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by Abigail Van Buren

Museum Docent Offers Advice: No Touching!

DEAR ABBY: On behalf of my fellow museum docents, I'm asking you to educate your readers about how to behave when they visit our nation's historic buildings. The most important rule is: Do Not Touch Anything!

This includes the walls and woodwork. Even the cleanest hands have skin oils that can damage a finish. Next, do not lean against the walls or doorways because this, too, may damage original paint, wood finishes or carved details.

If ropes are blocking access to part of the room, do not go beyond them. The dirt on your shoes can damage carpets. If a door is closed or only half open, do not move it.

As a courtesy to your guide and other visitors, cellphones should be turned off. The docent has important information to share with you. If we do not have an immediate answer to a question, we will seek it from another guide or staff member.

Guides and docents enjoy sharing our knowledge with guests. So please visit, but while you're with us, follow our guidelines and help us preserve and protect these glimpses into the past. -- DOCENT IN PORTLAND, ORE.

DEAR DOCENT: Your letter deserves space in my column because people sometimes forget when touring historic buildings that they are not in their own homes, but in fact are in museums. May I add one more tip to your list: It is always a good idea to ask permission before using a camera with a flashbulb.

Docents are individuals who study their subjects intensively, and then function as unpaid teachers who transmit their knowledge to visitors in institutions such as museums, art galleries and zoos. They perform an important service and should be treated with respect for the time and effort they put forth to prepare themselves for it.

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