Additional but Important Details
With all my research collected, it was time to add any final items to the exhibit that may be important and to type up the descriptions for each item. Now, I talked about adding the images and using the ones I had available to aid in the exhibit making process, but there were a few things I needed to create and find for myself that I thought would help the exhibit come together nicely. Upon taking advice from my boss, Wen, I decided to add three specific sections to the exhibit that we decided were relevant.
The first was a section on Black history and Rock Spring Plantation. It would be inappropriate to not discuss the Reynolds family ownership of enslaved people when the plantation was in use. Thus, I added a section on both that and Kitty Reynolds, one of the only enslaved people from the plantation known by name, and whom kept close connection with the family after her emancipation (see here for more details). I also added a timeline of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco company and its various acquisitions throughout the years, as well as a list of some of the major brands the Reynolds family has either owned or directly influenced, to drive home how much the Reynolds family has impacted.
Every exhibit is different, and depending on the medium you’re using, the way you create the the final product can change drastically. Our exhibit is hosted both on Artsteps, a Unity-based virtual museum creator, and the University Library website. Since our exhibit is virtual, all I really had to do was make sure each photo/diagram had an appropriate title and description attached to it and review the exhibit afterwards to ensure there were no errors when incorporating the information. We don’t want images to swap descriptions by accident or to lose an image entirely!
With all that completed, I was done! There was a lot more writing, researching, and rewriting descriptions than what I have described herein, but if I were to go over all of my research and every draft I went through, this website would be fifteen times longer than it already is. However, throughout the process I learned about a variety of different topics and I gained valuable skills in organization and the delicate balance of research versus content creation. So, I will share some of my newfound wisdom, on the off chance you find yourself in the same position I did:
- Research first, brainstorm later. While having a vision of what the exhibit will look like is wonderful, you may find yourself getting married to an idea or a concept that doesn’t work as well as you really want it to. Something I didn’t mention earlier is that one of the exhibit additions I tried to incorporate was a Reynolds family tree, an idea which I ended up scrapping after it didn’t work. Twice. So, if you’re new to the topic you’re asked to make something about, learn surface-level things about as much of it as you can before deciding what to focus in on.
- Never be afraid to get advice. Wen was a massive help to me throughout the process, and their experience and ideas helped me create a much better exhibit that what I would have done on my own. If you can’t decide whether an item is good enough to include in an exhibit, ask. If you need direction on where to look for credible sources on the topic, ask. If you need more details on an item that you think will be a good fit, ask. Your boss(es) and peers are there to help you.
- Be willing to redo your writing. Now, I’m not an English major, nor am I a history major, believe it or not (I’m computer science, actually), so perhaps this is a symptom of a lack of professional training, but I never liked what I wrote for an item description on the first try. It was either too long, or gave too many unnecessary details, or didn’t tie into the image it was attached to well enough. So, I ended up deleting a lot of what I wrote and just tried again. If you find yourself in the same boat, it’s okay. Don’t be afraid to try again, but don’t let the retries discourage you either. Just write something down, then determine what you can improve on and fix it.
- Make sure you include things you find interesting. I was pretty spoiled for choice on this exhibit, partly because I already had prior experience in tobacco history, so almost everything I researched was fascinating to me. But if you’re having to look through old records and deeds and journals constantly, it can start to wear on you. Try finding something about the topic that you find interesting and dig into that a little. Even if it doesn’t end up in the exhibit, it’ll keep you from getting bored and producing work that could end up lower quality as a result.
I couldn’t just end the blog without linking the exhibit that I’ve spent so long talking about! Without further ado, here is the Reynolds Archive exhibit from the Virginia Tech University Library. This exhibit was created by me, but I could not have done all of that work without the help of my boss, Wen, and the lovely people at the Reynolds Homestead that were always ready to answer my extremely specific questions.
Thanks for taking this journey with me! Hopefully you’ve learned something new, and now have some insight into the creative processes that go into creating an exhibit!
— Casey Haney, metadata student assistant