by Evelyn Kobayashi
Manager, Health Sciences Library
Kaiser Permanente Greater Southern Alameda County – San Leandro Medical Center
San Leandro, CA
The circus no longer comes to town, but NLM’s traveling exhibits do. At San Leandro Medical Center, we hosted For All the People: A Century of Citizen Action in Health Care Reform for six weeks beginning September 24, 2018. The educational program of exhibits, ranging from Renaissance Science, Magic, and Medicine in Harry Potter’s World at UC San Diego in 2012 to Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature at UC Riverside last summer, has recently put out a bid for new reservations in the Pacific Southwest Region. The timing is fortunate for librarians who are interested in hosting an exhibit, and who would not be? The beautiful graphics and the bite-size facts on impressive 7-foot panels, the depth of online resource materials, lesson plans, and document images make the exhibits a treat for all eyes and a valuable attention-getter for libraries.As a veteran of three hosting experiences, I can offer a few words of advice. The first words are: Location, location, location! Negotiation may be required to secure a spot which naturally has maximum foot traffic in your facility. After location, timing is most important. Can the exhibit co-locate and coordinate with any other event(s) that will draw viewers? These factors play an essential role in maximizing the potential viewership of every topic. Choosing an exhibit that meshes strongly with the interests of your audience is also important. As an example, we found that Pick Your Poison had a certain allure which was well beyond that of For All the People or A Voyage to Health, but reactions may differ in other communities.
After the basics are set, the next stage is to recruit a team and develop a full plan for the run-up to opening day and afterwards. The team should be volunteers (possibly from other departments or student interns) who will study the exhibit’s content and be willing to engage with visitors to answer questions, enriching the experience for both sides. Other parts of the plan may include internal and external publicity, community contacts, and small details such as a distinctive name badge for team members. Added interest can be achieved by venturing into showmanship: a carnival wheel with small prizes is a low-tech but sure-fire attraction for children. Raffles also stimulate interest and can be repeated as often as the supply of prizes allows; t-shirts and book bags make reliable incentives. Serendipity and recycling can also work to an exhibit’s advantage. In the current case at San Leandro, we inherited a large number of helium balloons from another event and have used them, gently swaying in the air conditioning breeze, to draw attention to the entire display. The hospital gift shop has obligingly refilled balloons as they flattened, and in many such instances we have found that help is gladly given if we only ask.
An unpredictable but extremely interesting element in hosting is that we never know who will stop for a visit and conversation. Visitors’ life experiences can be intimately connected to the history displayed on the panels – and they share their stories. Typical comments in our log book include “Thank you for having this exhibit. I appreciate the history that was presented.” and “Brings back memories!”
A glance at the NLM website’s map titled Exhibitions: Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going shows that western states have had fewer exhibit events than other regions. With ingenuity and teamwork, now could be the time for Westerners to welcome more of NLM’s excellent traveling exhibits. Try one!