Exhibits: An Education

The last time I posted about exhibits was when I had to throw one together for my job, to be featured in a campus-wide celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act. Since then, I have taken over exhibit coordinator duties at the library where I work, putting up three new exhibits over the course of the winter and spring (keep in mind that I work at an Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences Library):

An exhibit on different holiday foods and culinary traditions.
An exhibit on different holiday foods and culinary traditions.
An exhibit on winter-related ecology, biology, and agricultural practices.
An exhibit on winter-related ecology, biology, and agricultural practices (complete with hand-cut paper snowflakes!).
And an exhibit on poetry inspired by gardening and/or written by gardeners (because April in National Poetry Month!).
And an exhibit on poetry inspired by gardening and the gardens of famous poets (because April is National Poetry Month!).

I also ended up deciding to take an 8-week class on the Planning and Production of Exhibits. The class could not have been better! While I have had a few exhibit-designing experiences, the class opened my eyes to so many avenues and practicalities I had not considered. For instance, what takes your exhibits from neat and orderly to professional and eye-popping? What kinds of programming activities will get people into the library to see your exhibit? What kinds of conservation and installation concerns should you consider even before you finalize your item list?

Perhaps most importantly, the class really taught me to think about an exhibit as a narrative with an argument. Book “displays” have their place and can be very lovely. But “exhibits” go beyond the mere display of books and urge viewers to interpret, imagine, draw connections, and think about things differently.

Our final project was to come up with an idea for an exhibit, write an item list, write item labels and text panels, consider conservation and installation concerns, come up with programming and publicity ideas, and, finally, to construct either a print exhibit catalog or an online exhibit. Being that I just came off of a Web Design class, I decided to take on the web exhibit. At the library, my online exhibits are limited to the framework of the CMS we use for the library website. But since this was for a class, I got to use WordPress, a very sleek option for those creating online exhibits.

Hence, I present the online component for my exhibit on the Civil War letters of a Champaign soldier: “This Accursed Rebellion.” I hope you have as much fun perusing it as I did making it!

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