How to read an exhibition

Learning intention

Students think about how exhibitions are curated, learn how to read wall labels and exhibition panels and how to make connections by exploring relationships between items.

Students will:

  • Process and synthesise information from a range of sources 
  • Identify and analyse the perspectives of people from the past 



This activity and resource can be used to support self-guided visits to the Library and exhibitions.


Ask students to predict what kind of items they might expect to find in an exhibition at the State Library of Victoria. What items might the Library collect and exhibit and why?

Show students an image or artwork from the ergo website, library catalogue or an object you have brought in. You could use an item of realia like Elizabeth Batman’s doll or an image of troops journeying toward Gallipoli.

Look at the How to read an exhibtion hand out together and go through the features of an exhibition label. Talk about how wall panels talk about overarching themes and historical context whereas labels talk about specific items. When combined, wall panels, items and labels can make an exhibtion a comprehensive resource.

Ask students to create their own exhibtion label for an item in the classroom, photo on their phone, item from home. What kind of information to they need to include to explain their item? What's its significance? What kinds of information would appear on a wall panel to give it context? Have students share responses.

Discuss the role of a curator. A curator is a person who is responsible for the collection, exhibition and interpretation of items in a cultural organisation.

  • What kinds of things might a curator consider when planning an exhibition?
  • How might they choose different items to include?
  • What kinds of items do you find interesting in an exhibition?

Discussion questions

When visiting the exhibitions at the Library, consider:

  • Whose stories are being told? Why?
  • How do the items in the exhibition help to tell the story?
  • Are their parts of the story that are missing? Why might this be?
  • What is the impact of seeing a primary source such as a letter or a diary?
  • What is the difference between reading about an item and seeing it up close?
  • How can items in an exhibition help your research?
  • What kinds of challenges do you think curators face when putting together an exhibition?