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Archives & Manuscripts: Exhibits Gail Farr Casterline
Chapter 1: Why Exhibit • Exhibits can show what a repository collects, preserves, makes available to users. Can also educate, communicate. Study the past, encourage people to save/donate historical materials, commemorate an event, inform @ new acquisitions. • Require time, skills, and money. • To be effective, exhibit should be integrated with other phases of archival work. Example, processors spend a significant chunk of time with a collection, keep notes, share for display, make exhibit catalog, reference tool. • Can provide good will and basis for relationships across community & profession. Loans & cooperative exhibits = maximize resources & relationships with other institutions. • Could be source of new funding.
Chapter 2: Planning & Development • Defining the Audience: intellectual level, amount of time they will spend, demographics, physical viewing environment. Does a significant audience exist? Can that be broadened through publicity? Exhibits aren't always the best way to reach every constituency. Nature of audience closely related to location of display. Also consider institution's geographic location. • Choosing a Subject: build around strengths of collection. Start with subject & locate examples or start with examples & develop story? Unique medium to present subjects that don't lend themselves to treatment in books/films. Can inspire scholarship through promotion of special collection highlights; inspire writers/researchers to use a more extensive range of sources. Define your theme & don't include too many items to show off "treasures" in hopes of attracting new researchers. Not every exhibit has to be a major effort. Promotional exhibits focus on various archival activities, functions, and services in a deliberate attempts to project a favorable public image, expand the public consciousness about the benefits of archives, and increase the number of patrons. Bring together many types of materials, or focus on one type. Vary the tone and character of each exhibit. • Setting a Timetable: requires good organization of time. Initial emphasis on refining the concept = most time-consuming. Decide on catalog. When researching, take notes for later. Determine design and materials needed. Identify potential conservation needs. Assign responsibility for tasks and management, centralized coordination is key. Solicit additional help as needed: volunteers, experts, outside sources. Consider researcher/repository work flow/ bust times of year. Use a checklist. Avoid overplanning. • Locating & Selecting Material: play to repository strengths. Not just a 3-D book, so choose materials that tell their own story. People lack patience to read on their feet. Balance: find the most interesting/significant materials needed to create something visually stimulating. People want to see manuscripts/man collections. Decide whether to mix mediums, collections, sources. Do background reading. Provide translations for materials in a foreign language. Couple text with interesting/illustrative images. For large exhibits, use checklists & sign-out sheets to keep track of pulled items.
Chapter 3: Conservation • Evaluating the Condition of the Materials: No document should be exhibited until the archivist/conservator has evaluated its condition. Some conservation can be done in-house, but send out for more intensive work. "The physical and chemical composition of some substances may necessitate special handling to minimize the effects of light, humidity, temperature, and physical stress. You should be familiar with the properties of different grades of paper, as well as inks, parchment, vellum, leather, and various photographic emulsions, so you can anticipate potential problems and handle each piece appropriately." (pg 19) Base decisions about taking apart a bound volume on importance of the exhibit, effect on long-term life of the object, and the cost. • Evaluating the Site: aesthetics, security, location. o Steps on exhibit conservation: 1) evaluation of the present condition of the site, 2) correction of any serious problems, and 3) prevention = site is regularly monitored during exhibition. o Lighting: effect on paper, damage considerations/concerns, how to reduce damage = lower level of illumination, measure light levels. Level of 5 footcandles = recommended for sensitive substances, but it is difficult to actually see materials & to maintain in public spaces. Solutions include reduce amount in exhibit area, increase to f5-10 in case b/c the eye will adjust. Or, adjust to avoid light falling directly on materials. Place filters. Maximum length of exposure is a matter of controversy: 1 month-6 months = range. Extend the lifetime of exhibit by rotation and substitution of materials, use of fascimiles, rearrangement, timing lighting devices so they aren't on all the time, shorten hours exhibit is open, turn off the lights when there aren't any viewers. Tube should be outside the case. o Humidity, Temperature, and Pollution: control with a/c and air tight frames. Control room environment. If there isn't an a/c, use dehumidifier or silica gel (in cases). Though less effective, wood, cloth, and fiberboard can be used to control changes. Central heating can dry out materials in the winter. Interior light tubes = dry out materials. Can place a small dish of water in case to combat. o Security: what about the thief with the sledgehammer? Lock cases, have building security. Monitor exhibits. Routine maintenance shows you care: dust the top and clean the fingerprints. Alarms: attach vibration device & a horn. Wire to building security system. o Packing: protect materials in transit.
Chapter 4: Design & Technique: success is a test of how well all exhibit components have been integrated, both physically and intellectually, to form a self-contained unit • Basic Design Consideration: Observation = how to patrons respond to exhibits, be realistic about time. Printed/written materials = pose special challenges: reading is tiring in a standing position, handwriting may be illegible, low light levels, background noise. Consider physical structure of the display: fundamental difference between exhibits designed to fit existing facilities and those designed/constructed to fit the special needs of the show. Consider size, shape, and character of the objects = fixed and have to be accommodated (excluding photos, which can be enlarged/reduced). Arrange materials in orderly fashion: ie. chronologically, topically, or for sheer visual impact: combo of chronological and topical organization provides the most flexibility. Major books should be displayed by themselves. Keep the design from distracting the viewer's attention from the objects being shown, enhance don't overpower. Consider colors, texture. Keep important doc/materials within reading distance & @ eye level, use those that are easy to read, use aids to enhance readability. • Cases, Panels, & Other Structures: look for thick glass (at least 1/4"), resists breakage, airtight seal, built-in/pick-resistant locks, convenience in opening, light weight, simple design. Mount light outside. Use walls for panels. Use free-standing panels. • Photoreproductions and Facsimiles • Case & Panel Layout: make preliminary plans on paper. No rules for layout, just make sure it encourages people to see the relationships between the objects shown. Most people read/look left to right. • Mounting Techniques: Just make sure you are careful. Mounting techniques should be reverseable. Avoid forcing materials into unnatural/unaccustomed positions. Techniques vary based on nature of item, size, bulk, weight, structural character, condition. o Display Case Exhibits: fragile materials can be encapsulated in poly film. Support bindings. o Matting, Framing, and Glazing: conservators say to use acid-free mounting boards, but they are more expensive. Make a plexiglass sandwich. o Mounting Photographs: be careful. For some, display as artifacts. Use reproductions. Dry & wet mounting. • Labels: don't scrimp here. Encourage people to read/look at originals. Use quotations. Consider visual appeal of paper/ink, placement.
Chapter 5: Program Coordination • Exhibit Catalogs: long-range usefulness and value. Listing of all items in exhibit, including detailed descriptions and annotations. Make sure to have a one-liner that tells what exhibit is about. Even after exhibit closes, catalog can still be distributed, used as a means of introduction to the archives. Choices: format, author. Consider production costs, whether or not to charge for it. Exhibit & catalog should be complementary in design. Include exhibit running dates. • Coordinated Events: special events to bring people in, involve community. Broaden audience, increase attendance, opportunity to get acquainted with public. • School-group Activities: college/university aged visitors/tours, professors should receive mailings about exhibits in their subject area. Schedule classes in archives to coincide with exhibits related to their curriculum, including designing and breaking down the exhibit (also use student interns). Public school visits. • Publicity: be aggressive to appeal to new audiences. Media coverage, specialized publications, on-site publicity, direct mailings, listings in tour guides. • Traveling Exhibits: costs (both $$ and time) can be high. o Displaying Originals in Borrowed Cases o Displaying Originals in Prefabricated Structures o Displaying Reproductions in Prefabricated Structures o Designing Traveling Exhibits
Chapter 6: Administrative Considerations • Estimating Costs: fabrication, professional services, administrative costs, coordinated activities. • Institutional Funding vs. Grants • Loans and Insurance: make sure you can safely store materials. Visit in person. Don't make a commitment to borrow something you aren't going to use. Formalize requests in writing. Evaluate condition, note damage. Borrower usually assumes insurance liability. Fine arts insurance: Check the details. Be ready to answer questions about your facility and staff. Good system of record-keeping = essential. Credit lenders @ exhibit. Don't keep for an extended period. • Exhibits & the Copyright Law: check who actually owns the copyright. • Evaluation & Record-keeping: collect evidence to justify exhibit. Interact with visitors to hear about their experience @ exhibit.
Appendix 1: Where to Get Help Appendix 2: Supplies & Equipment Appendix 3: Facilities Report Appendix 4: Sample Loan Form