Monthly Archives: March 2013

Volunteer Interpretation

It’s been nearly a year since I retired from the Florida Park Service. Part of my job was as the volunteer coordinator for my park. I admit I had mixed feelings about volunteer interpreters. Several times I put more effort into training a volunteer than I got out of them, but others made up for the difference and overall I had a positive experience.

I always made it a point to respond quickly to offers of volunteerism. I remember one time when a message came in at 6PM on a Monday afternoon. I worked four ten hours days a week, Friday through Monday, so this email came in just before my three days off. Instead of staying late I decided to wait, even though I know people often do not expect workers to be off in the middle of a week. For the next three days I was bothered that I had blown it off and answered first thing on Friday morning. I didn’t understand when the volunteer thanked me for my prompt response. I understand now!

This summer I was planning to be a volunteer interpreter. If you haven’t visited take a look. I’ve been dreaming of the day when I could pick and choose from all the cool positions offered there. As soon as I returned from NIW last November I began my search in earnest. My essential criteria were I had to be someplace cool and the  job had to excite me. I found four postings that were for places I wanted to be but the jobs weren’t quite what I was looking for (mostly too much or all of the time at the desk). I emailed each contact person to see if there might be flexibility in the interpretive responsibilities. It was two weeks before the first reply came back, three weeks for the second, and the other two have still not replied.

While waiting to hear from them some other positions were posted which were right up my alley. In all I submitted five applications. All sent a robot response immediately, and then the waiting began. One answered right away, checked my references and said yes, only to back out the next day because she realized she needed a couple for manpower reasons. Two weeks into the process another one expressed interest but then the coordinator was on vacation for three weeks – I expected when she returned I’d get that job so I wasn’t too worried. A month after applying one of the ones I hadn’t heard from reposted the position. That bothered me, it felt like they didn’t want me and had not even bothered to say no thanks. I emailed the coordinator asking why, and it turned out there had been a personnel change and she hadn’t looked at the applications already submitted. A few days later I had that position; I’ll be a coastal wildlife interpreter at Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge and I couldn’t be happier.

But the process still bothers me. Four of  the volunteer coordinators never responded, and the average response from the other coordinators was over two weeks. If you are a volunteer coordinator, think about what it says about your organization if you ignore a volunteer. Respond promptly – especially if it is me! And if you have cool interp positions available, get them up on so I can hear about them!

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We visited the University of Western Alabama campus last week to review the 2014 workshop location in Livingston, Alabama, and we are now totally stoked! Tucked away at the edge of the Blackbelt prairie lies the small town charm of Livingston, complete with antebellum houses and surrounded by endless miles of natural beauty. We have yet to finalize the workshop dates and need your help to decide between either February 3-7 or May 12-16, 2014. Simply go to the Doodle poll and register your vote by April 1 at

Categories: General | 1 Comment

Interpretation as simple as math (or not)

Interpreters go out and learn about a resource, we do a lot of research, check our sources and try our best to make sure that the information we provide to our visitors is accurate. Some topics make us lean towards thinking that the knowledge, data, facts, dates, etc are absolutely true and accurate. This is when interpretation comes to play.


Screenshot courtesy of Facebook

If you are a regular user of social media you probably have seen a math problem posted and asking if you know the answer to the “simple” problem to post the “correct” answer. I have seen some threads going for days, people getting upset and into very heated discussions about the mathematical solution to the problem.

I had to read a two page explanation about how people could come up with different answers to a math problem that most people think it should have only one correct answer. It was eye-opening that the author of the article used the word “interpretation”; his conclusion was that the answer could very well be on the eyes of the problem solver and not the problem itself resulting in multiple correct answers.

Remember that our audience may have different interpretations of the resources that we are trying to interpret and being open-minded to them is always a must. There is always more than one solution to a problem even if  we are convinced that it is not.

Next time you are working on a new resource try to figure out how many different ways are out the to interpret it and make the best of it.

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