Parry, Ross, et al., “How Shall We Label Our Exhibit Today? Applying the Principles of On-Line Publishing to an On-Site Exhibition,” in J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds.). Museums and the Web 2007: Proceedings, Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, published March 1, 2007. Consulted March 11, 2010. http://www.archimuse.com/mw2007/papers/parry/parry.html

The LIVE!Labels Project:

A seven-month partnership between the University of Leicester and Simulacra with three UK museums (New Walk Museum and Art Gallery, Dinosaur Gallery, and National Space Centre) resulted in the production and evaluation of a digital, wireless, editable and dynamic labeling system (with web-based authoring tool) for on-site museum exhibits called “LIVE!Labels.”  Ross Parry and Mayra Ortiz-Williams of University of Leicester and Andrew Sawyer of Simulcra presented their findings on their dynamic labeling system in this paper.

The “Enduring” Museum Label:

Imperative to the process was first to understand the historical context and heritage of labeling. The curatorial practice of creating and displaying text-based labels originated from two Renaissance European cultural traditions – the use of emblems (combining image with motto/legend) and classification (combining image and explanatory text).  With the growth of collections, came the impulse to classify.  In the Age of Enlightenment and scientific systematic order, exhibition labels were placed in museums at the end of the 17th century for “a museum had a collection, but giving order and meaning to this collection.”

The Traditional Museum Label honored in LIVE!Labels:

The over 400-year practice of exhibit labeling has been considered the primary curatorial means of communicating its exhibits to its audiences were its labels.  Textual labeling is thus a heavily studied, structured, formalized and entrenched tradition.

Ross Parry and staff respected this tradition, and instead of completely wiping out exhibit labels or turning them into touchscreens or multimedia devices, designed LIVE!Labels as simply labels placed next to or nearby exhibits.

Key Design Requirements Included:

  • Not to disrupt curatorial practice but for the label to blend in, be “powerful but polite,” be ambient with gallery environment.
  • Ability to easily modify and change labels including remote updating capability.
  • Ability to incorporate user-generated content and tags by phones, mobiles, and websites.
  • Provide remote and automatic/timed label updating.
  • Reduce cost and impact on existing IT and on printed labels.
  • Ability to modify and change labels based on time-driven.
  • The 6.4 x 10.4 slim LCD “labels,” with built-in wireless that connected to a web-based content administration system, would be placed next/near to object.

Triggers and Generators of LIVE!Labels Content:

Ross Parry and team named events as “triggers” and authors as “generators.”  Generators could be not only curators, but visitors and approved third parties.  Triggers to the system could be time-, news-, event, and visit-driven.

Four Concepts of Generated Content Could be:

  1. Contextual – new, different, changing information about the object
  2. Promotional – highlight events, services related to object
  3. Directional – direction to related objects and themes
  4. Responsive – highlight visitor responses to object

The Museum Sites Tested:

In testing the system, the team identified three museum types that would provide a range of response.  At the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery, the labels were placed next to objects in their German Expressionist exhibit with updated and blog-like entries from the curator.  At the same gallery, the labels were placed next to dinosaur objects with the activity being children submitting postings of their interpretations – i.e. “curator for the day.”  Finally, at the National Space Center in Leicester, labels were used to give daily updated information on Near Earth Objects next to exhibits.

The Results:

The results from the trial were interesting and varied.  Statistics showed that 50% did not look at the labels, with only 20% reading the labels.  Only 20% could identify the labels as “live.”  Most visitors said it did not “change” their experience and almost all said it did not make the museum experience negative.  Interestingly, those in the science museums expected the labels to be touch-responsive compared to traditional art museums.

References cited in article:

Callery, B. G. and R. Thibadeau (2000). “Beyond Label Copy: Museum-Library Collaboration In The Development Of A Smart Web Exhibit”. In D. Bearman and J. Trant (eds.). Museums and the Web 2000: Proceedings. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, 2000. Last Consulted January 25, 2007. http://www.archimuse.com/mw2000/papers/callery/callery.html

In this study, Carnegie Mellon University Libraries, the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History participated in a joint collaboration to create a “Smart Web Exhibit” (SWE) prototype in order to provide targeted and timed information online to a varied user base. This was in response to the modern-day dilemma of the limit of collection objects that may be exhibited at one time which then limits label copy, thus reducing the museum visitor’s learning and understanding of these objects.  SWE would provide the accessibility of digitized archived material, with ability to select based on level of interest.

DeRoux, K. (1998a). Exhibit Labels, Some Basic Guidelines for Small Museums. Alaska State Museum, Bulletin no. 5 (summer). Availablehttp://www.museums.state.ak.us/Bulletin/labels1.html, last consulted January 25, 2007.

DeRoux, K. (1998b). Basic Techniques for Making and Mounting Exhibit Labels. Alaska State Museum, Bulletin no. 6 (fall). Availablehttp://www.museums.state.ak.us/Bulletin/makinglabels.html, last consulted January 25, 2007.

McKay, T. (1982). “A Hierarchy of Labels”. Exchange, a newsletter published by the Wisconsin Historical Society 24, no. 4 (July/August), availablehttp://www.wisconsinhistory.org/localhistory/articles/labels.asp, consulted January 25, 2007.

These articles referenced within “How Shall We Label Our Exhibit Today? Applying the Principles of On-Line Publishing to an On-Site Exhibition,” address the orthodoxy and practice of proper museum exhibit labeling. Parry and team reference DeRoux several times throughout the study.

Other references:

Nina Simon.  ISO Understanding:  Rethinking Art Museum Labels. Museum 2.0 Blog (March, 3, 2007).  Available athttp://museumtwo.blogspot.com/2007/03/iso-understanding-rethinking-art-museum.html

Though not referenced within the study, Nina Simon from the Participatory Museum, once again brings clarifying thought to the issues of rethinking and re-invigorating the art museum label.

She identified four key ways in which museum labels of today can be modified:

  1. Labels that instruct you where and how to look.
  2. Labels that answer the stupid questions in our heads.
  3. Labels that expose the curator’s thought process.
  4. Labels that tell contextualized stories and involve visitors.
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