In Creating a Winning Online Exhibition: A Guide for Libraries, Archives, and Museums, Martin R. Kalfatovic provides a great introduction to the principles that guide a successful web exhibit. Kalfatovic cover a wide array of topics from accessibility to intellectual property to web design, blending new media issues with more traditional scholarship on design and museum studies.
Underscoring the importance of thoughtful planning, Kalfatovic devotes his opening chapters to the theory and practice of organizing and crafting an exhibition. Kalfatovic believes that a successful exhibition will communicate a central idea; this is what separates an exhibit from, “a random collection of objects or… images.” (9) This central idea should guide the selection of objects and images for the exhibit, as well as steer the execution and organization of the exhibit. Kalfatovic provides readers with a useful overview of the process, providing an example timelines and a list of deliverables including the proposal, exhibition script, label text, and intellectual property rights. Kalfatovic borrows many of these concepts from physical exhibitions, incorporating tips from leading scholars such as Beverly Serrell. However, Kalftatovic does a good job exploring the differences between physical and online exhibitions. Visiting a website is a very different audience experience than walking through a gallery space. Kalfatovic argues that web exhibits need to be organized with this unique user experience in mind.
In the second half of the book. Kalfatovic tackles technical issues and design. In concise and understandable terms, Kalfatovic walks readers through the best practices for image formats, markup languages, web design, and accessibility issues. Rather than simply listing the best practices, Kalfatovic does a great job explaining exactly why these are the standards and why these standards are important for library, archives, and museum professionals.
- Why is it necessary to use a cascading style sheet instead of html to create tables? While HTML tables display in a fixed size, CSS renders tables based on the size and settings of a web browser. The tables will automatically adjust size with the user.
- Why should I provide Alt text with images? If an image does not display, or if people with disabilities cannot view the image, this text will describe the image in words. This is also a great reason to use descriptive text for hyperlinks, rather than a generic “Click Here!” message.
- How is online color different than print color and what are the origins of CMYK? OK, this one gets pretty complex. It has to do with additive color mixing theory and light refraction. It is actually still hard for me to explain this one, but I did get to test the theory by digitally mixing the colors red and green. Red and green paint may mix to brown, but red and green makes yellow on a computer screen!
The book ends with a series of very useful appendices including: sample database fields, tips for using contractors, and information on Dublin Core Metadata. The book is a well-organized and handy reference tool that I am sure I will consult as I work on my final project for this class.
Of course, this book is not a comprehensive guide to creating an online exhibit. As should be expected from a book published in 2001, certain aspects of the book are very dated. There is no mention of social media. The design section, although it provides a great overview on layout and typography, gives very little guidance on usability testing or audience-based design. Kalfatovic stresses the importance of interactive web exhibits, but is years away from the type of participatory practice and shared authority that Nina Simon explores in her 2010 book, The Participatory Museum.
However, the core argument of this book is timeless. As Kalfatovic persuasively argues, an exhibition’s success depends on a variety of elements including its purpose, audience, design, and maintenance. If the book is guided by one big idea, I think that it might be this: thoughtful planning is the key to a winning online exhibition.