A docent is a tour guide who leads groups of people through a museum. A docent is usually a volunteer position, although some museums use the term to refer to all tour guides – paid or unpaid.
Almost all museums rely on volunteer docents to provide a quality experience for visitors. Docents meet all kinds of people who come through the museum. They give tours to students on field trips, families on vacation, and special group excursions, such as church groups, clubs, or Red Hat Ladies.
The museum will provide training to become a docent. You will learn the material to cover on the tour, as well different learning styles and how to keep your visitors interested in your tour. You will also learn how to handle artifacts safely during your tour.
Some museums have an entire curriculum for docents that includes tests, a final exam, and a “graduation” ceremony. Other museums are more informal. Before you will be allowed to give tours on your own, you will be required to follow an experienced tour guide. A member of the education department will observe your first few solo tours, offering suggestions for improvement and noting what you’ve done well.
Some museums accept new docents as part of a “class” that starts at a specific time at regular intervals throughout the year. Other museums train each individual as they express interest in becoming a docent. It usually depends on the size of the museum – larger museums have a more formal training, while a smaller museum often approaches docent training on an individual basis.
The time commitment varies from museum to museum, but you will likely be busier in the spring and summer months during field trip season and summer tourist season. Some museums ask docents to choose a specific day to volunteer, while others prefer docents to sign up for tours on an as-needed basis.
If you are interested in becoming a docent, contact your local museum to find out more about the requirements and application process.