Document Type

Conference Paper


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence


Social sciences

Publication Details

This research was undertaken as part of the Humanities in the European Research Area (HERA) funded project, Festspace: Festivals, events and inclusive urban public spaces in Europe.


While traditionally recognised as quiet places for study and for reading, today public libraries house in their premises many more activities than they did in the past (Capillé, 2018). No longer just spaces that only house and preserve collections, libraries now stress the importance of the relationship between the collections, the knowledge they contain, and their readers (Mickiewicz, 2016). In this regard, the staging of exhibitions for the public have become increasingly significant and ‘constitute a new area of professional expertise for libraries serving a new, expanded user base in a specific way’ (Fouracre, 2015: 384). While exhibitions help fulfil the role of the library as educator and knowledge disseminator, the scope of exhibition work in libraries is both extensive and varied (Dutka, Hayes and Parnell, 2002). This frequently includes the staging of commemorative exhibitions, events that are typically planned with the intention of affirming and reinforcing memories that provide a sense of heritage and identity (Frost & Laing, 2013). Such events are important for their meanings, which may differ from person to person, and which are frequently contested (Laing & Frost, 2019) and which, as Drozdzewski, Waterton and Sumartojo (2019) suggest are strongly linked to the construction of both individual personal identities and collective, national identities. However, little has been done to further our understanding of commemorative exhibitions in public libraries, in particular with regard to the relationship between the exhibition, the attendee and the library. This research seeks to address this. Employing a qualitative methodology the research centres on the ‘Goodbye Dublin’ War of Independence commemorative exhibition staged by Dublin City Library & Archive, the largest library authority in the Republic of Ireland. The exhibition, which commemorated the central role that Dublin played in Ireland’s War of Independence 1919-1921, ran from August 14th to October 31st, 2019 as part of the annual Dublin Festival of History. Over this time-period, 30 interviews were undertaken with exhibition attendees to explore the meanings the exhibition held for them. The research findings indicate that the exhibition provided clarity, understanding and moments of learning for those attending. Of particular significance were the myriad of meanings and personal connections that the exhibition, in particular the visual images, evoked. These ranged from reflections on the War of Independence and its impact on Irish society, to wars in general, as well as personal reflections and reflections on contemporary life. A key finding of the research was the importance that respondents placed on the role of public libraries in staging commemorative exhibitions, and the significance of these exhibitions in reconnecting attendees with the city, its history, and with the library itself.



Humanities in the European Research Area (HERA)