Proceedings – MUSEUM LABELS

Proceedings of the First Park Naturalists’ Training Conference, November 1 to 30, 1929



Edwin D. McKee

The importance of labels is extremely great in park museums as well as in others. It has been said that the best museums present exhibits to accompany their labels rather than labels to accompany their exhibits. While such is scarcely true to the letter, still it is significant of the consideration which should be given labeling. In brief, a poor exhibit specimen with an excellent explanation accompanying it, is frequently more valuable from an educational standpoint than is a very good specimen with only a mediocre label.

Of What, then, should a good label consist? Let us first consider the matter of material. This should be prepared with the following thoughts in mind. What is the important or significant factor that should be explained? What kind of questions are the observers most likely to ask? How can the relation of this specimen be shown to other exhibits and to the park story as a whole?

Having determined the substance of a label, the order of presentation is then to be considered. A matter of perspective is here involved. It is highly important to determine which facts are of prime importance and which are of lesser importance, though still necessary. Those of the first group must then be condensed into a clear concise statement to be used for a title, while those of the second group must be carefully and interestingly worded for explanation.

The matter of label making necessarily involves many mechanical processes and details which should be given consideration. The factor of size is one which requires judgment to meet any particular condition. Naturally a label should be large enough to be readily seen and read, yet care should be taken net to make it so large that it will detract from the exhibit itself. The same factors should be carefully considered in the placing of labels. Another item of importance is the construction–for they should be neat and artistic in any case. Good hand printing has generally been proven to be more attractive and more pleasing than typewritten letters. Lastly a good contrast in size between the more important title letters and the less important letters of explanation is to be desired. To this list, no doubt, could be added many other factors, though it is believed those enumerated are sufficient to demonstrate what care and thought should be given in the making of any museum label.


Following the above paper, the subject was reviewed and discussed in detail. It was agreed that additional study would be given to the matter of the preparation of museum labels and that the subject would be specially treated in a future issue of the proposed “Park Naturalists Forum”.

In again discussing the general features of museums and museum planning, it was agreed that it is advisable for the Park Naturalist and the other members of the educational staff to set down written plans for the ultimate educational development and that, in so far as possible, these plans be incorporated with the general plans of park development. To accomplish the latter the Park Naturalist should take definite part in the Superintendent’s planning program and should correlate his plans of administration with those of the other departments within the park in which he serves.

References on Museum Planning:

Coleman, L. V. – Manual for Small Museums, 1927 – P. 15, 21, 27, 30, 40, 297, 301, 311.

Dana, J. C. – A Plan for a New Museum – #4 of “New Museum” series. Elm Tree Press, 1920.

Hall, A. F. – The Educational Development of Yosemite National Park – Sierra Club Bulletin 11, 1923. P. 411

Russell, C. P. The Yosemite Museum – Yosemite Nature Notes, Vol. VI, No. 4, April 30, 1927.

Weierheiser, R. V. – Campaigning for a New Museum – Museum Work, July-Aug. 1924.

References on Museum Labels:

Bryant, W. L. – Experiments with Museum Labels. Museum Work. Nov-Dec. 1923.

Coleman, L. V. – Manual for Small Museums. 1927. P. 231, 223.

Gilman, B. I. – The Problem of the Label – Proceedings American Association of Museums, 1911.

Kent, H. W. – Museum Labels – Museum Work – July-Aug. 1923.

Lucas, F. A. – Museum Labels and Labeling – Proceedings American Association of Museums, 1911.

Oswald, J. C. – Good Printing for Museums – Museum Work – March-April 1924.

Walter, F. K. – Library Printing – American Library Association, 1923.

Ward, H. L. – The Labeling of Museums – Proceedings American Association of Museums, 1917.


<< previousnext >>