When we were planning our new exhibits, we (museum staff) weren't very impressed with the idea of telephones as interactives. We'd seen this kind of installation in a lot of museums. But our exhibit designers, the Science Museum of Minnesota, thought it would be neat if we used old crank telephones in the General Store and Print Shop, directly wired together. That way, people could call the store from the printer's, and vice versa. We relented, and so now we have the telephones in those exhibits.
Our telephones, however, use a different approach. In many museums, the installations we saw were the type where a visitor picks up a receiver and listens to a recording. In our exhibits, people are using the telephones to really talk to one another, and to roleplay. "Hey, this is the General Store. Do you have my sale papers printed yet?"
And the phones have been a hit. In fact, almost too popular. Lots of repairs. Recently, we sent the phones back to Minnesota to be "hardened." Most visitors (especially kids) have never operated a crank phone. You see them trying to talk into the earpiece, or listen to the mouthpiece. And a crank, what's that for? In the process of discovering how old phones work, visitors try a lot of things you never would have 100 years ago, like turning the crank backwards, which causes it to unscrew and fall off. And bells? Who's ever seen bells on the outside of a phone?
But now, we're all set. The phones are back, and can better withstand investigation by visitors. So the next time you're at the museum, if you hear the phone ringing, answer it. Chances are, you're behind in your printing, and the shopkeeper next door might be a little miffed. Get busy.
From time to time, we'll post info here about what's going-on at the museum.