Paying Attention: The Duration and Allocation of Visitors' Time in Museum Exhibitions

  • Serrell B
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Abstract

The amount of time visitors spend and the number of stops they make in exhibitions are systematic measures that can be indicators of learning. Previ- ous authors have made assumptions about the amount of attention visitors pay to exhibitions based on observations of behavior at single exhibits or other small data samples. This study offers a large database from a compar- ative investigation of the duration and allocation of visitors’ time in 108 exhi- bitions, and it establishes numerical indexes that reflect patterns of visitor use of the exhibition. These indexes-sweep rate (SRI) and percentage of dili- gent visitors (%DV)-can be used to compare one exhibition to another, or to compare the same exhibition under two (or more) different circumstances. Patterns of visitor behavior found in many of the study sites included: (1) vis- itors typically spend less than 20 minutes in exhibitions, regardless of the topic or size; (2) the majority of visitors are not “diligent visitors”-those who stop at more than half of the available elements; (3) on average, visitors use exhibitions at a rate of 200 to 400 square feet per minute; and( 4) visitors typ- ically spend less time per unit area in larger exhibitions and diorama halls than in smaller or nondiorama exhibitions. The two indexes (SRI and %DV) may be useful measures for diagnosing and improving the effectiveness of exhibitions, and further study could help identify characteristics of “thor- oughly-used (i.e., successful) exhibitions

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Authors

  • Beverly Serrell

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