Friday, November 2, 2012

Exhibit Standards

Exhibits are great way for libraries to raise awareness about the gems in their collections.  An exhibit can showcase a little known collection of letters or highlight specific details within a well known story.

Exhibits can also be a lot of work, it is hard to pull together the right set of documents to tell a story and then write concise yet informative labels that bring everything together.  Displaying collections is also trickier than it seems.  You want to be certain that your exhibit area has good, stable environmental conditions in terms of temperature, relative humidity and lighting.  You want to be sure the cases seal so that the objects are free from dust and tampering.  There are a lot of details to address, but the good news is that there are standards available to help anyone involved in the exhibit process. 

The National Information Standards Organization publishes free technical leaflets, including "Environmental Conditions for Exhibiting Library & Archival Materials" [Z39.79-2001] which is available as a free, downloadable pdf. from their website.  The link to the pdf. is in the lower left corner of the linked NISO page.  These standards can be particularly useful for those who do not have a conservator or exhibits preparator on staff.

One commonly overlooked detail is a backing board for paper documents.  Many institutions re-use Plexiglas cradles from one exhibit to the next, and this makes a certain amount of sense as it eliminates waste and saves money.  Of course, paper documents come in many different sizes, so a cradle from a previous exhibit will often have to be modified.  Take a look at the picture below, and see how the document is taller and wider than the Plexiglas.  This may not seem like a significant amount, but this is 400 year old paper that has seen a bit of wear and tear over the years and if left on display without proper support, the letter could start to curl and droop over the edge of the Plexiglas cradle.  Why take that chance?

see how much the document hangs over on the left and at the top?

All that you need to do is take a piece of archival mat board and trim it so that it is just a few millimeters longer and wider than the original document, and then strap the document to it with polystrap so that it doesn't shift while you're opening and closing the exhibit case.  This is very easy to do and will make a tremendous difference in the long term preservation of your collections.

mat board trimmed to size
Chapter 8 of the NISO standard has all the basics for safe display of flat paper items, and the rest of the document has very useful information for bound volumes, lighting, etc.  So go ahead, check it out!

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