Behind the Scenes: “Selections from the Global Shakespeare Collection”

Exhibition view – Selections from the Global Shakespeare Collection

During the Spring 2014 semester a small exhibition in the NYUAD Library, “Selections from the Global Shakespeare Collection,” offered a glimpse at one of the Library’s unique collections. The growing Global Shakespeare features early and rare editions of Shakespeare plays and sonnets in translation; we now have over 20 languages represented, and counting, with editions dating back to the mid-eighteenth century. The exhibition offered us a chance to show off some of the very first acquisitions of the NYUAD Library’s Archives and Special Collections.

Exhibiting rare books requires a certain amount of contingency planning. With brittle pages and delicate spines that would rather stay closed, old books generally make stingy, uncooperative models. Only volumes with strong spines can be displayed in open positions, often resting on specifically arranged cradles, their pages held open by archival polyethylene strips. Curatorial decisions are therefore determined not merely by content; they are also influenced by consideration for the object’s well-being.

Exhibition view

Spikes in temperature and humidity can be harmful to printed books, accelerating chemical processes that lead to damage and deterioration, so we also monitor the microclimate inside the glass display cases – particularly given the library’s penchant for climate variance, something with which most of our students are likely familiar…

Optimal conditions for long-term book and paper preservation include a temperature around 22 degrees C with a relative humidity from 30-50%. The climate, in this instance, deviates from the ideal, but not dangerously so for a short-term display.

In addition to the books on display, the exhibition featured a series of photographs captured from other volumes in the collection. Photographing rare books is a delicate process as well. To efficiently capture images from fragile and unique materials, one typically requires a state-of-the-art rare book photography system. While we lack the most advanced technology in the NYUAD Library at present, we do have a photography stand for capturing images of books and objects, which we adapted to our needs using polyethylene foam cradles in a variety of sizes.

Nicholas Martin arranging a book on foam cradle supports, and Rebecca Pittam taking photographs.

Showing off these fascinating objects is not as simple as selecting an item and placing it on a stand, but an evocative display can be achieved with the right planning and preservation measures. Keep an eye out for future physical and digital exhibitions in the library foyer – we hope to keep shining a spotlight on all the unique resources our library has to offer.

L to R: illustrated French edition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1949; the first Korean translation of Shakespeare’s complete works, 5 volumes and wooden display case, 1964.