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This Month: Pop-Up Exhibits

Last month we asked you to share some of your favorite pop-up exhibits and we received the wonderful examples listed below. We also took to Twitter to chat about the ins and outs of staging and developing pop-ups. Participants "popped-up" around campuses, at public lectures, and in their own reading rooms often relying on heritage month or special events to dictate their exhibit themes. Strategies for handling items outside the reading room and setting up pop-up spaces were exchanged. And it can be safely stated that button makers are people's preferred pop-up accessory. However, in our haste to get to the details we forgot to address: "What is a pop-up exhibit?"

What makes a pop-up different from an exhibition, tour, open house, class, event, or even “petting zoo”? Of course, all these terms include overlapping aspects so it remains a judgement call for your tracking and statistics, but some consensus rose up around an event that displays multiple aspects of the following characteristics:
A pop-up will most likely:

  • Be a staffed event. 
  • Last a short period of time (2-4 hours).
  • Be set up on tables rather than installed in permanent display cases.
  • Be set up in unusual locations (maybe even off-site).
  • Be put together faster with less planning.  
  • Focus on fun, quirky topics and/or have a time-sensitive aspect, such as being tied into a current event or holiday.
  • Have a greater focus on connecting with foot traffic.

In the Twitter chat people shared examples of pop-up exhibitions that used case tops or labels, and many that did not. Some used “medium-rare” materials or no rare materials at all and instead featured interactive activities like mad libs, button making, coloring printouts of collection images, or other programming related to rare materials. Some events had staff monitor with no handling by the guests, and some events had a hands-on focus.

No matter where the pop-up exhibit resided in the Venn diagram of possible definitions, the pop-up exhibit/event can connect special collections to patrons, friends, and fans in new ways. So please enjoy the examples below and check out the hashtag #RBMSIOC on Twitter to catch up on the great discussion.

~Colleen Theisen, Newsletter Co-editor

University of North Texas Libraries Special Collections

Photo of Jami Parker with the daughter of the coach of the Dallas Tornado during the tour, Sonja Mowery-Kap
Photo of Jami Parker with the daughter of the coach of the Dallas Tornado during the tour, Sonja Mowery-Kap, University of North Texas Libraries

In Fall 2018, University of North Texas Libraries Special Collections created a large exhibit in our main exhibition space about the Dallas Tornado Soccer Club’s 1967-8 World Tour. We hosted an event at a different location, consisting of a panel discussion with some members of the team and the coach’s daughter. We just knew that we wanted to have some of the physical materials on display to help spark their memories and bring the stories to life. We set up a small pop-up exhibit with some materials related to the tour, including luggage decals, photos and pennants, as well as a tablet which played archival footage of the team traveling around the world playing soccer in various countries.

Jaimi Parker
Exhibits Coordinator
Special Collections
University of North Texas Libraries

David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library

For Valentine’s Day we had a crafting pop-up as a fun way to introduce students to our collections and let them get creative. We scanned materials from our collections and printed out color copies for students to cut out and collage together. There were of course historic valentines, but we also had anatomical hearts from our History of Medicine Collection, floral illustrations, photographs of friends, and drawings from zines. We set up tables outside a popular coffee shop in the main campus library and brought along stickers, glue, card stock, and Valentine's Day candy. In two hours, we had over sixty people to stop by to make valentines. Now that we've selected and scanned images it's an easy pop-up to repeat - print the images, pick up some craft supplies, and you're all set. In the future, we're hoping to have an enclosed exhibit table so we can have the source materials out - students were curious to see the originals!

Kate Collins
Research Services Librarian
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Duke University

University of Iowa Special Collections

To celebrate the recent acquisition of the papers of the award-winning pop-up book artist Matthew Reinhart, University of Iowa Libraries Special Collections showcased not only some of Reinhart’s magical creations, but also a few other examples of pop-up books and art in our collection in an event called “Pop by for a Pop-Up Exhibit”.
For a couple of hours we set up a small exhibit space of 4 tables on the 1st floor of the Main Library, right next to the café. The tables were full of various pop-up books, along with drafts and sketches from Reinhart’s collection, and a screen in the space showed photos and video of some of Reinhart’s most beloved creations in action. Perhaps the biggest winner from this pop-up exhibit was a table full of pop-up books that allowed visitors to physically interact with the material. The table was constantly busy the two hours we were set up.

Elizabeth Riordan
Outreach & Engagement Librarian
University of Iowa Special Collections

George Washington University Libraries 

We at the George Washington University Special Collections Research Center are particularly proud of our recent pop-up "Unmentionable: The Uterine Body in the Archives."

This pop-up, held in March, featured archival materials and rare books that contained examples of how the uterine body has been understood, illustrated, regulated, obscured, ignored, and advocated for throughout history. Specific materials included pamphlets from the 1950s explaining menstruation to young women in schools and doctors' offices, menopause outreach legislation, information on hormone replacement therapy published in the 1990s, and religious texts that outline specific rituals and rules around childbirth and menstruation. 

Leah Richardson
Research and Instruction Librarian 
Special Collections Research Center
George Washington University Libraries 


Wisconsin Historical Society

The Wisconsin Historical Society annually hosts a Black History Open House that includes music, step performances, food, speakers, and a pop-up exhibit of library and archival collections. The exhibit portion of the event takes place in the library reading room – a happy medium between the high-security archives reading room, and the free-flowing lobby where food is served. The exhibit requires a lot of staff labor to put together and facilitate and is available for only 2-3 hours. However, the pay-off is in introducing visitors to the depth and breadth of our holdings on African American history. This year, visitors saw Frederick Douglass’ newspaper, a letter from Rosa Parks to Septima Clark at the Highlander Center, documents from Ezekiel Gillespie’s successful court battle in 1866 that confirmed voting rights for African Americans in Wisconsin, Black Panther Party newsletters and posters, and Milwaukee Brewers memorabilia among other things. The evening is lively and sparks a lot of memorable conversation.
Cynthia Bachhuber
North American History Librarian
Division of Library, Archives, and Museum Collections
Professional Development Opportunities

Call for Chapters – Teaching with Archives & Special Collections Cookbook (ACRL Publications):
The Teaching with Archives & Special Collections Cookbook is seeking recipes!
We are now accepting recipe proposals detailing lesson plans or projects that demonstrate the integration of archives and special collections material into the classroom. We are seeking practical guides that provide an entry point to teaching with primary sources for information professionals new to teaching and learning with archives and special collections, including archivists, special collections librarians, and instruction librarians. Additionally, we seek innovative proposals that will serve as a resource for those experienced with teaching with primary sources and archives by providing a repository of ideas for when their lesson plans need to be refreshed and updated.
Submit your ideas here!

“Collaboration and Communication: Primary Source Literacy and Faculty Engagement”
May 28  2:00 EST / 1:00 CST / 12:00 MST / 11:00 PST:
We are thrilled to announce the first of the RBMS Instruction & Outreach Committee’s training webinars focused on teaching with primary sources. Our presenters will be Ashleigh Coren, the Special Collections Librarian for Teaching and Learning at the University of Maryland, and Jesse Erickson, Assistant Professor and Senior Assistant Librarian at the University of Delaware. Together they will discuss a number of topics, including ways to maintain transparency and boundaries when conducting outreach, defining capacity for an educational program, how to shift teaching models for long term instruction vs. short term instruction, and talking with faculty about introducing primary source literacy into their curriculum. The webinar will be held Tuesday, May 28th, at 2:00 EDT and will be free to all participants.

Instruction and Outreach Sessions at RBMS19!

Ethical Outreach with Culturally-Sensitive Content: Practices, Provocation and Power
Wednesday, June 19, 11am-12:30pm

Preparing timely and meaningful exhibits and outreach events is a crucial part of special collections and archives librarianship. Accomplishing this task in contemporary society often means engaging the public with materials that reflect histories of violence, racism, and oppression. Attendees of this seminar will learn from outreach specialists, collection curators, and faculty partners, who will share effective and responsible approaches to special collections outreach with these materials. Building upon previous conversations on this theme as it relates to other professional functions, this seminar turns the focus to the particular challenges related to outreach practices including exhibits, social media, and community events that purposefully engage the public with these materials and themes. Presenters will engage with questions such as: How do we present these materials ethically and conscientiously in the special collections outreach environment, and remain attentive to the risks of replicating these histories when presenting materials that document violent, racist, or oppressive acts? How do we call attention, in exhibits and outreach, to the materials that are missing both from the historical record and from our collections? How can we work to center voices representing oppressed communities both in the collections we highlight, and in the expertise we engage in all stages of the outreach process? How do we prepare special collections librarians and archivists in the profession to accomplish this work?

This seminar is brought to you by the RBMS Instruction and Outreach Committee and the RBMS Diversity Committee

Radical Making: Creative Engagement and Special Collections
Wednesday, June 19, 11am-12:30pm

This seminar will consider the creative, and specifically the radical, making process as part of the research, teaching, learning and collection building work in special collections. Taking two tracks, we will first examine not just creative material in and of itself in collections, but work through how and why we might be concerned with the creation processes of materials that become part of special collections. Then, extending from these considerations, we will turn to the work of developing programmatic space within special collections to create critical and reflective art and other material products with inspiration from and in conversation with special collections. Creating physical or digital artifacts in conversation with collections also offers ways into particularly powerful spaces for empowered learning and we are particularly interested in the ways in which these creative art-generating activities can serve to open up debate, celebration, communion and reflection on history. We hope to offer intellectual and creative provocations for teaching and learning work in special collections as well as advice and inspiration for taking such programmatic interventions forward.

We Have the Guidelines, Now What? Putting Primary Source Literacy into Practice in the Special Collections Classroom 
Wednesday, June 19, 2-3pm
This seminar will continue the conversation begun last year at the RBMS 2018 session “Primary Source Literacy as a Tool for Student Engagement and Faculty Partnerships.” This iteration will provide further ideas on how the ACRL/RBMS-SAA Guidelines for Primary Source Literacy can inform our instruction philosophies and methods. The panel will open with a discussion of the ACRL Frameworks for Information Literacy for Higher Education by an Information Literacy Instruction librarian.  Since the Framework was ratified in 2015, our ILI colleagues have had several years of living into the new standards and so can reflect on how the Framework has changed the shape of ILI. With that experience in mind, the other three speakers will reflect on how we can use the Guidelines to rethink how we do instruction individually and collaboratively, overall and for specific courses, and how we assess our instruction efforts. Participants will come away with concrete ideas to help them leverage the Guidelines in their instruction sessions.

Asian Materials in Special Collections or What to Do with Books that You Can't Read
Thursday, June 20, 4-5:30pm
Asian books, be they Islamic manuscripts or Japanese thread-bound texts, are often under-utilized in special collections education and outreach. This is in part due to their scarcity, but it is also because of persistence of popular conceptions of the book in primarily Euro-centric terms. This pop-up session hopes to initiate a conversation geared towards encouraging deeper engagement with non-Western materials in order to allow us to begin reimagining their place in special collections. Beginning with an examination of several objects, participants will consider some of the great divergences in global book histories. While these divergences can meaningfully point to the differences between seemingly isolated textual traditions, when properly reframed, they can open up new opportunities for teaching the history of the book. With objects in hand, we will then discuss how to begin thinking about collection building without area-subject expertise. We will consider such questions as how to approach purchasing non-European materials for overwhelming Western collections and what to do when confronted by claims that assert unfamiliar materials aren't collecting priorities. Finally, we will see how the diverse, cosmopolitan communities within and around libraries allow us new opportunities to decolonize our collections by making them reflect their constituencies. We hope that our discussion will highlight the limits of conceiving of the book in Euro-centric terms and will spur further reflection on the promise of incorporating more diverse materials into collection development, teaching, and outreach.
Photo: University of Missouri-Columbia. 
Primary Source News & Notes is distributed monthly by the RBMS Instruction & Outreach Committee
Jillian Sparks, Editor

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Distributed May 2019 by RBMS Instruction and Outreach Committee


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