More Than Books Under Glass


As we anticipate re-opening the Poetry Center library in mid August, I particularly look forward to offering physical, in-person exhibits again. We think of our library exhibition program (now both physical and digital) as a way to help users get a better sense of what we have, and we do this by focusing on the work of individual poets, schools of poetry, poems on particular themes, by particular presses, in books that take particular forms, and more. Our exhibits aim to get viewers excited about the full scope of our collection, and we hope that excitement will encourage further use of those items in the future.

If you’ve ever seen one of our physical exhibits, you know that we display books in glass cases, both to create a cohesive experience and to best protect the books. The glass poses a dilemma: We want you to enjoy and be excited about these books, but we can only display a page or two from the book at a time, and the glass keeps viewers at a distance. To help bridge this gap, our exhibits often incorporate interactive elements—maybe you visited the book folding station at our Folded Books exhibit or took home a Broadsided Press broadside from Another Person’s Magic: Collaborative Books. To help gather more ideas and further my thinking, I put together a panel for the 2020 virtual Arizona Library Association conference with fellow library and archives workers who had actively incorporated innovative, interactive elements into past exhibits.

The four exhibits discussed in this panel—two from the University of Arizona Libraries Special Collections and two from here at the Poetry Center—each built connections between viewers and materials through non-traditional means, inviting sensory experiences, putting unexpected materials into conversation with one another, and even taking representations of materials to non-library spaces. Here’s a quick highlight from each exhibit:

Moon, curated by Molly Stothert-Maurer at Special Collections, celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing and featured a precision hemisphere—a three-hundred pound metal artifact actually used by scientists to craft the Moon maps used for the lunar landings. The precision hemisphere was loaned from the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.

On the left, a man stands next to an image of the moon projected onto a large sphere in 1961; on the left, the same man recreates the image in 2019.
On the left, William K. Hartmann with the precision hemisphere taking photographs for the Rectified Lunar Atlas, 1961. On the right, Hartmann re-creates the image with the display in the Moon exhibit in Special Collections, 2019.

The Life and Legacy of the USS Arizona, curated by Trent Purdy at Special Collections, led to a unique connection with university athletics: Images from primary source materials in the exhibit were incorporated into football and basketball jerseys worn to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

A grey and red football jersey next to insignia from the USS Arizona.
The design scheme of custom football uniform worn by UArizona football team at home opening game in 2016. The design incorporates imagery derived from materials included in The Life and Legacy of the USS Arizona exhibit.

Come to the Table, curated by our own Leela Denver in collaboration with Wren Awry, kicked off with an opening reception at which attendees were invited to eat a poem—in the form of food and drink inspired by poems from the exhibit.

A basket with blue corn tortillas partially covered with a colorful cloth.
Blue corn tortillas handmade by community activist and poet Josefina Cardenas for the opening reception based on her poem "Monsoon Blue Corn Tortillas"

The Poetry of Spaceflight, which I curated for the Poetry Center, incorporated large, vibrant artwork by space artist Robert McCall, putting McCall’s images in conversation with contemporary poems and poets. McCall's paintings were loaned to us by the University of Arizona Archive of Visual Arts.

A large painting depicting a future human community on Mars displayed next to a poem.
Paintings by Robert McCall paired with poems by Tracy K. Smith and Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers reproduced on foamcore.

We can’t wait to welcome you back to the library in August, and we hope you will join us to enjoy books under glass and beyond.