Thursday, September 10, 2009

Back To (Exhibit) School Reading List

With school starting back up, I thought I'd share my "required reading" list of some favorite museum references --- books I keep coming back to over and over again as I think about and design exhibits.

"User Friendly: Hands-On Exhibits That Work" is Jeff Kennedy's excellent book, which is available through ASTC's Publications Division.  Jeff's book is packed with photographs of examples (both good and bad) of visitor interfaces.  Topics such as the best ways to place crank handles and switches, options for seating near components, and viewing ports and devices are discussed and well-illustrated. The ergonomic tables showing optimum reach distances or viewing heights for adults, children, and visitors in wheelchairs are worth the price of the book alone.

The McMaster-Carr Catalog.
While not strictly a textbook, both the big yellow catalog, and the on-line version, of McMaster's offerings are both great places to find the parts (and inspiration!)  you need for your exhibits projects --- sometimes even things you didn't realize existed!   Gears, switches, fasteners, Velcro, railroad wheels  --- you name it, they've got it --- in quantities either large or small, and usually shipped to you the next day.

Fostering Active Prolonged Engagement: The Art of Creating APE Exhibits
is a book based on the NSF-funded study at the Exploratorium of exhibits, and exhibit environments, that foster active, prolonged engagement in visitors --- hence the acronym APE.  What I like about this book is that it really delves into the process of tinkering and refining exhibits to make them more effective.  Each APE exhibit example gives you a sense of the individual exhibit developer's struggles and triumphs toward the goal of increased visitor learning and engagement, as well as providing concrete materials lists and references so you can build your own versions of the exhibit components described.

Lastly, here's a "history" book of sorts, K.C. Cole's  Something Incredibly Wonderful Happens: Frank Oppenheimer and the world he made up.  Even if you've never had the opportunity to visit the Exploratorium (and especially if you have) the story of Frank Oppenheimer, and his philosophy toward life and science education, are incredibly wonderful.

Have a book recommendation of your own?  Tell us about it in the "Comments Section" below.

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