Olin Library opens new museum-quality exhibit spaces

Exhibits will showcase university special collections, considered among the best in academia

Olin Library exhibit
The "Lasting Legacies" exhibit in Olin Library's new Thomas Gallery features artifacts from remarkable alumni, including documentary filmmaker Henry Hampton. (Photo: James Byard/Washington University)

The new Thomas Gallery in Olin Library at Washington University in St. Louis unveiled this week its debut exhibition — “Lasting Legacies,” a tribute to noted alumni.

Nadia Ghasedi, associate university librarian, said the exhibit will be the first of many to showcase University Libraries’ Department of Special Collections, which, at 1,000 different collections, is among academia’s largest and most diverse.

“The possibilities are so exciting,” Ghasedi said. “We have not only quintupled the amount of space we have for exhibitions, we now have a museum-quality space to display these important objects.”

Highlights of “Lasting Legacies” include a letter from a young Barack Obama to Henry Hampton, the leading documentary maker of the civil rights movement, and a Tennessee Williams university blue book containing the short poem “Blue Song.” Williams famously quit Washington University after losing a playwriting competition to “King of the Hill” author A.E. Hotchner, who is also featured in the exhibit.

Unlike a museum, the university’s special collections are available for public use. 

One thing I hear all the time is, ‘That’s amazing! Can I see it? Can I touch it?’ And the answer typically is ‘Yes you can,’” Ghasedi said. “Exhibitions are one way to engage with primary source materials, and we hope students come away inspired to use our collections in their learning and research.”

Level 1 of the Newman Tower also will showcase exhibits from the Department of Special Collections as well as exhibits created by faculty and students. (Photo: James Byard/Washington University)

The Thomas Gallery, located along the corridor that connects the south entrance to the new north entrance, is one of the many new spaces completed this month.

Other additions include:

  • Level 1 of the Newman Tower of Collections and Exploration: Another exhibit space, the Newman Tower, currently is displaying St. Louis Browns memorabilia, Biedermeier greeting cards and a handwritten invoice from Michelangelo.
  • Instruction Rooms: New and improved spaces will enable library staff to teach students and faculty how to access and use library resources.
  • Research Studio: The studio is equipped with computing stations and specialized software optimized for group and individual work involving large data sets and mapping data.

Coming soon

  • Declaration of Independence: A gift from the family of Eric and Evelyn Newman, this copy was printed  by Solomon Southwick in July 1776, shortly after the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, and posted across Rhode Island. Only seven copies of the Southwick broadside exist today. The handwritten copy of the declaration on display at the National Archives was finally signed on Aug. 2, 1776. 
  • A/V Studio: The studio supports audio and video recording, photo shoots and e-learning activities.
  • Data and Visual Exploration(DaVE): Users can facilitate data visualization and exploration in virtual-reality and augmented-reality environments.
  • On Level 1, across from the Thomas Gallery: Materials about the Emancipation Proclamation from the James E. and Joan Singer Schiele Print Collection will be on display.

Earlier this semester, Olin debuted an improved Whispers Café along with Risa’s Landing and the Sky Room in the Newman Tower of Collections and Exploration.

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