Beacon Street Diary blog

A Digital Exhibit Renaissance

by Zachary Bodnar, Archivist

Libraries and archives cannot just be repositories of knowledge and memories. At the heart of our mission at the CLA is access, and that takes many forms. One of the most visible and engaging forms of access available to us is through exhibits. Rotating exhibits and show-and-tell events have always been an incredibly important part of the CLA’s access and outreach repertoire. Exhibits especially are an important, not only because they can be used to teach and tell the story of Congregationalism in the United States, but because they bring our materials, both library and archival, outside the stacks and into the (metaphorical) hands of our users.

Exhibits, and the display of the CLA’s physical materials, were so valuable and central to the mission of the CLA that, during renovation, the old Pratt Room was converted into a new exhibit space. Unfortunately, right as renovations completed on the new exhibit space, the CLA necessarily closed its doors to the public due to the ongoing global pandemic. We were not alone, most galleries, libraries, archives, and museums (GLAMs) remain closed or partially closed months after the pandemic’s onset. However, the closure of physical space does not mean that GLAM institutions cannot continue making their materials available through exhibits.

While physical exhibitions are nearly impossible right now, digital exhibitions are currently having a renaissance. Online exhibits have always offered unique opportunities to bring users, unable to visit physical locations, into the exhibit space and make available an institution’s unique materials to a wider audience. Now, more than ever, online exhibits offer opportunities to document current affairs, celebrate important milestones, and connect people to physical materials through a digital interface.

The CLA, too, will soon be more capable than ever to present our materials to our users through online exhibitions. The adoption of a DAMS at the CLA will not only provide us new opportunities to create and share our digital materials but will also allow the CLA to create online exhibit spaces and showcase our digital projects more easily. While it may be a while away, it is safe to say the staff has already been brainstorming ideas for digital exhibits we can create once the DAMS is up and running.

Before I leave this entry in the Beacon Street Diary, the staff wanted to share some of our favorite current and past online exhibits from other institutions. Please give these exhibits a look! And let us know of your own favorite digital exhibits!

Seeing Citizens: Picturing American Women’s Fight for the Vote

A brand-new exhibit from the Radcliff Institute that celebrates the ratification of the 19th amendment, this exhibit offers an amazing look at the cause of women’s suffrage through photography.

Five Hundred Years of Women’s Work: The Lisa Unger Baskin Collection

This amazing exhibit from the Duke University Libraries showcases the true breadth of what defines “women’s work” and show that long held assumptions about the historical work of women is more myth than fact.

Rosa Parks: In Her Own Words

This exhibit from the Library of Congress uses photographic and manuscript materials to track the life of Rosa Park through her own words. This collection is especially important because it takes a holistic look at her life beyond just her role in the Montgomery bus boycott.

The Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project

While not a traditional exhibit, the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project out of the Northeastern University School of Law showcases the power, importance, and flexibility of digital exhibit spaces. This incredible project documents anti-civil rights violence in the US to seek justice for past crimes.