How to Become a Volunteer

Basic Qualifications:
The Museum's Docent Program is open to men and women eighteen years of age or older who are enthusiastic, flexible, interested in American history and culture, and able to communicate effectively with people of all ages and backgrounds. Once accepted, docent candidates must successfully complete all required training for their assigned programs, and be able to commit to a regular schedule for at least one year (one day per week for the weekday program or two days per month for the weekend program). The Smithsonian Institution is committed to diversity. Women, minorities, and people with disabilities are encouraged to apply. Reasonable accommodations are available upon request.


New docents will train for one program during their first year. Required training is provisionally scheduled for early 2008 and will be held on weekdays, Saturdays, and some weekday evenings to accommodate a variety of schedules. Sessions will focus on informal learning in museums, interpretive techniques, and American history. Additional enrichment training is scheduled throughout the year and includes lectures, workshops, field trips, and seminars.

Duties and Responsibilities:

A docent's first duty is to serve visitors to the Museum:

  • Interpret the Museum's collections for visitors.
  • Communicate directly with visitors, including the general public, students, special-interest groups, or people with special needs.
  • Maintain an attitude of respect for all visitors regardless of sex, age, national origin, race, or physical abilities.

Docents must also work in concert with other staff and volunteers of the Museum to:

  • Present interpretive programs as designed by the Office of Public Programs in a manner consistent with program goals and objectives.
  • Fulfill the required commitment of one day per week or two weekend days per month.
  • Obtain substitutes for any regular commitment in case of planned absence.
  • Attend training sessions as required.
  • Accept periodic audits and evaluations of presentations in a spirit of cooperation.
  • Maintain an attitude of flexibility and respect in all relationships with peers and staff.
  • Function at all times within the guidelines and procedures of the Smithsonian Institution, the Museum, and the Office of Public Programs.

To apply:
Please fill out the docent application form and return it to the Museum by email, fax, or postal mail. After we receive your application, you will be notified about dates for orientation meeting at which current openings will be discussed. Following that meeting, acceptance into the program and program assignments are announced. NOTE: Acceptance into the docent program is subject to successful completion of a background investigation. For information about other volunteer programs at the Smithsonian Institution, check out Opportunities for Volunteer Service.

Contact the Director of Visitor Services:
By Email: Contact Form
By Phone: (202) 633-3690 (voice) or (202) 357-1563 (TTY)
By Fax: (202) 633-9024

By Mail: Director of Visitor Services
National Museum of American History, Behring Center
Department of Visitor Services
P.O. Box 37012, MRC 603
Smithsonian Institution
Washington, D.C. 20013-7012

Application Form