Curating an Exhibit in Special Collections and Archives

UI Libraries Special Collections and Archives welcomes exhibit proposals for our third-floor hallway exhibit cases. University of Iowa faculty and staff are invited to submit statements of interest 12 months prior to an exhibit’s potential installation date; community members or graduate students may serve as co-curators if desired. Two key purposes of the exhibit space are to increase visibility of UI Libraries Special Collections and Archives materials and to share unique research from our campus community through those collections.

Please note that proposals are welcome for Spring and Fall exhibit slots; the summer exhibit slot is reserved. Exhibits must showcase materials from the University of Iowa Libraries Distinctive Collections.

Where is the Special Collections and Archives exhibit space?

The exhibit space encompasses six cube-shaped cases along the glass reading room wall in the third-floor hallway, and three rectangular cases inside the reading room. Additional information regarding the exhibit cases is available on request.

Thinking about submitting a proposal?

If you are interested in submitting a proposal or have questions about the process, please email Lindsay Moen, Lead Public Services Librarian, at lib-spec@uiowa.edu. This is a competitive process, and exhibits are selected by a committee.

Thank you for your interest in creating an exhibition for the University of Iowa Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives!

Exhibit Proposals

A successful proposal will include an abstract, information about learning objectives for visitors, and a list of proposed University of Iowa Libraries objects to display in the exhibition.

Top consideration will be given to exhibition ideas with well-defined themes, a clear thesis, and that bring forward materials from creators underrepresented in the archives.

A proposal template is available upon request.

Confirmed exhibitions will include a significant time commitment from the curator(s). Please email Lindsay Moen at lib-spec@uiowa.edu with any questions about curatorial commitment.

Material Selection

Potential curators must spend time reviewing relevant collections in the University of Iowa Libraries to ensure ample item options for a compelling display. Some examples of relevant collections and specific items should be included in the proposal.

UI Distinctive Collections, especially Special Collections and Archives collections, must be the primary sources from which display items are drawn, though a limited number of items may be brought in from other institutions or collections on loan.

Distinctive Collections curators should be consulted during the selection process, as some materials will not be suitable for display due to size, value, etc.

Audience

The exhibit space is a learning space both for students and the general public. Consideration should be given to how undergraduates, graduate students, and community demographics may respond to an exhibition topic.

Curator Expectations

A guest curator is someone who assembles a research-based story narrative for the exhibition medium. This storytelling is enhanced by a selection of compelling items from the collections. Faculty and full-time staff of the University of Iowa are eligible to serve as curators/co-curators. Co-curators may be students and local community members if a University of Iowa staff or faculty member serves as lead curator.

Curating an exhibition is a significant time investment, but the exhibit production process will be guided by staff and a reasonable production calendar.

  • Curators are expected to commit to their exhibit project from beginning to end, including completing key curatorial tasks such as research, item selection, and narrative text writing.
  • Curators must receive verbal approval from their direct supervisor or department chair prior to beginning the proposal process.
  • Curators must allow Libraries staff to exercise executive authority in design and item display.
  • Curators are expected to meet all agreed-upon deadlines.
  • Lead curators should be prepared to devote several months to exhibition production. A specific timeline will be established once the Exhibit Committee approves the proposal.
    Example:

    • ~ 6 months of moderate work to plan the exhibition (thorough research, archives visits, narrative outline, item selection, meetings, communication tasks)
    • ~2 months of work before opening day (writing exhibit text, editing, approving designs, etc.)
    • Material selection must be completed at least 1 month prior to installation date to allow Conservation staff the appropriate amount of preparation time.
  • A public event near the opening or closing of the exhibit is optional; department staff will support it according to calendar availability.

Proposal Submission & Selection Process

Step I: Potential curators should reach out to the Lead Public Services Librarian to determine the next available exhibit slot.

Step II: Potential curators should submit a statement of interest based on the questionnaire (below). Top consideration will be given to exhibition ideas with well-defined themes, learning objectives, and that bring forward materials from creators underrepresented in the archives.

Step II: The selection committee reviews the statement(s). The statement with the strongest theme, highest potential for impact, and a topic with plentiful available materials for display will be accepted.

Step III: Approved guest curators begin working with the Lead Public Services Librarian. A production calendar will be established.

Exhibit Calendar

Exhibit proposals from curators external to the department should be submitted 12 months prior to an intended installation date. For example, if an exhibit would go up in January 2025, the proposal would be due in January 2024. Exceptions are made for department staff, full or part-time, who may submit a proposal 9 months in advance.

An initial materials list will be due by the beginning of the semester prior to the exhibit; so for the exhibit going up in January 2025, the item list would be due in August 2024. Item selection must be complete by mid-October.