21 March 2018




Welcome to the final edition of Beyond Tradition on Campus! For my last post this year, I will be venturing inside the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library. The library opened in its current location in 1973, and has established a reputation for its extensive collection of rare books and dedication to research. Over the years, the Fisher library has also held several special exhibitions. Its current exhibition displays pieces of the collection but also integrates technology and interpretive materials in new and exciting ways.

Fleeting Moments, Floating Worlds, and the Beat Generation: The Photography of Allen Ginsberg is currently on display on the at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library. The exhibit explores Allen Ginsberg, a poet known for his defining role in the Beat literary movement. Ginsberg’s poetry is familiar to many, especially his poem Howl, but the exhibit explores the familiar poet through his  less familiar photography. The library is home to the largest collection of Ginsberg prints in the world, and the exhibition displays over 100 of these photographs. 

Poster for the current exhibit at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library: "Fleeting Moment Floating Worlds, and the Beat Generation: The Photography of Allen Ginsberg. Photo courtesy of Amy Intrator.
The scope of the exhibit is phenomenal. The exhibit displays photographs taken throughout Ginsberg’s long literary life, from early photographs taken before his seminal works were published, to portraits of friends and fellow Beat poets in the 1950s and onwards, to photographs taken up to Ginsberg’s death in 1997. The exhibition takes on the major task of contextualizing Ginsberg’s photography, which captures everything from same sex relationships in the mid-twentieth century, to the Beat movement and its poets, to the counter-culture movements in the 1960s, to social justice in the late twentieth century. The extended timeline makes for a lot of content, but the exhibit is also full of interpretive tools that make this material more accessible, like the iPads dispersed throughout the exhibition space.

The first display case of the exhibit, which includes photographs and poetry by Ginsberg. Photo courtesy of Amy Intrator. 

The iPads help make the information in the exhibit accessible in new forms. The digital content doesn’t repeat the information available in the display cases, but rather, provides new forms of digital interaction. The iPads offer the visitor a menu of options, from listening to an audio recording of Howl, to viewing the pages of the poem’s manuscript, to scrolling through a detailed timeline of Ginsberg’s life. For a visitor who may not have the time to read every panel, or who prefers to navigate material at their own pace, the iPads offer new opportunities to interact with Ginsberg the man, the poet, and the photographer. 

One of the iPads on display at the exhibit. Photo courtesy of Amy Intrator.

Beyond the iPads, the library also offers free audio tours of the exhibition available on iTunes and Soundcloud. The curator-led tour offers another way to interact with the exhibition and supplements the material on display with additional insights. On the library’s Soundcloud page, anyone can access tours from the last five exhibitions. These tours supplement current exhibitions, but they also provide a way to interact with previous exhibitions that are no longer on display.

Poster for the exhibition's audio tour. Photo courtesy of Amy Intrator.

The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library may be primarily known for its amazing collection, but this exhibit opened my eyes to the library’s innovative use of its exhibition space. The library’s next exhibition, Mixed Messages: Making and Shaping Culinary Culture in Canada, will also feature a digital component. You can read more about the exhibition’s innovative approach in Jenny’s most recent article Who’s In the Kitchen? Exploring Canada’s Culinary Culture at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library.

With that final glimpse at an innovative space on campus, it’s time for me to bid farewell to this special edition series of Beyond Tradition. Thank you for joining me in my exploration of campus spaces. Through my campus journey, I learned that while campus may not be the first place I look for museum innovation, there are countless spaces that are incorporating exciting museum practices. I hope next time you embark on a museum adventure, you consider paying a visit to campus.

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