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Exhibitions at Penn Libraries

Mission and Purpose

The establishment of a pop-up event program will provide spontaneous opportunities for staff members and their students to present stories and materials from the Penn Libraries’ collections and engage with students, colleagues, faculty, and staff as stationed interpreters.

Overarching Philosophy and Guidelines

Pop-up events are intended to be lightweight and fun. The proposer will serve as the organizer and it is expected that the organizer will determine what material is suitable for the event, page the material, set up conservation review, man the table, and return material to the stacks at the close of the event. During the pilot of this project, all events will take place within Van Pelt and Special Collections material used must be from Kislak. Circulating material from any library may be used.

What is a Pop-Up Event?

A pop-up event at the Penn Libraries involving non-special collections will:

  • Occur once a month
  • Focus on timely, topical, fun, or quirky material that staff members and their students want to share with students, colleagues, faculty, and the public
  • Be limited to no more than 5 items, selected with consideration toward visually interesting material suitable for a “show and tell” type of approach
  • Be held in the Lee Lounge (first floor VPDLC), a high traffic location
  • Be set up on tables rather than installed in permanent display cases

Why Hold a Pop-Up Event?

Ideally, a pop-up event will be a response to material in collections and intentionally centered on an interesting or quirky narrative. A pop-up is intended to be an organic and light-hearted opportunity for face-to-face and materials-based engagement with the Penn community. It draws on the expertise and proximity to the collections that staff have during their work to acquire, catalog, process, shelve, and circulate material. A staff member can use the potential for a pop-up event to tell a story using collections that might otherwise remain under the radar.

A pop-up event is a more informal and spontaneous format for sharing expertise and interesting materials than a formal exhibition. Exhibitions require a more complex workflow and bear long-term strategic and programmatic burdens.

Planning and Holding the Pop-Up

1. Identify a compelling narrative

  • An ideal narrative may be found during every-day work—discovery of interesting linkages between new material and existing material, an interesting provenance, a project on which a student is working, a human interest story in an archival collection.
  • Form a brief “elevator pitch” to make sure the story is compelling

2. Select material that tells your story

  • Limit the number of objects to make the event manageable to organizers and to focus the narrative for the audience. Use up to five items.

  • Think about what is visually interesting, captivating, and immediately tells a story on its own without staff interpretation.

  • Be attentive to the condition and robustness of the material if it going to be handled. Consider using duplicate copies and/or facsimiles to safeguard the original.

3. Submit a proposal

Pick a compelling title that will hopefully attract an audience and can be used in your promotion of the event.

4. Collect materials

  • As a pop-up lead, you are responsible for collecting circulating materials. Identify the library locations and call numbers, and retrieve the books. You may want to give yourself additional time in case the book is not on the shelf. You will check out all of the materials to your patron account, and bring them to Van Pelt on the day of the pop-up.
  • If you are requesting materials from LIBRA, or from a departmental library which you are unable to visit in person, allow 2 weeks time for retrieval, delivery, and inspection of the material to determine display needs (cradles, etc). You may request that the item be held at Van Pelt circulation on your behalf.
  • If you would like to use materials that are non-special but also non-circulating (e.g. seminar room or reference material), coordinate this request with the responsible bibliographer for that collection so that the material may be checked out to you. In order to ensure patrons know what is available and what is not, it is important that all materials be checked out.

5. Determine the supplies needed to safely display the materials

  • See the Penn Libraries Events and Outreach Guide which includes helpful hints, contacts, checklists, information about the VPDLC 109 closet which contains foam board, sign holders, easels, tablecloths, promotional material, etc.

  • Make certain that you have identified what supplies you need prior to event.

  • Other items that might be useful in your planning, upright picture frames, item labels and individual signage. If material cannot be handled, create a sign that tells the audience your rules.

  • Think about magnifying glasses? Other specialized tools? Cradles, weights, tilts, etc.

  • Swag


6. Publicize your pop-up

  • Keep Strategic Communications/Mary Ellen Burd in loop on pop-up schedule

  • Take a photo of a representative item, write a blurb, and share widely; but at least to:

    • Strategic Communications/Mary Ellen Burd

    • Email lists

  • Make certain date, time, and location are included in all emails, social media, etc.

  • Contact departments, professors, organizers of related exhibitions, events, etc .

  • Social media

  • Digital signage

  • Permanent signage in Lee Lounge


7. Hold the event

  • Transport your material to Lee Lounge on carts

  • Set up material on table, being aware of how audience will view the material (more fragile or

    unique material should be place at the back of the table farther away from the audience, etc.)

  • Snap a few photographs of the table, and possibly of interactions.

  • Two people should be at table at all times, if Special Collections material are used.

  • Be prepared to tell your story and provide additional information about Penn Libraries,

    generally; your department; the collection; and the subject of the exhibit. Make sure you are

    prepared for a variety of questions.

  • Stay at the table until the time of the exhibit has elapsed, even if you have lulls in traffic.

  • Count the number of visitors who stop—metrics may be very important as we move forward.


8. Post-Event clean-up and wrap-up

  • Transport your material to your workspace on carts (one person)

  • Return supplies to storage location, possibly the 109 Closet depending upon supplies used (one


  • Return collections to Van Pelt circulation desk

9. Document your event

  • Record list of the items that were used in the exhibit in a shared spreadsheet that includes: MMS ID, holdings id of item (when known), name up the pop-up event, date of pop-up event, curator, and if the item was reviewed by conservation.

  • Record number of visitors.

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