy this unique experience, as I made my way to the Member Services desk on the Concourse level to check-in for my first shift.

For Day 1, I was assigned to work in the News History Gallery on the fifth floor.  This 8,000 square-foot gallery is the largest of the Newseum’s 14 galleries.   This is an amazing interactive experience for visitors that showcases 368 historic newspaper front pages,  newsbooks, plates and magazines that span over 500 years from 1455 to 2008.  Eight large cases also display artifacts and show continuous TV news and entertainment excerpts that explore a variety of themes including media credibility and objectivity, war reporting, sensationalism, blogging and the “citizen journalist”.  During my shift, visitors frequently asked: “Where is the actual door from the Watergate break-in?”  Other historically significant artifacts that I had the pleasure of showing visitors were the telephone used by Rupert Murdock to make deals involving nearly $20 billion, and the original script from the first “60 Minutes” news magazine in 1968.

The number of visitors ebbed and flowed during my shift and reached a crescendo around 3:30PM when the gallery was packed for around 30 minutes due to the arrival of two tour groups.  As 5PM quickly approached, an almost eerie silence descended upon the floor as the announcement was made: “Ladies and gentlemen, the Newseum will close in 10 minutes.”  Two visitors scurried hastily past me at 5PM as they headed to the closest elevator on the fifth floor.  The Security team were starting to make their rounds at 5:10PM as I made my way to the staff lockers to collect my bag for the homeward journey.

Thank goodness I’d packed an apple that I started to eat as I departed the Newseum via the group entry.  The rain and the wind had abated as I made my way back to the Smithsonian Metro station past long lines of buses that were loading their guests who’d spent their day experiencing the Smithsonian galleries.

I was tired but filled with appreciation for the great experience of interacting with Newseum visitors from all over the work.   My volunteer work continues every second Sunday and will be highlighted in other upcoming posts.

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