You have one job
Why museum and zoo panels matter
One of the fantastic interpretation panels at Slimbridge Wetlands Centre, Gloucestershire.
Visiting heritage attractions, museums and zoos should always be a great day out. But, if we don’t broadcast a message and influence how our visitors think and feel, then really, what’s the point?
If you’re reading this, you’ll already appreciate that museums, heritage, zoos and visitor attractions have an important role in society. On a superficial level, these attractions offer recreation and entertainment for millions of people all over the world, while also providing jobs for millions of others. These are worthy ends in themselves, but the cultural value of our exhibitions is more important still.
Understanding history and the world around us is a fundamental part of any healthy and prosperous society. Heritage promotes a sense of community and belonging, reinforcing identities and establishing our self-worth. It’s a link to our past, providing context to our present-day cultures and lifestyles, and helping us to understand our place in the world.
Zoos care for and conserve vulnerable species, often helping to save them from extinction. They enhance our understanding of the animal world and the related ecosystems, encouraging people to appreciate and care for our planet.
These are but a few of the reasons why zoos, museums and heritage venues are so important and need to broadcast their messages loud and clear and as far and wide as possible.
Spreading the word
Without good interpretation panels, your story isn’t getting out there and your message isn’t being broadcast effectively.
Without good interpretation panels, it could be argued that your exhibition is simply a collection of animals or old stuff in cases. And while it might be pleasing to the eye or provide an entertaining day out, without good interpretation you’ll be failing to achieve the all-important goal of your organisation’s remit.
Many museums, heritage attractions and zoos do a great job of looking good. Millions are spent on design and display, fancy cases and mood lighting. And while these are important, without good interpretation to go with it, your exhibition is simply eye candy and your visitors will have no idea why your organisation exists.
So, if your interpretation panels aren’t doing their job, we might well ask, what is the point of your exhibition? Surely we can agree that our responsibility amounts to more than entertainment.
The vast majority of the communication you undertake with your visitors will be conducted using the written word, either through interpretation panels or a guidebook, simply because panels and guidebooks are hugely effective and relatively cheap to produce.
With such an important job to do it makes sense to ensure the words you use to broadcast your message are up to the task. After all, the success of your exhibition relies on how well you communicate your stories, and good communication relies upon effective interpretation.
Good interpretation is the story-telling transaction point between you and your visitors. It’s vital to your organisation’s success and we should all be doing everything possible to get it right.