Selfie sticks not welcome in Washington's famous museums

The Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., is the latest major museum operator to ban selfie sticks. It is encouraging visitors to its 19 museums and galleries in the U.S. capital to snap pictures, but to please pack away the sticks. Are Canadian museums following suit?

Selfies encouraged, just not the sticks, according to new policy at city's major museums

Tourists use a selfie stick to take a shot in front of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. As of Tuesday, visitors to Washington's Smithsonian museums are not allowed to use the tools. (Larry Downing/Reuters)

Any Canadians planning on heading to the U.S. capital for March Break with the kids or are otherwise planning a trip to Washington, D.C., be warned: your selfie sticks are not welcome in the city's most famous — and free — museums and galleries.

As of Tuesday, visitors are being asked to follow a revised policy that already banned tripods, and now bans selfie sticks. The extendable rods allow people to more easily take photos of themselves with their cell phones.

"This is a preventive measure to protect visitors and objects, especially during crowded conditions," the Smithsonian said in a statement. "We encourage museum visitors to take selfies and share their experiences — and leave the selfie sticks in their bags."

The Smithsonian, which operates 19 museums and galleries in Washington, has now followed in the footsteps of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and other institutions around the U.S.

Anyone hoping to get a snapshot of the red ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz at the Museum of American History in D.C. or the famous Hope Diamond at the Museum of Natural History will just have to do it without the popular cell phone photography tool.
American tourists use a selfie stick in front of the Louvre in Paris on Jan.6, 2015. They are increasingly popular tools that are posing a challenge for some tourist attractions. (Remy de la Mauviniere/Associated Press)

The Smithsonian is the biggest museum and research institution in the world (in addition to its 19 museums and galleries it also runs the national zoo in Washington and nine research facilities) and as a result its policies have the potential to be trendsetters.

Canadian facilities are keeping an eye on what the Smithsonian is doing, but not necessarily following suit.

Canadian museums tracking policies

"We're tracking what's happening in the industry," Marnie Peters, a spokeswoman for the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, told CBC News.

Selfie sticks haven't been a problem at the ROM and visitors are welcome to use them, she said. "There are lots of selfie areas and we're encouraging people to take photos and share."

John Swettenham, from Ottawa's Museum of Nature, similarly said visitors should feel free to use the sticks.

"Go ahead, that makes our day," said Swettenham, "and if the selfie stick encourages that, we're very happy with that."

He acknowledged the safety concerns but said he expects visitors to use common courtesy when rooms get crowded.

"Our security guards are great. They are terribly polite, they are very good at controlling out of hand kids and I'm sure they'll be great at controlling folks if they are careless with their selfie sticks," he said.

Winnipeg's Museum of Human Rights, however, has gone ahead and imposed a ban because of concerns the sticks could damage exhibits or disrupt visitors.

"We want to make sure that all of our visitors are safe. We've got lots of unusual spaces where things can fall off of ledges or ramps or staircases," said museum spokeswoman Maureen Fitzhenry​. "We don't want any danger of that."

Calgary's Glenbow Museum doesn't have a policy one way or the other. Zoltan Varadi, a spokesman for the museum, said they haven't seen selfie sticks used there, so it hasn't yet made a rule. 

But backpacks aren't allowed because of the hazard they can pose to exhibits. Varadi guessed that if and when the museum makes a policy, it won't be on the side of selfie sticks.

"I’m sure selfie sticks would probably be out; it just hasn’t been an issue yet," he said.