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Now You See Me: The Emotional Impact of Visible Labs on Museum Staff

Research Thesis by Sarah Dickinson

In the last half-century, visible lab and storage spaces have become a popular phenomenon around the world. These new spaces provide visitors to the museum the option to view museum staff, operations, and collections which were usually behind the scenes. This is usually done by renovating these spaces so that there is a glass window so that the public can look into the lab or collections space from the museum. Changes such as these have been buoyed by a wave of interest in making museums more democratic and transparent. Because this movement to openness toward the community was focused on the visitor’s experience, the majority of research surrounding visible lab spaces focuses on visitor reactions to these spaces. The purpose of this research study was to understand the impact of working in an inside-out setting within a museum on the emotional well-being of museum staff who conduct daily business in these spaces. With that goal in mind, a phenomenological study was done by conducting seven semi-structured interviews across three institutions with visible lab spaces. The results of this research were that staff experience both positive and negative emotional impacts by working in these spaces, which are brought on by interactions with visitors, the change in obligations and responsibilities, and the amplification of staff emotions by being observed at work. The results have implications for museum practice and the organizations’ treatment of the emotions of staff who conduct business in these spaces, and also serves as preliminary investigation for further research.


Dickinson, S. (2020). Now you see me: The emotional impact of visible labs on museum staff. (Order No. 28001299). Available from Dissertations & Theses @ University of Washington WCLP; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (2437438276). Retrieved from


Emotions, Museum staff, Phenomenology, Semi-structured interviews, Visible labs