The Laws of Illumination

Librarians who began practising in the last twenty years have had the phrases, ‘the death of the book,’ and ‘the end of libraries’ ringing in our ears for much of our careers. Yet, relegate a book to the store and you unleash a flood of emails to the University Librarian. If libraries are dying, a lot of people haven’t noticed. One of the finest characteristics of humans is our ability to share. In the academic library context this has meant, and is still defined by the Library’s contribution to the archiving and discovery of human activity. At the heart of all universities, the library in its many facets continues to balance tensions between print and digital collections, between the demands of teaching and research, between the humanities and sciences, and perhaps most importantly, between access to research information and support for its creation in academic practice.

Providing emotional support for archive volunteers: Methods used on the Manchester Together Archive project

This article presents some of the methods used to provide emotional support to volunteers working with the Manchester Together Archive (MTA) during a recent partnership project between Manchester Art Gallery, Archives+ and the University of Manchester, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The MTA is made up of thousands of tributes that were left in St Ann’s Square and other locations by members of the public following the attack at Manchester Arena on 22 May 2017. The material carries a heavy emotional load, so project staff aimed to design a volunteering programme that supported the emotional wellbeing of volunteers. The methods shared here will be of particular relevance to archivists managing volunteers working with trauma-related collections, which might include organisations engaged in contemporary collecting around COVID-19.

#ClosedButActive? An exhibition trying to find its voice during lockdown

This Insight looks at the temporary exhibition “We Capitalists. From Zero to Turbo” at the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn, Germany, which was opened on 12 March 2020 and closed again two days later. The experience of lockdown was also sadly felt as a loss of voice, especially as the exhibition had the potential to serve as a meaningful commentary to aspects of the evolving COVID-19 crisis. This period of speechlessness clearly exemplified how exhibitions can or cannot be active, bringing the medium of the exhibition to its limits.

Who will deal with the underlying issues once the statues are out of sight?

Over the last weeks, activists in Europe and the US attacked statues of figures perceived to be representations of colonialism, imperialism, and racism. Such symbolic acts inspired similar protests across a wide variety of national communities – those involved citing a need for immediate justice and reparations for historical wrongdoings. But will removal and destruction of monuments result in necessary structural and systemic changes? This piece argues that reforms of social, punitive, and economic policy are necessary if we are to transform removal into something more than a Pyrrhic victory. The application of restorative justice that permeates all systems is required.

Q: What, now, for public statues with racist, colonial, or imperial histories?

With Black Lives Matter protests and the toppling of the Colston statue still making headlines in the UK calls to do something about statues with racist or colonial histories grow ever more urgent. Options for dealing with these monuments are increasingly contested and […]

Rethinking the role of museums in a time of crisis

As museums around the world have increasingly committed to making themselves digitally accessible to the public during lockdown, we have been flooded by new cultural content available online. While Italian museums have been mainly involved in a “broadcasting” approach, museums in other countries have strived to enable new and different engagement with audiences. What do these two approaches tell us about the roles museums want to fulfil and the relationship they want to create with their communities?

Museums and community support during transitional periods

What can museums learn from other cultural institutions addressing conflict, memory and transitional justice to support communities during transitional periods? Art, culture and heritage play a fundamental role in restorative justice, due to its capacity to create healing bonds between victims, perpetrators, society and the State. Drawing on Colombia’s experience, Catalina Delgado Rojas highlights four actions that can inspire museums to provide comfort and support to communities transitioning to a post-pandemic world.

Seeing Objects from a Safe Distance

We often refer to the ‘texture’, the ‘materiality’ and the ‘tactility’ of artworks, even though we cannot touch them. Florrie Badley considers the additional barriers facing object-based researchers due to the outbreak of COVID-19, reflecting on how we were already responding to issues of distance, separation and forbidden touch in the gallery space before the pandemic.

Exhibitions, Emotions, and the Books of the Pandemic

The last decade has seen a growing interest amongst museum professionals in developing a curatorial practice grounded in affect. In this Insight, Susana Sanchez-Gonzalez reflects on possible currents of affection that might be elicited by books during the pandemic, and how this may inform her research on the theory and practice of book exhibitions.

Remembering 22/5/2017

Jenny Marsden reflects on the work that has taken place with the Manchester Together Archive over the last 18 months, focusing on the volunteering programme to catalogue and digitise the material, and the visits and workshops that have helped the archive team understand more about how people would like to access and use the tributes in the archive. The insight also considers the public response to the Manchester Attack in 2017 in the context of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Curating the S(h)elf: Collecting and Displaying Objects in Times of Uncertainty

Marion Endt-Jones reflects on collections created by artists in times of personal uncertainty and crisis, as reconstitutions of self and identity through objects. What can these private ‘museums’ tell us about ways we engage with objects and collections at home during lockdown?

How South Korea is Reopening its Museums after Lockdown

Under the new norm of ‘social distancing’, cultural institutions around the world are facing one of the biggest challenges in their history. In South Korea, museums and art galleries have been allowed to open their doors after two months of shutdown as a result of the decreasing number of newly reported COVID-19 cases. Hyewon CHOI reports on how museums in South Korea have maintained engagement with audiences during lockdown, and how they are preparing to reopen their doors to visitors.