Questions, questions that need answering

I found a rock in my backyard. How can I tell if it’s a meteorite?
How can I make a donation of artifacts related to Albert Einstein?
I have the original designs for the world’ first battery-operated smoke detector. Who do I talk to?
What time does the National Mall open?

The visitor experience does not always start when guests arrive – sometimes they have questions as they plan their trip. As the world’s largest museum complex, we have inquiries from researchers and guests asking about our collections and archives, some silly, some serious, but all requiring a response.

Two volunteers pose in front of their desks

Christel Siahatgar and Wendell Morris, the Tuesday Morning Smithsonian Call Center volunteer team. (Photo by Kris Hamilton)

So, they call our general information number 202.633.1000 or email us at

The Smithsonian General Information line is answered by a dedicated group of volunteers, led by Eric Grace, Visitor Services Coordinator in the Smithsonian Call Center. From Monday to Saturday, you can find several Call Center volunteers and staff, answering calls from around the country; sometimes from around the world! Our guests are looking for information on everything from special exhibition passes, to museum hours, to museum store contact information! Our dedicated group of volunteers answer the call! No pun intended!

Woman photographed from back facing two computers

Nancy Jenson, Public Inquiry Mail volunteer. monitors the daily flood of email.

To give you an idea of how important our Call Center is and the impact our Call center volunteers make, take a look at these numbers!

In 2017, a small but dedicated group of volunteers answered an average of 65 phone calls in a 4-hour shift, or about 40,515 calls answered in a year!  The Call Center volunteer program consists of 36 volunteers that contributed 3,750 volunteer hours in 2017.

The Smithsonian Call Center isn’t the only program working tirelessly behind the scenes to provide guests with answers.

The Public Inquiry Mail Program answers questions such as, “How can I make a donation of artifacts related to Albert Einstein? Or “ I’d like to donate the original designs for the   world’s first battery operated smoke operator”. These are just two examples of nearly 23,836 emails that staff and volunteers responded to in 2017. At the moment we have small, but growing, volunteer/staff team consisting of Bridget Balog, Visitor Services Coordinator; Michael Rubin, Visitor Services Coordinator, and volunteers Nancy Jessen and Valerie Proute answering the hundreds of emails each week.

Woman in call center talking on phone

Paola Fattorini, Smithsonian Call Center volunteer, answers a caller’s question. (Photo by Kris Hamilton)

Every week visitors, researchers, and Smithsonian enthusiasts send inquiries and comments to and our staff and volunteers ensure that they are answered or directed to the correct office. It’s a big job for a small team – but an important one that they manage with patience and professionalism! We are grateful for such a hardworking group of staff and volunteers!

What about you? What program do you volunteer for?

What stories do you have that you would to share with the Smithsonian community!

Send them to Kris Hamilton at and see your program highlighted on Volunteer Voices!


Posted: 19 November 2018
About the Author:

Kristina Hamilton has been with the Office of Visitor Services since 2016, serving as the Volunteer Recruitment and Retention assistant. Cars, football, and Great Danes take up much of Kris’ free time. Avid car enthusiasts, Kris and her husband spend their summers working on their cars or taking them to the track with their ‘road dogs’ Shadow and Brodie.