Exhibit Resource List

The Great Big Exhibit Resource List

The idea for this list started with Kathy Krafft as part of a conference presentation she gave several years ago. Shortly after, I offered to host the initial collection of sources on my website. Over time, the list expanded with my input and that of the late David Taylor, and was included in the “Handbook for Small Science Centers” book. Now, the Great Big Exhibit Resource List has become a way to keep track of “trusted sources” for museum exhibit designers, developers and fabricators, and is freely shared with colleagues. The GBER List continues to expand with input from museum “makers” from around the world. If you have additions, corrections, or comments, please send them to: info@orselli.net and help this resource grow!

LOCAL SOURCES

1. Visit your local stores, and set up accounts; you may get contractor’s rates.

Check out plumbing and electrical and hardware and lumber and paint supply stores. Sometimes places like plumbing supply stores will let you behind the counters to look in their bins. Most stores are very supportive of local non-profit organizations, and enjoy the challenges of helping you when you are doing weird things in building exhibits.

2. Find out when it is quiet to get extra suggestions—not first thing in the morning when contractors are getting the parts they need for the day.

3. Never categorize or stereotype your stores—in exhibit fabrication you may well find what you need at strange, unexpected places. So visit, and see what is in stock at auto supply places (12 volt fans for your hand-powered generator, for instance) floor covering, fabric stores, office supply places, etc.

THE BIG THREE NATIONAL SOURCES

(If you don’t have these catalogs, get them! These suppliers have local branches throughout the country. Check the phone book or the website to locate your nearest outlet. Note: Addresses and telephone numbers often change! Use websites to confirm contact information.)

McMaster-Carr: www.mcmaster.com 3500 pages of hardware, plumbing (including clear PVC pipe and fittings), electrical, materials (metal, plastics, etc. delivered the next day usually. AMAZING collection.

Grainger: www.grainger.com

MSC: www.mscdirect.com

 

ASSISTIVE DEVICES

Enabling Devices: www.enablingdevices.com
385 Warburton Avenue
Hastings-on-Hudson, NY 10706
(800) 832-8697

Flaghouse: www.flaghouse.com
601 FlagHouse Drive
Hasbrouck Heights, NJ 07604
(800) 793-7900

Maxi-Aids: www.maxiaids.com
42 Executive Blvd.
Farmingdale, NY 11735
(800) 522-6294

Patterson Medical: www.sammonspreston.com
4 Sammons Court
Bolingbrook, IL 60440
(630) 226-1300

Special Needs Toys: www.specialneedstoys.com/usa/
4537 Gibsonia Road
Gibsonia, PA15044
(800) 467-6222

 

BOOK BINDING

Perma-Bound: www.perma-bound.com
617 E.Vandalia Road,
Jacksonville, Illinois 62650
(800) 637-6581

San Val Incorporated: www.sanval.com
895 Frisco Street
Steelville, MO 65565
(800) 325-4465

 

CHEMICALS AND LAB EQUIPMENT

Cole-Palmer: www.coleparmer.com
625 East Bunker Court
Vernon Hills, Illinois 60061
(800) 323-4340

Fisher: www.fisherscientific.com
Liberty Lane
Hampton, NH 03842
(603) 926-5911

Flinn Scientific: www.flinnsci.com
P.O. Box 219
Batavia, IL 60510
(800) 452-1261

Sargent-Welch: www.sargentwelch.com
P.O. Box 5229
Buffalo Grove, IL 60089
(800) 727-4368

Sigma-Aldrich: Unusual chemicals.

 

DIGITAL AUDIO AND VIDEO PLAYBACK DEVICES

BrightSign: Digital signage solutions
12980 Saratoga Ave., Ste. D
Saratoga, CA 95070
(408) 852-9263

Eletech Electronics: www.eletech.com
16025 Kaplan Avenue
City of Industry, CA 91744
(626)333-6394

Stop & Listen: www.stoplisten.com
7515 Flint Road S.E.
Calgary, Alberta CANADA T2H 1G3
(800) 387-2365

Technovision – Custom sensors and controllers. www.technovision.com
933 Canada Ct.
City of Industry, CA 91748
(626) 839-1488

 

DIGITAL IMAGES AND PRINTING

Beyond Digital Print: www.beyonddigitalprint.com
6401 E. Rogers Circle
Boca Raton, FL
(561) 922-5250

Corbis: www.Corbis.com

Display Creatives: Pop-Up Displays and printing. www.displaycreatives.com
888-760-1612

Fotosearch Stock Photography: www.fotosearch.com
21155 Watertown Road
Waukesha, WI 53186
(262) 717-0740 (800)827-3920
(Also check out the sister site, www.canstockphoto.com)

Getty Images: www.Gettyimages.com

MegaPrint: Large format print specialists www.megaprint.com
800-590-7850

MorgueFile: www.morguefile.com Free images for your use in your creative work.

MVP Visuals: www.mvpvisuals.com
Suppliers of high-impact visuals and custom branded displays.

The Public Domain Project: www.pond5.com free Completely free public domain images and videos

Stella Color: www.stellacolor.com Sustainable Printing Solutions

Stockphoto.com: www.istockphoto.com

Shutterstock: www.shutterstock.com

Walsworth Printing and Publishing: www.walsworth.com
Printers of custom books and periodicals.

 

EDUCATIONAL AND CLASSROOM SUPPLIERS

(Visit your local schools- they have lots of catalogs!)

Acorn Naturalists: www.acornnaturalists.com
Good source of animal footprints and casts, plus lots of other biology and botany stuff.

Childcraft: www.childcrafteducation.com
P.O. Box 3239
Lancaster, PA 17604
(800) 631-5652

Creative Health Products: www.chponline.com Weight scales, other health products.
5148 Saddle Ridge Road
Plymouth, MI 48170
(800) 742-4478

Discount School Supply www.discountschoolsupply.com

Educational Innovations: www.teachersource.com
362 Main Avenue
Norwalk, CT 06851
(203) 229-0730

Edmund Scientific: www.scientificsonline.com Magnets, polarizing sheet, all kinds of science stuff.

Edmund Industrial Optics: www.edmundoptics.com lenses, optical parts.

ETA/Cuisenaire: www.etacuisenaire.com Math manipulatives, posters.
500 Greenview Court
Vernon Hills, IL 60061
(800) 875-9643

Haba: www.habausa.com

Health Edco: www.healthedco.com

Lakeshore: www.lakeshorelearning.com Early childhood materials.

Woodworks Ltd: www.craftparts.com
4521 Anderson Blvd.
Fort Worth, TX 76117
(817) 581-5230

 

ELECTRONICS

Adafruit Industries: www.adafruit.com
80 Nassau Street, #4C
New York, NY 10038
(646) 248-7882

Allied: www.alliedelec.com
7410 Pebble Drive
Fort Worth, Texas 76118

Anatek: www.anatekcorp.com Video and TV related electronics.
P.O. Box 1200
100 Merrimack Road
Amherst, NH 03031
(603)673-4342

BG Micro: www.bgmicro.com
3024 Lincoln Ct
Garland, Texas 75041
(800) 276-2206

Digi-key: www.digikey.com
River Falls, MN 56

Happ Controls: www.happcontrols.com Pushbuttons, pinball accessories, etc.
106 Garlisch Drive
Elk Grove, IL 60007
(888) BUY-HAPP

Hosfelt Electronics: www.hosfelt.com
2700 Sunset Blvd.
Steubenville, OH 43952
(888) 264-6464

Jameco: www.jameco.com
1355 Shoreway Road
Belmont, CA 94002
(800) 831-4242

MakerSHED: www.makershed.com DIY Kits + Tools + Books + Fun from the MAKE Magazine folks

Markertek: www.markertek.com Cameras, cables, tools, audio equipment.
Great source for video production equipment and unusual stuff.
812 Kings Highway PO Box 397
Saugerties, New York 12477
(800) 522-2025

Mouser: www.mouser.com
1000 North Main Street
Mansfield, Texas 76063
(800) 346-6873

Newark: www.newark.com
4801 N. Ravenswood
Chicago, IL 60640-4496
(773) 784-5100

Radio Shack: www.radioshack.com

Ramsey Electronics: www.ramseyelectronics.com
Good source of electronics kits that can be turned into exhibits.
590 Fishers Station Dr.
Victor, NY 14564
(800) 446-2295

Solid State Advanced Controls: www.ssac.com
Sometimes the only source for hard-to find electronic timers and other modules that do switching, current measuring, etc. generally for 120VAC circuits.

SparkFun Electronics: www.sparkfun.com
6175 Longbow Drive
Suite 200
Boulder, CO 80301
(303) 284-0979

String Pots: www.stringpot.com
String Potentiometers = Potentiometer + Spring-Loaded Pulley.

Supercircuits: www.supercircuits.com Video and security equipment.
One Supercircuits Plaza
Liberty Hill, Texas 78642

Tapeswitch: www.tapeswitch.com
100 Schmitt Boulevard
Farmingdale, NY 11735
(631) 630-0442

 

EXHIBIT RENDERING TOOLS

SketchUp: www.sketchup.com Excellent free rendering program.

 

EXTRUSIONS

80/20 Inc: www.8020.net “The Industrial Erector Set”
1701 South 400 East
Columbia City, IN 46725
(260) 248-8030

FlexPVC: www.flexpvc.com Amazing array of PVC shapes and fittings.
1-888-PVC-FLEX

MayTec: www.maytecinc.com
901 Wesemann Drive
West Dundee, IL 60118
(847) 429-0321

MicroRAX: www.microrax.com Miniature extruded aluminum t-slot framing
Twintec, Inc.
1510 Boundary Blvd., Suite 100
Auburn, WA 98001
(800) 979-9645

Octanorm: www.octanormusa.com
701 Interstate West Parkway
Lithia Springs, GA 30122
(800) 995-2995

Parker’s Industrial Profile Systems: http://bit.ly/e8RBYm
6035 Parkland Blvd.
Cleveland, OH 44124
(216) 896-3000

 

FAKE FOODS

Fake-Foods.com: www.fake-foods.com
204 North El Camino Real, #432
Encinitas, CA 92024

Hubert: www.hubert.com Display supplies.

Incredible Inedibles: www.incredibleinedibles.net

Iwasaki Images: www.iwasaki-images.com
630 Maple Ave.
Torrance, CA 90503
(800) 323-9921

Forbex: www.forbex.com Fake grass.

(Childcraft also sells inexpensive collections of fake foods.)

 

FIBERGLASS AND MOLDMAKING

Aircraft Spruce & Specialty: www.aircraft-spruce.com
Fiberglass supplies, Kevlar, aviation instruments, the entire world of aviation fasteners.
1-877-4-SPRUCE

Fiberglass Coatings: www.fgci.com (in St. Petersburg, FL) A great source for
fiberglassing supplies, casting resins, and knowledge.

3201 28th Street N.
St. Petersburg, FL 33713
(727) 327-8117

Fibre Glast: www.fibreglast.com
95 Mosier Pkwy Brookville, OH 45309
800-330-6368

Polytek: www.polytek.com Rubber moldmaking supplies, casting materials.

 

FLOORING

Gerbert Limited: www.gerbertltd.com Recycled flooring materials.

715 Fountain Ave.
P.O. Box 4944
Lancaster, PA 17604-4944
(800) 828-9461

Lees Carpets: www.leescarpets.com Many sustainable flooring choices. NeoFloor is especially good for children’s areas.

500 TownPark Lane
Suite #400
Kennesaw, GA 30144
(800) 523-5647

Pirelli Flooring: www.artigo.com Interesting flooring products.

 

FRAMING AND MOUNTING MATERIALS

Get Smart Products: www.pfile.com
Super cheap frames!

IKEA: www.ikea.com
It’s hard to find more attractive and inexpensive frames than those from IKEA.

Light Impressions: www.lightimpressionsdirect.com
P.O. Box 787
Brea, CA 92822
(800) 828-6216

Pictureframes.com: www.pictureframes.com
2103 Brentwood Street
High Point, NC 27263
(800) 332-8884

 

FURNITURE

ATD-AMERICAN: www.atd.com
135 Greenwood Ave.
Wyncote, PA 19095
(215) 576-1000

Community Playthings: www.communityplaythings.com
PO Box 2
Ulster Park NY 12487
(800) 777-4244

DEMCO: www.demco.com
P.O. Box 7488
Madison, WI 53707
(800) 962-4463

Gaylord Library Supplies: www.gaylord.com
Kid-sized furniture.
(800) 448-6160

Mockett: www.mockett.com
Hardware, pulls, wire grommets.

Smith System: www.smithsystem.com
PO Box 860415
Plano, Texas 75086
(800) 328-1061

Worthington Direct: www.worthingtondirect.com
6301 Gaston Ave., Suite 670
Dallas, TX 75214
(800) 599-6636

 

GEARS, CLUTCHES, SHAFTS

Atlanta Belting: www.atlbelt.com Conveyor belt– smooth, textured.

Boston Gear: www.bostongear.com
14 Hayward Street
Quincy, MA 02171
(888) 999-9860

Emerson/Morse/Browning: www.emerson-ept.com
WM Berg: www.wmberg.com
499 Ocean Avenue
East Rockaway, NY 11518
(800)232-BERG

 

GLOW-IN-THE-DARK STUFF

ABET Laminati: www.abetlaminati.com Lumiphos laminate material.

Educational Innovations: www.teachersource.com Check out their glow-in-the-dark pigments.
362 Main Avenue
Norwalk, CT 06851
(203) 229-0730

Flinn Scientific: www.flinnsci.com Small sheets and paint.
P.O. Box 219
Batavia, IL 60510
(800) 452-1261

Glow Inc: www.glowinc.com

Hanovia: www.hanovia-uv.com
6 Evans Street
Fairfield, NJ 07083
(973) 651-5510

Jessup Manufacturing: www.globritesystem.com
2815 West Route 120
McHenry, IL 60051
(815) 385-6650

Shannon Luminous Materials: www.blacklite.com
304 A North Townsend
Santa Ana, CA 92703
(800) 543-4485

 

GRAVITY WELLS

Divnik International: www.SpiralWishingWells.com
321 Alexandersville Road
Miamisburg, Ohio 45342
(937) 384-0003

 

GREEN EXHIBITS MATERIALS

Build it Green: www.builditgreen.org

Environmental Home Store: www.environmentalhomestore.com
The Environmental Home Store
550 Carpenter Lane at Greene Street
Philadelphia, PA 19119
(215) 844-GREEN

Green Exhibits: www.greenexhibits.org

Center for Neighborhood Technology, Green building resources:
www.building.cnt.org

Yemm & Hart: www.yemmhart.com Recycled building materials.
1417 Madison
Marquand, MO 63655
(573) 783-5434

 

HARDWARE AND TOOLS

Ballew Saw and Tool: www.ballewsawandtool.com Sharpens saw blades, sells blades and bits.
325 S. Kimbrough
Springfield, MO 65806
(800) 288-7483

Carbide.com: www.carbide.com Router bits, etc.

Cherry Tree: www.cherrytree-online.com Wood balls, parts.
408 S Jefferson Street
Belmont, OH 43718
(800) 848-4363

Enco Tools: www.use-enco.com Tools, general selection & large tools.

Fastenal: www.fastenal.com Industrial and construction supplies.
2001 Theurer Blvd.
Winona, Minnesota 55987
(507) 454-5374

FastCap: www.fastcap.com Check out “speed tape”.

Grizzly: www.grizzly.com Large and small tools, bits, supplies, wood samples.

Hafele: www.hafele.com
Huge assortment of hardware for furniture making.

Harbor Freight: www.harborfreight.com
Inexpensive tools ,variable quality on some brands.

JC Whitney: www.jcwhitney.com Automotive supplies.

Klingspor: www.klingspor.com
Woodworking: sandpaper in bulk (belts, drums, disks, sheets.)

Lee Valley: www.leevalley.com Woodworking tools, also cheap source for small neodymium magnets.
P.O. Box 1780
Ogdensburg, NY 13669
(800) 871-8158

Lehman’s: www.lehmans.com Old time tools, blacksmithing supplies.
One Lehman Circle
P.O. Box 321
Kidron, OH 44636
(888) 438-5346

Northern Tools: www.NorthernTool.com
2800 Southcross Drive West
Burnsville, Minnesota 55306
(800) 221-0516

Roberts Plywood: www.roberts-plywood.com Curved plywood, large wooden tubes.

Southco: www.southco.com Latches, cabinet hardware.

Tool Parts Direct: www.toolpartsdirect.com Parts for tools- with diagrams for identifying the part!
6620 F Street
Omaha, NE 68117
(866) 597-3850

West Marine: www.westmarine.com Marine supplies.

Woodcraft: www.woodcraft.com Tools and supplies.
(800) 535-4482

Woodworker’s Supply: www.woodworker.com

 

LIGHTING AND LIGHTS

Bulbs.com: www.bulbs.com
40 Jackson Street
Worcester, MA 01608
(888) 455-2800

Bulbman: www.bulbman.com

Interlight: www.interlight.biz
7939 New Jersey Avenue
Hammond, IN 46323
(800) 743-0005

Topbulb: www.topbulb.com
5204 Indianapolis Boulevard
East Chicago, IN 46312
(866) TOP-BULB

UV SYSTEMS: www.uvsystems.com A great source for UV lighting and components.
16605 127th Avenue SE
Renton, WA 98058-5549
(425)228-9988

 

MAGNETS

Adams Magnetic: www.adamsmagnetic.com

Dowling-Miner: www.dowlingmagnets.com

Kling Magnetics: www.kling.com Magnetic Paint.
343 Rt. 295 – PO Box 348
Chatham, NY 12037
(518) 392-4000

Force Field: www.wondermagnet.com
2606 West Vine Dr.
Fort Collins, CO 80521
(877) 944-6247

 

METALS

McNichols: www.mcnichols.com Perforated sheet metal, steel grating.
5505 West Gray Street
Tampa, FL 33609-1007
(813) 282-3828 x 2100

Murphy-Nolan: www.murphynolan.com

OnlineMetals.com: www.onlinemetals.com Stocks and sells a variety of metals; including small orders
1138 W. Ewing Street
Seattle, WA 98119
(800) 704-2157

 

MISCELLANEOUS

Archie McPhee / Accoutrements: www.mcphee.com Wacky products!
2428 NW Market Street
Seattle, WA 98107
(206) 297-0240

Bry-Tech Distributors: www.bry-tech.com Upholstery Materials & Supplies
1143 Haines Street
Jacksonville, FL 32206
(800) 329-7283

Company Folders, Inc. www.companyfolders.com Folders and Presentation Materials
3297 Orchard Lake Rd, Suite 203
Keego Harbor, Michigan 48320
(248) 738-7600

Displays 2 Go: www.displays2go.com Small sign holders, stands, displays.
55 Broad Common Road
Bristol, RI 02809
(800) 572-2194

Engineered Etchings: www.engineeredetchings.com Etched granite and marble plaques and displays
Cookeville, Tennessee 38506
(931) 267-1542

Ecospheres: www.eco-sphere.com Self-contained ecosystem spheres.
4421 N. Romero Rd
Tucson, Arizona 85705
(800) 729-9870

Fake Earth: www.polypavement.com

Freund Cans: www.freundcontainer.com Containers of all sorts.
11535 S. Central Avenue
Alsip, IL 60803
(800)363-9822

Hobby Express: www.hobbyexpress.com

Hobby People: www.hobbypeople.net Small motors, controllers for models.

JML Direct Optics: www.jmloptical.com Parabolic mirrors.
76 Fernwood Ave.
Rochester, NY 14621
(585) 342-8900

Just Plastic Boxes: www.justplasticboxes.com Plastic boxes of all types.
2535 Bing Miller Lane
Urbana, IA 52345
800-736-0651

Library of Congress: American Environmental Photographs
www.memory.loc.gov

LED Light Stick Art: www.subliminaryartworks.com
Bill Bell
139 Davis Ave
Brookline MA 02445
(617) 277-4719
billbell@subliminaryartworks.com

M. Jacobs & Sons www.mjacobandsons.com All sorts of bottles and jars.
31700 Middlebelt Rd., Suite 165
Farmington Hills, MI 48334
(248) 737-9440

Oriental Trading Company: www.orientaltrading.com Cheap multiples. Craft and party items.

PilotVials.com www.Pilotvials.com Clear and amber glass vials, plastic jars for all your packaging needs.
2965 Valley Vista Drive
Sedona, AZ 86351
(928) 254-0533

Radiant Manufacturing www.radiantmfg.com Giant Sequins and “flutter discs” for Air Cannon exhibits.
(877) 787-8880

Rhode Island Novelty: www.rinovelty.com
19 Industrial Lane
Johnston, RI 02919
(800) 528-5599

Sand & Solutions: www.waupacasand.com
Rubber mulch. (For clean “sandboxes” and playgrounds.)
(715) 258-8566

Scent Machines: www.scentair.com

Stella Color: www.stellacolor.com Images on carpet; interesting mural wallpaper.

Strapworks: www.strapworks.com
All kinds of webbing, strapping ropes, etc.
3170 Elmira Rd.
Eugene, OR 97402
(541) 741-0658

Toysmith: www.toysmith.com

Ultrasonic Mistmakers: www.mainlandmart.com
MainlandMart.com
2535 Durfee Ave.
El Monte, CA 91732
(626) 258-2928

 

PLASTICS

AIN Plastics: www.ainplastics.com

Curbell Plastic: www.curbell.com
7 Cobham Drive
Orchard Park, NY 14127
(716) 667-3377

Outwater Plastics: www.outwater.com
Weird architectural stuff, tee molding in all sizes and shapes and colors, etc.
4 Passaic Street, Wood-Ridge, N.J. 07075
1-888-OUTWATER (688-9283)

United States Plastic: www.usplastic.com
Lots of plumbing parts, tubing.
1390 Neubrecht Rd.
Lima, Ohio 45801-3196
1-800-809-4217

 

SAFETY RESOURCES AND MATERIALS

MSDS on line: www.msdssearch.com

Arts, Crafts & Theater Safety: www.artscraftstheatersafety.org

 

SCIENCE MATERIALS SUPPLIERS

Acorn Naturalists: www.acornnaturalists.com
Good source of animal footprints and casts, plus lots of other biology and botany stuff.

American 3B Scientific: www.a3bs.com
2189 Flintstone Drive, Unit O
Tucker, GA 30084
(770) 492-9111

Arbor Scientific: www.arborsci.com
PO Box 2750
Ann Arbor, MI 48106
(800) 367-6695

Ben Meadows: www.benmeadows.com Forestry/Outdoors supplies, surveying equipment
P.O. Box 5277
Janesville WI USA 53547
(800) 241-6401

C&A Scientific: www.cnascientific.com
7241 Gabe Court
Manassas, VA 20109
(703) 330-1413

Carolina Biological: www.carolina.com Microscope slides, fruit flies and
other critters, lots more.

Copernicus Toys: www.copernicustoys.com
1012 C Druid Ave
Charlottesville VA 22902
(800) 424-3950

Kelvin Scientific: www.kelvin.com
280 Adams Blvd.
Farmingdale, NY 11735
(800) 535-8469

NASCO: www.enasco.com A site for multiple supply catalogs.

PASCO: www.pasco.com Excellent physics supplies and materials.
10101 Foothills Blvd.
Roseville, CA 95747
(800) 772-8700

Pitsco: www.pitsco.com Kits, meters, etc.
915 E. Jefferson
P.O. Box 1708
Pittsburg, KS 66762
(800) 835-0686

Science Kit & Boreal Laboratories: www.sciencekit.com

SEIDAM: www.seidam.com
Kelvin Building
University of Glasgow
University Avenue
Glasgow, SCOTLAND
G12 8QQ
+44 (0)141 330 2047

Steve Spangler Science: www.stevespanglerscience.com
4400 South Federal Blvd
Englewood, CO 80110
(800) 223-9080

Ward’s Natural Science: www.wardsci.com
PO Box 92912
Rochester, NY 14692
(800) 962-2660

 

SCROLLING IMAGE SIGNS AND LIGHTBOXES

Bowman Displays: www.bowmandisplays.com
648 Progress Avenue
Munster, IN 46321
(800) 922-9250

Dick Blick: www.dickblick.com
P.O. Box 1267
Galesburg, IL 61402
(800) 828-4548

Warwick Products Company: www.warwickproducts.com Store fixtures, displays.

 

SURPLUS SUPPLIERS

American Science and Surplus: www.sciplus.com Weird collection of small parts.
P.O. Box 1030
Skokie, IL 60076
(847) 647-0011

Herbach and Rademan (H&R): www.herbach.com Cheap motors, blowers, power supplies etc.
353 Crider Avenue
Moorestown, NJ 08057
(800) 848-8001

Retail Closeout Mall: www.retailcloseoutmall.com
11632 Frankstown Road #310
Pittsburgh, PA 15235
(412)734-5849

Surplus Shed: www.surplusshed.com
1050 Maidencreek Road
Fleetwood, PA 19522
(877) 7-SURPLUS

 

THEATRICAL SUPPLIES/FABRICS

Ahh.biz: www.ahh.biz Specialized Textile Outfitters.
American Home & Habitat
Route 4, Box 86
Squires, MO 65755
(417) 683-1838

Dazian Fabrics: www.dazian.com Theatrical and Outdoor Fabrics

Fred Krieger Fabrics: www.fredkriegerfabrics.com
420 Jericho Turnpike
Jericho, NY 11753
(800) 892-8142
Pro Sound & Stage Lighting: www.pssl.com Audio, video, party lights.
11070 Valley View Street
Cypress, CA. 90630
1-800-268-5520

Rosco: www.rosco.com Specialized lighting fixtures and gels (colored mylar sheets), hardware.

Rose Brand: www.rosebrand.com Theatrical Supplies

Sam Ash: www.samash.com Musical Instruments, Sound equipment.
(800) 4-SAMASH

Seattle Fabrics: www.seattlefabrics.com Theatrical and Outdoor Fabrics
Seattle, WA. 98103
(206) 525-0670

Sew What?: www.sewwhatinc.com Custom-sewn theatrical drapes and fabrics
1978 Gladwick Street
Rancho Dominguez, CA 90220
(310) 639-6000

ExhibiTricks blog

  • Exhibit Labels: The Story Behind the Second Edition Interview with Beverly Serrell (and FREE Book Giveaway!)



    Since 1979, Beverly Serrell has been an exhibit and evaluation consultant with art, history, natural history, and science museums, as well as zoos and aquariums. She previously was head of a museum education department for eight years, and worked as a high school science teacher and a research lab technician. Serrell holds an MA in science teaching in informal settings and a BS in biology. In 1995, she was a guest scholar at The J. Paul Getty Museum and has received two National Science Foundation grants to conduct research on visitor behavior in museum exhibitions. She has been a frequent museum visitor all her life.

    Beverly was kind enough to answer some questions for ExhibiTricks readers AND provide a copy of her latest book, Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach, to two lucky ExhibiTricks readers!  (Find out more about the Book Giveaway at the bottom of this post!)



    Paul Orselli:  I received a mailing from your publisher about the second edition of “Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach,” and I thought I’d circle around to get your thoughts about it for my blog.  But before we talk about the second edition, what inspired you to write the first edition, published in 1996?

    Beverly Serrell: Actually the first edition of Exhibit Labels was a follow-up on my book published by the Association for State and Local History (AASLH) called “Making Exhibit Labels: A Step-by-Step Approach.” I wrote that in 1983, before I’d ever done much work on exhibition planning and design, although I had a background in museum education.

    I had a master’s degree in science teaching in non-school settings, and I’d worked as the curator of education at the Shedd Aquarium for eight years. I was in charge of programs, not exhibits. I kept pushing for more interpretive stories in the labels of the Shedd’s galleries, but that wasn’t my job.

    After the Shedd, I started consulting with the Field Museum and Brookfield Zoo, and all types of museums about ways to increase the effectiveness of museum interpretation, mainly through wall labels. Being young, enthusiastic, and impetuous I thought I would write a book and tell people how to make better labels, since many of the examples I was seeing those days were too long, too small, and not written with an interested novice visitor in mind. That was “Making Exhibit Labels.” For the next ten years I tried to practice what I’d preached and was often humbled by the complexities of the politics, philosophies, economics, and conflicting priorities of exhibition design.

    In 1995 I got the opportunity to write another book—one that would incorporate more of the issues of planning and evaluation that are critical to good label-writing and expand on the work being done by many of the practitioners and leaders in the museum field who had influenced me, including Steve Bitgood, Minda Borun, Marlene Chambers, John Falk, Ross Loomis, Kathy McLean, Paulette McManus, Roger Miles, Chan Screven, Harris Shettel, and many others. That was “Exhibit Labels,” the first edition.


    PO: What motivated you to write a second edition of “Exhibit Labels”?

    BS: The first edition was published by AltaMira Press with Mitch Allen. AltaMira was sold to Rowman & Littlefield, and in the total of 19 years it sold more than 15,000 copies. But sales were down, and R&L wanted a new version under their copyright.

    R&L approached me in 2010, but I didn’t have the time or interest in doing it then. I was still receiving good feedback on the first edition, especially from museum studies students, young professionals, and practitioners who had to keep buying new copies to replace the one they loaned out and never got back!

    R&L kept asking me, and even suggested that they publish a second edition using another author, since they owned the copyright. Well, that was motivating. I didn’t think it would take too long, because I believed most of the book still resonated in a very profound way and it just needed some freshening up. Soon, however, I realized that it would be a much bigger project, so I made time and recruited Katherine Whitney to help me.

    The first edition, for example, had a chapter about “electronic labels and hypermedia.” That was quaint, and the new edition needed to address technology issues in more depth.  But the bottom line was that the guidelines for writing were the same (e.g., clarity, brevity, legibility) regardless of the technology.

    A colleague told me the other day that a new curator had been given the first edition of “Exhibit Labels” as a tutorial in how to write interpretive labels, who said “But this was published in 1996. Don’t we have anything newer, more up to date?” And the reply was, “Well, in fact there is a second edition coming out soon!”



    PO: What have been the biggest changes related to exhibition labels between the first and second editions of your books?

    BS: There have been many changes that have had impacts on exhibitions in general and exhibit labels specifically in the past two decades, such as issues surrounding authority, points of view, voice, diversity of audiences, prototyping and evaluation, and of course, digital technology for exhibit design and production, plus visitors’ use of smart devices. 

    But there are also many things that remain the same, regardless of the changes in museum politics, technology, and the role of museums in society. We still need to work harder to give visitors better orientation through signage and graphics—to the building, to the exhibits, to the café and restrooms. We need to formatively evaluate every new interactive exhibit as a prototype. We need to be more clear in our professional discussions about what we mean, for example, when we say “layers of information” or “visitor-centered.”

    Some of the seemingly new issues turn out to be very much the same as old issues but have new names, such as audience segmentation, experience design, user-testing, or intentionally designed spaces. Often the changes are very subtle, so it is helpful to know the literature and the history of the issues to see how they evolve, build, or shift emphasis rather than being revolutionary or brand new.    

    Unfortunately, there are many museums still set in their old ways about authority where curators control the content and design of exhibitions without the input from other staff members who are trained, experienced, and have valuable input. Many institutions still do not use a visitor-centered perspective in their approach to creating engaging, interactive, and personally meaningful exhibits for diverse audiences. The second edition gives more examples of projects and programs with professional collaborations in service of best practices, and keeping visitors part of the equation throughout.



    PO: What were the biggest changes to the second edition, compared to the first, besides the issues we’ve already talked about?

    BS: Katherine and I worked very hard to gather photographs of good examples of many types of labels, so there are a lot more pictures in this edition. We pulled together a whole new set of case studies, using the voices and opinions of different experts in the field.

    We included a few drawings to keep it light—although I’ll say the heft of the new edition was the biggest surprise to me when I finally held the published book in my hand. I knew we’d added a lot, and it feels like it.

    We dropped the Glossary and Resource sections from the first edition. The glossary didn’t seem necessary to repeat, and the resource section would be out of date in a few years, as it was in the first. People can google these topics.



    PO: What advice would you have for fellow museum professionals, especially those from smaller museums, in developing labels?

    BS: The changes we talked about impact small museums as well as large ones, and the advice in “Exhibit Labels” works for all sizes of institutions. In the smaller places, the same person might be wearing the hat of curator, educator and designer, and he or she needs to balance the responsibilities of all those roles for the benefit of the visitor experience. Small institutions might actually find it easier to introduce new ways of meeting visitors’ needs because there are fewer departments to coordinate or convince. Good labels can be developed and produced on small budgets, and small exhibitions are often more thoroughly used by visitors than larger ones.



    PO: How does “Exhibit Labels” relate to your other books, “Paying Attention” and “Judging Exhibitions”?

    BS: The second edition of “Labels” puts even more emphasis on the Big Idea: Have a meaningful one and stick to it; let it guide the label writing as well as set boundaries for the amount of interpretive content. Paying Attention was my effort to gather a large amount of data on how visitors use the content in its various forms (e.g., labels, videos, interactives) to inform our expectations.

    The “excellent judges” project and framework (Judging Exhibitions) gives us a way to discuss the degree to which visitor-centered perspectives are integrated into an exhibition experience. So, I guess I’m asking: What’s the Big Idea? Are visitors paying attention to it? To what extent does the exhibition afford the aspects of a positive educational experience, no matter what the subject?  “Exhibit Labels” addresses the ways and means and the critical role of producing excellent labels in support of (rather than interfering with) those positive educational experiences.



    PO: What are some of your favorite labels?

    BS: I’ve seen many good examples in all types of museums. We put 100 photos in the book to illustrate the wide range of interpretive labels with well-chosen words and graphics. Here are a few of them.


    At the Detroit Institute of Arts, every interpretive label or device undergoes thorough visitor-usability testing and is edited with guidelines to appeal to non-art-history students. When I encounter DIA labels in the galleries, I know that the information will be clear, directly related to what I can see, and will leave me feeling more competent about understanding and enjoying art.





    The USS Constitution Museum has a great family exhibition called “All Hands on Deck.” AHOD was developed with extensive prototyping, and the results show that visitors of all ages are very engaged: Witness this teen at the “Get down on your knees and scrub!” interactive. The labels are written in first person voice and are in a handwritten font.





    I love the wayside panels at the Big Bend National Park. Very direct, expressive, and bilingual. This one surprised me, because when I visited it for a second time--years after the first time I saw it—it was shorter than I remembered it being. My imagination had filled in many more words than were actually there.





    The Exploratorium doesn’t shy away from exhibiting complicated phenomena. They also take the time for the trial-and-revision edits it takes to hone the label’s design, instructions and interpretive content to the point that it works well for a majority of users.






    The Huntington Botanic Gardens has a “Plant Lab” in the conservatory where there are many hands-on interactives with live plants. The panels give instructions and information in clear, easy-to-follow text. and graphics. Nice use of color and very few words.





    The dead albatross in the ocean section of the Gallery of Natural Sciences at the Oakland Museum of California was an attention-grabbing exhibit that drove home the message about human impacts on the environment. Still, the overall exhibition also communicated a sense of the beauty and value of nature.

    These were all featured in the second edition of “Labels” but printed in greys. I am pleased to have them reproduced in color here.



    PO: If money were no object, what would your “dream” exhibit project be?

    BS: I’d love to work on one that started with adequate discussion about the Big Idea. Followed by front-end and formative evaluation of key elements (e.g., introductory label, all the interactive elements, title), modifying the Big Idea if necessary. Write the labels to be interesting, visually integrated into the design, contextually appropriate, and have just the right number of words. After a soft opening, invite visitors to participate in remedial evaluation, along with the stakeholders.

    Save some of the budget for remediation and build in inexpensively changeable label content and design.

    There are always many things you learn about the relative appropriateness of location and context after the exhibition is open that cannot be predicted beforehand! Keeping the design flexible and having the money to make the changes can result with some important improvements in the effectiveness of the exhibits. Saving money and time for thoughtful remediation after opening is probably one of the best uses of your evaluation budget, but how many places plan for it?

    I have worked in many situations that have some of these features but not all in one project.



    Thanks again to Beverly for providing her insights about labels and museums to ExhibiTricks readers!  To find out more about Beverly and her work, click on over to her website!



    And now for the FREE Book Giveaway! 

    To be eligible to win one of two copies of Beverly's latest book, Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach, simply subscribe to the ExhibiTricks blog (Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog) OR submit a comment or question in the "Comments Section" of the ExhibiTricks blog below.  After August 15th, 2015, we will randomly select one new ExhibiTricks subscriber and one ExhibiTricks Commenter to receive copies of Beverly's book!



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