Creating a Winning Online Exhibition, by Martin R. Kalfatovic
Creating a Winning Online Exhibition: A Guide for Libraries, Archives, and Museums
Martin R. Kalfatovic
American Library Association, 2002 117 pp.
Considering much the field of digital history has changed since the book’s publication in 2002, Kalfatovic’s Creating a Winning Online Exhibition: A Guide for Libraries, Archives, and Museums holds up remarkably well and I would still recommend it as a valuable resource. The book’s purpose is to serve as a guide for creating online exhibitions to the same visual and interpretive standard as physical exhibitions. In many ways, however, this book could stand alone as a fantastic guide for the creation of excellent exhibits in general, but Kalfatovic’s purpose is to direct curators and museum professionals towards an online platform which has its own myriad of concerns.
The book reads as a guide, with chapters devoted to specific topics such as differentiating between digitizing a collection and an exhibition, how to best use staff to accomplish your projected goals, how to use digital imaging, and how to create a permanent database to complement your online exhibition. Given the many topics the book addresses, it is not a narrative to be read cover to cover necessarily, but rather to serve as a reference for museum professionals. Kalfatovic cites the vast secondary literature on exhibition design and creation, including Serrell’s work on labels (33).
With an extensive bibliography, broken up between chapters and located at the end of each chapter, readers have easy access to additional sources should they explore the topic further. Her discussions of unique digital concerns in the online exhibition process were most useful to me personally. For example, she spends considerable space on the topic of accessibility issues with online exhibitions. Kalfatovic challenges assumption that online material makes content more available to everyone. Groups such as those who are colorblind, for example, may have trouble viewing differentiated hyperlinks (67). He also cautions against excessive use of intricate technology, noting “Although you may be tempted to use cutting-edge web design for your online exhibition, you need to remember that a site that cannot be viewed by all will lose many potential viewers” (68).
Other technical aspects of web creation are addressed as well, including horizontal web browsing. Since the book’s publication in 2002, horizontal web browsing has increased with more website designers abandoning the vertical approach for more user-friendly horizontal browsing. Kalftovic takes issue with horizontal browsing, writing that “Unless the information on the screen is laid out so that horizontal scrolling is the navigation method, nothing will be more irksome to visitors than having to scroll both horizontally and vertically to view your site” (74). While I will not necessarily argue with him, as horizontal scrolling is currently a more accepted navigation method, I am not sure he as taken into account the potential for people (and thus visitors) to become more digitally adept. In 2014, with the advent of i-phones, kindles, and tablets, our culture in general has grown more used to manipulating digital tools for our own needs, and her concern about irksome visitors may not be as critical as Kalfatovic would make it appear.
Overall, I would highly recommend this book for all museum professionals, and especially those working with exhibitions. It has held up fairly well in light of new trends in new media unforeseen in 2002. Kalfatovic emphasizes the need for balance between the physical and the digital, and more importantly, the need for professionals to view new media exhibitions as separate entities, not just a “copy and pasted” version of a physical exhibit.