On Reading in Museums, or Books on Display

Books in museums are usually like this:

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A book in the Mariner’s Museum, Newport News, VA. All sexy book pics by the author.

On display, in a case, glare obscuring certain parts, unable to be explored further than the page the curator chose. Sometimes, though, there are displays that encourage visitors to get a feel for the book.

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An unofficial guest book at the Mariner’s Museum.

Maybe even add a few lines for other guests to enjoy.

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Mike’s admission of guilt, Mariner’s Museum.

Museums that do double duty as research institutions sometimes have conservation labs on exhibit that provide reading materials for visitors to get a better understanding of the work undertaken.

Penn Museum’s Artifact Lab, tucked behind the Iraq gallery, has a little nook with binders of lab reports detailing the preservation and conservation work undertaken on a nearby mummy, in addition to books on mummies for all ages to enjoy.

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Penn Museum’s conservation lab’s book nook o’ mummy stuff.

Folks, if you’re into Egyptology, mummies, or are a preservation/conservation geek, this little nook is your happy place. Enjoy the hard bench and the air conditioning (seriously, hang out here on a hot summer day because you will SWEAT, DEHYDRATE, AND DIE in the other galleries) and immerse yourself in all the x-ray data you can handle.

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Who DOESN’T love x-ray data?!?!!!
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Based on the extensive signs of wear, it’s safe to say that the mummy conservation binder gets a lot of action.

The binders don’t just give us charts and graphs. They come complete with photographs depicting and detailing the conservation process. The finished “product” is on display, under glass, just a few feet away from the nook.

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Before…
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… After!

Most major museums have in-house libraries, but these are mostly for staff and approved researchers. There aren’t many places for patrons to sit and read publications pertaining to the collection and exhibitions around them. Unless you go to a child-centered or child-friendly museum.

The Da Vinci Science Center, in Allentown, PA, is dedicated to bringing the world of science and technology to kids. There’s a good exhibit on weather and tons of hands-on activities for budding engineers to enjoy, but my favorite area is the book cart in the toddler room.

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The Da Vinci book cart.
Toddler's don't reshelve very well.
Toddler’s don’t reshelve very well.

The Da Vinci book nook is in a toddler play area, so it doesn’t immediately fill one with a sense of calm and tranquility. It is, however, a nice reprieve from the shouty jubilance of the water table downstairs and the weight clanging of the engineering area down the hall. The seats are kid-sized, but comfy, and make a good spot to sit and read the newest and not so new science-based books for children that your under-funded local library doesn’t have.

I looked for a copy of
I looked for a copy of “Jane Air: A Young Woman Studies the Stratosphere” but couldn’t find it. Because no one’s written it. Yet.

My brood and I recently visited a very nice and quite adorable museum book nook for kids. The Academy of Natural Science‘s “Outside In” area brings the woodland and all it’s creatures into a themed hands-on learning space for the young’uns.

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Partially out of frame: Skulls and bones of animals featured in the books on display. Not pictured: The bin of otter pelts that freaked the fuck out of my four-year old.
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The little pillow is printed to look like a log, the bench is nicely padded, and there is, indeed, a fire extinguisher cleverly concealed behind the animal-print wallpaper.

I like having books in museums. It enhances the educational experience and allows patrons to learn more about a given [artifact/creator/era/animal/concept/thing] as the desire to obtain more information develops. Also, books put exhibit information within a child’s literal reach, which is more inviting than standing on tippy-toes and straining to see a wall-mounted plaque that’s a foot overhead. Looking at Ben Franklin’s observations on electricity on display behind an acrylic pane is interesting, but being able to turn the pages of a facsimile would really enhance the connection between the data and the display.

Plus, I just really like being able to sit in a gallery and read more about the exhibits. Standing in front of all those didactic labels can be a real bear if you can’t be on your feet all the time.

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