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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Signs and rumors of signs

I went to the National Zoo on Sunday, a beautiful day to be out. Apparently half of all Washington area residents and their visitors agreed with me because they were there too. I bought a membership while there, more to get free parking than anything else (pay $40 for a membership to save $12 on parking....) and could have gotten a map of the zoo for free with the membership, but decided not to because I was counting on signs. Uh, no. I was there almost 5 hours and didn't see one sign for a restroom. When I was ready to leave I looked for signs that would send me back to parking lot A but they almost nonexistent. Even overview maps of the zoo weren't at every major intersection as I expected and I saw just two of those when I was actively looking. I found my way back only after asking an employee, and finally saw a sign for the lot when I was next to the exit.

This made me think of the New York Historical Society. I posted some pictures I took there on my Flickr page (isn't this shameless self-promotion) and someone commented that she too enjoyed the museum but was frustrated by the lack of labels. I'd noticed the same thing when I was there. Here's a photo I took but I can only guess what some of these things are. There were no labels. It would have been helpful to even have something basic like "Sewing Tools."
Scrimshaw


So what does this mean for those of us who work in museums/zoos/historical societies? It seems such an elementary idea, but basic labeling is important. How else does a visitor put things in context, understand the significance of the object, or find her way to the loo?

6 comments:

Maulleigh said...

Amen! The more information the better. Anything.

I think what we're supposed to do in the historical society is get a booklet and carry it around. Forget about it. That's too difficult.

Mike Rhode said...

Isn't the NY Historical Society the one that got a big Luce grant for open storage?

Kathleen Stocker said...

Yes, that's the one and where the labeling was at its worst. Paintings and large objects were labeled but not the small stuff like the tools I pictured.

Mike Rhode said...

Interesting. I am absolutely in favor of open storage, but the only example I've seen is the Met's Egyptian rooms. And at a certain point, a scarab is a scarab is a scarab. I emphatically do not like the NM American Indian's lack of labeling in cases, in favor of a single computer kiosk that people have to wrestle for.

Kathleen Stocker said...

I really like open storage too and don't think it's too much to ask to give me a ballpark idea of what I'm looking at. I don't want chapter and verse, just some kind of identification.

Paul S said...

The zoo has a nice bronze cast of a tiger's tongue that was cast by the same person (Diane France is her name) who cast several Civil War skeletal specimens at the museum.