Libraries' Virtual Exhibits Inform and Delight

By Donna Budniewski

Release Date: June 25, 2004 This content is archived.


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"The Comics Books Cover Gallery" reflects mid-20th century culture

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A 24-hour virtual café of art, pop culture, history and scientific progress is just the tip of the iceberg of the University at Buffalo Libraries' digital universe.

As many as 40 to 50 virtual collections/exhibits are now available for viewing on topics as wide-ranging as a "Comic Books Cover Gallery" to the infamous Love Canal environmental disaster of the late 1970s. Online visitors will find a Web cache of riches that informs, delights, and perhaps best of all, is used for a variety of teaching and research purposes, even around the world. Packed with information, the exhibits are easy to navigate, often visually stunning and attractively designed.

Although a significant investment in time is required to create digital exhibits, Judith Adams-Volpe, director of university and external relations for the Arts and Sciences and Science And Engineering libraries, says they are a powerful tool that dramatize and communicate the potential of rarely used research and teaching materials by increasing access to these resources.

Because the libraries have substantially increased the development and use of online exhibits, their impact and importance is being felt beyond the campus, says Adams-Volpe. Not only do the libraries receive email comments from viewers, it also keeps track of Web visitors and can easily see, she says, which exhibits or Web pages receive the most hits for the month.

A recent addition to the collection of digital exhibits is "Student Life at UB", prepared by the University Archives and featuring black-and-white and color photos that chronicle dorm life, Greek life, traditional events and university songs. It has received thousands of hits since its debut in May, Adams-Volpe points out.

"I love 'The Comic Books Cover Gallery,' created by librarian Michael Lavin, just for fun and as a reflection of mid-20th century culture," she says, noting that it consistently receives among the highest hit count of the libraries digital exhibits. The extensive cover gallery, accessible at, is a searchable database of comic-book images by title, publisher, genre or year. Covers chronicle the lush, lurid and sublime in popular culture, as well as life lived in the nuclear age of fear and propaganda. From the teen comic-book series "Daring Confessions" to the adventures of "Dennis the Menace," these illustrated covers illicit smiles, laughter and fond memories of late nights spent with a flashlight under the blankets devouring a favorite hero's escapades.

For a more refined look of children's literature, visit "Harry's Wonders: The Enchantment of Children's Literature" at, which was developed for a course in children's literature in the School of Informatics.

Specialized exhibits, such as "Women in Science" and "Sci-Philately: Science on Stamps" Link to UB Home page, which were produced by the Arts and Sciences Libraries, Music Library and Health Sciences Library, also have high numbers of hits at various times, generally during the academic year, says Adams-Volpe. Digital images from the stamp exhibit recently were used by a French journal to augment an article celebrating the anniversary of a scientist.

Another exceptional exhibit is the lavishly produced "Illuminations: Pan American Exposition", which also continues to receive thousands of hits each month. It is an extensive chronicle of the art and architecture of the period, immigrant history, the history of electricity, Pan Am food and much, much more. "And it reflects glorious Buffalo history and culture," she says.

What makes a good exhibit? Adams-Volpe cites compelling, stunning images and well-developed and detailed accompanying text. The site must be responsive to an understood or expected interest or need, and feature design that allows easy, intuitive navigation through the exhibit.

The Love Canal exhibit ( chronicles the country's most notorious hazardous waste site in Niagara Falls and the subsequent evacuation of residents on Aug. 2, 1978. The online exhibit is unique and comprehensive, providing users with detailed information about all aspects of the environmental disaster, including the testimony of at least nine Love Canal residents.

"There are many unexpected advantages of virtual exhibits, besides accessibility, including the expansion of content with links and the use in curricular content," Adams-Volpe says. "Virtual exhibits provide the possibility of 'peer review' for librarians on tenure track or interested in promotion. Thus, more people may be willing to devote time and effort to exhibits because they can count more in the tenure process. The educational materials available to an external audience, such as teachers and other universities, are a huge asset.

"Some virtual exhibits become resources on Web pages for specific UB courses, such as Professor Bruce Jackson's "Fifties" course, which also featured sound clips of 1950s music," she adds. "Illuminations" also appeared on Web pages for various courses, as did "Women in Science" and other, more temporary virtual exhibits that are no longer available. Some of these exhibits are developed specifically as resources for a course -- in consultation with faculty."

The Libraries intend to create a SUNY clearinghouse Web site for online exhibits and unique SUNY digital collections. "The creation of an extensive catalogue for exhibits -- virtual or physical—promotes awareness and possible use by teachers, researchers and the general public," says Adams-Volpe.

Another favorite exhibit, she says, is the "Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence" Web site at"It has the potential to assist in the creation of urban projects that 'work' for our cities and citizens making their urban environments more responsive, pleasant and stimulating," she says.

These virtual exhibits can be educational resources to the world, via the Internet and can be augmented and changed easily. "They are wonderful marketing/public relations tools for the libraries and UB," says Adams-Volpe.

To view many of the UB Libraries online exhibits, go to