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."
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?