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Welcome to Minerals and Museums

Jolyon & Katya Ralph July 18, 2012 10:38PM
Welcome to the Minerals and Museums forum on

This is being set up in cooperation with the Society of Mineral Museum Professionals (SMMP) to give a place where everyone with an interest in minerals can discuss issues relating to mineral museum displays, museum conservation and the relationships between mineral museums and the rest of the mineral world with the curators from major museums worldwide.

We'd like to see questions about museums, we'd like to hear your thoughts about particular museums and displays (with photos, if you wish), and general discussions about what museums should and should not be doing to help the wider mineral community.
Chester S. Lemanski, Jr. July 19, 2012 02:12AM
First, to start things off right I would like to extend my thanks to all the museum professionals out there who curate the collections and preserve the specimens, making them available for public display and scientific attention. A job well done. That being said, I sincerely hope that Mindat's users will participate in this forum and make constructive comments to assist these professionals with their efforts to educate the public regarding the wonderful world of mineralogy.

Chet Lemanski
Dean Allum July 19, 2012 04:13PM
I look forward to seeing the interesting posts here, especially museum pics.

Let's have the museum professionals here on Mindat raise their hands.

Can you please add Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum, Golden Colorado to the 'Museums and Collections' list:

Plus the Western Museum of Mining and Industry:

regards, Dean Allum

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 07/21/2012 10:28PM by Dean Allum.
Howard Heitner July 20, 2012 07:55PM
Is this a proper forum to discuss the situation at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco? Is anyone from that institution a member of the SMMP?
Robert Simonoff July 21, 2012 01:43AM
Ok I will kick this off. I went to the Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. while Jessica was doing her internship. I spent almost 4 hours taking pictures and listening to people talk about what they saw, what they wondered, and what they knew. People watching can be highly enlightening!

There are many ways to divide people into two groups according to my observations. For example I heard several parents tell their apparently fascinated kids that they only had X minutes to look through the hall so don’t linger at one “gemstone” for too long. In one case, X was 10 minutes! I did hear one mom tell her daughter that there was no rush and to take as much time as she wanted – but that was only one. Funny thing, I heard NO kids who were bored and wanted to move on, it was the parents, with one exception – at 1:30 PM two kids were hungry for lunch, but wanted to go back to the mineral room after lunch. Dad, of course said that once we leave this room, we weren’t coming back, since there was so much else to do.

I also saw that almost no people read any of the signs. I noted 2 exceptions however, single people wandering through and parents whose kids were asking questions.

I heard several different themes among peoples discussion: 1) I what this mineral is used for, 2) this would make nice jewelry, 3) how much is that worth, 4) how do they make this stuff, and 5) how did they get that here in one piece.

It seemed to be the kids who wanted to know what a given mineral was worth. I saw 3 separate kids asking that question over and over. There was one woman who said she would never want to wear “that in a necklace, it is black and ugly” (referring to a large cube of thorite). I heard a good number of people discussing how this or that would look in jewelry. It seemed to be guys, teenager and older who were talking about uses for the minerals, besides jewelry. I also a young adult explain to a teenage boy that the Smithsonian used non-radioactive uranium for the “radioactive minerals” case.

On an earlier trip to the same museum I heard several other things that bear repeating in this forum. The first was the guy who explained to his girlfriend that all of these crystals are actually carved by people in China. The other was my favorite story. A woman, who was showing friends through the hall, was aghast that the Smithsonian could be so irresponsible with the health of their visitors as to put asbestos on display. When she spotted that case, she physically dragged her two kids backward and beckoned the rest of her guests to a safer case – the one filled with thorite, uraninite, torbernite, kasolite, autunite, etc. She was fine with her kids pressing their noses up against the glass of that case!

There is certainly a lack of geology knowledge among the visitors, which is not surprising at all. In the U.S., at least, not everyone is exposed to this in school – I didn’t even have the option until college. There also seemed to be a lack of adults even caring about the knowledge that was in the room on video, signs, displays, etc. Among adults, uses (jewelry, cleaning, construction, …) was the most popular topic by far. Kids were interested in the colors, shapes, growth, and dollar value. So, my thought is that something happens to the kids by the time they get to be adults to quash the wonder from their minds.

Jessica told me a story of a guy who was with his girlfriend. They saw calcite and the guy pointed out that the chemical formula had oxygen. This means that the calcite is an oxide, it’s rusted! So cleaning it up would make it look like a fresh new penny. I had heard several guys who suddenly became experts in mineralogy, sharing their vast knowledge (or lack thereof) with their girlfriends. I did not, however

I have a ton of pictures – the minerals, the displays and the signs. I am not sure if posting them here, in this thread would be better, or an article which can be referenced from this thread. I am not sure what direction this thread is intended to take, so will hold off on the pictures for a bit.

Thanks for reading
John Kirtz July 21, 2012 04:54AM
We should all be thankful for those that are devoted to museum work(especially volunteers). One of the challenges the Smithonian mineral rooms in Washington D.C. have is the dozens of others museums within walking distance that compete for the limited time of vacationing familys. It can also be very crowded at times. The Mineral and Mining Museum of Leadville Colorado on the other hand, might be the only museum for a hundred miles. Each museum, from the Smithsonian to the little gem in Fallbrook, Ca. are wonderful, unique gifts. Just like our schools it's the volunteers that raise the quality to what we see on our visits.
Chris Stefano July 21, 2012 01:45PM

I love your people watching observations!

I've never had enough time in a museum to to do this (always too busy enjoying the specimens myself :) ), but I have done this at shows. I have observed exactly the same sorts of things at shows, even major ones like Denver and Tucson, even knowledgeable people fail to read labels and information in exhibits most of the time- even when they are curious about a specimen. I actually once had a very well-respected collector ask me why I'd stuck a specific specimen in my showcase- he didn't think it was up-to-par with the quality of the other specimens in the case. I asked if he'd read the label- he said he hadn't. I told him to go back and read the label and then let me know if he still thought the specimen was insignificant. Funny thing- he came back noting that it was probably the most important specimen in the showcase :).

So, my question is-

How can we as designers of exhibits (both at shows and museums) encourage people too read displays or otherwise facilitate the transfer of knowledge that is the whole point of exhibits? What have you done that has worked? What have you tried that has failed?
Albert Mura July 21, 2012 03:08PM
One very simple thing I have noticed and it is very true with me in my older years is that people read a sign in relation to its size. I can not read the average mineral label in an exhibit. When I exhibit I make slightly larger labels with larger font size. Of course there must be a happy medium with size of the label and the specimens.
Gail Spann November 22, 2012 01:58PM
The Perot Museum of Nature and Science put in touch pads with photos of the display then you touch a mineral to get more information. These can be programmed from anywhere, by the people in charge. The kids like touch pads, they all know how to use them. I watched lots of children using them and the interactive displays that are set up around the mineral hall.

Gail Patricia Copus Spann
Peter Nancarrow November 22, 2012 02:51PM
In one of the Geological Museum galleries, I once saw a teenager taking photos of the mineral specimens in a case. Nothing wrong with that, it was permitted, and it was good to see him interested.

However, he was taking his photos using flash, and holding the camera pointing directly at the plate glass of the display case. I tried to politely point out that the reflected glare would mean that he probably wouldn't get very good results, only to be glared at and told to "**** OFF! - I know what I'm doing".

That was in the days long before digital cameras; I would like to have been around to see his face when he collected/received his photos from the processing lab.

Some people just don't want to learn, or listen to even the friendliest constructive criticism.

Pete N.
Bob Harman November 25, 2012 03:00AM
After a bit of poking around on the website, I came across this thread which seems to perfectly suit my current blog. As I grew up in NYC, I make periodic trips back to visit my family in the Big Apple. This past Thanksgiving week was my first trip back to the city in several years. One place I revisited was the American Museum of Natural History. I had been there many times and actually worked there during a summer in the 1960's. I made it a point of revisiting the gems and minerals exhibit, but as my wife had the camera, I did not take any photos. Here are some of my observations during this 2012 revisit.

As I remember the mineral area, I was NOT impressed during my past visits. After all, the AMNH is one of this country's premier museums. Sadly, for me, more knowledgeable now than ever, this visit only reenforced my previous impression. The exhibit has, to my eyes, NOT been upgraded in years. While individual specimens are fabulous, overall the specimens are not up to other great museum standards. Many specimens lacked luster as they appear to have sat uncleaned in their cases for years. New locations, including China, are lacking or very underrepresented. In general, the cases were not well lit and the descriptions and discussions are long and far too cerebral for families with youngsters. Some labels had partially fallen off their pedestals as the glue apparently had long ago dried out. The museum was quite crowded the day I visited and I observed moderate numbers of visitors of all ages in the mineral gallery. Occasional folks were taking pictures as I walked about.

All museums have varying funding problems; I am sure the AMNH is no exception. They have upgraded other galleries including the Human origins gallery and the fossil/dinosaur gallery so they seem to be using their funds where the main visitor interest and current research is. This is about as expected, nevertheless the mineral gallery needs new cases, new lighting, new labeling and more up to date specimens with curating and cleaning of their older specimens. The gallery also could use a new family friendly focus with less long winded and wordy discussions. I can only hope that one of these years the mineral gallery will get this long overdue facelift. If anyone else out there has this same opinion or a differing opinion of the mineral gallery at the AMNH please give us your impressions. HAPPY HOLIDAYS and CHEERS..................BOB
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