Selected Publications

Getting Started

Early in my career as a staff member of a museum I suggested that we publish the findings of an audience study we'd done to determine the demographics and interests of our visitors. The director's reaction was "let them do their own damn study." I guess he thought the money we spent doing our research made it proprietary and therefore not to be shared. Fortunately, he relented, and I wrote my first article for Curator. As a consultant, I continued my desire to share information, methods, and findings from my experiences and to both critique others' work and invite them to critique mine.

The Work Continues

Please build on the ideas I've published! You can request a personal copy directly from me for the most of the journal articles. Books and chapters in books are available elsewhere. Some copyright restrictions apply.

“Survey of Visitor Attitude and Awareness at an Aquarium”

Curator, 1977

“A Plan for Writing Interpretive Signs”

Curator, 1979

“Looking at Visitors at Zoos and Aquariums”

Museum News, 1980

“The Role of Zoos and Aquariums in Environmental Education”

Journal of Environmental Education, 1981

“Researching Visitor Reactions to Labels in a Museum”

AAZPA Region Conference Proceedings, 1981

“Zoo Label Study at Brookfield Zoo”

International Zoo Yearbook, 1981

Making Exhibit Labels: A Step by Step Guide

American Association for State and Local History, 1983
(the third printing is now out of print)

“We Are Here: Three Years of Wayfinding Studies at Brookfield Zoo”

AAZPA Annual Conference Proceedings, 1985

“Science Education Through Graphics at Zoos”

Communicating Science to the Public, Ciba Foundation Seminar Publication, 1987

Guest editor, “Exhibit Evaluation Strategies”

Journal of Museum Education, 1987

Book Review of “Exhibits—Planning and Design”

History News, 1988

“Visiting Zoos and Aquariums as an Aesthetic Experience” 

AAZPA Regional Conference Proceedings, 1988

Open Conversations—Strategies for Professional Development in Museums

co-authored with Carolyn Blackmon, Teresa LaMaster, and Lisa Roberts, Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, 1988

“The Evolution of Graphics at Zoos and Aquariums”

Environment and Behavior, 1988

"Making Better Layered Labels"

AAZPA Annual Conference Proceedings, 1988

“Interview with Alan Friedman, Director of the New York Hall of Science”

ILVS Review, 1988

“Artist Imitates Museum Life”

Visitor Behavior, 1989

“Formative Evaluation of Signs”

AAZPA Regional Conference Proceedings, 1989

“Learning Styles and Museum Visitors”

ASTC Newsletter, 1990

What Research Says about Learning in Science Museums

Coordinating editor, Association of Science-Technology Centers, 1990

“Interview with Roger Miles, Director of Public Information, Natural History Museum, London”

ILVS Review, 1990

“Stuffed Birds on Sticks:  Plans to Re-do the Bird Hall at Field Museum”

Proceedings of the Visitor Studies Conference, 1990

“Interview with Raye Newmen, Research Scientist”

ILVS Review, 1991

Try It! Improving Exhibits Through Formative Evaluation

assistant editor to Sam Taylor, ASTC, 1992

“The 51% Solution: Defining a Successful Exhibit by Visitor Behavior”

Current Trends, AAM Committee on Audience Research and Evaluation, 1992.

“Computers on the Exhibit Floor”

co-authored with Britt Raphling, Curator, 1992

“Characteristics of a Positive Museum Experience”

Proceedings of the Fifth Visitor Studies Conference, 1992

“Exhibit Evaluation: What’s the Point?”

Museums Alaska Network, 1992

“Awards for Exhibits—What Are They Based On?”

Curator, 1993

“Point, Counter-Point Quiz” 

Current Trends, AAM Committee on Audience Research and Evaluation, 1993

“Capturing Affective Learning”

co-published with Britt Raphling, Current Trends, AAM Committee on Audience Research and Evaluation, 1993

“Using Behaviour to Define the Effectiveness of Exhibitions”

Museum Visitor Studies in the 90s, edited by Sandra Bicknell and Graham Farmelo, 1993

“Class Wars”

Letter to the editor, Museum News, 1993

“Capturing and Measuring Affective Learning”

AAZPA Annual Conference Proceedings, 1993

“Why Ask Why?”

AAZPA Annual Conference Proceedings, 1993

“The Question of Visitor Styles”

Proceedings of the Sixth Visitor Studies Conference, Center for Social Design, 1993

“What’s the Big Idea?”

Exhibitionist, 1994

“The Impact of Informal Education on Visitors to Museums”

co-authored with Steven Bitgood and Don Thompson, Informal Science Learning, 1994

“Messages from ‘Messages,’" a summary of the evaluation studies done for the exhibit “Messages from the Wilderness” at Field Museum, 1992–1993, Unpublished paper and a poster session in Current Trends, AAM Committee on Audience Research and Evaluation, 1994

“Criticism & Audience”

Exhibitionist, 1994

“Fuzzy Terms and False Dichotomies in the ‘State of the Art’ of Museum Informal Learning”  The Informal Science Review, 1994

“The Momentary Shrine: A New Look at Visitors, Exhibits and Time”

co-authored with Britt Raphling, Proceedings of the Seventh Visitor Studies Conference, Center for Social Design, 1994

“The 51% Solution Research Project: A Meta-analysis of Visitor Time/Use in Museum Exhibitions” Visitor Behavior, 1995

Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach 1st edition

AltaMira Press, 1996

“A Search for Generalizability: New Tools for Visitor Studies”

Journal of Museum Education, 1996

Guest editor of “Special Double Issue: Visitor Studies in Chicago”

Visitor Behavior, 1997

“Paying Attention: The Duration and Allocation of Visitors’ Time in Museum Exhibitions”

Curator, 1997

“Using science standards in museum evaluation” 

co-authored with Kirsten M. Ellenbogen, ASTC Newsletter, 1997

“Time Is Indeed of the Essence”

Curator, 1997

Paying Attention: Visitors and Museum Exhibitions 

American Association of Museums, 1998

“The 1999 Exhibition Competition”

Museum News, 1999 

“Does cuing visitors significantly increase the amount of time they spend in a museum exhibition?”

Visitor Studies Today, 2000

“Who Dusts All This?”

A response to the symposium papers published in Old Collections, New Audiences: Decorative Arts and Visitor Experience for the 21st Century by Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, 2000

Exhibition Review of “The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition”

Curator, 2000

“A Tool for Judging Excellence in Exhibitions”

Exhibitionist, 2001

“Summary of Summative Evaluations of The Changing Face of Women’s Health”

Current Trends 2001, AAM/CARE, 2001

“In Search of the Elusive Bimodal Distribution”

Visitor Studies Today, 2001 

“Thinking Like Visitors?”

with Jack MacRae, NAI Legacy Magazine, 2001

“Are They Watching?: Visitors and Videos in Exhibitions”

Curator, 2002

“Can’t Get No Satisfaction”

Exhibitionist, 2002

“Exhibit Evaluation: What’s the Point?”

Communique (American Zoo & Aquarium Association), 2003

“Something Smells”

Exhibitionist, 2004

“Writing More Useful Goals and Objectives”

Are We There Yet? Conversations about Best Practices in Science Exhibition Development, edited by Kathleen McLean and Catherine McEver, Exploratorium, 2004

“Effectiveness of Object Theater in Explaining Citizen Science and Changing Audience Behavior”

with Rick Bonney and Jennifer Shirk, Current Trends, 2005

“A Multi-Site Study of Memory

with Michael Pearce, Current Trends, 2005 (also called “Learning from Memory”)

“The Civil War in Four Minutes”

Curator, 2006

“Comparing the Excellent Judges Framework to Other Methods of Reviewing Exhibitions”

Exhibitionist, 2006

Judging Exhibitions: A Framework for Assessing Excellence

Left Coast Press, 2006

Book review of "Museum Texts: Communication Frameworks"

Visitor Studies, 2008

“New Roles for Evaluation at the Detroit Institute of Arts”

with Matt Sikora, Deborah Perry, Daryl Fischer, and Ken Morris, Curator, 2009

“Paying More Attention to Paying Attention”

a commissioned article for the Center for the Advancement of Informal Science Education, Association of Science-Technology Centers website in March 2010, with an archived discussion forum in June 2010.

“The House on the Rock”

Exhibitionist, 2011

“What Do Visitors Mean by ‘Meaning’?”

Exhibitionist, 2013

"A Review of Recommendations in Exhibition Summative Evaluation Reports"


“You Work for the People, Not the Institution,”

Chapter 8 in Teaching the Museum: Careers in Museum Education, edited by Leah Melber, AAM Press, 2014

Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach, Second Edition

Rowman & Littlefield, 2015

"Visitor Behavior in Museum Exhibitions and the Implications for Improving Exhibits"

The remarks in this paper are based on a presentation at XXIX Jornada de la Xarxa de Museus Local, Usuaris de museus. Avaluacio i identificacio d'oportunitats de millora, Museu Moki Paperer. Capellades, Spain. December 2016. Edits August 2017

"Some Thoughts on Visitor Exhibition Patterns"

Alliance Labs, AAM, November 1, 2017

"What Can Museum Design Teach Us about UX Design"

April 2018. Not by me, but about me, by Scott Kirk, at

"The Metascattergram: An Aggregation of Tracking-TIming Data for Benchmarks of 'Thorough Use'"
Poster presented at the 2019 Visitor Studies Conference    Download poster PDF

"Two White Girls Go to Alabama"
A personal trip report. Alabama Diary 2019 - by Barbara Becker and Beverly Serrell    Download PDF

The Big Idea, 2020

An eBook with text, graphics, examples, worksheets, and video.

"The Aggregation of Tracking-and-Timing Visitor-Use Data of Museum Exhibitions for Benchmarks of 'Thorough Use'," Visitor Studies, Vol. 23, No.1, 2020.

Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach, Third Edition

Rowman & Littlefield, 2024

Exhibition Journal