At the American Alliance of Museums’ (AAM’s) 2017 Meeting & MuseumExpo this Monday in St. Louis, Missouri, Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) was awarded an Honorable Mention in the 29th Annual Excellence in Exhibition Competition for the installation Girls Writing the World: A Library, Reimagined. The installation lives in the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace, a historic site in Savannah, Georgia, owned and operated by GSUSA. The award recognizes the installation as “Creating a Big Change in a Small Package—an excellent transformation of a historic library space using experiential strategies and intentionally utilizing evaluation.”
“Girl Scouts is honored to receive this important recognition from the American Alliance of Museums for the birthplace’s library exhibition,” says Cindi Malinick, cultural resources executive at GSUSA. “It reaffirms the forward-thinking vision we hold for GSUSA’s rich cultural assets, so that they can best serve girls, women, and all visitors—building on the power of place to create new experiences—and inspire each person in their own way to act to make the world a better place. We’d like to thank the American Alliance of Museums, and our peers in the museum world, for valuing our work with this award.”
The reimagined library is an accessible, inspiring, and engaging space that incorporates historic furnishings and objects from the GSUSA collection, along with contemporary elements and technology, to offer a fully sensory, self-directed, and relevant experience. As historic sites across the United States struggle to reach new audiences and find relevance within their communities, this library exhibit uniquely focuses on books by, for, and about girls and women across time and cultures. As such, it illuminates the long arc of female literary tradition and inspires girls and people of all ages to find their own voices. Featuring interactive elements and a revolving book collection, Girls Writing the World is grounded in a key principle of Girl Scouting that was crucial to Girl Scouts’ founder, Juliette Gordon Low—that reading, writing, and communicating are foundational parts of becoming a girl of courage, confidence, and character.
The installation is designed to create a welcoming experience in which communication and storytelling are core elements, and to transform a space that reflected primary use by a “southern gentleman” to one that offers all visitors rich insight. The design now offers opportunities for a wide variety of learning styles that use different senses, such as auditory and tactile, as opposed to traditional guided tours that rely primarily on sight. The installation also incorporates a variety of languages, such as those featured on the fireplace seating that is playfully upholstered in fabric with the word “story” translated into Hebrew, Spanish, English, Chinese, and Arabic.
A variety of interpretive strategies, including interactive activities, audio, and video, clearly convey the exhibition’s primary theme: the importance of the written and spoken word for girls. Complementing the book collection, the room also features a “PoeTree,” which highlights lines of poetry written by women from across time and space. “A Table of Their Own,” which was once a large, multipaned window, is now a table with glass panes featuring Scrabble tiles (in English and Spanish), braille, and iPads that incorporate girls and women of all ages as they audibly share their stories, poetry, speeches, and song. Guests can gather around the table and interact with one another or explore on their own.
GSUSA’s Cultural Assets Department elevates and leverages GSUSA’s unique history, collections, and places (such as the birthplace, Edith Macy Conference Center, and GSUSA headquarters) to support the organization's mission to grow girls of courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place. Future initiatives include the digitization of GSUSA’s significant archival collection and a conference in October that will gather academics, publishers, writers, filmmakers, museum professionals, photographers, and other creators and influencers together to discuss Girl Scouts and women’s history.
The birthplace is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is a contributing site to a National Historic Landmark district in Savannah dedicated to Juliette Gordon Low. GSUSA has carefully stewarded the site since the organization purchased it in 1953. It is perhaps the only house museum in the nation created specifically for girls to enjoy, though it attracts tens of thousands of men, women, and children each year. The vision of the site is to trace the arc of Juliette Gordon Low’s life and the Girl Scout Movement she founded. She was born in the house in 1860 and founded Girl Scouts there in 1912.
AAM is a nonprofit organization that brings museums together to develop standards and best practices, share knowledge, and provide advocacy on issues of concern to the museum community. Awards are sponsored by four of AAM's professional networks: the Committee on Audience Research and Evaluation, Curators Committee, Education Committee, and National Association of Museum Exhibition.
For more information on, or to visit the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace, visit www.juliettegordonlowbirthplace.org.