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Main library prepares for exhibit hall

BY CARLY MATTHEW | FEBRUARY 02, 2015 5:00 AM

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Construction of an updated exhibit hall is ongoing at the Main Library, which could open as early as September.

“We knew we wanted to renovate the space so that we could bring library exhibits up to a new level,” said Giselle Simón, the University of Iowa Libraries Preservation Department conservator. “We wanted to display our rare materials in a better setting.”

Construction of the exhibition space has a guaranteed completion date of Oct. 1.

The space had been used as an exhibition hall since the 1950s with few updates. After completion of the Learning Commons project in the fall of 2013, the area was left empty.

Nancy Kraft, the UI Libraries head of preservation and conservation, said once the area is reopened, the library tentatively plans to host an exhibit on James Van Allen, a former UI graduate and professor known, among many other things, for discovering the Van Allen Radiation Belts.

The library could possibly display Van Allen’s papers, videos of him, his newly digitized sound recordings from space, and one of his satellites.

“This project could really highlight the things in our collections that we weren’t ever able to put out in the gallery space before,” Simón said.

Early stages of the exhibition project began immediately after completion of the library’s Learning Commons project with a proposal approved in August 2013.

“Once the idea became real, we had to decide how to fund it,” said Mark Erlandson, the director of UI Libraries finance and facilities. “We started by identifying library resources that would be put toward the project.”

The library applied for a grant through the Carver Charitable Trust and was granted $500,000 in April 2014. The rest of the funding for the project will come from the library’s general funds and from donors.

The total project cost is an estimated $1.3 million.

The exhibit area was once, to some students, a little more than popular shortcut across the library’s first floor.

“It still had its 1950s façade,” Simón said. “It really was in need of attention.”

Prior to the Learning Commons project, it was possible to walk straight through the library by crossing the exhibit space.

“Our old gallery space really acted as a lobby,” Kraft said.

People continually passed through the space, preventing librarians from safely displaying certain materials.

After reopening, the area will include security cameras, surveillance, and alarmed exhibit cases, Kraft said.

After the completion of the library’s Learning Commons project, the space became self-contained and therefore more controlled, but there were no clear plans for the area at the time.

“We have to parcel projects in a way we can afford them,” Kraft said.

The update will add other museum-grade features, including proper lighting and dehumidification equipment. This will allow the library to borrow collections from outside galleries, museums, and libraries.

Because exhibits will be located next to Shambaugh Auditorium, Kraft said, the library would gain the ability to host events for students and the public.

“This new space will be more visible and I think students will be more likely to participate, because it will be there and inviting,” she said.

She said the library was especially interested in hosting lectures with receptions to follow in the exhibition area.

“We hope to have faculty to bring classes there, especially if a lesson coincides with a theme,” Simón said.

The library may also showcase performance art and student work.

“There are all kinds of ways we’ll be able to use that area exhibiting and learning and teaching,” Kraft said. “The space now, with the Learning Commons, is going to be so complementary.”


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