Objects of Experience

Kiersten F. Latham, Ph.D., assistant professor in the School of Library and Information Science, has co-authored a book that was named the Best Museum Education Book of 2014 by the Museum Education Monitor (MEM).

Objects of Experience: Transforming Visitor-Object Encounters in Museums, published in 2013, was co-written with research partner Elizabeth Wood. Wood is an associate professor in the School of Education and Museum Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and a public scholar of museums, families and learning at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.

MEM is an online organization that tracks and records research and resources in museum education worldwide. M. Christine Castle, a consultant, educator and peer reviewer for museums in the United States, Canada and the U.K., organized the vote for best book through Museum Education Monitor. Castle released the top 10 book titles in December, and then opened it up for people who work in museum education worldwide to vote on the winner. 

Latham, in Ohio, and Wood, in Indiana, were on the phone together conducting an interview about the book on the Internet radio show The Museum Life just one hour before learning who the winner was.

Latham said she found out their book had won from a post on Twitter.

“We knew we were in the running of the top three, but we didn’t realize we were going to be first. That was pretty amazing,” said Latham.

Latham was teaching a full load of courses when she and Wood wrote the book in less than a year.

“It was very fast, but when you know how to work with someone it helps. We also knew roughly what we wanted to do because we’d developed the object knowledge framework model in an earlier journal article. The book allowed us to expand and explain more in depth about it,” said Latham.

Most of Latham’s research centers on how people interact with objects and how that transaction impacts the museum experience. According to the book’s introduction, Objects of Experience provides ways for museum practitioners to think about the objects and experiences that constitute basic elements of museum work. The book gives examples of new ways to think about using objects within museum experiences with a set of 12 maxims that contribute to building a strong connection between object and visitor. Because museums are looking for ways to enhance visitor experiences, the authors emphasize the need for museum professionals to carefully consider the roles objects play in creating those interactions.

A passage from the book states, “The more connections one has with objects, the more uniquely meaningful and important those layers of life become.”

When asked what a main takeaway of the book was, Latham said it is important to understand that theory and practice can work very well together.

“I want people to understand how wonderful and important theory can be in practice. We were really concerned with that in this book and making sure we helped encourage more interest in wedding the two,” said Latham.

Latham said she and Wood thought the book’s information was incredibly useful and could only help people’s knowledge and understanding.

“We were writing this book for museum professionals, both those interested in new ways of doing their work and those interested in expanding conceptual thinking about their work,” said Latham.  

Latham is co-author of another book, Foundations of Museum Studies: Evolving Systems of Knowledge, published in 2013. It is used as a textbook for museum studies courses.

Latham had more than 20 years of professional experience in museums before coming to Kent State. Once here, she developed an entirely new specialization in museum studies that launched in fall 2011 within the Master of Library and Information Science degree. Latham also directs the SLIS MuseLaba creative and collaborative space for thinking, doing and learning about museal things.