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Ideas needed for museum displays.

Posted by Ralph Bottrill  
avatar Re: Ideas needed for museum displays.
April 15, 2012 08:10AM
no    
Ralph,

lots of great ideas from other contributors. I have a suggestion which could be combined with any of them. Museums are often visited by families and there may be conflicting interests. Many of the interactive and colourful displays will attract people of any age and level of knowledge. But it may be a challenge to "entertain" the youngest if the parents (or grandparents) want to look at the systematic or educational displays. In the museum at Setesdalen Mineral Park in Norway they have small stone dinosaures hidden in the different cabinets and every child is offered a map of all the displays and a pencil to mark where they discovered the dinosaures. They receieve a prize (a colorfull mineral specimen i.e. a pyrite crystal) when they have located all of them. In my experience this made it possible for generations with different attention spans to enjoy the cabinets at the same pace. It also opened up for discussions like: "maybe you will find it behind that large, blue fluorite - or maybe close to another fluorite specimen" - do you see any specimen with a quartz crystal here - maybe the dinosaur is there ? etc.

In general people are very interested in where the minerals come from and what they are used for (as stated by Paul). At Terra Mineralia they have a projection on the wall of a rotating globe and it is possible to select from a list a famous mineral locality and push a button. With Google Earth you zoom down on that locality and switches to a film showing the mine entrance, the journey down in the dark, how the mining is perfomed and how cavities with minerals are exposed. Exceptional specimens from some of these localities where displayed in cabinets close by.
At a Canadian museum I visited many years ago they had a large, old carriage from a mine lift where 8 or 10 visitors at a time had to put on helmets, enter the carriage, push putton - and then experiences noises and movement as if they travelled far down into a mine. Opening a second door they entered a poorly lit mine tunnel with cavities showing minerals, pictures or short films showing the mining operation and then entering a mine assayers office showing examples of ores, test equipment etc. If there should be room for such an installation somewhere at the Tasmanian museum, parts of your proud mining heritage could be visualized in this way.

I think the main challenge for museums wanting to display minerals in the 21st century is how to capture, entertain and educate different generations and people with different backgrounds and limited interests in minerals as objects or in systematic mineralogy. In general the role of museums have changed dramatically following the general access to the web. In this century probably the hundreds of thousands of objects preserved in museum collection (of all kinds) could be made available to any virtual visitor with a rotating 3-D image and any set of information about the specimen, its origin and with links to scientific papers, locality information, historic information etc. - surpassing what the viewer can obtain from even the best lit and labelled display cabinet in todays museums. With such resources in place, you could tour any museum from your own computer displaying any item on the large, high-resolution flatscreen in your living room or study. In the modern age of information there is less need for the 19th century style assemblages of "curiosity cabinets" with strange natural objects behind glass for people to admire. But there will still be a huge need to educate people, to make them curious and to give them the necessary background and understanding how to use such web-resources. This will require more interactive museums with more focus on contexts and perspectives than on single objects.

But of course there will allways be freaks like ourselves who will claim that nothing can compare to seeing minerals "in person". We can only hope that museums will feel an obligation to cater also for the needs of such an odd minority.

Knut



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 04/15/2012 08:17AM by Knut Eldjarn.
avatar Re: Ideas needed for museum displays.
April 15, 2012 09:23AM
Wow, what a great assortment of ideas, thanks everyone! I will compile of this for management to contemplate. I must admit, Like Malcolm, to a fondness for the old systematic collections like the Natural History Museum. As a young kid that was profound at revealing the workings of nature, but I know it's not popular these days. I have not seen the ROM display, but it sounds like a must see. I like Paul's ideas especiallly, I was thinkig along these lines, but there are lots of good thoughts to consider here.

Regards,
Ralph
Re: Ideas needed for museum displays.
April 15, 2012 02:06PM
I'd suggest integrating the mineral displays into a plate-tectonics theme. Many visitors don't have any idea how minerals relate to Earth processes. Perhaps start out with a "shaker" that demonstrates what it feels like to be in an earthquake of a particular magnitude (with settings for different magnitudes); relate that to faults and to the "ring of fire" and the plate-tectonic setting of Tasmania/Australia/New Zealand (the recent NZ earthquakes could be a theme); have a large-scale video of "black smokers", along with specimens from the sea-floor environment, etc. How about a video of a subduction zone that has settings that allow the visitor to control the speed of subduction and relate that to the angle of plunge of the subducting plate and the location of volcanism and mineral deposition on an adjacent continent? There are many ways to relate minerals to plate-tectonics setting, and I think just a few cool, interactive set-ups could get someone hooked on the subsequent mineral displays (which should be well lighted, well labeled, etc.).

Another approach (perhaps more for adults, who seem to be ignored in most museum planning nowadays) could be to look at map/photo/satellite images of an area to see how each is used to locate a mineral deposit. Start out with a satellite image taken in "normal" spectrum; then have images of the same area in false-color spectra, radar images, etc. that are computer enhanced and designed to bring out particular kinds of mineralization. Let the visitor choose suspicious areas that could then be tied into assays/chemical analyses that highlight which methods are most useful to the mining industry for exploring new areas (and maybe the mining industry could help to finance such a display). Integrate this with something about how plants and topography also give us clues to mineralization. Perhaps this could be tied into which minerals were used by the native peoples of the area, and how.

What I remember from the museums I have visited are usually the truly magnificent specimens. It's difficult to attain a balance between "too much" and "not enough", and that balance is different for each visitor. If I were designing a museum, I'd make sure there was a small area with a changing systematic collection for the serious collector/visitor, highlighting the museum's strengths and recognizing those who donated top-notch material.
Re: Ideas needed for museum displays.
April 15, 2012 03:08PM
I once printed a meter-wide periodic table, and glued in each element-pigeonhole a small mineral specimen from D.R. Congo, in order to show how richly endowed is the country (I discovered so that Congo mineralogy is missing antimony minerals).
People were most interested. I think this idea could also be very appealing if applied to Tasmanian mineralogy.

J.J.
Re: Ideas needed for museum displays.
April 15, 2012 07:47PM
I find people are wowed by how much of the rocks they walk on are oxygen, by % volume, much more than the air they breathe. A display of atom's size in the commonest minerals might clarify how the elements make up the minerals.
Possibly a specific gravity display, a comparison of chunks of minerals w/ equal amounts of water by weight.
Just some rudimentary visuals...
Re: Ideas needed for museum displays.
April 17, 2012 11:35AM
There are some good ideas here. In general, I think maybe what most of us here would like to see in a museum is not what museum administrators think (or know) will bring foot traffic of "sheeple" through the museum. I had an opportunity to make some sugggestions for a new museum in Dallas opening in a few months that will have a quite grand collection. I suggested they go against the currrent grain for museum displays and try to obtain a large species collection, and/or maybe have at least one area where people could look at thumbnail-sized specimens of rarities. This was met with the sound of crickets, and we're going to get big tourmalines, fluorites and rhodochrosites that the masses can ooh and ahh over. I've gotten over my dismay at that, and have seen some of the big specimens and they are indeed spectacular. One display which is kind of fun, and has been getting a lot of attention, is a split 3,700 pound amethyst geode that can be opened with a wheel (the mechanism was quite expensive). There is a counterweight that slowly closes it again when you release the wheel. Visitors that come upon it can individually get the thrill of opening up the big boulder to see the crystals inside.



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 04/17/2012 11:39AM by Kelly Nash.
avatar Re: Ideas needed for museum displays.
April 17, 2012 06:53PM
us    
Ralph,
Here is a website with a lot of mineral education resources, including posters. These people maintain a booth at the Denver Mineral Show which is very popular with the kids.

[www.mii.org]

[www.mii.org]


At least 3 museums in Colorado have simulated mine tunnels displays with rich matrix rock containing in-situ specimens.

Regards, Dean Allum
avatar Re: Ideas needed for museum displays.
April 17, 2012 09:06PM
More really good ideas thanks everyone. The trick now is going to be compiling all this and presenting it to management In a simple manner.

Regards,
Ralph
avatar Re: Ideas needed for museum displays.
April 24, 2012 11:53PM
Preliminary discussions are not encouraging. They are talking about a Wunderkammer, with a random assortment of pretty minerals and fossils. I said they may as well put it in the art gallery or get a kaleidoscope - if there is no theme or interpretation there is just a riot of form and colour that will only engage people for a minute and give them nothing to go away and think about. And only a tiny budget of course. But another more formal meeting next week, hopefully we can get something better.

Regards,
Ralph
avatar Re: Ideas needed for museum displays.
April 25, 2012 08:43AM
be    
Thanks for the feedback Ralph.

I hope you will be able to pull an " interesting for everybody " exhibit ashore.

Take care and best regards.

Paul.
Re: Ideas needed for museum displays.
April 25, 2012 11:34AM
RALPH, Mine was the first response to your original blog. So it is not surprising to read your followup. Firstly museums today are largely on a shoestring budget and that is not likely to change. The politicians overseeing these projects want to get the best bang for their available bucks. Then there is the change of philosophy as I originally mentioned. The folks putting the meager funds into these projects want to make the exhibits most interesting to the general non-rock collecting public whose only real interest in minerals is how we use them in everyday life from jewelry thru industry to everyday products. The interactive exhibits will largely be "dumbed down" to families with kids and (uninterested?) teenagers. Exhibits that we collectors like to see.......well lit case after case after case of wonderful minerals with labels of their names, locations and mines, and chemical formulas will, sadly by and large, be considered boring and make up only a small minority of space in any new and redesigned exhibits. Unfortunately, these are todays facts!



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 04/25/2012 12:22PM by BOB HARMAN.
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