Visitor Service OfficerServices, information, and security
Before the public encounters the Mona Lisa or the Venus de Milo, they will be greeted by a visitor service officer: a crucial first impression.
Working as a Visitor Service Officer
The Louvre's visitor service officers are employed by the Ministry of Culture's section responsible for visitor services, and museum surveillance and upkeep. The work involved depends on category and rank. In some state museums visitor service personnel handle the reception of groups and guided tours. Candidates must pass the French civil service examinations for visitor service officers and visitor service assistants. They must be under 45 and European Union nationals. At the Louvre, visitor service officers are part of the Visitor Services, Information, and Documentation department. They are backed up by non-tenured staff working either full time or on an ad hoc basis, depending on opening hours and fluctuating visitor numbers. Some assistants—often students—work on weekends or during late-night openings. Visitor service officers work in the Hall Napoléon— under the Pyramid—and at the Porte des Lions entrance, and sometimes in other parts of the museum. The job calls for a thorough knowledge of the museum's collections, a solid grounding in art history, practical knowledge of foreign languages, an interest in people, and a real capacity to work as part of a team.
Before the Visitors Arrive
Every working day begins with a briefing: technical details, last minute information, and the latest news on the museum and the collection. By opening time all the necessary materials and equipment must be in place and the service staff at their posts, ready to meet visitors' many and varied needs. The museum's opening and closing times mean variable working hours. The opening team arrives before 9:00 a.m. and sets up for the day's visitors, checking that all systems are working and ensuring that the information hub has maps in all the relevant languages, together with sufficient literature: itineraries, information for the handicapped, etc. Notices regarding temporary gallery closures are posted. As soon as the doors open, visitors begin making their way to the information hub under the Pyramid.
The visitor service officer's daily duties involve welcoming visitors, orienting them towards the museum's different spaces, and informing them—personally or by telephone—about admission fees, cultural activities, opening and closing times, and the museum's regulations. Officers are also responsible for overseeing the museum's loan service for crutches, wheelchairs, strollers, and folding stools. Visitor reception at the Louvre also means helping out with such problems as lost children, and lost or stolen property. In human terms this is the trickiest part of the officer's job. But it can also prove the most rewarding. Daylong contact with the public means dealing with huge numbers of essential but repetitive queries ( " Where's the Mona Lisa? " , " Is the museum open yet? " , " Where are the toilets? " . . . ). Smiles and thank-yous from satisfied visitors are a welcome bonus!
Meeting People—and the Unexpected
Visitor service officers are first and foremost people with exceptional interpersonal skills who relish their public role. Some have degrees in art history, and all are passionate about art so that questions from visitors about the collection can sometimes kick off a delightfully stimulating conversation. Understanding what visitors are looking for, in terms of art, or cultural events and activities, and judiciously steering them in the right direction is one of the job's most interesting features. Officers take real pleasure in the opportunity to point visitors in a new and unexpected direction, or to a little-known part of the collection. At the same time, dealing with the public is undeniably hard work. On the first Sunday of each month admission to the Louvre is free and the crowds mean more noise, more questions, and more problems. The staff are unanimous that this is often the toughest day of all, with the difficulties that extra numbers bring, plus all sorts of contingencies. This is when they have to show initiative and common sense, and sometimes keep their cool in situations of real crisis. A power failure, or the discovery of a suspicious parcel, are just two examples of the kind of (happily infrequent) events that require supreme calm and professional competence while reassuring, directing, or evacuating the public.
Discretion at Closing Time
Closing the museum at the end of the day is a complex exercise. Twice a week, and sometimes more, the museum stays open late, and visitor services are assured by a team of night officers. The regular day shift ends at 5:15 p.m., and the staff then has the delicate task of announcing to visitors that they will soon have to leave, dealing with last-minute problems, and directing people to the exits and the Métro. At this time of day, the information hub is beseiged with queries about the museum, the surrounding area, and other tourist sites in Paris. Visitor service officers often find themselves tackling questions beyond the scope of their specific skills and relying on personal experience to provide the answers. And last of all, there are always the small logistical problems—a lost stroller, or a wheelchair that has mysteriously gone astray. Visitor service officers all agree that one of the best aspects of the job is their special contact with people from all sorts of backgrounds and nationalities: helping out, making friends, and sharing their enthusiasm for art. Officers also cite the job's many benefits, including excellent professional training, the warm team atmosphere, and schedules that allow for part-time work or flexible working hours—not to mention one of the most extraordinary workplaces in the world!
The Louvre is open every day (except Tuesday) from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.