Megan Hahn Fraser 2015-04-01 11:08:11
As Venus transited across the sun on June 5, 2012, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) community filled the quad to peer through telescopes to view this rare spectacle. During that time, the UCLA Library Special Collections (LSC) staff also accomplished a stellar feat: We took special collections outside the library. We pushed a mobile display case across campus to exhibit “Transit of Venus” from our collections—eyewitness accounts by Captain Cook of the 1769 transit, early astronomy textbooks, and nineteenth-century science books for children—all of which attracted the rapt attention of students, parents, professors, and local residents. Exhibits on the Fly This one-off exhibit provided the germ of an idea: as a fun outreach effort and to increase awareness of the wonderful gems in our collections, create exhibitions on the fly (but avoid the heavy case in the next iterations). And so LSC’s Flash Exhibition program was born. LSC has regular, large-scale themed displays in our lobby, however, the schedule for these is usually booked several quarters in advance and requires significant staff resources. We wanted an outlet to show newly acquired or recently processed items on a more spontaneous basis. For the flash exhibits, we use one dedicated case next to the reading room door so all patrons can see it. The case is a tall, slender octagon, which can be challenging to use. Curators are encouraged to focus on a single easily displayed item, or a small group of related items that will fit inside the case. Currently, space does not allow for large items, but future plans include purchasing a larger flat case that we can move around the lobby. What’s on Display The original announcement of the program invited the entire department to participate. We asked, “Do you have a new acquisition, or anything rare, unique, interesting, important, funny, timely, or just plain cool that you would like to showcase? Show us what you’ve got!” We quickly gathered numerous volunteers. In our first year, we committed to installing twelve of these flash exhibits, but we were able to do approximately twenty. Since then, we’ve done about thirty more. Exhibits are usually on view for no more than two weeks, and sometimes for as short as a few days. We stress to staff that their exhibits should not entail extensive work or complicated installations. To feature great finds on a quick timetable, we avoid creating elaborate custom mounts and prefer a limited number of brief captions. This emphasis on an informal approach allows us to offer timely exhibits on current events. We exhibited baby books for the birth of Prince George, Friends of the LA River Records for Earth Day, new acquisitions (a 1520 Aldine Erasmus), and souvenirs from the March on Washington from the Ralph J. Bunche Papers on the anniversary. Flash exhibits also have been coordinated with public events such as UCLA Parents’ Weekend and “Poem in Your Pocket Day” during National Poetry Month. Keeping the exhibits fresh, simple, and inexpensive is the key. One of our most successful and “flashiest”— in terms of quick rotation—series of exhibits featured items related to the nine films nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2013. For Twelve Years a Slave, we exhibited artist Fred Hagstrom’s powerful new book Passage, documenting the experience of slaves in America. An album of photographs from Somalia was the featured item for Captain Phillips. The film Gravity was represented by a NASA space shuttle thermal protection tile. Reaching Out Blog posts, social media posts, and messages to library listservs are our main modes of publicity. Usually the prepared exhibit blurb can be easily repurposed for posting on the LSC blog, along with a few photographs. Flash exhibits have been created by a diverse group of librarians and staff from all departments within LSC, including technical services, public services, oral history—even graduate students have welcomed the opportunity to gain some exhibit experience. The program allows us to engage with materials in new ways, and increases knowledge of the collections by displaying items not usually seen. We encourage collaboration and creativity, and are proud that this fun idea contributes to outreach efforts that raise the profile of LSC and UCLA.
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