Tag Archives: Exhibit Series

The Exhibit Series: Put a Label on It

When organizing an exhibit, creating the labels may not be the most exciting item on the to-do list. The labels are often used to relay essential information about the item on display, such as the title, description, artist, creator, date, age, or where it’s from. Sometimes labels provide information on how the item was used, what it was for, or who is depicted in the image.

Labels are often skimmed over by the viewer.

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Photo Credit: Brint Design, Periodic Table of Typefaces

How can exhibit labels be more interesting? What would make the viewer want to read the label?

  1. Less is more. A viewer does not want to spend ten minutes reading and thinking about the information in a label. The label should be short. In fact, the shorter the better (20 – 70 words). If the label has closer to 70 words, break the paragraph up into two smaller paragraphs to create the illusion of a shorter label.
  2. An easy read. Don’t use technical vocabulary that would not get across the information to the general public. The exhibit is meant to inform the general public, not stump them. It is best to use simple vocabulary and short sentences, with strong adjectives and verbs. By doing this, you are making the information accessible to a wider audience. It is also important that the label is easy on the eyes. The text should either be dark on a light background or light on a dark background, with a 70% difference in contrast between the two colours.
  3. Available in large print. The font size should be no smaller than size 12. The typeface should be sans serif or simple serif (e.g. Screen Shot 2016-10-13 at 2.18.09 PM.png or Screen Shot 2016-10-13 at 2.19.09 PM.png) and there should be no more than two fonts in the label. Proper punctuation and capitalization should be used unless it is purposefully being manipulated to get across certain information. The Smithsonian has published an online article, Smithsonian Guidelines for Accessible Exhibition Design, aimed to provide recommendations on designing an exhibit that better relays information to all audiences.
  4. Make it worth their time. Why is the label worth reading? Engage the viewer with an interesting fact or the label could have a narrative. It may also help if the text is written with an active voice instead of passive. It could also be interesting to feature a ‘curator’s choice’ item for the exhibit.
  5. Provide an activity. It is recommended to include an activity within some of the labels in an exhibit. These labels could pose a question or encourage the viewer to look more closely at the item.
  6. Just a little bit higher. Make sure that the label is located near the item. It should be at a comfortable height so that the viewer does not need to look up or bend down to read it. The centre of the label should be approximately 57 inches from the floor. If the label is positioned high or low ensure that it is correctly angled to accommodate the viewer.
  7. Don’t make it a beacon. The label should be matte or very low gloss. The viewer should not have to change angles to read the label. Ensure that labels going within an exhibit case are examined for glare prior to the final installation.

Fun fact: The American Alliance of Museums’ Curators Committee in partnership with the Museology Graduate Program at the University of Washington, Seattle, and in cooperation with the National Association for Museum Exhibition and the AAM Educational Committee holds a yearly exhibit label competition. The competition, entitled Excellence in Exhibit Writing Competition, accepts international entries.

http://aam-us.org/about-us/grants-awards-and-competitions/excellence-in-label-writing

 

References:

Brint Design. Periodic Table of Typefaces. Accessed 2016, Oct 13. http://www.brintdesign.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/tabla-periodica-tipografica_gio-01.jpg

Hammons, Carlyn. Training for Texas Museums. 2011, Oct 18. Five Tips for Great Exhibit Labels.mp4. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSnnR-7dQBI.

Majewski, Janice. Smithsonian Guidelines for Accessible Exhibit Design. Smithsonian Accessibility Program. Accessed 2016, Oct 13. https://www.si.edu/Accessibility/SGAED#page_21.

Parks Canada Access Series: Design Guidelines for Media Accessibility. Ottawa: Minister of Supply and Services, 1993.

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The Exhibit Series: Boxing it Up

When developing a new exhibit space, or updating an existing exhibit space, it can be tough to find the right selection of exhibit cases and mounts. Archives staff may be looking to enhance an exhibit space with new cases that both better suit the collection and that are chemically and physically stable long-term. Sometimes it is not possible to order new cases, as it can often be less expensive to update existing cases rather than replace. Whether buying new or making changes, what are you options when displaying original archival material?

  1. Where can you buy archival grade exhibit cases?

Zone Display Cases is a Canadian company that designs and manufactures custom-made conservation grade display cases. They are made of powder-coated steel and glass and are closely inspected prior to shipping. They offer a promise that all display cases shipped are without defect. Some of their most recent projects have included creating cases for Parliament of Canada, Harvard University, The Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, and Yale University.

Goppion: The Art of Case Design began as a glass making company in Milan. Over the years they began creating custom display cases to meet clients’ special needs. Their work can be seen in museums across Europe.

Glausbau Hahn is a German company that produces their glass and coated metal cases within country using resource efficient methods and materials. Their cases can be viewed throughout Europe, and, closer to home, can be seen at the Royal Ontario Museum.

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Photo Credit: Modular Cases, Products, Zone Display Cases. Accessed September 2016.

  1. How can non-archival grade exhibit cases be updated?

Often unmodified exhibit cases are adopted for use because they are what is available and on-hand. These exhibit cases are sometimes painted or lacquered wood, particle board, or even mixed materials, including cork. These materials are generally not archival grade unless steps are taken to stabilize them. They will off-gas and negatively affect the items housed inside by causing embrittlement and yellowing to the paper. Completely replacing the case may not be within the budget, so what can be done?

  • If the case is lacquered wood it is recommended to place acid-free barriers like mat board or panes of glass along the shelves or platform. This is to ensure the collection items are not in direct contact with the wood.
  • If the case is coated metal and areas of the coating has worn off, it is recommended to apply a fresh coating of enamel paint to reduce the possibility of corrosion in areas with exposed metal. Allow paint to cure for two weeks before use.
  • If the case is made of particleboard, plywood or MDF it is recommended to coat it with enamel paint, and set aside to cure for two weeks before use. It is recommended to coat these types of wood products because they off gas due to adhesives within the material.
  • Cork is often used as a base material on shelves and platforms, frequently found in cases produced for schools and libraries. Cork is not archival grade and is not chemically stable. It is recommended to cover the cork board with buffered mat board, with an additional sheet of unbuffered acid-free mat board overtop. The underside of the buffered mat board should be routinely checked for discolouration. Once it begins to discolour, replace with another sheet of buffered mat board. It is recommended to put unbuffered mat board overtop of the buffered one because some archival materials react poorly to change in pH. Unbuffered mat board is inert and so is preferable if placing archival materials directly on it.

Microclimate equipment can also be installed in new or repurposed exhibit cases. Canadian company, Keepsafe Microclimate Systems, offers a variety of temperature, humidity, and oxygen moderating equipment that can be installed in cases to better protect collection material from the environment and pests.

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The Exhibit Series: Fading Out

When choosing archival records to add to a display case or exhibit space a decision must be made whether to display the original or a copy. Sometimes it is necessary to display the original because the item holds such high historic significance and making it publicly accessible is important, for example, exhibiting the Canadian Constitution. If you are considering displaying an item that could fade first determine if displaying the original is necessary or if a copy of the item would suffice.

What media and material fades or discolours more quickly when exposed to light?

  • Iron gall ink
  • Analine dye
  • Water-based inks
  • Watercolours
  • Coloured photographs
  • Cyanotypes and blueprints
  • Newsprint
  • Wood pulp based paper

This is not a comprehensive list, and there may be other media and materials that will fade quickly upon light exposure.

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Photo Credit: Parker Knight

It is also important to consider the auxiliary features of the records, such as fabric ties, paper seals, and stamps; all may fade when exposed to light.

 

How can you minimize exposure to light if the original must be displayed and has light sensitive media or materials?

Ensure there is UV filtering film on windows and UV filtering light tubes on lights that emit UV. Ensure that the light does not exceed 75 lux. It is recommended to place curtains over windows to assist with controlling lux. Other items should not be placed in front of or partially over light susceptible items due to uneven fading caused by the shade, leaving unsightly fade marks.

It is recommended to change out exhibit material every three months so that original records are not overexposed to light.

While it is recommended to display high resolution coloured copies when possible of archival records susceptible to fading, if the item holds little to no historic significance there may not be a risk of losing important information even if the item does fade. The archives staff preparing the display should consider all options and determine if the return is greater than the risk.

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The Exhibit Series: Lighting

Lighting can have a significant impact on exhibits. It can influence the environment of the exhibit space, highlight items of importance, accent areas of the space, lead viewers from one room to another, and, most importantly, it can have a significant impact on the life of an item.

How does light negatively impact archival materials? 

The three largest contributors of degradation to archival materials are: light, heat, and oxygen. All three of these contributors play a part in causing displayed items to degrade.

Light and oxygen partner to cause photo-degradation. Photo-degradation is initiated by a photon being emitted from a light source, and being absorbed by molecules. The photon provides energy that is transferred as electrons. The electrons cause molecules to jump from a ground state (stable) to an excited state (unstable). The excited state of the molecules can cause them to spontaneously oxidize or hydrolyze. This process can be observed when photo-degradation causes archival items to yellow and become brittle, or when it causes organic dyes to fade. If lamps are set-up too closely to archival items, heat from the them can act as a catalyst for photo-degradation, causing it to occur more rapidly.

The temperature and relative humidity of collection storage spaces are often closely monitored. The lighting of exhibit areas should be monitored equally as closely to preserve the archival items on display. How can this be done? Information on light can be collected using a UV metre, an ELSEC Handheld Environmental Monitor, or a Blue Wool standard card to examine the lux and UV levels. Lux is the unit of illumination, used to measure the intensity of light in one square metre. UV or ultraviolet light is a particular wavelength that causes rapid fading of organic materials.

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Photo Credit: Susanne Nilsson, Cropped

It is not recommended to use natural sunlight to illuminate an exhibit space because of the extensive damage it causes to archival items. Sunlight is too intense, emits too much heat, and has high UV levels. There should not be any windows in an exhibit space, though if there are, it is recommended to place UV filtering film on the windows and to cover the windows with blackout curtains. UV filtering film should be replaced every ten years. UV filtering light tube covers can also be purchased for fluorescent light tubes, which also emit low levels of UV.

It is recommended to display items for no more than three to four months. Archival items without coloured media can be illuminated up to 150 lux, though archival items with colour, as well as art on paper, should be illuminated up to no more than 75 lux.

Our next blog in the Exhibit Series will discuss archival materials that are particularly vulnerable to deterioration when on exhibit.

For more information on light and light damage, please visit the Northeast Document Conservation Centre.

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