CERL Seminar 2023

Connecting Books & Audiences through Public Displays

KBR, Brussels, Tuesday 7 November. Public entrance: Mont des Arts 28, 1000 Brussels.

Registration: Attendance is free, but please register with secretariat@cerl.org.


9:30 Coffee, registration
10:00 Opening by Sara Lammens, Director of the KBR Brussels and Kristian Jensen, Chairman of CERL

10:15 Session I
Ann Kelders, KBR Brussels – A Library in a Museum, a Museum in a Library: Concept and Future of the KBR museum 

  • The KBR museum has primarily been developed to highlight the library of the Dukes of Burgundy. In the mid-15th century, this prestigious collection consisted of some 900, often lavishly illuminated, manuscripts, of which a third is now preserved at KBR (Royal Library of Belgium). Since its opening in September 2020, the museum has raised its ambitions and expanded the concept both chronologically and thematically. Heritage on parchment and paper, complemented by music, paintings, sculpture and objects, aims to evoke the cultural, artistic and intellectual life in the Low Countries from the mid-14th to the mid-16th century. The museum’s focus implies that a priori temporary exhibitions of manuscripts, books and prints, should be integrated into a permanent display in a meaningful and engaging way. This task comes with challenges as to content, science communication and presentation, that will set the museum’s course for the coming years.
  • Ann Kelders studied history at the universities of Brussels (UFSAL – KUBrussel) and Ghent, where she obtained a PhD with a thesis on late medieval chronicles in the county of Flanders. Since 1999, she has been working as a scientific collaborator in the Manuscripts Department of KBR (Royal Library of Belgium). Since 2022, she is acting as curator of the KBR museum. Within the context of the structural partnership between KBR and the Alamire Foundation (International Centre for the Study of Music in the Low Countries), Ann Kelders is particularly involved in projects related to the study and valorisation of early music sources.

Cristina Dondi, Secretary of the Consortium of European Research Libraries (CERL) – Engaging the General Public with Research: The Printing Revolution travelling exhibition

  • In 2018 the ERC-funded 15cBOOKTRADE Project led by Cristina organized a large exhibition in Venice, very rich in digital material (videos, maps etc.) as well as physical books from the Correr and Marciana National Libraries collections. The exhibition was successfully brought to Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 2022, where the digital material was set up in a completely different environment, books from the National Library of Buenos Aires were displayed, and some videos were added which contained the results of more recent research. 
  • Cristina Dondi is the Secretary of CERL and has just been appointed Professor of Modern History at Sapienza University of Rome. From 1994 to 2023 she was at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Lincoln College. 

Adrian Edwards, British Library – Major Commercial Exhibitions: A Curatorial Perspective

  • In this paper, Adrian Edwards will outline how major revenue-earning exhibitions are conceived, developed and delivered at the British Library in London. The focus will be primarily on the curatorial perspective, but the paper will also highlight how the curators are just one part of a much larger machine requiring the involvement of around a dozen departments. 
  • Adrian Edwards is the Head of Printed Heritage Collections at the British Library, where he has worked in a variety of management and rare books curatorial roles for 33 years. He has curated or co-curated numerous exhibitions and displays, including most recently ‘Writing: Making Your Mark’ and ‘Alexander the Great: The Making of a Myth’. His first experience of exhibition work was in 1989, when he curated a 3-case display on Western perspectives on Islamic architecture at the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Eric White and Paul Needham (VIDEO)

12:00 Tour of the KBR Musem and lunch

13:30 Session II

Marie de Laubier and Hélène Tromparent-de Seynes, Bibliothèque nationale de France – The museum of the French national Library (BnF) : a revival

  • The BnF has been a Library and a museum for a long time, and is one of the oldest museums in France. In 2022, after ten years of renovation works, the Richelieu site of the BnF has entirely reopenened. The new BnF museum replaces that of the Department of Coins, Medals, and Antiquities (1917–2016) and now encompasses the full range of the library’s collections. A permanent display of 800 antique art works, coins and medals among the finest in the collections takes place in the first four rooms. In the galerie Mazarin, visitors discover a new kind of museum, always in motion : around 150 masterpieces – rare books, manuscripts and works on paper – are displayed chronologically and renewed every 4 months, providing an overview of the richness, diversity, and quality of the library’s heritage collections. The paper focuses on the process of creation and of permanent renewal of this new museum as a collective work.
  • Marie de Laubier is Head of Collections and Deputy to the General Director. She joined the BnF in 1997 as a library curator. She served in the Printed books Department, worked as a public service coordinator and as a literature collections manager, before taking over the renovation project of the Richelieu site. From 2012 to 2019, she left the library world to join a French industrial group as responsible for the company’s archives, cultural heritage, the cultural patronage. At the end 2019, she returned to the BnF as Head of Collections where she supervises 14 collection departments (1000 staff, about 37 million documents) and supports large scale projects of the Library.
  • Hélène Tromparent-de Seynes is Heritage Curator and museum’s manager in the Department of Museum, exhibitions and events of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. After graduating from the Ecole du Louvre and the Institut national du Patrimoine, she was director of the Montbard Museums (Côte-d’Or) (1997-2000), then curator in the collections departement at musée national de la Marine (Paris) (2000-2015). Between 2015 and 2022, she was in charge of the museographic project for the new museum of the BnF.

Alessandra Panzanelli, University of Turin – Engaging the General Public with Research: Working with Municipalities and Cultural Institutions

  • The paper will present two kinds of exhibitions organised during the last year with the aim of widening the audience by sharing the results of scientific research. The first initiative is a ‘walking exhibition’ dedicated to ‘Legal Texts from Antiquity to Nowadays: from Epigraphs to the Web’. It consists of an urban promenade along a number of different places (archives, libraries, museums but also monuments in open spaces) where important legal texts are found. Participants would discover both the institutions, the documents, and the necessary knowledge for understanding the various texts and their importance. The second initiative, apparently more common, is an exhibition dedicated to the collection of incunabula of the Public Library of Novara. It resulted from a project of rediscovering the historic collections and includes a campaign of census and study and subsequently sharing the results with the public. The exhibition was organised to show the spread of printing using the Novara collections, where items of some importance are preserved. It was the occasion for working with the copies, starting the campaign of their description (in MEI) and, by doing so, for making some very interesting reader emerge, such as father Paulinus Caccia, member of a local noble family.
  • Alessandra Panzanelli is currently Associate Professor of Book Studies (titles of the courses vary) at the Department of Historical Studies of the University of Turin. She joined the Department in 2019 as winner of the ‘Rita Levi Montalcini’ prize, after four years of research in the UK as member of the team of the well-known 15cBOOKTRADE Project, led by Cristina Dondi at the University of Oxford. AP was based in the British Library where she could conduct her research on law incunabula working with fabulous collections and, very important, where she was warmly welcomed in a nice working environment.

Chris Burgess, Cambridge University Library – ‘Books do furnish a room’: The differences between making exhibitions in libraries and museums 

  • Both libraries and museums collect, catalogue, and make historic material available for research, however, the two institutions function in entirely different ways: museums and libraries have a different core purpose, relationships with their collections, and user expectations. Despite this contrast, libraries have turned to exhibitions to enable greater access to collections, and in doing so they have copied models developed in the museum sector. This paper suggests that while the growth in library exhibitions is to be celebrated, the museum model for exhibitions is imperfect when applied in the library context. With examples from ongoing developments at Cambridge University Library and elsewhere, this paper examines how exhibitions might better fit into the life of a working research library.
  • Dr Chris Burgess is Head of Exhibitions and Public Programmes at Cambridge University Library. For over 15 years he has worked in museums and libraries across exhibitions, collections, and public engagement. Burgess has just curated and delivered the exhibition Spitting Image: A Controversial History.

14:45 Tea

15:15 Session III
Zanna van Loon, Plantin Moretus – 

Nijolė Klingaitė-Dasevičienė, Vilnius University Library – Creating digital stories: experience of Vilnius University Library

  • Vilnius University Library was the first memory institution in Lithuania, which as early as in 1998 had started creating and promoting virtual exhibitions. The first virtual exhibition “Vilnius University Library Historical Collections” was released in three languages (Lithuanian, English and French) and funded by UNESCO. Until 2020 eight exhibitions were created. Some of them mark the dates that are significant for science and culture, others are dedicated to the jubilees of the University, the library or outstanding professors of academic community, some simply show the treasures collected at the library. While promoting collected unique cultural and scholarly heritage, the library has been constantly striving to work in line with the novelties of information technologies. In 2020 the first virtual exhibition was presented through the international platform Google Arts & Culture. This new experience changed our approach to the virtual display of documents – we began to perceive the exhibition as a coherent story or narrative, rather than a gallery of documents. The aim of my report is to present the virtual exhibitions created and placed on the platform Google Arts & Culture, the innovations and challenges of their creation, the opportunities that have opened up.
  • Nijolė Klingaitė-Dasevičienė is Director of Heritage Collections and Research Department of Vilnius University Library. For more than 15 years she is responsible for cultural heritage activities and heritage collections research as well as creating content for both physical and virtual exhibitions.


16:30 Wrap up and Conclusions