April 15, 2017
Northern States Conservation Center
Collections Caretaker eNewsletter
Welcome to the Collections Caretaker e-Newsletter from Northern States Conservation Center. The newsletter is designed to bring you timely and helpful content that is pertinent to situations we all encounter in our museum and archives work. Feel free to let us know what topics you would like to see featured in Collections Caretaker or even contribute an article.
In This Issue
The Genius of Omission
Small Museum Pro!
May 2017 Online Courses
June 2017 Online Courses
Conferences and Meetings
The Genius of Omission
By Karin Hostetter
Saying less is saying more. And starting out with the right steps is a good way to say less.
"There is so much to say and so little space to say it." This is a common sentiment expressed time and again in the text development stage of a new exhibition. Curators and researchers spend lifetimes gathering content for exhibits and it is all important. So it follows that this important information should be shared with the visitors. The problem is that visitors can absorb only so much new content at one time.
Step 1: Determine your visitor experience
Assign visitor goals to the exhibition, limiting these to two or three. Do you want visitors to know some specific content? Do you want them to feel differently? Do you want them to take some kind of action after experiencing the exhibit? Having an exhibit team agree on two to three goals for an exhibition can be frustrating, but it is good team building and always results in a better exhibit.
Step 2: Develop an exhibition theme
Themes are not topics. Themes are a complete sentence which grab the visitor and make them want to learn more. It contains the main idea of what you want visitors to experience as determined by the goals. Topics are a word or phrase which describe generally what the exhibition is about. A topic is "frogs" while a theme would be "frogs predict the future." Themes need to be specific without being limiting. In "frogs predict the future," text might unveil the food sources of frogs, the pesticide chain, their sensitivity to environmental changes, their life cycle, etc. In each case, any text written on these sub-topics would relate back to the general concept that frogs respond to the environment and their rise or decline in populations is an indicator on the health and future of an area.
Each exhibition should have an overarching theme which ties the goals together. Each section of the exhibition or each exhibit within the exhibition can have its own subtheme, a little more specific than the overall theme, but still related to it and to one of the identified goals.
Step 3: Write and Edit
The greatest value of a theme is in telling writers what to omit. If information does not support the theme, it should be saved for some other time or program. George Miller's research in 1956 still stands the scrutiny of science today. He found that on the average, the human brain is capable of making sense out of 7 +/- 2 separate and new ideas at one time. The brain needs around two hours to process new information before it can take in more new concepts. Since visitors to a museum are primarily there for recreation purposes and not prepared to work hard at learning, not to mention many do not stay for two hours, we should gear our exhibit interpretation toward the "minus" end of this "rule" or no more than five new distinct and separate ideas.
"Separate and distinct ideas" in this case would be each sub-theme under our overarching exhibition theme. Illustrating each separate concept with a variety of examples and in a variety of ways drives the theme into the visitor's brain and offers opportunities to share content. Just keep in mind that once five or so new concepts have been introduced, visitors have to dump out the first one to make room for the new one or, alternately, the new concept is just words and spills out before it ever gets "captured" and processed by the brain.
Exhibition texts which say less really do lead to saying more in the long run. Having the genius to be brave and omit information leads to a more meaningful visitor experience.
Karin Hostetter has over thirty years experience with museum education. With a career that includes natural history museums, cultural history museums (including first person interpretation), nature centers, and zoos, Ms. Hostetter is experienced in interpretive writing, program and curriculum development, and staff and volunteer training. Ms. Hostetter is owner of Interpret This, a consulting company specializing in interpretive writing, program and curriculum development, and volunteer program management. When she is not consulting with other museums, she likes to volunteer and contract teach at them with a special love for preschool and family programs.
Karen teaches several of our courses include MS011: Gallery Guides (short course) and MS106: Exhibit Fundamentals: Ideas to Installation both starting May 1, 2017.
Resources: Ham, Sam. Environmental Interpretation: A Practical Guide, Fulcrum Publishing: Golden, CO. 1992.
Miller, George. The Magical Number Seven Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information. Psychological Review 63(2):81-97. 1956.
|Small Museum Pro! Online Courses in 2017
Northern States Conservation Center is please to host American Association for State and Local History's Small Museum Pro! online courses in 2017
Instructors: Alice Parman and Ann Craig
May 15- July 7, 2017
This class is about how to put together an exhibition, from deciding what it will be about and why, to gathering, creating and arranging all the elements for visitors. You'll learn a lot from your classmates - from their own experiences and from the resources that they share with all of us. And you'll learn the best way: by doing - you will develop an actual exhibit over the course of the class.
Each week you will be expected to:
- study materials directly within the online class site;
- find other resources on the web or in the community and share them with the class;
- share your own knowledge, experience and resources with the class; and
- complete one or more exhibit-development assignments and share your work with the class.
At the end of the class, you will:
- know how to develop, create and evaluate an exhibition - you will have developed a real exhibit;
- be familiar with other resources for more information; and
- have a network of small-museum professionals with whom to confer on future exhibits.
Museum Education and Outreach
June 5 to July 31, 2017
At their heart, regardless of type or size, museums are educational organizations. This course is about how we can facilitate visitors' meaningful and memorable experiences in the informal environments of museums.
At the end of this course you will be able to:
- describe the characteristics and learning needs of various museum audiences
- summarize what we know about learning in museums
- assess the strengths and weaknesses of interpretive techniques and program approaches
- utilize a system for planning, operating, and evaluating museum educational programs
- access resources to assist you in future development of effective learning experiences
To learn more visit:
Jennifer Edwards is the Archivist/Records Manager for the USDA National Wildlife Research Center. After completing an MA in Public History at Wright State University located in Dayton, Ohio, she began working for the National Park Service at cultural and environmental heritage sites including the National Archives for Black Women's History and the South Florida Collections Management Center (SFCMC) located in Everglades National Park. She then transitioned to the USDA National Wildlife Research Center, which combined her love of archives and environmental history. Her current projects include digitizing archival materials, the preservation and conservation of data and creation of an electronic records management filing scheme.
Jennifer Edwards teaches our MS234: Archives Management course starting May 1, 2017. If you are interested in learning more about the management and care of the archival materials in your museum, join Jennifer for the interesting and informative course.
Early Bird Discounts Available for Full Length Courses
An Early Bird Discount is available for anyone who signs up for a full length course from
30 days prior to the start of that course.
Sign up for a full length course up to 30 days prior to its start and save $100.00!
To take advantage of this discount, you must enter coupon code EARLYBIRD at checkout at
The Early Bird Discount deadline for June 2017 courses is May 20, 2017
Featured Course: Care of Furniture and Wood Artifacts
Caring for furniture and wood artifacts demands an understanding of how and
why wood deteriorates. This course offers a simplified explanation of the chemistry and structure of wood as well as the finished wooden object; be it either a totem pole, plow or a French polished table. Care of Furniture and Wood Artifacts teaches students to identify woods, finishes and furniture styles, write condition reports, and understand the agents of deterioration that are harmful to wood both in storage and on exhibit. Topics include preparing wood artifacts for storage and exhibit, the use of archival materials with wood artifacts, housekeeping techniques for furniture and large objects on open display, basic repairs and three dimensional supports for storage or exhibit.
Join Diana Komejan
for this interesting and very informative course MS226: Care of Furniture and Wood Artifacts beginning May 1, 2017.
May 2017 Courses
May 1 to 12, 2017
Instructor: Karin Hostetter
Self-guided brochures, exhibit labels, docent led tours, guest speakers, and audio tours are only a few of the methods available to guide visitors through an exhibit. Explore the strengths and challenges of many different methods and garner resources for further information. Learn how to determine which method works best with which exhibits and how to provide variety to enhance the visitor experience.
May 1 to June 9, 2017 DATE CHANGE
Instructor: Karin Hostetter
Nearly every museum develops exhibits, but how can we improve communication with visitors while taking care of our objects? Exhibit Fundamentals explores exhibits from idea to final installation in a variety of settings. Topics include exhibit theory, the role of the museum's mission, creating a timeline, accessibility and script writing. Also covered are design elements, installation techniques, object safety and security, visitor safety and evaluations. Each student develops an exhibit plan for his or her museum.
May 1 to June 5, 2017
Instructor: Sue Near
Sound business practices are critical for a museum to fulfill its mission. Sounds like vegetables, right? Museum management is complex. A museum exists to preserve collections and educate, but it is also an institution that must employ sound business practices while being accountable to the public as a non-profit organization. Instructor Sue Near teaches participants how to administer a successful museum efficiently and effectively. Participants will engage in discussions about the changing cultural climate and its effect on museum operations.
May 1 to June 9, 2017
Instructor: Ernest Conrad
The museum's brick exterior wall is crumbling. The powder coated metal storage shelves have active rust under the foam padding. Objects in fur storage are covered in mold. It is raining in the exhibit hall. This is the damage that occurs to museum buildings or collection when staff do not understand preservation environments. Preservation Environments is essential knowledge for any collecting institution. Everyone should understand how humidity and temperature are controlled by a building and its mechanical system. For museum staff considering a new building - and any institution planning to expand or rebuild an existing one - Preservation Environments provide important information for calculating whether the proposed improvements will actually improve the environmental control of your protective enclosure. Participants learn the advantages and disadvantages of numerous methods of temperature and humidity control. Preservation Environments does not try to turn museum professionals into engineers. Rather, it arms them with the knowledge they need to work with engineers and maintenance professionals. And helps explain why damaged occurred and how to keep it from happening again.
May 1 to 26, 2017
Instructor: Ann Coppinger
Caring for textiles demands an understanding of how and why they deteriorate. This course offers a simplified explanation of the origin and structure of textile fibers as well as the finished textile object; be it either a piece of whole cloth or a finished garment. Care of Textiles teaches students to identify fibers, fabric structures and finishes, write condition reports, and understand the agents of deterioration that are harmful to various fabrics both in storage on exhibit. Topics include preparing textiles for storage and exhibit, the use of archival materials with textiles, and three dimensional supports.
May 1 to 26, 2017
Instructor: Diana Komejan
Caring for furniture and wood artifacts demands an understanding of how and why wood deteriorates. This course offers a simplified explanation of the chemistry and structure of wood as well as the finished wooden object; be it either a totem pole, plow or a French polished table. Care of Furniture and Wood Artifacts teaches students to identify woods, finishes and furniture styles, write condition reports, and understand the agents of deterioration that are harmful to wood both in storage and on exhibit. Topics include preparing wood artifacts for storage and exhibit, the use of archival materials with wood artifacts, housekeeping techniques for furniture and large objects on open display, basic repairs and three dimensional supports for storage or exhibit.
May 1 to 26, 2017
Instructor: Jennifer Edwards
Archives include flat paper, photographs, bound pamphlets, books, small 3-dimensional objects, and magnetic media. The Archives Management course covers an introduction to the materials found in archives and typical use of these materials including use patterns, retrieval needs, finding aids, handling and exhibition. The last half of the course details optimum storage options for archival materials. Storage includes furniture, storage techniques, standardized and specialized housing such as folders and boxes and custom-made housings.
June 2017 Courses
June 19 to August 4, 2017
Instructor: Gawain Weaver
Photographic materials cover a diverse range, everything from the daguerreotypes and wet plate negatives of the 19th century to the gelatin silver, chromogenic and inkjet prints of the 20th and now 21st century. Care of Photographs offers a broad introduction to the history, technology, identification, and care of these and other photographic materials. Topics include environmental monitoring, the effects of temperature and relative humidity, and the importance of cold storage for certain photographic materials. It is intended to help those caring for photographic materials to gain a better understanding of their collections and how to care for them.
Conferences and Meetings
Museum Store Association, Pittsburgh, PA
April 21-24, 2017
Colorado-Wyoming Association of Museums, Boulder, CO
April 20-22, 2017
American Alliance of Museums, St. Louis, MO
Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums, Rochester, NY
June 9-13, 2017
Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections, Denver, CO
June 18-24, 2017
Association of Academic Museums and Galleries, Eugene, OR
Society of American Archivists, 2017 Annual Meeting, Portland, OR
American Association for State and Local History, Austin, TX
September 6-9, 2017
Southeastern Museums Conference, 2017 Annual Meeting, New Orleans, LA
September 11-13, 2017
International Foundation for Cultural Property Protection, New Haven, CT
September 17-20, 2017
Western Museums Association, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
September 20-23, 2017
New England Museum Association, 2017 Annual Conference, North Falmouth, MA
October 25-27, 2017
National Association for Interpretation, Spokane, Washington
November 14-18, 2017
Society of American Archivists, 2018 Annual Meeting, Washington, DC
August 12-18, 2018
Western Museums Association, Tacoma, WA
Southeastern Museums Conference, 2018 Annual Meeting, Jackson, MS
October 8-10, 2018
National Association for Interpretation
Dates and location TBD
National Association for Interpretation, Denver, Colorado
November 12-16, 2019
Submissions and Comments
How to submit an article or upcoming workshops for inclusion in the Newsletter:
If you would like to submit an article, notice of an organizational meeting or upcoming workshop for an upcoming Collections Caretaker Newsletter, send your submission to
We are always looking for contributions to this newsletter. Submission deadline is the 10th of each month.
Have a comment or suggestion?
Helen Alten, Director
Peggy Schaller, Publications Manager