Thursday, August 31, 2017

A Quiet Moment

By Frank Boles

August 28th we began the process of installing our Fall exhibit, celebrating CMU’s 125th anniversary by presenting the voices of 125 people who have helped make that history happen.  Installing a new exhibit is always an exciting moment, but also a bittersweet one. Before the new exhibit can go up, the existing exhibit comes down.

I came into the library a few minutes early on the 28th, for a final chance to reflect on “As Remote as the Moon: The Soo Locks in Photos.” Every exhibit has its joys and triumphs, its trials and tribulations, and the Soo Locks exhibit was no different. There were carefully planned components and last minute decisions, usually the result of something not working quite the way everyone thought it would. But on the last morning every exhibit takes on a bit of nostalgia. All those moments of joy and concern come together to create a complicated quilt of emotion and remembrance.
What I remember most are the people who made the exhibit come to life. Michelle Briggs, the U.S Army Corps of Engineers Park Ranger at the Soo, who made the exhibit possible with a phone call asking the Clarke staff to come up to the Locks and see if we could work out a plan to deal with the historic records stored there by the USACE. She also gave a wonderful presentation to open the exhibit in 2017. There is a good reason the Soo Locks Visitor Center is worth the visit – Michelle.
Bryan Whitledge who, when the Corps of Engineers decreed that the glass plate negatives would not come to us for scanning, made the long trip to the Soo (in February) to spend several weeks on the third floor of the Locks Administration Building. He worked in a building designed to keep its inhabitants warm no matter what the weather – so warm some days Bryan worked in a t-shirt and shorts. Bryan kept three scanners running constantly, and still found time to puzzle together the occasional shattered negative.
Janet Danek, the Libraries Exhibits & Projects Coordinator, a title that ignores the tremendous work she performs in drawing up the plans for, and then installing, each new exhibit. Every exhibit tells a story, and Janet is the person who makes the story come to life. She also directs a small army of students and volunteers who seem to arrive from everywhere to help install the nearly complete exhibit. Especially noteworthy are Peggy Brisbane and Sally Rose, who regularly make installation easier by giving hours of their time over the course of a few days.
Working with Janet is Rebecca Zeiss. For years, Rebecca has created the panels that are placed on the walls. In the past several years she has taken Janet’s ideas and shaped them into the extraordinary display pieces that we place up for the public to see. Over the years, Rebecca has made every topic work – an accomplishment worth noting since some of the source material given her is less than visually stunning: way, way less.
The cooperative help of the Clarke staff is also found in every exhibit. There is the inevitable last minute, “don’t we have one of those,” “how did we miss that,” and “this just isn’t going to work – what else do we have” moments that Reference Librarian John Fierst and Archivist Marian Matyn drop everything else and respond to. It is a great way to ruin their well-planned day, and it happens often enough that I can only thank them for their patience, and not saying, “what now?”
Susan Paton, the assistant editor of the Michigan Historical Review, also has her work interrupted by an exhibit. Among the challenges in any exhibit are linguistic concerns– from subject-verb agreement to commas (and the occasional, “what on earth are you trying to say?”) – concerns Susan regularly helps us resolve. Although I dread of those fateful words spoken after an exhibition is supposedly complete, “you need to read this,” the concern is considerably lessened by Susan’s good work.
Each exhibit has a person or two who lends us wonderful treasures that bring the exhibit to life in ways the Library’s own collection could not. The Soo Locks show was no different. Gary Skory, director of the Midland County Historical Society, has loved the Locks and collected all sorts of tourist items, from pieces of tourist china to restaurant place mats. His loaned material helped us tell the story of the tourist industry that has developed around the Soo Locks in a way that we simply could not have accomplished without his help.
And I would be terribly remiss if I also didn’t mention the many student employees who make exhibits happen. Drake Smarch, who works with Janet Danek, becomes a regular part of our staff during exhibit installation. Clarke student employees are pulled from their regular assignments for all sorts of help. Sometimes what they do may not feel important to them – but it is critical. Without their help we simply could not take down one exhibit and put up another. I hope our student employees, who don’t get much glory for their help, realize how deeply their contribution is appreciated.
Thank you, everyone, for making Clarke exhibits so memorable. I will miss the Soo Locks show, but I look forward to the exhibit celebrating the University's 125th anniversary, which opens September 13th.