Experience of an exhibition placement student

Written by Ella Fothergill, Listen to this Story! an exhibition about Children’s Books and Black Britain exhibition placement student (September-November 2022) – this was a joint exhibition with 7Stories, across 2 sites (Newcastle City Library and the Philip Robinson Library).

It is no secret to those who know me that I love children’s literature. My reasons for being passionate about this genre (and why I dedicated my postgraduate degree to studying it) would make for a very long list. But, in a nutshell, I find that children’s books are so fascinating because of the large role they play in shaping young people’s perceptions of the world. In other words, what we learn when we are young profoundly influences our understanding of the world and everything in it and, as such, children’s books have significant power over what beliefs, biases and ideas we harbour as adults.

Given this, I was very excited to see a student placement opportunity which focused on children’s works and Black British publishing – the two subjects which have been the centre of my Masters research. Specifically, this placement offered the opportunity to work with archived children’s works within Newcastle University Special Collections, curating a city-wide exhibition that would highlight the literary work done by Black British people. After reading the job advertisement, I applied immediately and … a few weeks and one interview later, I was offered the position!

Listen to this story! exhibition in situ, showing a tall banner with text in the middle and 6 staggered exhibition cases behind each other to the left and right of the banner.
Listen to this story! From History to Our Story exhibition in situ in the Special Collections Exhibition space in the Philip Robinson Library

Now, three months down the line and my internship is almost over. I have learned a lot along the way and have met many creative, talented people. Here is a summary of my internship highlights and responsibilities:

  • Before the opening of the exhibition, I was responsible for writing a caption to go alongside each exhibited work. I really enjoyed this because it involved handling the archived children’s texts myself, some of which were up to two hundred years old. I particularly loved flicking though the first few pages of each book where there was often a handwritten note or an old library stamp.
'British enslavement, rebellion and abolition' case used in the Listen to this story! exhibition. Case includes a backing panel with title, text and images with a glass exhibition space in front, with 5 archival items (mainly books) and accompanying paper text captions.
Example of the layout of an exhibition case with accompanying captions.
  • I have also had the opportunity to meet and work with graphic designers, authors, archivists and architects. I especially enjoyed meeting the children’s author and illustrator, Ken Wilson-Max, at the exhibition’s opening at Newcastle City Library. He hosted a brilliant talk about “Navigating the World of Children’s Publishing”. 
Photograph of Ken Wilson Max laughing, in front of a projection at his talk 'Navigating the World of Children's Publishing'.
Ken Wilson Max, at his talk ‘Navigating the World of Children’s Publishing’ at the opening of the 7Stories exhibition at City Library
  • Following the opening of the exhibition, I have also been involved in a few post-launch activities. These included writing a questionnaire for any exhibition visitors, writing tweets to promote the exhibition on social media, writing blog posts (such as this one and the Listen to this Story! blogpost) and conducting visitor tracking to observe visitor behaviour in the space.
Hand drawn image of the Special Collections exhibition space, with 3 slanted rectangles to the left of the page and 3 slanted rectangles to the right (representing the exhibition cases). There is then an orange dotted line with Xs and arrows showing when visitors stopped and looked at the cases, and the direction in which they navigated the space.
An example of visitor tracking in the exhibition space.

All of these experiences have been both valuable and enjoyable for me. This internship has also allowed me to witness the extraordinary talent and effort that goes into creating an exhibition as well as helping me to understand the world of children’s publishing more fully!

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