Taking Liberties

Taking Liberties

How we made an exhibition by Taking Liberties

The Library puts on two major exhibitions each year, which can cover any subject relevant to a part of our collections. From October 2008 to March 2009, the Taking Liberties exhibition covered the 900-year struggle for Britain's freedoms and rights. It was the culmination of a process that began almost three years earlier.

Covering a number of major issues from history that had a relevance to current debates, the exhibition included a number of interactive elements and an award-winning website.

Involving different departments

Putting a major exhibition together involves all the different Library departments. From the initial idea, the departments work together to create the storyline - essentially, the theme for the exhibition. The curator will then work with colleagues from across the Library to select appropriate objects from the collections for the exhibition and write texts and labels.

While the curators are responsible for the content, the Exhibitions team works closely with them to build the exhibition and decide the content. The Strategic Marketing and Communications team then support the curator and run the exhibition. One of the key aspects of all our exhibitions is the educational aspect, so our Learning team develops a range of materials for different educational groups. This involves interpreting the exhibition and putting it into context for the different audiences.

Of course, while the physical exhibition itself is being put together, our Web Services team develop a website to support it, translating the different elements so they can be accessed online. This was particularly successful for the Taking Liberties exhibition, which involved a major interactive element, both in the exhibition itself and on the website.

Making it interactive

As well as showcasing a number of major Library items, such as the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights, Taking Liberties involved a number of interactive elements to engage visitors and bring the theme to life. These were case studies that were developed by Matthew Shaw, the curator and the Exhibitions team with an external developer.

What we developed involved placing kiosks around the exhibition which could be activated by barcodes that were on visitors' wristbands. At the kiosks, visitors could vote on different issues relating to the exhibition, such as the right to vote at 16, or equality at work. The results were posted at the end of the exhibition, where they could compare their answers with those of other visitors. They could also see how their answers compared on the Taking Liberties website.

Other features associated with the exhibition included a Matthew Shaw's blog. Matthew was able to relate current issues to some of the areas covered by Taking Liberties and highlight how relevant the exhibition - and the exhibits - were to today's society.

Response to the exhibition

Taking Liberties made a big impact - there was a lot of interest in the subject matter and we had a number of positive reviews in both the national press and on various online blogs.

Once the exhibition had closed in the Library, we kept the website live so that people could still experience the interactive elements and contribute to the debates that Taking Liberties had raised. The website also won two prestigious awards at the Learning on Screen Awards in 2009, including the Premier Award for best site.