The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Bizarre Laptop Policy

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Sunday afternoon I went to the Met as part of an assignment from my Art History class.  I was supposed to go there, find a sculpture, either Greek, African, Indian, or Egyptian, and then write a 3 page paper detailing its form and presentation.  I had this wonderful plan in my head.  I would show up, find a sculpture, pull out my laptop, and write the paper on the spot, while looking at the piece.  I thought that would best enable me to write a good paper on the form, while looking at the form of the sculpture, there in person.  After writing the paper, or at least the first draft, I would pack my laptop back into my bag and look at the exhibits until it was time for the museum to close.  Unfortunately, things didn’t work out quite the way I’d hoped.

When I arrived at the Met, the place was packed, but that’s to be expected.  As soon as I went through the front doors, there was a security check point, also not unexpected.  When I opened my backpack for inspection and the guard started yelling “Laptop!  Laptop!  Laptop!” I was taken aback.  I half expected to be bum rushed by guards and moved to a secure inspection area.  I was shuffled off to the side, but under my own power.  I had to go to the security desk to get a yellow security exception form.  For a laptop.  I also had to open the laptop and turn it on, probably to prove that it’s a working laptop and not a shell packed with explosives.  I was fine with all this.  The Met houses an incredible amount of art of priceless value.  What bothered me, though, were the instructions I received afterward.

I was told that I had to carry my backpack in my hand.  Putting my backpack on my back was not permitted.  I can understand having my laptop checked to make sure it’s really a laptop.  I can tolerate having to carry an exception form and I can deal with having to present it on request to any security guard that asks to see it.  However, what possible purpose can it serve to require me to hold the backpack in my hand, as opposed to having it on my back?  Whether it’s in my hand or on my back, it’s still the same backpack.  Call me weak, but carrying a backpack in one hand that’s loaded down with books, notebooks, and a laptop gets heavy after a while, and switching it back and forth is a poor solution to just carrying it on my back.  It also keeps one of my hands full, which meant that I couldn’t properly hold my camera to take photos of anything.

Luckily, before I lost patience and just left, I found myself in the African art section looking at a wooden sculpture with three faces that I knew would be the perfect piece to write my paper on, which I’ll post later this week or next.  There were no benches to sit on, and after my treatment at the security desk I was worried that if I pulled out my laptop and actually turned it on and started using it, a flock of security guards would descend on me and demand I leave the museum, so I put my backpack down, took a dozen photos of the sculpture and then left the museum.

I wonder why they even bother to offer free wifi in the museum when they so obviously want to discourage anyone from bringing laptops?  I saw the available open network message pop up in my phone’s notification area when I was checking an email.  I can’t help but wonder if this nonsense of requiring people to carry bags that way was implemented to drive off students who were taking up space in the museum, writing papers, to make way for more tourists?

10 dollars (the recommended student donation for entry) pissed away for 45 minutes in the museum. Next time they’ll be lucky if I give them a dollar and a smile. Ya, I’ll be going back. How could you not? There’s a lot to see in there and the last time I went I was a little kid. I won’t be bringing my laptop with me though. That’s for sure.

12 thoughts on “The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Bizarre Laptop Policy

  1. Hi Bradley. I’ve been wondering how they deal with this. Here in Philly I’ve had it explained to me that if you have a backpack on your back you won’t know whether you’re backing into something and smacking it with your luggage. So I get that part. Something for your consideration: I’m old school (also old) and I believe very strongly in taking notes by hand rather than on a laptop. The process of distillation (because writing by hand is harder) makes for much better and more accurate note-taking and therefore better essays. It’s a tried and true concept. Being able to take good notes by hand is a really useful skill.


    1. Hi Sally. Thanks for commenting. Sometime between the time I wrote this and now I sort of figured this out, that people are not really aware of what’s on their back all the time, which is why they don’t seem to mind if you wear it under your arm and I think hanging off your chest.

      As far as taking notes go, I’d still prefer to take notes on a device that has a keyboard attached to it. My thoughts tend to come quick and jumbled and I like to get them down as fast as possible, to be sorted through, re-ordered, or discarded later. I understand what you mean about taking notes by hand, that it makes you more thoughtful because it takes more time and effort, but I think it’s just a matter of each person’s needs.

      This reminds me of a conversation I was in about whether or not people should be allowed to wear headphones at work. Some people argued that it was unprofessional; others said it was better, because it prevents gossiping and helps them focus on their work, which is the point of being at work.


  2. Anonymous: That does make good sense. A lot of the art is in display cases, mounted to the wall, or are heavy, solid statues, but… even so, I suppose there's a risk for damage. Thanks for clarifying. Doesn't change the fact that it's inconvenient though!


  3. Hello, Just to clarify, the reason why you can not carry your back pack on your back is that there is a risk of hitting some work of art with it when you turn around too quick. Or you can even hit someone ( specially on busy days) and this person can hit something… you never know. It actually happened to m ein a store one day, and it was a small backpack.


  4. Ah, I see! =)I finished the write up on the piece, but I'm hoping to get the opinion of a graduate art history student before I submit it, either here or to the professor.


  5. that sucks. i dont really see the logic behind that protocol. they have to explain it to people you know, besides, with that recommended (but not really required) payment, you are a paying customer. you dserve to know why.


  6. Unfortunately I am not in a position to make any changes but I can see how my reply could be misconstrued as such! Nah, I was thinking more along the lines of asking around and doing some Google researching into why the rules are the way they are because I cannot think of a reason. Goodness knows that's the same sort of thing that would happen to me.I'm still trying to figure out how to bring my camera into concerts without hassle.Looking forward to seeing the art piece you chose and your write up on it!


  7. Well, I don't know what you do for a living, but if you're in a position to make a change, please do. It's too late for me, but I think NYC students would appreciate it. It's hard to write a paper about an art piece if you're not in front of it, and the rules regarding carrying laptops in one hand are incredibly restrictive and unnecessary.


  8. That is incredibly strange and now I will have to look into why the laptop rule is as it is. Very, very odd!Sorry you had to be put through such hassle.


  9. Rowena, you have no idea. I'm surprised we don't have to get strip searched to enter any public buildings these days. Maybe it's just NYC. I don't remember feeling this tension in Georgia.The “recommended” donation is 20 dollars for adults, 15 for seniors, 10 for students. How does the cost of entry compare to similar establishments in Italy?


  10. That is really bizarre. And sad. I mean, everytime I hear about stuff in the US it sounds like high paranoia, and then they have the nerve to rip you off? 10 bucks is ridiculous, so much for maintaining culture and history for our country's youth.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.