Exhibits work to inform, promote and entertain. It’s a unique way to tell a story – in a three-dimensional way, in descriptive panels, in tactile presentations and more. All of our libraries need to engage our communities in multiple ways and creating an exhibit – telling that story and defining that space – works.
And if you tell that story well people will notice – patrons will respond in positive ways such as increased attendance and circulation.
My background, before the library, was in the exhibit world – museums, tradeshows and experiential marketing events. I started at Waukegan Public Library as a volunteer and a year later was hired to do marketing and exhibits. What a wonderful place to use my experience!
The first big project was to celebrate the first year anniversary of our award winning Early Learning Center (ELC). Elizabeth Stearns, Assistant Director of Community Services, put together a great team from the library’s children’s department and volunteers – an experienced museum curator, a talented set builder and designer and me. “Dig the Dinosaurs” was born. Our audience was toddlers to 7 year-olds.
Dinosaur heads mounted to the wall, informative wall-size murals that show size comparisons and dino diets and life size skeleton of a smaller dino (5 feet long). There were dino costumes in the ELC Theater and crafts and programs that engaged and entertained the children. And it worked:
The Early Learning Center has shown an increase in attendance in all of its functions and programs since the Dino exhibit opened November 15, 2009. Total Children’s Department (including the ELC) attendance from 8/09 to 9/10 was 36,601.
12/08 – 5/09 8402
12/09 – 5/10 12114 +44%
ELC Program Attendance
12/08 – 5/09 2685
12/09 – 5/10 3031 +12%
12/08 – 5/09 11457
12/09 – 5/10 13279 +15%
In addition, it opened up a whole new line of programming that the community has embraced: Dinosauria!!; Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Reptiles from the Mesozoic Era; Making Dinosaurs – Paleo-modeling; Disappearing Dinosaurs; The Extinction of Dinosaurs and How to Draw Dinosaurs.
The success of “Dig the Dinosaurs” has led us to create a new themed exhibit every year for the ELC and Children’s Department. On December 5th, 2010 we will have the grand opening of our new exhibit: “Under the Sea”.
That’s an example of a major exhibit effort. Not all exhibits that work need to be that grand. We repurposed a diorama structure used for the dino exhibit to promote the 90th birthday party we had for Ray Bradbury, a Waukegan native and supporter. Ray lives in Los Angeles now and said hi via a taped video, there was storytelling, and Bradbury readings by the mayor and others. We created an exhibit that was in the entry area of the library and featured an interactive media screen that allowed patrons to select a topic and hear Ray discuss his views and memories of Waukegan. An 8 foot mural and shelves for Bradbury books was also part of the display. In addition it promoted our 5th Annual Ray Bradbury Storytelling Festival that was held a couple of months after his birthday. Many more of our patrons now know about one of local heroes and our Storytelling Festival was a huge success.
Define a space – tell a story – entertain and inform – exhibits work. And they can be an exciting and integral part of the mix that makes libraries a great asset to their communities.
Marketing and Exhibits Coordinator
Here are some photos of the exhibit.