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Who Taught Her That? NLS Project Blog

Who Taught Her That? NLS Project Blog

This blog tracks my progress and challenges through my work on the National Library of Scotland's project 'Behind Glass? Digital Literature, Artefact and the Language of Display' in conjunction with the Edinburgh College of Art's Masters by Research in Collections and Curating Practices programme at the University of Edinburgh.

1.5.2 Conversation Corner

It is important to us that our exhibition move beyond display and include interactive elements.  We had spoken in our October 2nd class with Jen Ross and Mairi Lafferty about the difference between restricted interaction (still curated by the institution) and full interaction (organic and unplanned), as well as the ethics of co-creation and co-production with an audience while still respecting the hard work of research staff.

Our goal is to have a fully interactive portion of the exhibition, with the secondary function of broadening inclusivity by involving a diverse group of women across the spectrums of race, sexuality, and the job sector.  The NLS’s collection sprang from the Advocate’s Library, collected over centuries by and for a white affluent male audience.  As such, we have been struggling to find authentic female voices, and to find diversity within those, and see this as a good way to off-set that.

Our original idea was to hold external events at a separate space during the exhibition, but we struggled with how to ensure audience members attended both for the full experience, and decided it would be better to incorporate the events within our space.  This new space restriction necessitated a more organic and less formal approach, and it evolved into the idea of the Conversation Corner, a comfortable space where up to 6 attending visitors can filter in and out as they attend the exhibition, and stay for a coffee/tea and a chat with our Inspirational Women, who will be attending in shifts.

We have invited Dr. Christina Mackaill, an queer NHS doctor and Space Medicine pioneer; Ada Oguntodu, a fashion blogger; Professor Melissa Terras, head of the Edinburgh Futures Institute who researches the intersection of the humanities and digital technologies; Theresa Munoz, an award-winning poet whose current project is based in the NLS’s Muriel Spark Archive; Morag Smith and Lauren Kelly, the Glasgow Women’s Library’s National Development Worker and Archive Apprentice (respectively); and Alys Mumford, who is Communications and Engagement Manager at Engender, Scotland’s feminist policy and advocacy organisation.  We also invited explorer Mollie Hughes, and sexuality author Dr. Meg-John Barker, both of whom were otherwise engaged.

Photo Credit: Aija Cave

Takeaways and For-Next-Times:

It would have been nice having a panel discussion with all 7 of our inspirational women to speak more intentionally about their careers and advice, as often times the organic conversation format steered away from those things.

The format was really excellent for bringing up unexpected conversations and feedback, and allowed us as curators to participate in the exhibition, as well as hear direct feedback and answer questions from visitors.  NLS Curator Graeme Hawley even said to me, “at first we wondered why this exhibition should have a Conversation Corner, but now we will wonder why exhibitions shouldn’t have a Conversation Corner.”

Ada Oguntodu wound up cancelling the night before her appearance, and we replaced her with Erica Hungerford, a local Marketing Director.  I am glad we had the networking ability to do this.


Entry Wordcount: 493

Running Total Wordcount: 1820

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