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Smarten Up Your Library: Hosting an NLM Traveling Exhibition

Amanda K. Sprochi
J. Otto Lottes Health Sciences Library
Columbia, Missouri
sprochia@health.missouri.edu

 This past February, the J. Otto Lottes Health Sciences Library hosted a traveling exhibit from the National Library of Medicine History of Medicine Division, entitled “The Henkel Physicians: a Family’s Life and Letters.”

The Henkel Physicians Exhibit

The Henkel Physicians Exhibit

In October 2011, the National Library of Medicine History of Medicine Division (HMD) advertised opportunities for libraries to host one of their travelling exhibitions. The requirements to host an NLM exhibition are pretty minimal: a certain amount of floor space, a commitment to send the exhibit on via FedEx to the next exhibitor, and some general care guidelines. In looking over the offerings, I became interested in “The Henkel Physicians: a Family’s Life and Letters,” about a family of physicians—grandfather, father, and son—who practiced in the Virginia Shenandoah Valley during the 19th century, encompassing the years of the Civil War and Reconstruction. The Henkels’ family correspondence is held in the History of Medicine Division archives and encompasses letters written from 1786-1940. Much of this collection has been digitized and can be viewed online via the HMD online digital collections: Physician’s Lives in the Shenandoah Valley.

Signing up was easy. Available exhibits are featured on the NLM Exhibition Program webpage, and a calendar of available dates helps in booking. To book, a simple email to the traveling exhibits department is all that is required. We booked the Henkels Physicians for February 2013 in October 2011. For popular exhibits, you will have to book early, as slots go quickly. A confirmation letter is sent from NLM, obligating the exhibiting library to send the exhibit to the next venue via FedEx 2-day, at an estimated cost of $200-$400. Other requirements include adequate space out of direct sunlight and a safe, secure indoor location. PR materials, brochures, and other information is available for download from the NLM web site, and was of great use for promoting the exhibition. Exhibitions are loaned for different periods of time; the Henkel Physicians had a loan time of about six weeks.

Guest book and poster for the exhibit

Guest book and poster for the exhibit

The exhibit itself consists of three by seven foot banners with stands that easily store in two cylindrical containers for shipping. Set up with two people was a breeze; NLM estimates two hours for set up, but in reality it took about 20 minutes. They also recommend 500 -700 feet of floor space, which was a gross exaggeration of the space required. We used an area near a main floor staircase that is approximately 120 square feet and that was more than adequate. Using the materials provided by NLM, we printed 50 full color double-sided brochures, and four small posters for advertising. I set out a small table next to the exhibit with a guest book, a poster, and the brochures. We advertised the exhibit on the School of Medicine email list, the library’s News Notes, and on the HSL web site. Total expenditures amounted to about $75.

Originally, I was planning to have a small reception and perhaps an inaugural lecture to open the exhibit, Additionally, we planned to include some items from our own rare book room to supplement the NLM banners. Unfortunately, in mid-2012 the School of Medicine decided to renovate the first floor of our library, and moved the computer lab upstairs into the second/main floor area. Construction plans are still in flux and it was decided that trying to work around the ensuing chaos was probably not a good idea, so those plans were cancelled.

During the month of February, we had approximately 8400 people visit our library. Because of its prominent position on the main floor, it is probable that a large majority of our visitors had an opportunity to view the exhibit. Although we did have a guest book, we had relatively few people sign it, so that was not necessarily a good indication of attendance. Students were observed by staff members perusing the display.

This week, our time with the Henkel Physicians will come to an end. We’ll pack up the exhibit and send it on to its next home in Florida. NLM has a post-exhibit questionnaire to fill out, asking for approximate attendance, copies of PR materials used, pictures, and other comments. For little expenditure of staff time or money, we had the opportunity to add a bit of historical education to our learning environment, and it was well worth it in my opinion. I’m eyeing a Harry Potter exhibit for 2015, so stay tuned!

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