Monday, 14 July 2008

Museum of London: 14 July 2008

Courtesy of Elizabeth Minter

Power of Place

Today we met with Jon Cotton, Senior Curator of Prehistory at the Museum of London. He gave an interesting lecture on the power of place as it relates to history and to the accessibility of information. At first one might ask what use is it for a Library and Information Science student to visit a museum, but there are surprising parallels. For instance, both locations are asked to display information in an appealing and accessible atmosphere.

While Cotton addressed the importance of location in the two areas mentioned above, I found the portion on space in regards to accessing information most interesting. He discussed the design of the original gallery for prehistory and the ways in which it addressed peoples conceptions of prehistory. In 2002, the new gallery was unveiled. The planning committee interviewed several design firms and ultimately chose a retail design firm. This seemingly unique choice of firms was chosen in order make the space more inviting and familiar to the visitor. It also created a disparity between the designers and the curators which over time and with continual contact merged into the gallery one sees today.

According to the handout Jon Cotton gave us, the gallery strives to get across four main messages to the visitor:

1) The massive changes wrought on the landscape by natural and human agencies
2) The centrality of the Thames to the London Before London story
3) The dynamism and adaptability of human communities in the region
4) The prehistoric legacy after AD 50

Three main design elements help to convey this information. The Riverwall leads the visitor through various objects which have been dredged from the Thames. The Landscape wall enfolds the gallery and tries to show the changing landscape of London. Within the center of the gallery there are wooden plinths which display information and objects in regards to people, settlement, subsistence and belief systems.

The idea of using space and design is equally important within libraries. Libraries should be welcoming and easily navigable. I find that all to often that older libraries are oppressive and intimidating to patrons who are unfamiliar with them. In addition, the use of the library as a gallery space often occurs. Many public libraries are asked to do historical exhibits of their town or city in addition to exhibits of local artists and writers.

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