An Exhibit Librarian’s Adventure in Washington, D.C.

Guest post by Meg Brown, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation Exhibits Librarian. Last fall, she took a trip to Boston looking for inspiration for the new library exhibit cases that will be installed as part of the Rubenstein Library renovation. This winter she traveled to Washington, D.C., to further investigate the options.

Last fall, I wrote about my trip to Boston to look at exhibit cases at well-known libraries and museums and do some research that will help us design our new exhibit cases in the renovated Rubenstein Library. This winter, between snow storms, I journeyed to Washington, D.C., to visit a new installation of exhibit cases constructed by our renovation vendor Goppion, and I got inspired!

Duke Exhibits Librarian Meg Brown at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Here at Duke, we are in the midst of design planning for the Rubenstein Library renovation, which will include multiple new exhibition spaces with complicated display cases. Planning for this requires hours spent poring over technical architectural drawings (sometimes I think they are written in hieroglyphics instead of English). So the chance to see the 3-D versions in person was invaluable. The Exhibits Manager at the Folger Shakespeare Library, Caryn Lazzuri, and their Head of Conservation, Renate Mesmer, generously spent time showing me around their new cases, inside and out. They opened cabinets and let me explore the inner working parts, see where the lights shine, how the cases move and discussed what they might have done differently—the kind of information you can’t read in a book!

The Folger was finishing up the installation of their wonderful current exhibit Shakespeare’s the Thing, which includes everything Shakespeare from early editions, to forged letters, to Barbie dolls! It is definitely worth a visit if you can beat the freezing rain!

The Abel Buell Map exhibit at the Library of Congress.

What is a visit to D.C. without hitting the Library of Congress? After a day at the Folger, I dashed over to see Mapping a New Nation: Abel Buell’s Map of the United States, 1784,  a fascinating exhibition that highlights a map on deposit from David M. Rubenstein (yes, that David M. Rubenstein). Along with great maps, the exhibition includes an interactive digital display about the conservation technologies and techniques used to study the map, and the crucial technologies used to develop an exhibition case that is appropriate for a map with strong environmental needs. This case is so smart it knows when someone is looking—and turns on a light!

Before leaving D.C., I hit the Smithsonian’s Postal Museum to see their incredible renovations (add this to the must-see list for your next D.C. trip!) and viewed a few more interesting case designs by Goppion. These cases were highly specialized as well. In one of the cases, the walls pull out to show hundreds of stamps on each vertical drawer.

Though I have enjoyed my travels, the exhibit librarian adventuring will soon be coming to a close… but not without a grand finale.  The renovation planning will conclude with a prototype design meeting in Milan, Italy, next week! Stayed tuned for more later this spring.