Proceedings of the First Park Naturalists’ Training Conference, November 1 to 30, 1929
PLANNING A PARK MUSEUM
PRINCIPLES OF INSTALLATION PLANS AND FINISHED EXHIBITS
Dorr G. Yeager
In a paper of this length it is impossible to treat this subject in a thorough manner. The field is so large and the treatments of exhibits so varied that volumes have been devoted to it. One of the best of these volumes is Coleman’s “Manual for Small Museums”.
The subject can best be treated under separate headings:
1. Purpose of Exhibits: Each exhibit should be so planned that it tells a story. These may be stories of biotic associations, which are so successfully carried out in Yosemite. They may tell an historical story, or a geological story or a life history. The field is almost limitless. But telling a story is only a partial function of an exhibit. It is highly important that it should link the visitor intimately with Nature itself, and create an interest sufficient to compel the visitor to go beyond the exhibits into the field and learn still more.
2. Sequence: It is highly important in installation, not only for each case to tell a story but that the entire museum be considered from a standpoint of a unit. We may say that each exhibit is a chapter and the whole museum is a book. Obviously it is essential that the sequence should be orderly and that when the visitor has completed the last case he has a well rounded story in his mind. This is highly important in museums such as that at Old Faithful where a definite story, that of thermal activity for example, is to be told. In this case we introduce the subject by telling how a geyser basin is formed, leading through the steps of the formation of a geyser itself, the products of geyser activity and ending up with the last case which is devoted to human history of the geyser basin.
3. Labels: Of greatest importance is the matter of labeling this sequence of exhibits. The labels should contain subject matter pertinent to the exhibit as a unit. The labels play an all important part in the sequence plan. Master labels should accompany each case. These master labels are, if you please, the chapter headings of the book. Naturally the matter of text is vital. Such subjects as type, length of text, size, etc., will be taken up in another section and there is no need to spend time upon it here.
4. Presentation of Subject Matter: Closely linked with the labels is the subject matter contained. Above all it should be human. It should be presented in a dignified yet intimate manner. I pointed out in a previous paper the importance of the subject matter to an exhibit. I firmly believe that the label is just as important as the exhibit proper and that more museums are killed because of difficult labels than from any other source. The material should be presented in much the same manner as material is presented on our field trips, and there is no more call for use of technical or difficult wording than there is on a field trip.
5. Museum Fatigue: This is an important factor in museum planning. This subject, if extensively treated would include such topics as lighting, height of cases, size of print on labels, extent of subject matter treated, etc. Suffice it to say that an exhibit should be so arranged that it is pleasing and restful to the eye. The tops of the cases should be low enough so that the person is not obliged to cramp his neck to see all of it. The light should be subdued to a minimum and the labels should be so placed that it is not necessary for the visitor to strain his eyes to read it. The subject of museum fatigue is one which is of vital importance in our program.
6. Hand Specimens: A relatively new scheme of exhibits which is working out with great success in many museums is that of hand specimens. Just as on field trips, the visitor should be allowed to handle certain exhibits, that he may learn not only from the sense of sight but also that of touch and smell. Last year we installed a hand specimen exhibit in one of our Yellowstone Museums. It happened to be a geological exhibit, containing igneous, sedimentary and thermal specimens. Ordinarily these specimens would have attracted no attention behind glass but we found, after a month, that it was necessary to enlarge the exhibit in order to accommodate the number of visitors at the table.
7. Study Collections: In planning the exhibits the matter of study specimens should always be kept in mind. Specimens of every exhibit should be in study skin cases in order that the visitor may, if he so desires, examine the skin at his leisure. l was surprised last summer at the number of people who expressed a desire to become more familiar with the structure and skins of certain specimens which we had on exhibit. Several times I took visitors to the preparation room that they might examine skins and mounts more closely.
1. Coleman, L. V. Manual for Small Museums
Proc. A.A.M. Vol XI, 1917, pp. 54, 59, 65.
Proc. A.A.M. Vol III, 1909, pp. 84, 139
Proc. A.A.M. Vol X, 1918, pp. 93
Following Mr. Yeager’s paper the various topics were discussed. One exceedingly important point brought out was that in planning future museums and in planning for the administration of existing museums, arrangements should be made for seating facilities for visitors on account of the observable “museum fatigue” which is apparent even in museums as small as those in national parks.
The subject of the utilization of living specimens was then discussed, and it was brought out that living specimens are particularly valuable in the Yosemite Museum and possibly have an even more important place in connection with branch museums.