Visitor comments often offer insight into the effectiveness of museum displays. The most candid comments are overheard snatches of conversation, some as touching as they are humorous.
The setting: Bird Hall at Carnegie Museum of Natural History, 2:00 p.m. on a summer afternoon.
Three siblings, the oldest about nine, were studying a pair of king penguin taxidermy mounts while their mother, a few display cases away, looked at a different group of birds.
The mother walked toward her children as the nine-year-old explained the birds to his younger brother and sister, “This one is the girl penguin, and this one is the boy penguin. They really look different. The girls are brown and fuzzy, and the boys are black and white.”
The mother quickly surmised the misinterpretation and offered a gentle correction without any trace of ridicule: “The brown one’s a young bird. The label says ‘chick,’ but that doesn’t mean it’s a girl.”
Patrick McShea works in the Education and Visitor Experience department of Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Museum employees are encouraged to blog about their unique experiences and knowledge gained from working at the museum.