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Archeology for Interpreters > 6. What Are Our Personal and Professional Responsibilities?

Using multiple interpretive methods

A growing percentage of visitors come to national parks with clearly defined learning objectives. Whether a fifth grade class, an Elderhostel program, or a scout group, they desire a ranger-led program on- or off-site to fit into a structured plan for learning. In essence, these visitors have a curriculum. All interpreters must be able to serve the needs of these audiences by integrating their interpretive services with the learner's curriculum. A curriculum-based interpretive program connects the educational objectives of the group with the park's resources through a variety of personal services, nonpersonal services and media, outreach and heritage education services, and interpretation for special populations. The management and interpretive plans and documents for each park establish a balance of interpretive services based upon criteria such as level of visitor use, the nature of the park resources, park management goals, and related factors. Various interpretive methods, including personal services, publications, exhibits, and audiovisual presentations, may be used to provide visitors with relevant information before their visits and to ensure quality experiences once they are in parks. Each park identifies a basic level of interpretation that is core to the mission of the park.

Personal services

[photo] A park ranger leads a walk through Mojave National Preserve.

This ranger-led walk at Mojave National Preserve is a personal service. (NPS)

Personal interpretive services are those in which staff interact with visitors. Personal interpretive services are the basis of each park's interpretive program, since they are often the most effective means of stimulating visitor understanding and appreciation of park values, providing information and orientation, and helping to ensure resource protection and visitor safety. Personal interpretive services are powerful forms of interpretation because of their flexibility and person-to-person interaction. A long tradition of personal interpretive services exists in the national park system, as represented by visitor centers with staffed orientation/ information desks, staffed exhibits, staffed museums, and staffed audiovisual programs; guided walks, talks, and tours; fixed-point interpretation; Junior Ranger programs; and campfire programs.

Visitor enjoyment and understanding of park resources may be enhanced by living history programs, living farms, period demonstrations, interpretive demonstrations, programs utilizing the creative and performing arts, arts and crafts, explanations and demonstrations of recreational and leisure-time skills, and other innovative activities when appropriate.


Nonpersonal services and media

[photo] Historic artifacts displayed at Fort Frederica National Monument.

An archeology exhibit at Fort Frederica National Monument is a nonpersonal service. (NPS)

Nonpersonal interpretive services are those that do not require the presence of staff. When personal services are not the best alternative for providing visitor information, orientation, or an understanding of park resources, other means of interpretation are considered appropriate. These may include park brochures and other publications, exhibits, Web sites, audiovisual presentations, and radio information systems. Many of these, especially the park Web site, are used before a visitor arrives at a park so he or she already knows some useful information. An Interpreter needs to know what materials are available to the public before they arrive so he or she can play off that information in useful ways. Even when personal services are used, these additional means of interpretation may be used to augment and enhance visitor enjoyment and appreciation of park resources. Nonpersonal interpretive services offer strong advantages in that they maintain a consistent quality of presentation over time and they can reach large audiences.

Outreach, environmental, and heritage education services

Outreach includes interpretive and educational services that take place beyond park boundaries. These services are used to disseminate park and resource information and interpretation beyond park boundaries. Outreach services usually supplement in-park interpretive programs and may include traveling programs, park Web sites, and mobile exhibitions. Environmental education in the national park system traditionally deals with natural history and natural resources, such as ecosystems or geologic features, and the human activities associated with them. Heritage education deals with historical and cultural resources, such as cultural landscapes or historic buildings, and the human activities associated with them. Environmental education and heritage education services provide information and assistance to local school students and teachers, organized groups, and educational institutions that wish to use park resources in their curricula.

Interpreting for special populations

The National Park Service seeks to ensure, to the greatest extent possible, that disabled people receive the same interpretive opportunities as nondisabled people. Efforts are made to ensure that interpretive programs, recreational activities, concession-operated and privately sponsored activities, publications, and other informational materials meet the needs of children, senior citizens, international visitors, and the disadvantaged. Foreign-language translations of park publications are provided in those parks visited by large numbers of foreign visitors.

For your information

Harpers Ferry Center is the NPS's in-house interpretive media shop. Visit HFC's webpage to learn about available services and see examples of interpretive products in the NPS style.

Use What You Know: Assess Your Knowledge (#6 of 9)

  • How do the responsibilities of interpreters relate to those of archeologists?
  • How can the educational process associated with archeological work assist interpreters?
  • What kinds of destructive behaviors have you seen from visitors that might impact archeological resources? How could you use these anecdotes to help you interpret stewardship?