Transcript of the video 'You are Here… at last: The story of the map exhibition'
28 September 2016, National Library of Scotland
Welcome ladies and gentlemen, to 'You are Here … at last': a talk about putting together our current map exhibition at the Library. I'm Paula Williams and I'm curator of Maps, Mountaineering and Polar collections here at the Library.
My background — which will become relevant as we go through the talk — is that I did a degree in geography, including the options in surveying, remote sensing and cartography at the University of Aberdeen, before going on to become a librarian, and then ultimately, a Map curator — first at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, and then here at the National Library of Scotland since the year 2000.
The exhibition opened in July and runs until 3 April 2017. And is here on George IV Bridge, just across the stairway. We also developing an online presence: there's some parts of the exhibition already available through the website, and there will be a Learning Zone application to go with it that will be made public in the next couple of months.
So, why do we have a map exhibition right now?
I think if you go into any gift shop at the moment, there are map things — mappy stuff everywhere. There are umbrellas, 'mapkins', lampshades … all sorts of things are just covered in maps. So this seemed to be particularly popular at the moment. Largely vintage style maps, but still maps.
[Image: Maps exhibitions at various international institutions]
A number of major institutions have had large map exhibitions in the last five or six years. Bibliothèque Nationale had one just a couple of years ago, National Library of Australia, the British Library's wonderful Magnificent Maps. And it's about 30 years since we ourselves had a map exhibition here at the Library, with Togail Tir looking at mapping the islands. So we felt it was time that maybe we should get some of our maps out again and let people see them.
2016 is also the International Year of the Map for the International Cartographic Association, so this seemed like a particularly good time to go ahead and try and display our maps. Exhibitions here at the Library are planned on a five-year rolling basis, so once we'd had the idea of having a map exhibition, I was sort of roped in as being the curator of it, and told (gasp!) we're going to have a map exhibition. 'Oh, right, okay. So what am I going to do now?'
[Image: Paula with two 'thought bubbles']
And this is two of my early concepts, and I have to admit at this point that I got completely carried away. One of them was that we could have a whole room just plastered with maps, as if it was a cabinet of curiosities. It would be fantastic – there would just be the maps everywhere. And the other one was that we could build the inside of a globe and have the maps all over inside it. Perhaps not overly realistic. But I like to think that most great ideas start with something that's right out there and then come back maybe a little bit more to something that's more practical.
So my head was already full of maps and how we were going to go ahead and do it, with two years to go. The exhibition itself takes nine months of planning, from the writing of the concept through the tendering process, to actually selecting and choosing all the material, making it fit to be shown with our conservation colleagues, and then finally making it onto the walls in the space for people to come in and see. And then the exhibition itself runs for a further nine months, with related events such as this afternoon, and a lasting legacy in terms of the online learning site. So a lot going on.
[Image: Photograph of the Library's maps storage]
So what was it that we were going to use as the basis of our map exhibition? Fairly obviously, our map collection. The map collection here at the National Library is estimated to be within the top 10 in the world in terms of size. We have two million or more — definitely more because I've been saying two million for about the last five years — maps and atlases covering the whole world and beyond, of which about 10% is available online through the Library website.
The main strengths of the collection are obviously Scotland and indeed its variety — it covers the whole world, at all sorts of scales, from the late 1500s onwards. So I was presented with quite a large challenge — how was I going to choose out of that two-plus million which things to fit into the relatively small space that is our exhibition area?
And then there were further challenges. The maps themselves are large — they don't actually fit very well into our usual cabinets. We could only get one or two things next to them, which makes them very difficult to display. And unusually for a Library exhibition, they're actually, en-masse, too visual — we were going to have too many colours, too many big things, too much going on in the exhibition. So we had to bear in mind all the time the idea of pulling it back and just making sure that people could see the individual maps.
[Image: Slide showing the title '10 things you need to know about maps']
'Ten things you need to know about maps' is the latest iteration of a workshop that I've been running mostly here at the Library over about the last 10 years. And it was this that eventually — once all the other mad ideas had gone out of my head — I thought could maybe make the basis of an exhibition. The workshops are usually run for architectural landscape, architectural gardening, history, geography and any other historical students that come into the library, usually around about this time of year, to support their using maps for research within their course. And really it's about maps as historical sources. Over the years, I have gradually developed it because you've probably already got the sense that I can talk about this stuff forever. And usually when the students come in, they only have an hour, and within that hour I'm supposed to spend half an hour telling them about how to use the maps, and then half an hour showing them hand-picked items that support their particular course. So from a particular place, or from a particular time. And I kept discovering that I was talking for too long. And so I gradually stripped it down to this 'ten things you need to know'.
However, I was still struggling from the 'ten things' of how we were actually going to make that fit into the exhibition hall. And I was having coffee with a reader here at the library and he said 'if you could do something like a reverse google zoom, I'd come and see that'. And so the idea of the journey — zooming out from the Library here to the ends of the world — was born.
[Image: The world]
Essentially, the ten things that you need to know about maps have been refined into the ten questions that you see here, and that appear in the exhibition.
- Do all maps show real places?
- How are features selected?
- Why do maps have a scale?
- Why do place names change over time?
- How are hills shown on a flat map?
- Why use symbols?
- Do maps go out of date?
- How do maps show human activity?
- How is the spherical world made flat?
- Why is north at the top?
The ten questions are applicable to all maps — some more than others, and then the idea was that I would be able to go away and pick maps that illustrated particularly well the points within the questions. I was hoping that by the end of going through the exhibition, the visitors would leave with an enhanced idea of what a map is, and how to use it, a better understanding of how maps are made and how they function. So it's not about maps of a particular place, or a particular time, or of a particular style, it's really about cartography.
[Image: Slide showing photographs of the National Librarian, exhibition installation, and the Library's main staircase with a map of Scotland on the stairs]
So, who was involved in the exhibition? Obviously, we needed to work out who the exhibition was going to be aimed at. And it's one of the difficulties I think that we have as a National Library, where we have a responsibility to an entire nation — is working out how to focus down onto specific categories of audience. So we have the general public, tourists, readers, students, school pupils, and what we were ideally aiming for was that we would have a layered approach that different people would be able to take different things out of the same exhibition.
We were also aware that our exhibition visitors go through in an average of 20 minutes, which isn't that long to make an impact. So there are about 2,000 words on the panel text in the exhibition, about the same as a medium length magazine article, which I thought you could probably read quite comfortably in 20 minutes if you wanted to.
We know that school pupils — primary 5 and 6 — look at maps, so we were aware when we were putting together the exhibition that we would have a demand for schools workshops. So there are some things specific to the exhibition that are specific for children in the exhibition that will help them to go through.
I don't know if many of you — any of you — have been through yet but there's really nice thick paper 'You are Here' hand-outs right at the beginning, and one of the things that's in that hand-out is a five-piece challenge to go off and find things like the furthest smell in Edinburgh, or the highest hill round about. And then there's little orienteering stamps on some of the interactive tripods for you to clip the edge of your leaflet as you find the answer.
So we were working our way through all the different layers of people that we thought would come in. And then the 'who' obviously also includes the staff and the exhibition team. And this is the bit that sounds a bit like my Oscar thanks speech really: because although I'm the person standing up here talking about it, there was a huge team of people involved. Ciara McDermott, our Exhibitions Assistant, and Beverley Casebow, our Learning and Outreach Officer — I couldn't have done the exhibition without them.
Because of my experience in maps — as I say I've been working specifically in maps for more than 20 years now — I maybe get a bit nerdy about it, in all honesty. And the beautiful thing about working with both of them is that they kept me real. So I would come out with this really obscure thing, and they would say 'hmmm I'm not sure it's really that attractive'.
'Oh but it's really interesting, it's this thing about survey–'
'No' we're not having it.' Okay okay.
So, they were great at just keeping it basic. Beverley also, with her learning experience, is very good at keeping my writing understandable, and we'll come to that in a minute. Gordon Yeoman and Shona, from our Conservation team, did all the work on actually making the maps presentable. Robert and Alison in our Reprographics team did scanning and photography for the exhibition, and then there's obviously our Events team, who are supporting us: Kenny and Ollie — who help us with all the events that we're running throughout.
And then as well as all of the internal people, we have externally appointed people. In this case it was the company Studio SP. Our exhibitions, because of their scale, are covered by the tendering process. So we have to write a concept and then we invite exhibition designers to apply. We used to narrow it down to about three applicants, who are then invited into the Library and the relevant curator talks them through what their concept is. They go away and write down what they think they're going to do with it and come back. And in this case, Studio SP were awarded the contract because they were the people who came up with the design that was nearest to what I had in my head. I was very keen on the idea for a journey, and their journey through the space was the one that best reflected that.
I have to say that, going forward, I then discovered that David — their designer — was scarily inside my head, and regularly came back with things that were exactly what I envisaged, which was lovely but a little bit scary at the same time. And then they'd go on and appoint other people that would help as well, so there's a whole team who help to design the interactives, and to actually fabricate the physicality of the exhibition, including lighting engineers, Lex, who, in common I think with everybody that I worked with on the exhibition, just takes things that little bit further.
You may have noticed when you've gone through that there are compass lights on the floor, shining down from gobos. Poor Lex stood at the top of very high ladders with a compass on his phone to make sure that they really did point north — on the probably correct assumption that somebody would complain if they weren't.
So Studio SP came up with the journey through the exhibition space, and it was in putting together the concept specifically for the tendering that I came to realise that there were some things that I specifically wanted out of the exhibition.
[Image: Floor plan showing the layout of the 'You are Here' exhibition]
I wanted to challenge the perceptions of what a map is, and therefore to make some kind of learning impact on people within that 20 minute journey. I really wanted the visitors to get up close to the maps and, preferably, to be able to think with your fingers while you are looking at them. I wanted the journey the sense of movement, although hopefully that people would be enjoying it enough that they wouldn't actually be zooming through it at all.
And I wanted to be able to use the technical language that was appropriate to the discussion of cartography. One of the issues we have in this layered approach, and with such a wide audience, is pitching the language that we use at just the right level. And it's been a challenge to me as a curator to write some of the exhibition text. We're quite used to writing for academic or semi-academic journals, but pitching it for the general public in a very short time span is a whole different ball game and I kind of hadn't really realised that when I originally started.
One of the other things because it's cartography and we've had a previous map exhibition — the Bartholomew Archive and the Bartholomew Mapmaking Company, which some of you may have come to. It was three winters ago now. And we had a whole discussion at that time about the difference between cartography and a mapmaking – a cartographer and a mapmaker. And the marketing people for that exhibition weren't keen on the word cartographer — they didn't think that people would know what it meant and wanted to use mapmaker all the way through. For this exhibition, because it is so much about cartography — about the content of the maps — I said 'no, we're not having that'. We are going to use the word 'cartography', because I think that actually most of the people who come through our exhibition will know what it means.
And all the technical language that we need to be able to describe the internals of maps, we can either think that people will be able to work it out or we can do something about it. And again, in the exhibition leaflet you'll find that there's a glossary that covers all the technical language. And in each of the panels if there's a word that's highlighted in yellow, then it's in the glossary. So we're helping people who maybe don't understand the language to get there. It's important, I think, to me, to be able to use that kind of language, because it meant that I didn't need to explain within the relatively short captions in the exhibition what those technical terms meant. So we could just use the word and carry on.
And then the last thing that I really wanted to do was to showcase the whole map collection. Not just the usual suspects, which are well known from our website or from recent map books that have been published. That we have a whole wealth of things that people haven't seen in ages or have never been out at all.
When my line manager at the time came back from his visit to the exhibition at the Bibliothèque Nationale, he said 'Oh, we've got to do a maps exhibition. They had these fantastic huge wall maps and all the explorers and they were beautiful and they were amazing'.
And in all honesty, our collection doesn't really do that. It's probably more modern than that, and we don't have that many huge spectacular maps in that sense. So doing that kind of exhibition wouldn't have suited our collection. So I was looking for a way of displaying things that did showcase exactly what we had.
So we had to make the choice. And these are the things that we carried in our heads. I've only got a picture of me, but I should have had Beverley and Ciara here as well, because we collaboratively made choice of the content that was to go in.
[Image: Photograph of Paula with thought bubbles: 'Copyright', 'accessibility', 'questions', 'variety', 'audience, '20 minutes', 'size and colour', 'clarity of 'content']
Making the selection was quite difficult because we were looking at the internals of the maps, so for every map that's on display, there was probably another dozen that would equally well have done. And what I found was that we couldn't work that out from our catalogue. Even though every individual map that we have is in the main catalogue, they don't describe them to the level of detail that I was looking for. So I actually ended up doing that most un-librarian-like of things and rummaging in drawers, which I'm slightly ashamed about. But it was great, great fun. It was a really good thing to do.
We had templates of the panels that the maps were going to be going onto. So we could work out how any maps we could fit into each section. And as you can see from the graphic, there were all these different things that we had to hold in our heads. What were the questions that were actually being asked in that section? Did we have a good variety of maps? Were we putting things out that people maybe hadn't seen before? Do the colours clash? Is it just too busy? Are they in copyright or not? Is there some reason why we can't display them? Or do they need to be digitised? Do we want to scan them and make sure that we have an image of them ready?
[Image: Four maps]
There were some things that I knew I had to include, as soon as we'd come up with 'zoom': Kate McLean's 'Smell Map of Edinburgh', Tom Clark's 'The Hidden Place' (which gives you transliterations of place name meanings to be read out as a found poem), the first map of Scotland, and our 'Atlas Maior', which contains all the known knowledge of the world in 1664, preferably if we could fit it in somewhere, in all 11 glorious volumes. We've recently scanned the whole atlas and made it all available online, but there's nothing quite like seeing the real thing. So those were a given.
And now I'm going to run through the different levels of the exhibition, and just show you an example of the kind of things that we had to consider.
[Image: Street plan of Edinburgh, with Princes Street in the centre]
So this is a plan called 'To the right honourable David Steuart Esq. Lord Provost of the city of Edinburgh this plan is ... dedicated by ... John Ainslie', from 1718. And the questions that we were looking at at this stage are 'Do all maps show real places?', 'How are features selected?', and 'Why do maps have a scale?' This particular one is really relevant to the real places, because you can see up in this area, with the dark lines, that these buildings in the New Town have actually been built at the time of the map. These ones round here are just projections: somebody's plan of what they could do. And for those of you who know the city, you'll know that the intended circus was never actually built. So plans can show you something that never actually happened. And then equally things can happen that are never shown on a map.
All maps are a construct because you have to reduce the world down from large to small, to fit onto your bit of paper, [and] inevitably you have to leave some things out. And what is selected depends basically on who's paying for the map and what the cartographer chooses to put in. So everything that you see on the map has been selected. And then the scale that's chosen depends on what it is the cartographer's trying to show you. There's always a trade-off between the amount of land shown and the amount of detail that can be depicted. And the cartographer again will choose that balance in order to convey his purpose.
Because Scotland is such a mountainous country, it seemed logical that we should look here at relief. How are hills shown on a flat map? A bumpy landscape shown flat.
[Image: Two maps in the exhibition — a relief map of Scotland and the Ortelius map]
In my rummaging in drawers, I came across this rather splendid plastic relief map in the Bartholomew Archive. It was used by the company to photograph the shadows, which they could then superimpose onto a map of Scotland. And because of the way our eyes work, if you shine a light onto this relief map from the north west, then the hills pop out and the valleys go into shade. If you were to show the light from the other way, then the hills become valleys and vice versa. So they would cunningly take a photo of that and superimpose it. And it meant that we had something that people could go and touch and look at and feel, to see how bumpy Scotland really was. And then all the other maps in that little area show how different ways that the cartographer has tried to show that on the flat piece of paper.
The other question we were looking at at the Scottish level was 'why do place names change over time?' And you can see on this little extract from the Ortelius map, from 1580 — I should have said at the beginning that I have no memory for numbers or dates, so anything to do with scales and dates, I always get a bit fuzzy. So this one's from 1580 and you can see here 'Buchan' spelt with a Q, 'Mernia' for the Mearns, and then some interesting place names round about Aberdeen. And place names were often depicted in some kind of Latin in these early maps, and you have to remember that many of the early maps were made by people who had never actually been here. So their spellings were vague to say the least. And it's only really this year that there has been an attempt to have an approved official gazetteer of Scottish place names, so actually up until now you can spell them anyhow you like.
We also have maps showing Gaelic place names, including Gaelic place names for places that would never have had Gaelic in the written record. So we're just looking at how places can change.
Zooming up again to Great Britain, I've found this map that is the first population distribution map of all of Great Britain.
[Image: Population distribution map of Great Britain]
And here we're looking at symbols, and I just loved these little hand drawn dots — the painstakingness with which somebody has marked these up. The shading exhibits the various degrees and density of every part of the United Kingdom. The figures, which I think you can just make out here, they exhibit the average density in each county of the United Kingdom, namely the number of souls to one English (statute) mile. The coloured spots indicate the location of towns with population larger than 3,000 inhabitants. So the red ones are 100,000 plus, and all the way down to the white ones that are between 3- and 10 thousand.
And the significance of this is that these kind of thematic maps were just starting at the period where this was made, in 1849. Up until this point, we didn't have these kind of thematic maps that we might imagine that we're quite used to having today.
Zooming up again, we'll go to Europe.
[Image: School room map of Europe]
And we were looking at 'Do maps go out of date?' Perhaps more relevant would have been a question about how old does a map have to be before it becomes interesting again. And 'how do maps show human activity?' We were looking at country boundaries. One of the problems we had with selection for this particular area was that when we were doing it back at the beginning of the year, we hadn't even announced the date for the EU referendum. And as a national body, we obviously can't show bias one way or the other, which made the selection interesting that we needed to make sure that all our bases were covered just in case. As it transpired, of course, the referendum happened before the exhibition opened, but by that point all the maps were already with conservation and being made appropriate to display.
This is a Schoolroom Map of Europe by the Scottish Schoolbook Association, from 1852. And it shows the country boundaries as they were at this point. Within the exhibition, there's a whole sequence of different maps of Europe that show the boundaries changing through time. All boundaries are a human construct, and don't exist in the physical world. There is an argument that maps define a nation state. And there was a blossoming of map making in the late 1500s at about the same time as nation states started to be defined, and you get into this kind of chicken and egg situation: where does the map define the state or the state define the map? And the maps are only a conversation that we were ready, as humans — we were ready to have at that point, when we could start to show boundaries. That any maps that were made before that were very localised and for specific conversations that people were having, usually around tied areas or individual estates. And that that's why there's such a blossoming at that period.
And then zooming up again, we get the world. 'How is a spherical world made flat?' And 'why is north to the top?'
[Image: The world: 'Berghaus's Star Projection']
A spherical world can be shown any one of hundreds of ways, according to mathematical projection, and this gorgeous little star — I always say little because it's only about four inches in reality — is one of a set of experimental projections again from the Bartholomew Archive. It dates from the early part of the 20th century, where there was a momentum to look for new projections due to the advent of flight, where people were starting to fly the great circles — which is why you go over Greenland if you're flying to America — and were starting to see the world in a different way.
There had already been lots of different projections invented — if that's the right word — and there's still about 100 different projections in current usage. There is no such thing as the 'wrong' projection — the projections are chosen according to the purpose of the map. So you can use them to show land areas being enlarged, or change the focus of how you're looking at the world according to the purpose that you're using the map for. This particular one has north right in the centre, just to debunk the idea that north has to be at the top.
We felt by this point though that our exhibition was a bit flat, that we had too many flat objects, and that we needed to add to some extra things in.
[Image: Three photographs of 'cartefacts' in the exhibition, showing jigsaw maps, map games and globes]
and one of the things that again I was quite keen to showcase was perhaps our lesser-known parts of the collection. We have map curiosities and map ephemera, and more great fun was to be found rummaging through these to find appropriate objects, including games and jigsaws, different ways of storing and showing your map. You can just make out in the middle here, the map tube that came from the estate of Bogside — it would have had an estate plan rolled up in it. It's this fantastic weird purpley colour, and we spent quite a long time debating exactly what colour that was, and one of my colleagues came up with the idea that it was 'beetle' coloured, which I really liked. But they just break up the space, and allowed us to show different ways that maps can be approached or have been used.
And then of course there were quite a lot of maps that didn't make the cut. So this is the sneaky bit — this is the deleted scenes, if you like — that nobody else has seen.
[Image: Four maps which did not appear in the exhibition]
So here we have a map of the Edinburgh trams in their first iteration, which I thought might be a bit cheeky to put in. There's a lovely plan of Edinburgh, which I would have included except there was a version of this in the plague exhibition, which went immediately before mine. I love the around-the-world Canadian Pacific Route, and get quite excited about it, and it fits in with the whole idea of the Scottish diaspora because there's actually the little red bit is a sticker for the place in Glasgow for people setting off to go off on their new world adventures. And then the one at the top is called 'Storm Spaces', and it's by Benjamin Hennig, and it shows the world in a very different way, and these are all available online, or the Benjamin Hennig's maps are available online, through his Visions [Views] of the World website, and he has a regular blog. And I just love how it makes us think again about what the world looked like. He changes the dimensions of places according to the thing that's happening to them, so in this case because it's about storms, the tropical cyclone system comes through and the places that have been emphasised are the places that have been most affected by the increase in tropical storms. This particular one was just published back at the beginning of this month, actually. But I was keen if we could to fit something like that in, but because mainly they're produced online, we don't have any paper copies of them, but I just wanted to highlight them today really. So we didn't get quite as far as making those available.
So how do we actually, once we'd chosen them all, go about getting them onto the boards? My colleagues in Conservation made the decision quite early on that we would display the maps in the condition that they were in — warts and all.
[Image: Three people installing a map for the exhibition]
That we wouldn't iron them and make them look really tidy. But some of them have clearly been used and had quite a hard life, so we left them like that. I like, personally, I like maps that have been handled — there's something lovely about things that have actually been used rather than being absolutely pristine. They — Shona — edged each map with Japanese paper, a bit like tissue paper, which was then folded around foam board which made them stiff enough to display on the hard walls. Some of them were more challenging — the large map of Europe which is sectioned and mounted and is the biggest original map that we have on display — which is this one here in the photo. Because it's sectioned, it was bowing out from the foam board until Shona came up with the cunning plan of stitching through the linen backing and all the way through the foam board and tying it in place. But you still get the sense of it being folded.
The modular system that we've used for the exhibition with the aluminium frames, the hard panels for the display of the maps and then the soft fabricky canvas ones that have been printed with the text, and with some of the maps, has allowed us as a Library to try a modular system. It's something that we were investigating then so we were delighted when the designers came up with the idea. And one of the beauties of it was that there was a glorious couple of days that turned up where once the frame had been built, the designers turned up with the fabric panels and they just clip in place in about 10 minutes. So suddenly the whole place was filled, which was lovely.
The company Old School did the fabrication: they built the frames, and Design SP had sorted out the interactives: we used the lovely little wooden tripods.
[Image: Three photographs of the exhibition installation]
And Old School again managed to build the wooden tops for the screens to fit into and we had all these things to get in place in time for the opening. The National Librarian was also very keen that we would dress the foyer to go with the exhibition for this, because it was going to be on for so long, he thought it would draw attention to the exhibition. Which is a great idea, except that we're a listed building, and we discovered that some of the ideas that we had we weren't allowed to do, or we would have needed to go through planning permission and in the usual way we'd left it too late. So what you see in the foyer, the splendid geology map and the hanging globes were kind of the pared-back version, they do work really well, and we were quite keen too that we didn't have anything that was too overwhelming because we need to live with it for nine months.
The middle section here, that looks a bit like weird art work, I just wanted to highlight the wonderful work of our Conservation team. This was what I'm calling a Yeoman template: which became a bit of a standing joke as we were doing the installation. And you can see Gordon Yeoman here on the right of the screen, and the template was a large piece of card, or card taped together, that fitted over the space where the maps would be. And here every single map had its corners marked, so we could just punch through on the template where the map was to go on the wall, which was a really cunning way of doing the installation. Because the design led so nicely around every single wall could be numbered, so every map stopped being an individual map and became a number. So in here we have something like 5.10.6 and we could just put them in and they were all marked on the back of the foam boards. So again actually, the installation itself was quite quick.
When I started doing the exhibition, my curatorial colleagues in particular went 'it'll be very stressful, doing it' and I have to say that yes there have been difficult times, but mostly it has actually been great fun. And I was expecting the installation to be more stressful than it was, but then I have a background in as well obviously as well as the maps and geography thing: when I was at Oxford, I did quite a lot of amateur dramatics, and we would do three productions a year, and in amateur dramatics, or any theatre, you get about six hours to do an installation. So you have to do all your build somewhere else, then you get the theatre, you wheek everything in and then your dress rehearsal's that night. THAT's stressful. Having four weeks to put it in, on the other hand, is really not bad at all.
[Image: Publicity and marketing material for the exhibition]
And then there's all the other stuff that goes with an exhibition. I've already mentioned our leaflet that shows the glossary, highlights of the exhibition, and then has the memento of a facsimile of the first map of Scotland on the inside. There were the interactives to discover, to put together, so we were finding images from across the collection to match with continents, or using maps from inside the entire Atlas Maior to show the historical place versus the modern European country. And all these things go on at the same time, as sorting out all your selection.
And then there's the marketing campaign. We're very fortunate — I should have mentioned our marketing colleagues in the 'who' at the beginning — all the extra people who helped. They actually deal with all that side of things, and again it goes out to tender about which company's getting to do the marketing. The rather wonderful posters have been nominated for a Creative Scotland design award, for illustration within an original image. There is a whole set of different people which you may or may not have seen around the town, that not only do we have our selfie stick couple but there's a couple of other versions so keep an eye out for those.
And then things like going onto the taxi, and going elsewhere. Because the exhibition is on for so long, we're very aware that we need to keep publicising it, so there's various social media campaigns, Twitter and Facebook, so early on I had to come up with a kind of list of another 10 things you might not know about maps that could go out on Twitter over the course of the nine months. We're having lots of lectures, schools workshops, storytelling workshops using maps, there's a Looking at Maps event where we have a 'Map of the month' at the end of the exhibition, and when that map comes out of its case we're going to have a discussion around the map — a bit like going to a book group but with maps, which is how I've been thinking about it in my head all the time. So we're trying some new things, and I think one of the good things about working in the Library at the moment, and particularly in the Marketing and Exhibitions sphere, is that we're trying lots of new things and we're being given permission to do that.
So what were my lessons learned? I've promised you that in the blurb at the beginning. Gordon Yeoman's first boss, back when he was an apprentice bookbinder with the Library more than 40 years ago, told him that the easy way is the best way. Now I really wish that we'd had that conversation at the beginning and not when we were doing the installation, but actually he's right: rather than my big puff ideas of 'oh we could do that amazing thing', what we ended up with was actually a really straightforward way of organising the exhibition in nice sections, nice panels, all numbered — we had spreadsheets galore that went with it, and it worked really well. In terms of doing the exhibition, define your exhibition concept and stick to it. I recently heard the salvage hunter Drew Pritchard on his programme — I don't know if any of you have seen that — where he goes out and collects antiques. He'd found something that was a bit quirky, and he said 'Well if I like it I figure somebody else will'. And I think from a curator's point of view that's worth bearing in mind — if I like it, there's a good chance that there's somebody out there that will.
I learned to let the experts do their work. There's no point in us appointing designers to do it if I then come along and say 'ooh but that bit's a bit funny'. I don't know anything about all that, you guys go and do that and I'll just bring the maps to you.
Writing for an exhibition is very different to an academic paper for a book, and it needs to be more encouraging and more immediate. And I'm willing to admit up front that my first attempt at the panels was awful and I must thank Beverley and Ciara for being polite and not quite putting it in those words, and kind of suggesting maybe I should do back and try again, which I did with much more success.
You can't please all the people all the time. One of our biggest discussions was about whether or not we were going to have labels — traditional exhibition labels on the maps. And as a team, we chose not to. I was very keen that people actually looked at the maps rather than reading my words. The words are there if you want them in the little clipboards but there's not there right beside the maps. And that has attracted some comment from some people.
Every selection of material from a collection is truly personal. It is curated. And that's why my experience that I mentioned at the beginning comes into play, because I have a background in cartography and surveying and 20 years of maps, there are some things that only I could bring to that exhibition. That doesn't mean that it's any better than anybody else's or any worse, it's just different and personal. And there's some people who are going to get that more than other people, as there is with anything in life — everybody that you meet, some people like you more than others and that's okay. It is hard to step back from it and say that — not to take comments personally, but actually I've put it out there and I hope lots of people like it.
And while I have to say that maybe not everyone loves maps, as people said at the beginning, enough people do for us to have a great response. We've had more than 40,000 people through the door to date, which is about 25% up on the same time last year. I would like to take the credit for that but I can't, it's entirely down to the fact that it is maps and enough people love maps for us to have the impact. And my last lesson is that our map collection is amazing and every single map in it has a story to tell. Thank you.