Thank you for your interest in becoming an Erie Canal Museum docent. Fill out and return the volunteer application found here  to get started.

Your knowledge and enthusiasm will share the great American adventure story of the Erie Canal with visitors from all over the world. Although leading tours can be challenging, the results can be very rewarding. This manual is a compilation of information that you will use on your tour, as well as additional background information that will help add context and meaning to your tour. Your knowledge will grow throughout your time as a docent at the Museum, but some information must be mastered before you give your first tour.

Click here to download the Docent Manual.

What does a docent do?

As a docent you will lead guided tours at the Museum. For many visitors, you will be the key person that they interact with during their visit. Visitors arrive at the Erie Canal Museum from a variety of backgrounds. Some people don’t know anything about the Erie Canal, and others have an extensive knowledge on the subject; however, all visitors will look to you as an authority on the topic, and will be eager to learn from you. Your job is to provide visitors with a memorable learning experience that is also fun, while supporting the Museum’s mission.

The mission of the Erie Canal Museum is to engage the public in the story of the Erie Canal’s transformative impacts on peoples and places in the past, present, and future. We are stewards and interpreters of Erie Canal related materials and heritage.

As a docent you will also act as a steward of the Museum’s collection. While on tour, you are responsible for your entire group and must remain aware of where each person is at all times. Docents lead by example, and if you respect the collection your visitors will too.

Docent Position Description

Position Description and Objectives:

  • Facilitates meaningful discussion with tour participants.
  • Promotes an appreciation and understanding of the Erie Canal’s transforming effects on the past, present and future.
  • Uses accurate information to educate students and visitors to spark their interest in the legacy of the Erie Canal and its relevance today.
  • Creates a professional and welcoming atmosphere for visitors.
  • Acts as a steward of the Museum.

Skill Sets and Interests:

  • Passion for engaging adult and student audiences with new ideas.
  • Ability to guide and effectively manage tour groups throughout their visit, ensuring the group stays together at all times.
  • Have an interest in learning about contemporary trends in museum interpretation and education.
  • Ability to problem-solve, be flexible, and work well with other team members.
  • Be physically able to stand, walk, and speak for hour-long durations at a time.


  • Arrive ten minutes before each shift and stay for the duration of the shift.
  • Contact the Operations Manager immediately if an emergency prevents you from making your scheduled shift commitment.
  • Attend docent orientation and enrichment sessions as required.
  • Pursue opportunities for continuing self-guided inquiry into the Erie Canal, and museum interpretation and education.
  • Maintain the safety of visitors, staff, and the site by observing Erie Canal Museum security and visitor services guidelines.
  • Keep track of all hours volunteered in the blue Volunteer Hours Log located at the front desk.
  • Be open to having your tour shadowed by Museum staff who will identify strengths, weaknesses, and areas that need improvement.
  • Maintain a professional and courteous attitude when interacting with Museum staff, other volunteers, and visitors.
  • Dress Code: In an effort to maintain a professional Erie Canal Museum image, we ask appropriate attire for a business or casual business setting – please no ripped jeans, shorts, cut offs, tank tops, or flip flops. Comfortable shoes are highly recommended for docents due to the active nature of the work.
  • Always wear your nametag.
  • If a visitor offers a volunteer a monetary tip, please encourage the visitor to place the money in the donation box. Volunteers may not accept payment for services rendered.
  • If a member of the staff or a visitor does or says something inappropriate that makes you feel uncomfortable, speak with the Executive Director so the issue may be resolved.


  • All docents must be certified to lead each type of tour. The certification process includes attending a training session with a Museum staff member, shadowing at least two tours, and then leading a tour for a Museum staff member.
  • The Erie Canal Museum provides docent training at least annually on the best practices of historical interpretation and museum education. We encourage continuing education throughout the year through making use of historical documents, manuals on best museum practices, and historical reference texts available to docents.


  • A one-year Basic Membership to the Erie Canal Museum is available at the start of each calendar year to all volunteers who recorded twenty (20) hours of volunteering in the previous year.
  • Access to research library.
  • Annual volunteer recognition event.
  • Opportunity to come together with other individuals interested in history and the Erie Canal.
  • Opportunities to attend webinars or online seminars offered by the American Alliance of Museum or the American Association for State and Local History.