The smell took me back into my grandfather’s study. All the family precious possessions were kept there – the nice plates, specially prepared meals of meat and chicken as if somehow the cupboards were a fridge, soft drinks, grandfather’s special alcohol and of course his prized books. He would shut himself in every afternoon after which he would come out a little more vocal and disagreeable than before. He would lecture my mother, shout at my grandmother and yell at my uncle, they all just listened or more likely ignored his rants but I was a sensitive child so I would escape to play by the fish ponds. Our evenings were spent as a family singing hymns by the paraffin lamp light in the main house. Grandfather would end his evening with a long prayer after which we women would go to the kitchen and chat by the fireside roasting maize and nuts.
It was the smell of worldly and wise books in the St.John’s Library that took me back. Books centuries old, aging gracefully within the oak book shelves. I could almost see the ghosts of students past quietly leafing through the volumes of indiscernible text.
Enough reminiscing in terms of it as science engagement experience, what did I learn? It is difficult to mount exhibits with 500 year old books, I would have loved to touch the pages but there were signs clearly posted not to. There was an interactive workshop which I unfortunately could not attend. They had displays on calendars and telling time but the quality of the posters was poor not visually appealing, the writing in the labels was discursive. They were a few good attempts to engage visitors with books on display through interpretative labels e.g. “ The line on the book that begins….” “Imagine under the circumstances which he was writing….” “if you look to the …”. I also liked the poster board at the end where you could place comments on post it notes.
Food for thought
Even in the case where you have artefacts that people can not touch, you can engage them through interpretive labels and creating dialogue with the exhibit and the text, pointing out and describing interesting features of the object.
Have a comment board where visitors can write and place their comments.