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Through the Glass: A Glimpse into the Management of Visible Labs

Thesis by Justine Lopez (2016)

Visible labs are an emerging practice in museums and little is known about the operations, management, staffing or impact of these labs. This research addressed these questions: What do the management and operations of visible labs look like? What is the nature of the work that is viewed in the visible labs? How do visible labs interact or communicate with visitor about what they are seeing? Data was collected through semi-structured interviews with ten museum professionals working in or with a visible lab and observations of six visible labs between two different institutions.

Key results include: The labs are managed and operated by a combination of scientists, volunteers and additional staff who are hired and trained specifically to work in the labs. The research taking place in these labs is selected or designed not only to engage the public but also to contribute to research in the associated disciplines of the labs with results often published in peer and museum publications. Running a lab is complex and typically involves collaborations between different departments and may involve lots of logistical variables that the lab manager or curator might not control. Although not a focus of this study, there was a suggestion that visitors may not realize they are watching scientists and not actors.

More research is needed on the impact of these labs on the professionals who work in them, the visitors who view them and the institutions that host them.


Keywords: research, visible labs, history museums, museum staff


Lopez, J. (2016). Through the glass: A glimpse into the management of visible labs (Order No. 10138394). Available from Dissertations & Theses @ University of Washington WCLP; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (1804414309). Retrieved from