Only two pages of artist Erica Van Horn’s book “Folded Napkins” are on display at the Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscripts Library, but an online version of the exhibition allows guests to flip through the entire volume from anywhere with an Internet connection.
The books, artifacts and memorabilia housed in the Beinecke can rarely leave the great marble structure, an obstacle for those interested in perusing the library’s holdings. But efforts to expand the library’s online resources, particularly in the realm of Web exhibitions, is bringing more of the collection to a wider audience, said Rebekah Irwin, Head of Digital Projects and Metadata.
The Beinecke’s online exhibitions garnered more than 321,000 hits in 2009, as compared to the roughly 75,000 visitors to the building, according to statistics compiled by the Beinecke.
“The materials here don’t have a life outside of the library, and the Web exhibitions are a way to get the materials out,” Irwin said. “We would like it if every exhibition had an accompanying Web site.”
“The Book Remembers Everything: The Work of Erica Van Horn,” which opened simultaneously online and at the library in January, marks the third exhibition put together solely by in-house staff to go online in the past year, reflecting a renewed effort towards digital resources. Several more projects are in the works, three Beinecke staff members said in interviews.
Reasearch Librarian Eva Guggemos, the resident Web design expert at the library, worked as a web designer earlier in life and designed the three online exhibits that have launched in the past year.
Guggemos said she works closely with the curators of the physical exhibition to create the online supplement — the curators pick the objects for the Web version as well — and attempts to remain true to the aesthetics of the show itself.
“The library as a whole has come to grips in a fantastically energetic way, with digital culture and how to engage with our readers in the digital world,” said Kathryn James, assistant curator for the Early Modern and Osborn Collections. “It’s the communal product of a lot people.”
James curated the exhibitions “Starry Messenger: Observing the Heavens in the Age of Galileo” and “Really As it Was: Writing the Life of Samuel Johnson” in 2009, both of which had online counterparts. She added that Guggemos recently put together a template for the exhibitions, quickening the process of creating a Web exhibit.
And the newest exhibitions have been successful so far, Irwin said. The Web exhibition for “The Book Remembers Everything” had over 22,000 hits since it launched in January, according Beinecke data.
The online exhibitions not only provide wider access to the collection as a whole, but also give viewers the opportunity to take a closer look at rare items that are kept behind glass in the physical exhibit.
“The Internet allows us to exhibit collection materials in dynamic ways that may not be possible in our exhibition cases,” Nancy Kuhl, who curated “The Book Remembers Everything,” said in an e-mail. “For example, online we can show several pages or in some cases the entirety of a book while we may only be able to show one two-page spread of the book here at the library.”
Though the Yale University Art Gallery does not have a comparable effort for putting all exhibitions online, they have just launched an exclusively online exhibition entitled, “There’s No Place Like Home: Student Rooms at Yale, 1870-1910,” gallery spokesperson Ana Davis said in an e-mail.