Tower of London

Tower of London

Monday, July 27, 2009

ACADEMIC- National Library of Scotland

The National Library of Scotland has taken a page out of the museum handbook and is reinvigorating the way libraries do business (or at least displays). While the majority of patrons come in to do research in one of the two main collections, Scottish authors and Scottish culture, there are also a large number of people who visit just to see the library’s featured exhibit.

“The Original Export” details the history of Scottish emigration and the strong desire of these emigrants to maintain their Scottish identity overseas. The exhibit beautifully portrays the history of the average citizen, not just of a few people deemed to be history worthy. These Scots are everyday people living through extraordinary circumstances.

Being a library, it would be easy to fall back on an exhibit of posters and books covered by glass; but the staff of the National Library of Scotland rightly prides themselves on finding new ways to make their exhibits interactive. They have gone above and beyond with “The Original Export”. Letters and pictures have been enlarged to encompass large areas of wall, there is a corner where people can share their own stories of emigration and travel or that of loved ones. Clothes, maps, models of ships and more keep the eyes moving at all times as you feel the overwhelming heaviness these emigrants must have felt as they left their homes for unknown worlds and opportunities.

Lest I forget the star of the show, there are the suitcases. Old-fashioned suitcases at each stop in the exhibit contain items that emigrants would have carried with them AND telephones that explain the items and other details of the trip being portrayed. It is so simple, yet it is novel in its creation and implementation. The exhibit was great, but this really set it apart from anything else I had seen in our many visits. In fact, the suitcases alone would bring me back in for a second visit and I would highly recommend it to anyone I met.

This part of the exhibit was one of my favorite things about the whole trip. Prior to visiting the National Library of Scotland, I thought it was wonderful that we were visiting so many museums as a group on this trip, but I was having a hard time really putting it into a useful perspective as a public librarian. Before now, I have always felt museums are in a completely different category then libraries with a separate set of professional guidelines and concerns. If there were any crossover, in my mind the connection was with academic libraries and not public libraries.

Needless to say, I have seen the light and am excited about what public librarians can take from our museum peers. Even though we may not have money set aside in the same way for exhibits and displays, we do have a lot of can-do motivation and great ideas. By moving outside the thinking of just putting like-minded books on a table or at the end of a bookcase, we can utilize exhibits in the same way to bring in new patrons and keep patrons coming back again and again.

When I walked into the National Library of Scotland that morning I was in no way prepared for the epiphany I would have. Now that I have made the connection between museums and public libraries, I cannot believe it took me so long in the first place. It just goes to show the beauty of libraries at their best. I went in looking for the Scottish heritage experience and left with so much more. Thank you National Library of Scotland!

For more information about the Library of Scotland, click here.

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