Enthusing, Enthralling and Entertaining: Learning how to do Tours

An important aspect of my traineeship has been learning how to conduct tours. Given the setting of Worcester Cathedral Library – up a very narrow medieval spiral staircase, and with no glass cases in front of our books – we cannot be open to the public all of the time, and visits must be escorted.  Yet conducting a tour is so much more than ensuring the well-being of our visitors and the security of our objects – it is also about educating and entertaining.


The tour that we offer typically lasts about an hour. That means there are a lot of books to get through (we get some out for display), and a lot of information to hold in your head at one time! So far, I’ve only been doing parts of the tours, while shadowing my supervisor for the remainder. However, he has taught me far more than just facts to regurgitate!

Knowing who your audience is and pitching to them is of critical importance. By picking up on someone’s particular interests, or where they’re from, we can present them with material that is going to fascinate them. Most recently, a group of retired nurses were engrossed with our anatomy and medical textbooks, a visitor from the Netherlands was keen to see one of our medieval Books of Hours written in Middle Dutch, and an American man was enthralled by some of our earlier maps that erroneously showed his native state of California to be an island.

It is a very rewarding experience when someone really enjoys their tour, but there is more in it than just personal satisfaction. The more impressed someone is by their visit to the Cathedral library, the more likely we are to benefit from word-of-mouth recommendations, or even receive generous donations. Interacting with the public face to face also gives me a good idea of what topics will be of most interest generally when it comes to the other roles encompassed by my traineeship: exhibition development and running the blog, both of which are all important aspects when it comes to opening up the collection of the library and archive to the widest possible audience.

Talking of the blog – we have a steadily growing number of hits per week, and I have now got a good amount of material coming in from our fantastic team of volunteers.  This is important for making sure that I don’t write just about the things that I’m interested in! See our latest content here: http://worcestercathedrallibrary.wordpress.com/

Tom Hopkins