Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Cool Tools for Exhibits Folks

Everybody needs cool tools!

Here a few favorite websites in the "Making Things"folder of my browser bookmarks. Enjoy!

Let's start with Kevin Kelly's website, appropriately titled "Cool Tools" It's a compendium of continuously updated useful tools and techniques submitted by actual users. I always find something to stoke my gadget lust here.

Next up is Instructables a website devoted to sharing simple projects and hacks. Sort of a Web 2.0 for DIY geeks. Big fun!

Last is a one-trick pony called "This to That (Glue Advice)" It's just two simple pull-down windows that let you choose which material you want to glue to another material. CLICK and it gives you suggested adhesives (with links.)

Am I missing one of your favorite sites?

Let me know, and I'll include it in a future posting.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Magical Yellow Book
(NOT Harry Potter!)

If I could only have one catalog on my exhibit resources/supplies shelf it would hands-down be the big yellow book from McMaster-Carr.

The widgets and gizmos they sell have gotten me out of many an exhibit jam. I love the fact that you could buy a railroad car wheel here if you wanted/needed to (and get it delivered the next day!)

Check out their searchable website, but try to get a copy of the paper catalog to peruse as well.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Green Exhibits

One of the building trends in the museum business is GREEN.

Clients and visitors are, rightfully, concerned about the materials used to create both museum buildings and exhibitions. In many ways, children's museums have been leading the way in the green revolution.

Brenda Baker and her colleagues at the Madison Children's Museum have been concerned about the types of materials traditionally used in exhibits (lots of plastics and volatile chemicals) and have really worked hard to create more eco-friendly displays. One great product of their work is the website a wonderful compendium of information for everyone concerned about green materials.

The other program that children's museums lead the way in is LEED certification of their buildings.

What is LEED? The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System™ is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of high-performance green buildings. LEED gives building owners and operators the tools they need to have an immediate and measurable impact on their buildings’ performance. LEED promotes a whole-building approach to sustainability by recognizing performance in five key areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality.

Several notable examples of new, or soon-to-be-completed, building projects from the children's museum world can be found in Pittsburgh, Brooklyn, and Helena, MT.

Unfortunately, green buildings and exhibit supplies are often more expensive than their "non green" substitutes, so it takes a real commitment on behalf of clients and designers to push green design. But, thanks to websites such as we all can have a better idea of what our eco-friendly design options are.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Small Giants (Is Smaller Better? Part 2)

In the excellent book Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big author Bo Burlingham contends that there is more to "growing" a business than getting bigger (and getting bigger quickly!)

As the subtitle of the book suggests, companies featured in the book (such as Ani DiFranco's Righteous Babe companies, Clif Bar, and Anchor Steam Breweries) have come to the conclusion that simply making a business larger is not nearly as important as keeping high standards -- and not confusing one goal for the other.

One interesting aspect of Small Giants is that the different companies came to their conclusions related to high quality not being directly related to business size by a variety of paths. Some companies and founders/directors/employees seem to have always had an intuitive sense of the mission of their particular business and were willing to pass up growth if that meant sacrificing their original principles. Other people running companies that grew too fast, or grew for the wrong reasons, only came to embrace "quality over quantity" after suffering personal and business disasters as a result of growth for growth's sake.

I often think of this constant tug of war as it relates to museum expansion projects.
Sometimes upon hearing of a campaign to make an existing museum "bigger and better" I often wonder if they couldn't accomplish increased visitation and income by "just" becoming better. Admittedly, that is hard and incremental work that doesn't lend itself to sexy capital campaigns.

What do you think?

What are some of your favorite museum examples of "small giants"?

Monday, July 9, 2007

Wellcome Images

The Wellcome Trust in the UK has created a website of medical and medically-related images under a
Creative Commons license (such as the chick embryo image shown here.)

Great stuff for exhibit developers and designers!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Swapping for Exhibits

Many museums, especially children's museums, like to include books in their exhibit areas. One difficulty with providing visitors with subject-related materials to enjoy during their visits is stretching the already tight exhibit supplies budgets to make this happen. is one website that lets you "swap" existing books to gain points to exchange for books on the site. They have many types of books (not just paperbacks!)on a variety of topics including science, history, technology, etc. So clean out your old books to get some to use in your exhibit galleries! I like the idea and have happily used the PBSwap website. It's worth checking out.

In a similar way, I wonder if there is a way to "repurpose" surplus exhibit materials or devices between museums. We tried to start up such an exhibits exchange several years ago via ASTC, but it sort of petered out.

I wonder if now that we are in the brave new era of "Museum 2.0" there might be a way to "swap" exhibit materials that weren't being used at one museum to another interested institution.

If anyone would like to help start something like this up, let me know!

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

IMAX or IMIN? (Is smaller better? Part 1)

A recent discussion on the ISEN-ASTC listserv dealt with visitors' visceral (sometimes literally!) reactions to big-screen theatre shows.

While there is no argument that such shows are often lots of fun, are they really the best way to allocate a museum's precious resources?

John Bowditch, from the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum coined the excellent term "IMIN" as an alternative to the often overwhelming confluence of bombast and technology employed inside museums.

It is interesting that many visitor studies show the value of human-scale interaction inside museums. Also, formal and informal surveys of visitors' positive memories of museum experiences invariably relate to a positive interaction with one or more museum staff members.

If "human scale" experiences in museums are so important, why do so many museums continue to tout big screens and blockbusters? I'm afraid the field has often let funders and fundraising call the tune rather than visitors --- it's "easier" (so the common wisdom states) to raise money for BIG stuff rather than more subtle experiences. But even interesting human-scaled experiences can use technology and be "sexy" to donors, like this installation from the Royal Ontario Museum.

How to break the BIG cycle? Create more small museums and small experiences that set out to "whelm" visitors rather than "overwhelm" them.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Magic Tape: Promising New Lighting Material for Exhibits?

Check out "Magic Tape" from Elshine s.r.l.

I am trying to latch onto a sample to noodle around with.
(I'll insert a critique once I've tried it.)

What sorts of exhibit applications could we use this stuff for?