Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Your Favorite Books about Museums and Exhibit Design?

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 museu
m 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:
What books would you add to this list? Which are from the museum world, and which books inspire your design that have absolutely nothing to do with museums? The image produced at top relates to my favorite book on design, Understanding Comics, which is a rigorous, entertaining, and illustrative explanation of how comics "work." I find lots of useful suggestions and inspirations there related to how people "read" graphics and labels, how visitors port themselves into a narrative experience, how timing, character development, and tension can come in the simplest forms of lines and bubbles. (And, by the way, the image was created with the awesome and addicting application BitStrips... try it!)

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!

10 comments, add yours!:

Susan said...

I have what I am beginning to think is an advance copy of a 2008 release called: Mastering a Museum Plan, written by Dirk Houtgraaf of Naturalis in the Netherlands, and Vanda Vitali, now at the Auckland War Memorial Museum in New Zealand, formerly in Los Angeles at the Natural History Museum. While I haven't completely read all of the text, it is an 80 page book offering extensive description of moving from a core idea to a full-fledged exhibition. What I am wowed by is the visual graphs blended throughout that for me actually make this one of the better looking museum books out there. It is a solid primer on the process.

Nina Simon said...

Darcie Fohrman also recommended this book by Eilean Hooper-Greenhill: Museums and the Interpretation of Visual Culture.

Leslie Madsen-Brooks said...

OK, these may not all immediately be obvious as "exhibit design" books, but they're connected to the topic in my mind, at least: Off the top of my head, definitely Museum Politics by Timothy Luke. It's one of my favorite books. Also, Donna Haraway's essay "Teddy Bear Patriarchy." There's also a great book on citizen science that's inspiring: Citizens, Experts, and the Environment: The Politics of Local Knowledge by Frank Fischer. When I'm thinking about space, I usually turn to Dolores Hayden's The Power of Place, or to Everyday America: Cultural Landscape Studies after J.B. Jackson, edited by Chris Wilson and Paul Groth. One of the best material culture books out there is American Artifacts: Essays on Material Culture. Finally, I highly recommend Sandra Harding's books on feminism and science and multiculturalism and science.

Anonymous said...

My favorite? Hard to say. Maybe just more wood for the fire. Some are not directly related to exhibit design, but it's all related...

Looking Reality in the Eye: Museums and Social Responsibilities,2005 Eds. Robert R. Janes and Gerald T. Conaty
Destination Culture, 1998, by Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblet
And possibly Exhibiting Dilemmas -1997, a bit old and Smithsonian Specific, but it's an enjoyable read and still interesting(to me).

Libbie (I was the student moderator in your break-out discussion group at civic discourse colloquium)

Anonymous said...

Here in the german diaspora my all time favourite is "Planning for People in Museum Exhibitions" by
Kathleen McLean (ASTC, 1993)

Anonymous said...

One of the basics, I think, is The Museum Experience by Falk and Dierking. A great resource for understanding one of the ways visitors interact with the museum environment.

Anonymous said...

Anything by John Falk and/or Lynn Dierking, especially "Learning in Museums." McLean's book is the best of them all in my judgement. Still, there's really not enough on pure design I think.

a.boycher said...

i am so late finding this post, but so glad nonetheless. i am also a fan of all things kathleen mclean but agree that there is not nearly enough writing devoted purely to museum exhibition design or the experience of the designer. i think this is partially because the field has a fairly new/recent evolutionary history and partially becasue most designers, to put it plainly, just ain't writers. therefore, i am devoting my masters thesis to this topic (it will be finished in april 2010!) it's title is Why Can’t We Just Wing It?: Investigating the Emergence of Exhibition Design as a Distinct Profession and Academic Discipline. so any more book suggestions would be greatly appreciated! i have already begun the search and purchase process for the ones here that i don't already own. also, i'm looking to interview a small sample of museum professionals for this study. know anyone who might be interested? thanks for such a great blog!

Lise said...

Useful list! Thanks for those.
A good book that covers some of the very basics about designing a space to make visitors feel happy, and communicate your ideas, is Experienceology.

I bang on about this to many peers and bosses as it gives clear, simple advice in a step by step way, much of which is assumed (wrongly) to be already in a designer's arsenal. Can a person wearing a backpack walk comfortably past someone reading the interpretation panels, or does the bench get in the way?

Unknown said...

Hi, I want to study about memorial space, opening exhibition space and corridor in museum design principles. I don't know to find documents what related to key words. So, I need you help to suggesting source files what I need to refer. I study in Architecture school in VietNam.