About Northwestern University Library Exhibits

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Northwestern University Library exhibits promote the educational mission of the University and the Library, spotlighting the intellectual quality of the Library’s collections, use of the collections by scholars, and the Library's role as a center for learning. Specifically, exhibits serve to:
  1. Engage non-specialist audiences—including students, faculty, alumni, donors, and the community—in the importance of a specialized subject, discipline, or collection, or of the Library’s mission generally.
  2. Promote interdisciplinary relationships across campus and interdepartmental collaborations within the Library.
  3. Encourage scholarly and educational use of the Library.
  4. Publicize Library collections and services.
  5. Stimulate intellectual curiosity.
Curators are encouraged to attain these objectives by:
  • Telling a story that speaks to a general audience and delivers a clear message
  • Illustrating the story using Library resources. Personal collections and loaned items may be included in the exhibit but should not make up a majority of the materials.
  • Showcasing diverse materials including books, archival documents, multi-media elements, and three-dimensional items.
  • Enlisting the collaboration of Library staff, faculty, students, alumni, and others in creating and supporting the exhibit.
  • Partnering with groups and activities on- and off-campus that are relevant to the exhibit’s subject, such as film series, lectures, or other exhibits.
The Library does not host travelling exhibits whose content is unrelated to the Library’s specific mission or collections; exhibits that endorse specific religious or political affiliations; or exhibits whose purpose is to proselytize rather than inform. When working with outside curators, Library staff will exercise judgment about the appropriateness of exhibit label tone and content.
Proposal Procedures
  1. Exhibits are normally scheduled more than a year in advance, so please plan ahead. Proposals should be submitted at least 18 months ahead of the period of time desired for the installation. If you would like to find out in advance whether a specific time slot is available, please contact the Committee Chair.
  2. Curators should submit a completed exhibit proposal questionnaire to the Chair explaining how they will meet the goals outlined above. Please provide as much detail as possible about your plans.
  3. Proposals will normally be reviewed by the entire Exhibit Committee at the monthly meeting following the date of your submission.
  4. The Chair will respond with a decision or a request for additional information.
Exhibit procedures
  1. If your exhibit is approved, the Exhibit Committee will appoint a liaison from among its members who will contact you to discuss timelines, facilities, procedures, and supplies.
  2. The liaison will help you draw up a schedule of deadlines for producing the exhibit. Once dates are established for the deadlines, the schedule should be submitted to the Chair, who will work with the liaison to ensure deadlines are met, and who will keep other Library departments aware of the production schedule. Failing to meet established deadlines may result in the cancellation of the exhibit.
  3. The liaison will discuss with you what supplies and equipment the Library makes available for exhibits. The liaison can also advise you on producing video, audio, and online components of your exhibit, and should facilitate introductions to other Library staff members who can help you.
  4. You and your liaison should consider convening a group of stakeholders to guide the exhibit through development. Stakeholders may include subject liaisons, key faculty, student and alumni groups, and outside institutions and individuals.
  5. Note that the liaison is not responsible for actual exhibit preparation, installation or dismantling, or for preparing labels, posters, handouts or web sites for an individual exhibit.
  6. It will be your responsibility to identify any Library items you are planning to exhibit that may need conservation attention (e.g., spine repair). Materials requiring extensive repair should be brought to the attention of the Conservation Lab six months or more before the exhibit.
  7. Your label text will be reviewed by a Library staff member for content, tone, and general effectiveness, and you may be asked to revise your text. Labels will be printed for you by the Library’s Conservation Lab, which will also manage the installation process.
  8. You will need to work with the Library’s Public Relations department to create graphics for exhibit signage and publicity materials.
Logistical Details
Checking out and recalling materials: Library materials should be checked out to the exhibit cases in the area of the exhibit; ask for the appropriate account at the Circulation Desk. Please try not to recall items from current users, unless they have already had the items out for more than one circulation period.
Borrowing materials from individuals or other institutions: When borrowing Items for exhibits from outside institutions or individuals, you must document all borrowed items with the Incoming Loan Agreement, which also enumerates the conditions for loans, including information on insurance, shipping, and returning materials. Note that Library staff members do not have legal authority to provide the “Signed for NU” signature required on the form. This can only come from the University’s legal department.
Supplies and equipment: Supplies for exhibit preparation and installation are available from the Exhibit Committee. The Committee has some limited funds available for purchase of new supplies (e.g., cloth), but you must check with your liaison for approval before making any such purchases to make sure that they will be covered.
Available equipment includes plasma screens, directed sound speakers, and museum quality audio wands. Your liaison can arrange for you to reserve them.
Label content: As a whole, your label text should tell viewers a story about your subject. The draft you submit should have this story broken up into case-by-case “chapters” reflecting how you expect your materials to be distributed in the exhibit space. Curators often include one main label per case explaining what the theme of the whole case is, plus individual item labels. The item labels should not only explain what the item is, but should relate it to the story being told.
Case layout: All exhibit cases in the main exhibit area can be moved, though there are certain areas in which they cannot be positioned because traffic would be obstructed or the materials would be exposed to unsafe light levels. You may find this Guide to the Placement of Exhibit Cases helpful in planning your layout. You may find the exhibit case measurements helpful in planning the contents of specific cases.
Linked documents:

For more information on Library exhibits, contact Tonia Grafakos, exhibits committee chair, at 847-491-3837 or t-grafakos@northwestern.edu.