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Exhibitions at Penn Libraries

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an exhibition?

Exhibitions live at the unique intersection of collections, scholarship, and storytelling. Exhibitions communicate ideas, display curated art and artifacts, and provide context and information about items on display. Collection materials may come from the Penn Libraries repository or be on loan from partner institutions.

In addition, exhibitions facilitate the learning process. Exhibitions sometimes incorporate tools for multi-sensory engagement to appeal to a wide array of learning styles. Most importantly, exhibitions help enrich our communities by connecting them to an array of stories and perspectives. They are typically up for 4-6 months.

What is considered a small display?

Small displays at Penn Libraries are small scale exhibits that don't typically require many resources. They are limited in scope to a few objects and one or two display cases; perhaps a portion of a wall if the items are framed. hey can be permanent or semi-permanent. Text panels and labels for small displays can be produced "in-house" or sent out for print. These limited displays are useful for smaller spaces and meant to bypass the larger, interpretive exhibition workflow. The Executive Committee will determine whether or not your project can skip the workflow procedure. 

What is an online exhibition?

An online exhibition has its venue entirely online. They can accompany an in-person exhibition at Penn Libraries, or exist on their own. Online exhibits usually contain high-quality collection images, artifact interpretation and scholarship, as well as metadata. They may also contain media such as audio, video, and increasingly augmented reality.

What is a pop-up event?

Once a month, staff members and their students may share timely, topical, fun, or quirky material with students, colleagues, faculty, and the public. These events must be staffed by a minimum of two people, be limited to no more than five (5) collection items, and selected with consideration toward visually interesting material suitable for a "show and tell" type event. Individuals coordinating a pop-up event must balance the risks and resources. These events utilize tables for display rather than display cases, and any item on display must be reviewed by conservation prior to the event. Pop-up events typically last for two hours.

What is a loan?

A loan is a temporary transfer of collection items from one institution to another. Sometimes exhibitions contain items loaned from another institution.

If you are unsure if your project is an exhibition, loan, or pop-up event, consult this chart.

Who can submit an exhibition proposal?

We encourage anyone with an interest to submit an exhibition proposal. The program is a collaborative process; made for both seasoned and emerging curators alike. No matter the size of your exhibit project-- whether it's a small display case or a larger gallery exhibit-- the Executive Committee requires you to submit a proposal. However, depending on what group you fall into you may need an institutional sponsor(s). See below.

Anyone can submit an exhibition proposal. This includes, but is not limited to:

Departmental librarians
Subject specialists
Community member*

*Requires institutional sponsor: Curator, Librarian, etc.
**Requires institutional sponsor and faculty member

I'm interested in proposing an exhibit, but I don't know how to choose a topic. What should I do?

Exhibition topics can vary from one show to the next. Here are some questions you ask yourself to help you determine a topic and prepare you for the proposal process:

What kind of story do I want to tell?
What collection items at Penn Libraries help tell my story?
Is my topic best shared through an exhibition? Why do I want to make an exhibition rather than a written publication or documentary?
How does this story connect to other people?

What kind of themes emerge from the collection of artifacts I've selected?
Why should people care about this topic? Why is this topic important?
Who else can I talk to on this topic to get informed/diverse perspectives?
How can my topic support or enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives at Penn Libraries?
How do I want people to feel when they experience my exhibition? How can I evoke those feelings within a gallery space?


Who funds the exhibition?

Basic exhibitions costs are funded by the exhibitions/preservation department. However, additional funding streams must be noted in your proposal, ex. departmental funding, external grant, donor.

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