Exhibit Style Guides

By Lourdes Santamaría-Wheeler
March 2016

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Although often not as expansive, archival exhibitions should be treated with the same level of respect as those in an art, history, or science museum. Therefore, their production should also be well thought out and detailed. The secret to this approach is a well-crafted style guide. The style guide can be a brief or in-depth document that guides consistency in formatting and editing and minimizes internal conflicts over those choices. The style guide, often seen in newspaper and magazine publishing, is particularly helpful when coordinating exhibitions across multiple spaces and buildings. It also serves visitors by (hopefully) improving their experience.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 In June 2015, the University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries implemented its Exhibition Style Guide. As Exhibits Coordinator for the Libraries, I wrote the guide, which is intended to standardize editorial choices, define label types and lengths, provide background on the exhibition program, and outline roles and responsibilities for the curator and Exhibits Coordinator. Its components were previously available as separate documents to the Smathers curators. The Style Guide united and expanded these separate documents to provide one comprehensive resource to assist curators in writing exhibit content. Overall, the guide has been well received internally and externally. Although written for the specific needs of the Smathers Libraries, the guide is publicly available to other institutions and departments that want a steering document to implement or build upon for exhibitions. The Style Guide is a living document for the Smathers Libraries, with new content added as issues and questions arise in exhibition development. The Style Guide recognizes exhibitions as a form of scholarly output by providing standards for content and editorial guidelines. It elevates the disparate displays across multiple buildings and aids curators in determining their curatorial voice. The Style Guide is part of the scaffolding necessary to support and enhance the Libraries’ role as an intellectual center of the university.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 The guide begins with a background introduction to the exhibition program and its mission, as well as the roles and responsibilities for both the Exhibits Coordinator and the exhibits curator(s). These written definitions explicitly outline the expectations for both parties. Since the Exhibits Coordinator position is relatively new to the Smathers Libraries (it was established in 2012), and to academic libraries in general, it is necessary to define the participants’ roles. The remainder of the Style Guide focuses on labels, which are necessary to transform displays into exhibitions and relay narrative and interpretive content about the items. Effective labels invite the visitor to engage with both the abstract content and the physical object together as part of the same narrative. Moreover, labels are where a curator tells a story. The labels create a narrative for the exhibit, an explanation of the collected items’ significance separately and together, that defines the scholarly aspect of curation.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Abstract points, such as, “Exhibition text should be engaging and accessible to a wide audience without diluting the content. Information should be up to date and free of technical or industry specific jargon,”1 are mentioned but not dictated in the Style Guide, since it is impossible to define and list all jargon or specific engaging text. Very concrete decisions are defined in the guide as well. Decisions such as whether to use hyphens at line breaks, single or double spacing after periods, and accents are all standardized in the Style Guide. Also determined are minimum text size, font choices, and word counts for labels. The guide presents a standard label layout for the Smathers Libraries as well so that the visual similarity will make it easier for visitors to decode the exhibit. The visual standardization provides subconscious clues to facilitate engagement and accessibility. All of these seemingly minute details help to maintain consistency in exhibits, even across different buildings, and provide professionalism to an often-overlooked aspect of library outreach and education.

  1. 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0
  2. Lourdes Santamaría-Wheeler, George A. Smathers Libraries Exhibit Style Guide (Gainesville, FL: George A. Smathers Libraries, 2015), 2. []
Exhibit Style Guides

Lourdes Santamaría-Wheeler

Exhibits Coordinator, George A. Smathers Libraries – University of Florida

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