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Subject: Signage


From: Bonnie Baskin <bbaskin>
Date: Thursday, June 7, 2001
Karen Potje <kpotje [at] cca__qc__ca> writes

>At the Canadian Centre for Architecture we are going to place "Do
>Not Touch" signs near objects which are being displayed without
>plexiglas covers. ...
>Finally--does the "Do Not Touch" message work, or will people touch
>anyway, given the opportunity?

Before I became a conservator, I was a curator of education, so let
me answer your question from a museum educator's perspective.
According to the studies, about one in ten museum visitors feels a
strong, compelling urge to touch.  And these touchers may not be
dissuaded by signs ("Please do not touch" has worked better than "Do
not touch," by the way).  One effective way to dissuade them is to
have beeps from sensors whenever a certain boundary around objects
has been breached, but this is rather elaborate.  Guards also work.
Beyond these, vitrines or  railings or other barriers are your only
sure way to stop touching.

Museums have written lovely text panels explaining the problems of
touching.  Years ago, one of the Smithsonian museums, for example,
installed one explaining that "art works, like people, are fragile,
something-or-other and irreplaceable" and therefore cannot be
touched. We museum educators were enamored of it, but it did
nothing.  You'd be better off, if you do want to give explanations,
to place something explicit right in the do-not-touch sign itself,
like "Fingerprints harm this [  ].  Please do not touch."  I'd avoid
"Fragile. . ." because somebody might want to find out just how
fragile; or if you specify that X portion is easily damaged, people
might touch Y.  You could also try an international road-sign-type
graphic, along with the words.  Whatever signs you use, be sure to
observe them in action for an hour or so, all unobtrusively, to see
if they work.  If they don't, try a new tactic.

If some objects in an exhibition are covered and some aren't, you
definitely need to put signs with the uncovered ones because people
may think these objects are less valuable or fragile and therefore
could withstand covert or even overt touching.  Anyway, go on the
idea that if people can touch something, they will.  Touchers have
repeatedly told me, "You're telling me that one little touch could
really harm that thing?" That's the thinking.  You can explain how
repeated touches create dramatic damage, but they know only about
their one little touch. Address your signs to these people.

Bonnie Baskin
Oakland, California

                  Conservation DistList Instance 15:3
                  Distributed: Thursday, June 14, 2001
                        Message Id: cdl-15-3-006
Received on Thursday, 7 June, 2001

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