Abstract. Labels play a necessary role in any exhibition, acting as silent ambassadors for the museum by providing information and object interpretation. However, labels are also subject to the biases and perceptions of the writer, the exhibition, and the institution, which can create a breakdown in communication between the museum visitor and reception of key information. The question then is how to write labels that open the lines of communication with all audiences without discouraging the scholarly work of museum professionals. This report discusses the basic mechanics of label writing and best practices, including such considerations as building communication, the ideal exhibition environment, and label content. Also considered is the impact of such issues as visitor museum fatigue and accessibility. An overview of current technologies that have merit in the museum setting, such as smart phone applications, computer tablets, and barcodes, is also discussed, while keeping in mind potential drawbacks of these newer forms of museum communication.
As technology becomes more commonplace in the public sphere, museums must find ways to incorporate digital methods of communication. According to Falk and Dierking (2008), many museum visitors begin selectively reading labels within 5-15 minutes after viewing their first exhibition.There is a need in the museum sphere to reconsider the archetypal label—one that is overly long, perpetuates one-way communication, and in general, is not visitor-friendly—and explore the possibilities of visitor-centered label writing and the potential use of technology. This paper seeks to review past and current literature on the design of museum labels as well as provide recommendations for writing labels that encourage successful museum-visitor communication while considering the implementation of new technologies.
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