The American Alliance for Museums (AAM) has recently initiated a great chat site known as Museum Junction, which is continually throwing up useful information. One recent discussion was on museological books, and I was drawn to a contributor identifying The Museum Effect by Jeffrey K. Smith as being his best read of the year. Subtitled 'How Museums, Libraries and Cultural Institutions Educate and Civilise Society', it sounded like an interesting book.
And it delivers what it promises, albeit from a strongly art gallery focus, which is where the author's experience lies. I have a few gripes with its content and style, one being I don't see how the process of viewing art (described as 'The 'Right' way to look at art') can be discussed without reference in either the text or the chapter references to Kenneth Clark (see my blog on 'How to look at art' from September 2009) especially as the process described is exactly what Clark proscribed. Another is that two images turn up twice, one being a full page in each instance, which smacks to me of page filling.
However, having got that off my chest, two particular issues struck a chord with me. The first is the extensive discussion on visitor surveys, how to construct and run them, and what to make of the data they provide. This builds off the direct and extensive experience of the author whilst working at the Met, but it cites various case studies at other organisations as well - all very useful stuff for those in the business of such.
The second is the chapter on media available to present information to visitors. There is discussion on the options both current and future, including labels and wall text, audio tours, in-person tours, reading rooms and catalogues, and off-site website access. Finally there is mention of what are described as 'video tours'. The potential delivery technology for such is not mentioned, whether it is NFC, QR codes, or RFID readers, nor the vehicle for such whether they be smartphones, Google Glass, iPads, or even 3D visuals delivered through Nintendo game consoles, as is the case at the Louvre.
As I read I had pause to reflect that here was an expert writing from within one of the great art museums of the world, and making a very pertinent point "Do we really want to draw the attention of the visitor away from the work of art... with a video screen in competition with oil on wood or gouache on paper?"
Good point, Jeffery K. Smith, and for me as one who has long espoused the virtues of technology for enhancing the visitor experience, it is a salutary one.