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Museum attendants often work through the education department or through a unit known as visitor services. They are sometimes called museum aides. A museum aide might also be a docent, or referred to as guide or explainer.
Receptionists greet visitors, collect admission fees, distribute maps, and answer general questions about exhibits and the layout of the museum. Guards primarily attend to the safety of the museum, its collections, its staff, and the overall flow of visitors. They observe public areas for hazards to visitors and evacuate the museum in case of emergencies. Some guards are cross-trained as first-aid officers. On a light visitor day, guards may act as on-the-spot information officers.
In another category of museum attendants are gardeners or groundskeepers. Ordinarily these functions are carried out by the museum's maintenance crew or by contract workers, but attendants may perform the task, especially if the museum is small and the grounds are considered an extension of the museum, such as the formal garden of a restored country house.
The functions of museum attendants vary with the size of the museum and its mission. Museums in the United States are as various as human interests. Among some of the lesser-known institutions are the Museum of Cartoon Art, the National Bottle Museum, roller skating and figure skating museums, and museums of whaling, nuts, old fans, tattoo art, the Pony Express, locks, swimming, bullfighting, and butterflies. The position of attendant or educator in any one museum will not be exactly like that in any other museum, but some shared features of the work do exist. These features can be loosely sorted by type of museum.
In art museums, attendants may deliver informative talks in a particular historical period as they accompany visitors through the exhibits, or they may be primarily concerned with the security of the collections. In natural history museums, attendants describe the biological and evolutionary context of the specimens, how they were acquired by the museum, and the methods of preservation and mounting. In children's museums and space and technology museums, attendants are likely to be involved in hands-on, interactive activities throughout the working day. In folk museums or historical reconstructions, attendants may wear period clothing, demonstrate the use of antiquarian articles or older technologies such as spinning or milling, or they may prepare and serve food in a historically authentic manner.