As if the selfie itself is fraught with legal issues for a museum, now selfie-takers can arm themselves with a “selfie stick”. Basically, it is a three foot stick with a piece on the end that holds a cellphone. Museums are now faced with an added layer of liability–a sea of sticks in a gallery. Many museums are banning these selfie sticks because they fear the damage a moment of inattentive swinging might do to a collections piece. (The Portland Vase in the British Museum was already smashed to pieces in 1845 by a drunken museum patron…does it now need to fear the patron armed with a selfie stick?) The New York Times has an excellent story about museums banning selfie sticks. But for those museums who chose not to ban the sticks, it begs the question of how liable a museum might be to a patron who is injured by another patron’s stick. We all know a popular exhibit can be very crowded. Add to that scene multiple patrons wielding three-foot long sticks, whipping them up to eye level without a moment’s notice, and well…it seems to be a recipe for disaster.
Further, even if a museum does institute a selfie stick ban, it is critical that the museum enforce this policy. If there is a ban and the museum does not enforce it, it could really open up the museum to liability if a patron is injured by another’s selfie stick.
But there is also the big picture of the visitor experience. Last September I had the opportunity to visit Winterthur’s exhibit of costumes from Downton Abbey. This exhibit was only being shown at Winterthur, and had no other US location. It was a special trip my mother and I made, which involved the cost of driving, a hotel room and meals. It was worth it. Thankfully no one had a selfie stick, but I can imagine how my experience would have been dramatically changed for the worse had I needed to navigate a field of waving sticks.