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Exhibitions at Penn Libraries

At a Glance: Preparing for Pop-Up

  • Identify a story
  • Select material that tells your story
  • Propose the pop-up exhibit with title and date
  • Page material
  • Make appointment with Conservation Department
  • Determine supplies needed
  • Publicize your pop-up event
  • Hold the event
  • Post-event clean-up and wrap-up
  • Document your event

Pop-Up: Special Collections - Example

Need an example of how pop-ups work for special collections? See the document below.

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 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 staffed by a minimum of two people

  • Be limited to no more than 5 items, selected with consideration toward visually interesting

    material suitable for a “show and tell” type of approach

  • Balance risks (security, handling, and physical conditions) and resources (staff time for retrieval

    and description)

  • 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

  • Be reviewed by Conservation, when Special Collection material is being used

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 for 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. Page materials

  • Special Collection material
    • Use Aeon to request material to Reading Room
  • If on site, page materials leaving 1⁄2 of Aeon slip in stacks and 1⁄2 with material
  • Keep in mind that many collections are held off-site at Libra
    • Budget at least 4 weeks to make certain that materials have arrived on site AND can be reviewed by Conservation 2 weeks prior to pop-up
    • Identify a safe location or material to be stored UNTIL the pop-up
  • Coordinate with Sarah Reidell, Margy E. Meyerson Head of Conservation for review (
  • If you are not a Kislak Center staff member, you will need to coordinate with Holly Mengel ( in order to make certain that a representative from Kislak will ensure safe transport of the material to the event, be one of the two people at the table during the event; and transport the material back to the Kislak Center following the event.

5. If using distinctive or special collections material, coordinate with Conservation

If you want to include distinctive or special collections materials in a pop-up event, please contact Conservation Department as early as possible but at least 2 weeks prior to the event. Email Sarah Reidell, Head of Conservation, to set up the appointment. You will then meet with Sarah or another a member of the Conservation Department to assess the suitability of your selected material and to review these factors:

  • Physical condition
  • Handling complexity
  • Sensitivity to temperature, light, and humidity
  • Security

Final inclusion is at the discretion of Conservation. During the meeting you will also discuss the appropriate display of items.

NOTE: If the special collections material you wish to exhibit is off-site at LIBRA, proposers should request material at least one month in advance, in order to allow time for delivery AND time for conservation review.


6. Determine supplies needed 

  • 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 (template

    attached) 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

7. 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

8. 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.

9. 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 their homes (either re-shelving or placing in queue for return to LIBRA),

    following established Aeon procedures and/or other requesting protocols

10. 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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