‘NO! You May NOT Pose With That Dinosaur!’

Photo by Charles16e for Flickr.com
Photo of the American Museum of Natural History by Charles16e for Flickr.com

You may not be able to take a selfie with a dinosaur anymore.

Several museums in New York City, as well as in other American cities, are banning selfie taking, use of selfie sticks, or debating this policy. Selfie sticks are gaining popularity but many museums are clamping down on their use. Is this a wise, protective move on the part of museums, or is it a curmudgeonly move to keep people from striking a pose with a dinosaur?

Some of you may be wondering, what is? a selfie stick, and do I really need one? It is a type of monopod that has caught on in popularity, particularly for cell phones. It facilitates the taking of selfie photographs, acting as an extension of the photographer’s arm. They range in price from just under $10 for a basic type to nearly $100 for sophisticated models.

NYC, which has so many museums, has a variety of responses at this time. The Brooklyn Museum bans the sticks, but does allow for non-flash photos in most of its galleries. Their thinking is that selfie sticks cause users to bump into art and other patrons. The Museum of Modern Art says no to “any camera-extension devices.” The recently renovated and reopened Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum requests visitors to check not only selfie sticks but also tripods and bulky knapsacks. El Museo del Barrio and the Metropolitan Museum of Art do not ban them now, but are considering the possibility of future bans.

I asked my friends for their thoughts on the selfies-in-museums issue and they were split: Nicole thinks selfie sticks are a “brilliant idea.” Julian says “they are way too important in our culture.” Karen notes that “the ones at the September 11 Memorial drove me up a wall.” Barbara sees “absolutely nothing wrong with selfies…if photos are not prohibited, snap away!” Barry “hates them.” His daughter Sarah writes “the idea of a selfie stick just seems like it’s taking it too far…taking a photo of the art alone seems like a better idea to me.”

Does taking a selfie in a museum reduce the piece of artwork to a backdrop for your ego? When snapping a selfie with a historical artifact, are you just acting as a collector? Or is this a modern way of engaging with art, history and other things on display? Some believe that the rise of the museum selfie has altered the way many people engage with art, turning the selfie into a “trophy photo” quest. But is that an elitist point of view? Should we be pleased in the first place that people are engaging with art and historical or scientific artifacts, since many people are loathe to visit any museums or galleries? Are museums acting in a “truly heroic” sense by banning the stick? Should museums be sites for peaceful contemplation–or for louder, more active discussion?

This is really more than a technology issue and a space-usage discussion: there is an underlying debate about the mission and purpose of museums. Do we want quiet, serene spots or arenas for activity? Museums for the most part are sources of public education, and just as people debate how classrooms should be run, we see that people debate how museums should be run.


Ellen Levitt is the author of The Lost Synagogues of Brooklyn (2009), The Lost Synagogues of the Bronx and Queens (2011) and The Lost Synagogues of Manhattan (2013), all published by Avotaynu. She is a lifelong New Yorker, a veteran public school teacher, writer and photographer. Bird lover as well.