Notes for Guides Leading Public Tours

1. There should be two guides for every booked group of 13-24 persons. A small group (12 or fewer) can be managed by one guide. If there are more than 24 persons booked, more guides are needed pro rata. You should be given a list of names and numbers of those expected.

2. Guides are to be paid at an hourly rate above that for demonstrators to reflect their extra responsibility for Observatory security and the safety of our guests. Tours should take about hour. Pay hours are based on total time guiding plus opening and securing the Observatory. Guides who come to the Observatory from UCL should claim travel separately.

3. If it is clear, guides are normally expected to set up the Fry telescope to allow public viewing, under supervision, of the Moon, planets, or other objects. Therefore, there should be at least one qualified telescope operator working as a guide for any public evening, and all regular guides should be trained to operate this telescope. On a cloudy night, guides should demonstrate the telescopes and talk about their history and equipment.  The Celestron may be set up for visual use on special evenings but only by trained and "passed" guides and with permission of research users.

Viewing should not be rushed.  Give them time.  If it is clear, make the rest of the tour shorter. This is what people really hoped to get by booking their visit.  Don't overcrowd the platform around the Celestron; one at a time on the Fry observing ladder.  Assist small persons and anyone possibly unsteady.

4. Make sure that you, as guide, have been briefed as to whether the group on tour is a "free" group from Barnet or is a "fee-paying" group. In many cases arrangements have been made to collect fees during the tour. The amount of the fee should have been previously negotiated. Make sure you collect the fee. Try to be discreet, though, and deal with the group's leader only. Cash is best; cheques must be made out to University College London or to UCL. Guides should expect to be briefed as to what to do with any money collected.

5. The collection boxes are used for the money paid for postcards, DVDs, mugs, posters, etc sold by the Observatory to raise money, as well as taking any donations that people might give. We encourage donations via the Gift Aid scheme (forms will be available). Cash goes in the boxes. Any donations are welcome. If asked what the money is for, explain that it goes into a trust fund used for special resources and equipment for the Observatory's students and visitors, which is simple and perfectly true. For example, this fund contributed towards the two Celestron C-14 telescopes and their CCD cameras, and the new CCD cameras on the Allen and Radcliffe telescopes.

6. It would be courteous to remind visitors that, if they wish to use the lavatory, they might prefer to use it before the tour. This has an amazing effect on children, by the way! It’s always a good idea for them to start their tour on empty.

7. The usual tour routes are New Domes - Radcliffe - Allen - Lecture Room (for “Questions and Answers” - if you know them; plus you could show pictures, photos, HST images on the computers, etc.). There is a digital projector available and some DVDs are provided, which we sell. Set up any photographic or computer displays and some seating before the visit. The Radcliffe and Allen are static exhibits only (except for large special events like SET week in March). The Lecture Room is a good place to pass the donations box and sell stuff.  Guides will be instructed in operation of the AV equipment.

8. Larger groups of visitors to the Radcliffe (especially children in school groups) should normally be sent up to the gallery and should not come on the floor. This is safer and speeds up the tour also. The guide stands on the floor. For regular public evenings guides may bring visitors on to the floor. You can use the diagram of how the telescope works. There is an easel for it which can be set up beforehand - ask Peter Thomas. The floor should not be operated.  Treat the Radcliffe as a static exhibit.

9. When visitors are in the domes,

(a) don't let anyone lean against the walls or pictures (they have done - and have broken things in doing so),

(b) do keep reminding those looking through the telescope that they must not touch the eyepiece or telescope except for focusing, which you should demonstrate and assist;

(c) ensure that the observing ladder is being used safely;

(d) those wearing spectacles should be asked to be careful not to bump against the eyepiece; this can scratch their lenses. If possible, use one of the Plössl lenses, with greater eye relief and rubber cups.

(e) keep an eye on visitors - occasionally you will get a "souvenir hunter" and find an eyepiece or other vital bit of equipment missing if you don't.  Again, be discreet and keep small articles tidied away.

10. Visitors are asked to arrive on time for their tours but some arrive late. If any visitors are late, leave the gate closed and locked while you conduct the tour for the others. Be alert for any late arrivals, who should be allowed to join their scheduled tour mid-way if at all possible. If very late arrivals can join a later group without exceeding the absolute limits of 12 per guide, then by all means let them join in. Otherwise, be as diplomatic as possible in explaining that they will have to book another visit.

11. Guides are responsible for Observatory security. Be sure you have a key or an arrangement to borrow one from the box in the West Control Room (code is ULO on a numeric keypad, or 856); ensure that the security lights are switched on when you leave; ensure that all doors are locked and on deadbolts, that if you have a security tab that the system has been swiped before locking the main door to the North Wing, and that the front gate is locked when you finally leave. If you are in charge of the donations boxes, leave them locked in the classroom, with one strip of lights on.

M M Dworetsky
(Retired Director, ULO)

24 October 2013 (revised)