Integrated Art Spaces Support the Mission

By Melissa VandeBurgt, Visual Digital Collection Specialist, and Kaela Casey, Collections and Facilities Coordinator, John Spoor Broome Library, California State Univ.-Channel Islands, Camarillo

The John Spoor Broome Library, completed in 2008, is the centerpiece and intellectual heart of the California State University Channel Islands (CSUCI) campus located in Camarillo—and the display of art is a centerpiece of the library's design.

The newest of California's state universities, CSUCI has an educational philosophy built around interdisciplinary and multicultural studies. Displays of art and other visual materials were identified early on as important to this mission, with a focus on current work by students and faculty across disciplines and the ability to host major exhibitions.

Designing in Display Space

Both librarians and architects from Foster + Partners felt that dynamic and ever-changing exhibits would help showcase university accomplishments, stimulate discussion, and attract groups of people from across the campus and the Ventura County community.

We laid out display plans for the facility during construction, using corridors and foyers as well as rooms. All told, we were able to create approximately 1500 linear feet of display space, a 6400 square foot exhibition hall, and a designated art gallery. This diversity allows us to offer small or large shows, with as much privacy or community access as appropriate.

The Right Equipment

Several relatively inexpensive and user-friendly pieces of display equipment help us fulfill our design vision and help us meet intense demand for flexible exhibit space and professional-looking displays. We chose about $9000 worth of rail-and-cable picture-hanging equipment, supplied and customized by Gallery System, which simplifies hanging and rearrangement of exhibits and eliminates wall repairs. Custom Plexiglas display cases, at about $1400 each from a local artisan, provide protection and security for 3-D objects and more valuable pieces. Some 50 $900 Polyvision magnetic whiteboards from BKM are excellent for displaying papers, posters, lecture notes, and sketches.

The equipment accommodates a remarkable range of materials and keeps costs down because exhibitors can do virtually all their own setup with little or no library staff assistance.

"We get requests from all over campus," notes Dean Amy Wallace. "The flexibility with which we can accommodate multiple exhibitions simultaneously is wonderful." The library staff work with the university's events calendar to reserve exhibition spaces as well as display equipment.

Tying Art to the Collection and Programs

Unlike many university libraries, Broome has an extensive children's collection, containing over 5000 items ranging from picture books to YA fiction to curriculum materials. Several displays lead into and surround the collection, which supplements course offerings of the English program and School of Education and provides a unique opportunity to develop the library further as a place and connect with area residents.

Sixty-two "Art Dots" (at right), created by art students, provide glimpses into popular children's stories and draw patrons into the collection. Plexiglas cases within the stacks house animals made from recycled materials. These displays encourage patrons to browse and use the collection and provide the backdrop for community-focused events such as the Kids Reading to Kids Storytime program. We also host a Children's Reading Celebration and Young Authors Fair, in partnership with the campus English program and Ventura County's Reading Association and Office of Education. This day of literacy-promoting activities, local children's book displays, and presentations by children's authors and illustrators draws thousands.

Supporting Academic Departments

We have also begun hosting larger and more prominent exhibitions. One early example, developed in conjunction with the university Art Department, highlighted original architectural sketches of the Broome Library, as well as designs from our local landscape architecture firm Van Atta & Associates. Details of each were printed on massive sheets of paper and vellum; we used our picture-hanging system to drape them in dramatic fashion from a point 25' above the library's ground floor (far right). The exhibit was featured during the College Arts Association 2009 annual conference; Southern California's ArtScene magazine praised the "astute hanging" and remarked, "The show is mounted throughout the library, not so much as a display of discrete authored works but as sequential evidence of each artist's creative process."

In fall 2010, Broome will host the Smithsonian's national traveling exhibition "Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program, 1942–1964," which incorporates oral history research from a partnership of CSUCI, the Smithsonian, and other participants. The Bracero Program brought nearly three million Mexican workers into the United States, many of them to Ventura County, as emergency farm labor. The university's Chicana/o studies, history, library, and Spanish departments collaborated to collect local artifacts, documents, and images, which will join the Smithsonian's exhibition at the Broome Library.

By taking art seriously, we've enabled the library to play host to hundreds of visitors for a special event, provide a space for dozens of students to share their research, and showcase the accomplishments of a special project.

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