When I was asked if I would like to curate a cart display so that Special Collections & University Archives could participate in Gleeson’s National Library Week display, I was presented with a challenge. As an employee of the Special Collections & University Archives Department in Gleeson Library, this was a tricky assignment!
The display would be part of a roving exhibit, displayed on library carts, throughout Gleeson library. The theme: “connection with your library.” Of course we wanted to participate!
However, Special Collections & University Archives materials do not lend themselves well to roving displays! They require careful handling and specific conditions for display.
So this was my challenge: Display rare and archival materials in a way that is interesting to students, represents our department, but keeps the materials safe and reflects “connection.”
With this in mind, I thought, “what better way to connect with the department and the materials than to connect with us?”
I’ve noticed that the more that we, as the Special Collections & University Archives staff, show our excitement about our collections, the more excited that students and researchers become about working with these materials! So I asked the Special Collections & University Archives team to share the things in our collections that excite us most and why.
Nothing was off limits and nothing was too silly! The department really rose to the challenge and sent some fantastic examples from our Digital Collections.
Quick to submit her favorites, Gina Solares sent in several fantastic examples from USF’s Rare Books Collection. The two that I selected for the cart were both samples that would stand out in the standing page display loaned to us by the Outreach department. One of Gina’s selections included a map of the Americas from Theatrum orbis terrarum (or “Theater of the World”), published in 1570. Her reason for this choice: Who doesn’t love a good map? Gina also selected two pages from a 1497 Book of Hours because she loves the image of “La Danse Macabre” that decorates the margins of these pages. These selections were samples from large, impressive, illuminated books that, when opened, have illustrations that span across both pages. She also sent in the front page of the December 1, 1950 issue of the Foghorn that described the groundbreaking for Gleeson Library’s construction! Not only did Gina’s selections help to convey the spectrum of materials in our Rare Book Collection, but they also conveyed how impressive some of these materials can be.
Marina Cuneo was next to send in some excellent selections from the University of San Francisco’s Women’s Suffrage Collection. Marina chose portraits of Clara MacNaughton and Olympia Brown, two seminal figures in the Women’s Suffrage movement. These selections were not only made because both women were hugely influential in gaining suffrage for women, but also because they offer a more intimate look at these important figures… and because Mrs. MacNaughton is sporting a very fancy hat. Marina also selected a flyer from the University Archives’ Black Student Union Collection. This flier from 1969 announces events for Black Cultural Week.
Annie Reid, the University Archivist, also submitted some of her favorite selections from the Archives. Annie chose her archival examples because they directly connect today’s students to students of the past. She chose to highlight the “club” page in the 1987 USF yearbook. This was also peak USF fashion, which is always fun to see!
I also threw some of my personal favorites from Special Collections into the display. Having recently sifted through the Print Collection, I found a few pieces that captured my imagination. Those included a print of An Alphabet of Shakespeare Figures, by Wolfgang Lederer, made in 1993 and Cathy in Delirium by Claire Leighton, printed in 1931. I love these two works because who doesn’t love a touch of melodrama?
The rest of the cart, I filled with samples of books from our collection that can be found in both the Special Collections vault and in the Gleeson stacks! These books included a collections of Mark Twain’s correspondences from San Francisco and a tiny book listing and describing the seven pioneer libraries of San Francisco.
In the end, I believe that the Special Collections & University Archives library cart display did what it set out to do: it connected students to the collections we house and it represented us in Gleeson. Beyond that, though, I feel that the engagement that we all, as employees in this department, participated in did quite a bit to get us engaging with our own collections and with each other. I can’t wait to do another display in the future!