Walking into The Rakow Research Library, a visitor may immediately be struck by the beauty of the space: the beautiful glass staircase that leads up to the reading room, the exhibition featured in the Rakow Library Atrium. At the same time, visitors may also wonder: “where are the collections?” The Rakow has a world-class collection of just over half a million items, most of which is securely stored in a climate-controlled space behind the scenes.
To bring some of these hidden treasures to light, and inspired by the spirit of our new Contemporary Art + Design Gallery, we have installed custom display cases in the Atrium. These cases will give the Library a secure and safe way to display its many treasures and support exhibitions planned for the Library’s Atrium. Our current exhibition is installed in these new vitrines: Selections from the Rakow Library, will run through May 17 and we will open America’s Favorite Dish: Celebrating a Century of Pyrex on June 6.
Planning for the installation took just over a year. We were fortunate to have strong support from colleagues across the Museum, most notably the Collections Management staff who coordinated the planning and installation. The project had to be done in a way that didn’t add too much complexity at a time when several projects were underway; it was also critical to ensure that guests to the library would still be able to access resources in an environment conducive to research.
To minimize cost, the Rakow’s 18 vitrines were designed to take advantage of the existing architecture of the building. To minimize disruption, the cabinets would be made off-site and delivered as close to the installation date as possible, ready to be installed.
The pallets of display cases arrived in early March. Construction began a couple days later with the removal of a row of glass panels from the wall of our Atrium, opening up spaces for the vitrines to be installed.
All 18 vitrines were then inserted into the wall so that they ran the length of the Rakow’s Atrium.
Installing and aligning the cases was a painstaking job as the spacing and levels needed to be precise. Finishing touches, including glass panels, metal trim for each case, adjustable LED lights, and light diffusing panels were added. Soon, we reached the point where we were able to add objects to the cases, creating our first display.
Each vitrine has separate light and temperature controls, enabling us to display a variety of objects – paper, glass, metal – at optimal conditions. Currently on exhibit is a book by Georg Agricola, Berckwerch Buch, published in 1580, that has a beautiful hand-colored illustration of glass blowing. Illustrations in early books are often very light-sensitive. Artist used a variety of pigments, each of which reacts differently to light. To protect the illustrations, the light level in this case is kept very low.
Work on the vitrines was completed on March 18 and our first exhibition using the vitrines Selections from the Rakow Library was installed as part of the celebration of the grand opening of the Museum’s new Contemporary Art + Design Wing, the world’s largest space dedicated to the display of contemporary art and design in glass. While the scale of the two achievements is incomparable, both are illustrative of the Museum’s commitment to telling the world about glass!
The Rakow Research Library is open to the public 9am to 5pm every day. We encourage everyone to explore our collections in person or online. If you have questions or need help with your research, please use our Ask a Glass Question service.