One of the surprise benefits of Saturday's Museums and Civic Discourse session was the chance to sit down with Mitch Allen of Left Coast Press (formerly AltaMira press), publisher of the Museums and Social Discourse journal among many, many other museum publications.
After a long day and a glass of wine, I asked Mitch who buys museum books. To his credit, Mitch didn't take offense. He told me that lots of museum practitioners buy these books--that the number of readers compared to the number of writers is high, and that there are many lonely museum folks out there with only books to guide their practice.
I was surprised to hear this. As an exhibit developer who didn't get a graduate degree in museum studies, I always assumed that when I first showed up on the job, someone would thrust a book into my hands and say, "this is the bible! you must read this!" And yet, while I've spent plenty of time thumbing the pages of the Exploratorium Cookbooks and the ADA handbook Everybody's Welcome, that was about the extent of my exhibit design education.
Many seasoned museum professionals bemoan the reinvention of the wheel when it comes to everything from design processes to talkback stations. And yet it wasn't apparent to me--until quite recently--that there are tomes which serve as benchmarks for exhibit design, books that help us see where we've been and hint at where we can go.
Then I read Elaine Gurian's Civilizing the Museum, which changed my thinking. I read Visitor Voices, which clarified some options. Seems like this museum reading thing is a good idea... a nice addition to the self-educator's library, whether your primary field is museums, interaction design, gaming, community engagement, or something else entirely.
So thanks to Marjorie Schwarzer of JFKU for sharing with me the following book list for my education. She suggested:
- Making Mummies Dance by Thomas Hoving (former director of the Met)
- Stealing History by Roger Atwood (antiquity smuggling)
- The Manual of Museum Exhibitions by Gail Lord (at 576 pages, this has bible potential...)
- Are We There Yet? by Kathy McLean and Catherine McEver (benchmarking)
- Exhibit Labels by Beverly Serrell (of "big idea" fame)
- Common Ground by 3 folks at the JANM (creation of a cultural institution)
Please add your book recommendations in the comments so we can start reading like crazy. If a few titles bubble to the top, we can do a book discussion on them in the near future. Happy reading!