A Reflection on Seven Years in the Divinity Library Exhibit Programs

By Charlotte Lew, Exhibit Preparator and Collections Assistant

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The renovation of the Divinity Library in 2006 set the stage for the exhibit programs. At the completion of the renovation, the addition of six exhibit cases spotlighted the library’s potential as a suitable location where art and theological education are integrated. The library has an envisioned goal to provide an environment in which the visual expressions of the spirit can be as essential as the written words. Retrospectively, it was a leap of faith to dedicate valuable space in the new facility to a program not yet developed. Ten years after the renovation, the exhibit programs continue to thrive and prove what can be achieved with appropriate facilities and administrative support.

Along with one hundred forty years of the Divinity School’s growth, the library collections have been expanded and enriched. The treasures of collections formerly underpublicized and underappreciated have become star attractions thanks to the exhibit programs. One important aim of the exhibitions is to promote, interpret, and encourage the use of the collections. Exhibitions are designed to stimulate new audiences and researchers to pursue new ideas. For seven years, I have been contemplating whether my endeavor to adhere to the goals of the programs has proven to be fruitful. A review of the exhibits may provide an answer.

Soong’s Saga in 2009 and Brockman’s Mission Life in Asia in 2011 exemplified contributions from the Divinity community to bring visitors in to the library from as far away as Ohio and North Carolina. Books as Art: Sacred Texts in 2012 displayed jewels from the rare book collections to draw viewers to Special Collections to learn more about materials on display. God in Music City in 2013 showcased faculty achievements that promoted interdisciplinary research and teaching on campus. The Fight for Freedom: Religious Rights in 2014 highlighted the important role played by Divinity faculty and students in the local and national Civil Rights Movement. Vanderbilt Judaica Collection: 70 Years in the Making in 2015 collaborated with the Jewish Studies Center and Congregation Micah to publicize the strength of the Judaica Collection. The current exhibit, Syriac: Preserving an Endangered World Culture, shares the Vanderbilt research collaborations of an international team of scholars in an online reference hub to raise awareness of the role of Syriac culture in world history. An interactive touch screen recently installed features materials that cannot fit into the display cases. The new interactive display brings the exhibit program to a higher level.

Using exhibitions as opportunities to cooperate with library friends, donors, students, and faculty takes considerable time and energy. To design the exhibit to feature the materials in appealing ways and with striking presentation poses challenges; nevertheless, creating a welcoming public space as a forum where the educational experience can be cultivated and personal and spiritual formation can be encouraged is validating and even gratifying. As the exhibit schedule changes in the coming months, again I surrender myself to God’s provision. Just like Elisha’s widow, whose oil sufficiently reached her neighbors, I hope a small jar of my oil can also witness God’s boundlessness that flows to you and to the community.