Chester Beatty Library – Dublin

This post will be the first in a new series – My Favourite Museums. It is by no means intended to be a list of the world’s greatest museums, but is instead compiled from the museums I personally have visited. My reasons for each will be very different, some have made the list because of the quality of collections or exhbits, etc. and others are here for far more personal reasons. Hopefully, one day I will be able to visit all the world’s museums (a bit of a challenge) – then I will be able to create my definitive list.

The Chester Beatty Library, located in Dublin Castle has been at the top of my favourite museums list for a very long time. I was fortunate enough to visit during a mini break to Dublin in Nov. 2006. We were three Canadians and an American exploring Dublin, and none of us had heard of the Chester Beatty Library prior to our visit. We literally stumbled upon it. As a result we went in with zero expectations – and we were blown away.

The Chester Beatty Library is an art museum and library displaying a vast collection of manuscripts, miniature paintings, prints, drawings, rare books and decorative arts. They were assembled by Sir Alfred Chester Beatty (1875-1968), who was an American born business man and avid collector, who eventually settled in Ireland.

[The Chester Beatty Library contains] Egyptian papyrus texts, beautifully illuminated copies of the Qur’an, the Bible, European medieval and renaissance manuscripts are among the highlights of the collection. In its diversity, the collection captures much of the richness of human creative expression from about 2700 BC to the present day.   – The Chester Beatty Library

I have since heard it is considered one of the best museums in Europe (it was awarded European Museum of the Year in 2002).

There are a couple reasons why I think the Chester Beatty archive is such a good museum. It is a combination of an excellent collection and brilliant curation.  The following elements in particular have been done extremely well.

1) Perfect lighting

Despite the darkness, which is necessary to preserve the fragile manuscripts, you don’t feel like you’re in the dark. The lighting is used to direct your eye to exactly what the curators want you to see, which consequently creates a space with virtually no dead space; something we see a lot of museums.

2) Excellent Wayfinding

Wayfinding is a bit of a pet peeve of mine, when it is done poorly (or ignored entirely) museum visitors get lost, miss elements and it generally negates any attempt at a cohesive narrative within the curation. The Chester Beatty Archive curators have created excellent wayfinding,  executed with tricks of lighting and by the deliberate placement of cases. The curators have thus created a narrative circuit throughout the exhibits, that feels very natural and gently guides the visitor through the story they are trying to tell.

3) Perfect text!

Probably the biggest accomplishment in the exhibit is the text. There is just enough not to much, not too little. It is the baby bear’s porrige of museum text. Speaking as someone who:

A) does not have a huge interest in religious manuscripts.

B) does not often read much panel text within exhibits.

I read most of, if not all the text, and I did so enthusiastically.

The Chester Beatty archives should be at the top of any Dublin vistor’s list. Afterwards go to good local pub, with live band playing traditional music and for some deliciously perfect Guinness on tap..

Fun link for Monday: Queen Victoria’s Journals

I stumbled upon this online exihibit of  Queen Victoria’s Journals  while on Twitter, from @AndrewSBowman. It is a collection of Queen Victoria’s writings detailing her life and experiences, which are pretty unique and amazing to read about, but it also illustrates her drawings and paintings.

I knew that Queen Victoria was an artist; I had seen some of her sketch books come up on Antiques Roadshow, but I was still amazed to see how much she documented.   It is strange to think that the royal figures whom she sketched were not just generic princes and princesses, as many young people might doodle in their sketchbooks, but people she actually knew and conversed with. It makes you think about how different a life she had from the everyday person.

What do you think of her journals?


Queen Victoria’s Journals

Ignite Culture: Saying a lot in just 5 minutes!

I recently participated in the first ever Ignite Culture, which was held in Toronto at the ING Direct Cafe.

A big thank you to Jenn Nelson (@unmuseum) for organizing the event!

This wasn’t my first experience with Ignite, but it was the first time I presented in the format; I have to say that I really liked it.

What is Ignite? A series of 5-minute presentations; each presenter gets 20 slides, auto-advancing at 15 second intervals. 

This type of presentation is quick and to the point, allowing you to get a lot of varied content into a short period of time. It also makes for a very lively, enlightening and energetic atmosphere.

Putting the presentation together

Because of previous commitments I only had a couple of days to prepare my slides for the presentation. I had naively thought that this would be easy. It’s was not!

I realized not long after I started that I could not develop a 5-minute presentation the way I normally do – I have winged every presentation I have ever given, at least to some extent. I usually have an outline and points that I want to make, but I never write out a script, nor do I practice. My approach is that if I know the material well enough, and I know what I want to say, than I will be able to present it well.

However, in a 5-minute Ignite presentation you do not have the time to ‘talk about’ anything – with the time limit you only have time to ‘say it.’

I also determined very early on that because the slides are auto-advancing, I was going to have to write the script first and then choose the images/content of the slides to match the script – not the other way around. This meant that each slide had to fit 15 full seconds of content (or 30 seconds if you double-up a slide – which is perfectly fair).  I had never realized the number of times I would input a slide that I would skip past in just a few seconds – which can’t be very impactful.


I found that during the presentation itself I began reading the paper with my script – using it a bit like a crutch, and then gradually as I became more comfortable with the pace I was able to abandon the paper and ease back into the more natural style that I normally have.

Overall, I think the experience of designing and presenting in the 5-minute Ignite format has improved my presentation skills.  It has made me more aware of the micro components involved and it has helped me to hone my ability to be concise and to the point. I am looking forward to having another chance to present an Ignite presentation soon! Next time with no script at all – I’m far more comfortable that way!

To see how my session went, you can watch the video on Ignite Culture’s YouTube Channel; How Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia helped shape 1920s and 30s Culture and click through to the other videos after and enjoy some more great presentations!

Photo Credit: Jenn Nelson

The really strange part of delivering a ‘Webinar’

Last week I had the opportunity to deliver a ‘webinar’ – an online seminar, for the Ontario Museum Association; Introduction to Effectively Using Social Media in Museums. But this post isn’t about the social media, it is about the format of a webinar itself.

Delivering webinars is weird. At least delivering a webinar where the participants can hear you, and see you, but you can’t hear or see them is weird. As an Education Coordinator I routinely deliver lectures that are extremely two-sided, a give and take between myself and the classes who visit the museum. I am very used to asking questions and developing a lecture into a conversation. Even when I am giving tours to adults, or speaking at conferences, etc. I can still read the micro expressions (or macro expressions – yawning isn’t good) that cross peoples’ faces as I am speaking. I can then adjust to better suit the audience accordingly. In a webinar when I can’t see the participants’ facial expressions or easily converse with them, it definitely throws me off.

Hopefully this is a skill I will have more opportunities to perfect in the future, because it is also kind of fun 🙂

Two really excellent online museum exhibits

The Secret annex Online (Anne Frank Museum – Amsterdam)

This online tour through the 3D hiding place of Anne Frank, her family, and the others she was in hiding with during Hitler’s invasion of the Netherlands, uses video and sound to tell the story as you travel through the space. There are excerpts from Anne’s diary, radio broadcasts they were listening to, and interviews with those who survived the war.

Click here to visit.

This is brilliant, but very heavy – You Will Cry.



Digital Monet: Galeries Nationales, Grand Palais, Paris

On a much lighter note, the Grand Palais, Paris’ online exhibition of Monet’s Impressionism collection is like a stroll through the park on a warm spring day.

There are two main sections to this online exhibit; the first is a more traditional slide show through the paintings in the onsite exhibit – although with an excellent level of zoom, allowing you to get much closer to the paintings then you ever would in the gallery setting. The second, which they call the ‘Journey’ is my favourite; It takes you through a series of the paintings, allowing the viewer to interact with the paintings as you travel. Works best with a webcam and microphone.

Visit Digital Monet by clicking here.

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