Whenever a group of information professionals gather to share ideas, I generally experience a shower of thoughts and an immediate stimulation of “the little grey cells”. The IFLA CPDWL Satellite Meeting 2019 in Zagreb was no exception. With its international outlook and 160 attendees across different LIS disciplines, as I predicted in my conference preview, I learned something new in every session.

Although I will return to the sessions on (1) mentoring, (2) online CPD and (3) the importance of political advocacy, there was one presentation that really caught my imagination. Lotta Wogensen from Malmö University Library shared her team’s experience of creating a librarian-curated exhibition space.

Malmö University Library Exhibition Project

Exhibitions in libraries are not new – witness the tradition of British Library blockbuster shows. Many other institutions with libraries also make creative use of their own rare book and manuscript collections. They also successfully facilitate, promote or participate in other kinds of history, oddly esoteric, or academic exhibitions. However this Swedish project required that university librarians became curators for – and with – their own university researchers.

Their aim was to enhance and develop the role of the library and library team. They produced physical exhibitions to disseminate research carried out by the university. By being thought provoking, driven by curiosity, and taking a critical stance, the librarian-curated exhibitions challenged the information team to take an active part in knowledge producing and sharing process.

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One small step for librarians…one giant leap for knowledge

In an interview Hans Ulrich Obrist said, “Sergei Diaghilev. He didn’t dance. He wasn’t a choreographer. He didn’t compose. He didn’t direct. But he was, to use a term the writer JG Ballard said to me in an interview, a junction-maker.” [my emphasis] By bringing together artists, dancers, musicians the famous impresario was a creative catalyst for their ideas.

In my opinion it is a small step from librarian to curator. This is what library and information workers do everyday. They source and research worthwhile information, then filter and verify their findings to assess its significance and relevance. They then present the knowledge in a way that is appropriate to their end users.

The library staff at Malmö University demonstrated that with creativity and imagination they are perfect ‘junction-makers’. They created a black box (or possibly white cube) space to showcase current academic research as a visual, non-verbal show. The work involved cannot be under-estimated and they were granted extra support and funding for the project.

A 5 Step Model to being an ‘editor of ideas’

They came up with a 5 Step Model to make the process as efficient as possible. I believe that it is applicable to any type of information curation, including current awareness newsletter curation.

Steps Exhibition Curation Newsletter Curation
Idea formation: What do you want to communicate and why? The process of making an exhibition starts with looking for ideas by scanning current research at the University. Formulate a purpose statement for the exhibition. It is important to reflect critically on the topic, the issue and the implementation throughout the process When you are considering a new current awareness bulletin, what are you looking to communicate? You might need to think about building source filters for more precise results. You need to talk to your end-users and think about the keywords and search terms that you might want to include. 
Planning: Form an exhibition team. This is an excellent opportunity for talent spotting amongst the library staff. The team needs at least one curator/librarian with responsibility for  meetings and agendas. Ask yourself, how can the research be shaped into an exhibition? Consider experience, interaction and information. What should be displayed? Make a prototype. Talk to topic specialists in your team and ask yourself if you have covered every angle in your search. Create a test newsletter and run it for a few days – or weeks – depending on the schedule. Decide whether it needs to be curated especially for your user(s), or if it can be automated. 
Production: The team works together, according to distribution of roles in building the exhibition within the allotted time-frame. This step also includes producing materials such as posters, and exhibition guides. Once you have a bulletin it is time to test it with your users. If you have created it in response to a request, inform other people in that subject area. Let your end-users know that you have created a newsletter for someone, and tell them that you can do the same for them. 
The Exhibition: At the opening, the exhibition is presented by the librarians and the researchers. The team manages and supports events in connection to the exhibition. Maintenance of the exhibition includes taking care of visitors’ comments, and answering questions. The end-result, eg the current awareness in the newsletter should satisfy the needs of the end-user. But let them know that you are on-hand to support them. If they have shared it with a wider audience, ensure that they are also happy with the results.
Closing: The exhibition has a predetermined end date. After the closing, it should be critically evaluated: what did the team learn; what did the audience take-away; what did the researchers learn. After completion the exhibition is submitted as an artistic work in the universities open access repository Every newsletter has an expiry date, they should not be expected to run indefinitely. Check in regularly with the newsletter recipients and see if the alert is still relevant. 

Whether you are an editor of ideas or curator of an organisational newsletter, libraries and librarians are instrumental in the production of knowledge. It is crucial that information teams are trusted by, and embedded within, the organisation. This session demonstrated that library skills are both transferable and transformable, and we should always be prepared to review our professional and personal development.