IMR Interpretation & Education Chief’s Handbook
The Work that Interpreters Do
The work of interpreters has become an increasingly challenging endeavor. Establishing clear communication and fostering active civic engagement is more complex than ever before. The role of the interpreter can be seen as akin to a sacred trust — guiding people to more deeply and thoughtfully explore the world, enhancing a sense of personal enrichment, and creating opportunities for more meaningful participation in society. Quality of life is inextricably tied to a sense of place in this world — and sense of place is intimately tied to personal and shared experience of heritage.
By fostering personal connections to heritage resources, the interpreter also facilitates the sense of stewardship necessary to guarantee that the integrity of those resources will be protected and maintained unimpaired to enrich the lives of generations to come. For those of us in the craft, there is great satisfaction in providing the public service that enhances understanding, appreciation, protection, and perpetuation of the resources we love. By helping others to search out their own place in the great tapestry of life, we can better find our own.
As learner, teacher, guide, caretaker, and public servant, the interpreter occupies a unique and valuable niche in modern society. Like the bard, sage, muse, and court jester of elder days, the interpreter uses storytelling to provoke thoughtful introspection and enhance enjoyment while carefully respecting individual perspective and independence.
That can often be a stern test of character. The degree to which most interpreters are emotionally and intellectually invested in the heritage resources they interpret can lead to impatience, overzealousness, and arrogance vis-à-vis the visiting public. It’s all too easy for the interpreter to conclude that he or she knows best. We must constantly be aware of our own weaknesses and biases — and of the fact that people invariable decide for themselves what heritage resources mean. We must trust that an honest, professional, diverse, and sound presentation of ideas and perspectives will lead visitors to find value in heritage — and that once heritage is valued, it will be cherished and protected.
As daunting and humbling as it may be to take on the responsibility of helping others discover meaning, the work of the interpreter is always thoughtful, challenging, and meaningful.
Why this Handbook?
The work of Chiefs of Interpretation and Education is equally daunting and humbling, and perhaps even more so. Chiefs operate complex programs that accomplish the interpretive work described above. They need to be familiar with — and be able to deftly navigate — a variety of work elements, tasks, initiatives, personalities, systems, procedures, and organizations.
This handbook exists to help you accomplish that.*
This handbook’s online design as a Google Document enables the Table of Contents to be built from links that take you directly and immediately to the content you want to reference or learn about. The design also enables immediate jumps to linked content (websites, documents, etc.) to provide you with a seamless experience. It can also be printed if that better fits your learning style.
Lead others well — and have fun with it! We wish you great success in all of your interpretive endeavors.
*Note: This handbook is maintained by the Intermountain Region (IMR) Interpretation and Education Advisory Committee (IEAC) and the Intermountain Regional Office Interpretation and Education Staff.