The Last Writings of Ken Saro-Wiwa Exhibition

Arnold Bernhard Library, Quinnipiac University

October 4, 2016 – May 5, 2017

by Robert A. Young, Public Services Librarian


Cathal McCauley University Librarian Maynooth University, John L. Lahey, President Quinnipiac University and Robert Joven, University Librarian, Quinnipiac University.

I: Collaboration and Installation

Ken Saro-Wiwa exhibition

During the fall 2016 and spring 2017 academic semesters, the Arnold Bernhard Library  in partnership with Maynooth University Library, Ireland, hosted a traveling exhibition highlighting the last writings of renowned Nigerian writer, social activist, and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Ken Saro-Wiwa. This cooperative project between the two libraries was the result of the five year exchange between Maynooth University and Quinnipiac University  that is promoting cross-institutional collaboration between students, faculty, and staff. The exhibition featured facsimiles of selected letters, poems, and additional artifacts from the Ken Saro-Wiwa archive which has a permanent home  in the Special Collections and Archives Reading Room at Maynooth University Library. The materials in the Saro-Wiwa archive date from 1993 – 1995, the period in which he awaited execution at Nigeria’s Port Harcourt Detention Centre and other locations. The archive was donated to Maynooth by Sister Majella McCarron (OLA)  who was the original recipient of the letters and a collection of poems written by Ken Saro-Wiwa.  McCarron is an Irish missionary nun who supported Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni people in the struggle to protect their homeland.

Silence Would be Treason Last Writings of Ken Saro-Wiwa

The site of the exhibition was the Arnold Bernhard Library Rotunda, located under the building’s central dome on the first floor. Facsimile documents were exhibited in three cases, each having a display area of 36 x 24 inches. Items displayed included letters, poems, and photographs. Four pull-up narrative banners were placed between the cases, and copies of a Mosop  (Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People)  flag and T-shirt were attached to the fronts of two of the cases. Books by and about Saro-Wiwa were displayed on a bookcase located on the opposite side of the rotunda from the main exhibition. One of the volumes on display, Silence Would Be Treason: Last Writings of Ken Saro-Wiwa (CODESRIA, 2013), was coedited by Maynooth Deputy Librarian, Helen Fallon.

Sandy O’Hare, Access Services Librarian at the Arnold Bernhard Library, created a Library Guide for the exhibition, which included links to Maynooth and Quinnipiac resources. A laptop for public access to the resources was setup with the book display.  More recently Maynooth University Library has produced a comprehensive guide to the collection.

KSW exhib -books (web)
Book display and laptop to complement the exhibition

Robert Young, Public Services Librarian at the Arnold Bernhard Library, wrote a post about the exhibition for the Arnold Bernhard Library Special Collections blog . Young also wrote a press release that was distributed by the university’s Office of Public Affairs to local media, and he was featured in a 30 second Public Affairs video about the exhibition that was posted to the Quinnipiac University Facebook page.

Matthew Flaherty, Outreach and Instruction Librarian at the Arnold Bernhard Library, wrote an article about the exhibition that was the featured story in the December 2016 issue of the Arnold Bernhard Library Newsletter.

The installation of the exhibition coincided with the October 2016 visit to Quinnipiac University of four librarians from the John Paul II Library, Maynooth University:

Cathal McCauley, University Librarian

Hellen Fallon, Deputy University Librarian

Hugh Murphy, Senior Librarian, Collection Management Services

Lorna Dodd, Senior Librarian, Learning Research and Information Services

The exhibition was installed in ABL Rotunda on October 4, 2016, and was followed by an opening reception.

Setting up HM (web)
Hugh Murphy, Maynooth University Library and Robert Young, Arnold Bernhard Library, Quinnipiac University setting up the Ken Saro-Wiwa exhibition

II: The Exhibition and the Quinnipiac University Community

The Last Writing of Ken Saro-Wiwa exhibition was originally scheduled to be on display from October 2016 through February 2017. However, it was eventually decided to display the exhibition for the entire 2017 spring semester.  This allowed more people to view it during the periods of the spring semester when the library had the most visitors. Quinnipiac University schedules many tours for high school students and their families during winter/spring breaks, and students who will be freshmen in the fall spend the first weekend of April on campus during Admitted Students Days. It was noted by library staff that visitors stopped to peruse the exhibit, especially during times that saw the most visitors on campus.

In addition to allowing the exhibition to be seen by the maximum number of visitors by extending the exhibition period, the library took advantage of the additional time by integrating the exhibition into library instruction sessions for two undergraduate courses. The exhibition was also presented to a group of docents-in-training from Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University, who visited the library to learn about the various Irish collections. Robert Young facilitated the class sessions and docent presentation.

KSW exhin in QUINN (web)
Items on display as part of the Ken Saro-Wiwa exhibition at Quinnipiac University

In February, Young provided students in Professor Christine Kinealy’s Introduction to Irish Studies course with a library session that included touring the library to view primary and secondary materials. Young showed the students items in The Great Hunger Collection, and also pointed out and described the significance of the Saro-Wiwa exhibition.

In March, Robert was asked by the chair of the history department, Professor Jill Fehleison, to provide students in her Historiography and Historical Methods course with a session on primary materials in the library’s several special collection. He showed students items from the Irish collections, university archives, the Albert Schweitzer Collection, as well as the Saro-Wiwa exhibition.

Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University inaugurated a volunteer docent program in early 2017, and by March a core group of ten people had been selected to provide guided tours at the museum. The volunteers attended training sessions, including an April session at the library. The library session provided the docents with information about the library’s various Irish collections, and Young discussed the collaborative relationship between Quinnipiac and Maynooth when the docents were shown the Saro-Wiwa exhibition.

A final note of interest relates to a visitor who viewed the exhibition on Saturday, October 21, 2016. Public Services Librarian Ronda Kolbin was staffing the reference desk that day and she was approached by an undergraduate Quinnipiac student who told her that he appreciated that the library was hosting the exhibition. He mentioned that the exhibition was of particular interest to him because he was related to Ken Saro-Wiwa.

III: Conclusion

 The Arnold Bernhard Library’s hosting of the Last Writings of Ken Saro-Wiwa Exhibition, courtesy of Maynooth University Lbrary, proved to fulfill several of the collaborative objectives that were emphasized in the five year exchange agreement between the two institutions. The library staffs of both Quinnipiac and Maynooth coordinated successfully to mount a travelling exhibition that highlighted not only the last years of Ken Saro-Wiwa, but also the significance of his relationship to Sister Majella McCarron and the unique and important collection of letters, poems, and artifacts that she donated to the Maynooth University Library.

Students and faculty benefitted from the exhibition by it being included in library course sessions that highlighted materials that had significance as examples of Irish history, Nigerian history, and the history of social justice movements. The superb facsimiles of the original documents provided illustrative examples of how archives of primary materials are important to the preservation of the historical record.

The exhibition also met the Arnold Bernhard Library’s commitment to Quinnipiac University’s multicultural strategic plan, IMaGinE (Inclusiveness, Multiculturalism and Globalism in Education).   The emphasis of this plan is to expose the Quinnipiac student body to a greater sense of diversity that will contribute to them graduating as open-minded, global citizens.

This was also the first time that a traveling exhibition from another library had been displayed at Quinnipiac University. The success of this endeavor has contributed, in part, to initiating plans for hosting other traveling displays. For example, in the fall of 2017, the Arnold Bernhard Library will be partnering with Quinnipiac’s Netter Health Sciences Library in hosting an exhibition on loan from the National Library of Medicine in Washington, DC.

And, finally, the library staff at the Arnold Bernhard Library would like to sincerely thank the staff of the Maynooth University Library for allowing the Last Writing of Saro-Wiwa exhibition to be displayed at Quinnipiac. It is hoped that this is just the beginning of fruitful collaborative partnerships between the libraries of Maynooth University and Quinnipiac University.

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