In nov dec 2017 new issue

Page 25



Of Post-it Notes and Talk-Back Boards: Why You Should Not Fear Visitor Response in Interpretive Exhibits. Chris Brusatte, Interpretive Planner at Taylor Studios, Inc.

Photo courtesy Joel Kramer You’ve seen them in museums large and small. At visitor centers and interpretive sites. Near the front desk and even in the exhibits themselves. Over the past decade, post-it notes and talk-back boards have invaded museums and education centers. In spaces once sacrosanct – set apart for only the curator’s voice – visitors are now contributing thoughts, opinions, and insight. What exactly are “talk-back boards”? In this article, it will refer to basically any exhibit or display that invites visitor response. A simple example is the common discussion board that asks visitors a question, providing writing utensils and post-it notes for the visitors to respond. But the specific iterations are numerous, and they can be no-tech, low-tech, or even high-tech. What they all have in common is the opportunity that they give visitors to directly contribute their thoughts within the physical space of the interpretive exhibit. Despite the ubiquity of talk-back boards and their increased presence at sites large and small, many of the people who manage and run interpretive sites are still leery of their value. In fact, many in our field hold a common set of justifiable “fears” when it comes to this type of exhibit. It will be the point of this article to dispel those fears, helping prove that talk-back boards are indeed an effective and powerful way to reach your interpretive goals. Fear #1: Visitors will leave inappropriate, vulgar responses. Perhaps the most common worry is that visitors will write swear words, sexual innuendoes, or intolerant comments on the talk-back boards. Vulgar responses are indeed ugly and upsetting for other visitors and for a site’s reputation, so this fear is completely justified. However, in most instances it has been proven that only a minority of visitors leave vulgar comments, and that these can be easily removed from the exhibit with a small amount of routine check-up. When I worked for Go For Broke National Education Center in Los Angeles, we opened up a brand new exhibition in 2016 that focused heavily on visitor input, response, and participation. A large area was devoted to a talk-back station, where visitors responded to a question about “courage” with supplied pencils and notetags. While planning the exhibition, some on our staff were worried that vulgar comments would pop up routinely and harm the overall experience. When the exhibit opened, we even dedicated extra time to checking the station almost obsessively, hoping to catch all inappropriate comments and remove them.

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