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A Decade of Exhibits at the Science, Industry and Business Library: 1999-2009

Heally Hall, 1996: Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects llc

When SIBL opened 20 years ago, Healy Hall—the grand interior two-story space punctuated by a dramatic spiral staircase—was its most commented-on architectural feature. A handsome six-page spread in the September 1996 Architectural Record devoted half of its stunning photos to Healy Hall, which the article characterizes as ‘exhibit space.’ Librarians, of course, quickly realized that Healy Hall’s openness and the abundant light pouring through the over-sized display windows of the former B. Altman department store made it unsuitable as a museum-quality site to protect, while highlighting, the Library’s research collections. What to do?

In 1999, NYPL opened Seeing is Believing: 700 Years of Scientific and Medical Illustration in its prime exhibition venue Gottesman Hall, which included numerous rare materials from SIBL’s collections.

Back at 34th St, and spearheaded by the assistant director for collections, John Ganly, SIBL leveraged its strong relationships with myriad partners—cultural and educational institutions, government agencies, museums, scholarly societies, and trade associations to create a vibrant exhibit venue in midtown Manhattan. The exhibit sponsors loved SIBL’s central, well trafficked location and mounted shows that were extended and enhanced by reproductions from SIBL’s collections. In many cases, John Ganly co-curated the exhibits; often, SIBL created research guides and hosted public programs that complemented the exhibits.

When SIBL launched the NY StartUP! Business Plan Competition in 2010, Healy Hall was the one space big enough to host orientations and workshops for 100+ entrants, an exigency that forced the suspension of SIBL’s exhibition partnerships which had thrived for 10 years. This October, for the first time in seven years, SIBL will once again host an exhibition in Healy Hall, No Home to Go To, from the Balzekas Museum in Chicago.

Below is the list of exhibitions held at the Science, Industry and Business Library.

Earth From Above: An Aerial Portrait on the Eve of the Year 2000

October 26, 1999 through January 29, 2000

58 photographs of Yann Arthus-Bertrand portraying the marvels of the natural world and man's presence as seen from the air.

Heavens Above: Art and Actuality; Trouvelot: from Moths to Mars

December 8, 2000 through June 30, 2001

The exhibit contrasted 15 astronomical drawings of Etienne Leopold Trouvelot (1827–1895) with contemporary photographs of the same subjects as seen by NASA’s space probes and telescopes. Each picture had accompanying text that described Trouvelot’s interest in the subject.

Diversity Endangered

October 15, 2001 through May 13, 2002

This traveling exhibition from SITES, the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, examined the causes, consequences, and potential solutions to the loss of biological diversity. Included were reproductions of color photographs, artists' renderings, and text for 15 posters. Rain forest, coral reefs, and wetlands were among the issues covered. The Smithsonian material was complemented by materials from the Science, Industry and Business Library's collections.

I on Infrastructure

May 22, 2002 through January 31, 2003

Cobra-head and teardrop luminaires.
Courtesy New York City Department of Transportation.
Chicken&Egg Public Projects

This exhibition brought a new twist to civil engineering by exploring the intellectual, cultural, and social contexts that shape the world's infrastructure. Marrying art and technology concepts, this show juxtaposed pop art with images of bridges, plumbing fixtures, and traffic signs to examine how the eye and the mind perceive engineering design. Twelve installations, including a Brooklyn-Queens Expressway sign and images of the George Washington Bridge, each focused on a particular aspect of civil engineering. A complementary exhibition, "Me, Myself and the Infrastructure," run at the New-York Historical Society. Together these companion shows marked the 150th anniversary of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

Accompanying book:


  • "Pushing Engineers' Work from Back to Center Stage." ENR: Engineering News-Record, May 27, 2002, 60.
  • "On Exhibit." American Heritage 53, no. 4 (August 2002): 18.

Seeking the Secret of Life: The DNA Story in New York

February 25, 2003 through August 29, 2003

The year 2003 marked the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the DNA double helix, one of the greatest and most influential scientific discoveries ever. Researchers in New York made significant contributions along the route to the double helix and the exhibition highlighted these contributions. The exhibit's primary theme was the research that lay on a direct path to the double helix and was carried out at Columbia University, Rockefeller University, and the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. The exhibit was intended for the lay public and placed the discovery in a social and historic context. Among the objects exhibited there was a seven-foot model of the DNA molecule.

Honest Jim: James Watson the Writer

September 23rd, 2003 - December 31st, 2003

This exhibit focused on Dr. James Watson, co-discoverer with Francis Crick of the DNA double helix, as a writer and followed a timeline beginning with his boyhood. The exhibition included letters to his family through his academic years, material from the University of Chicago Library collection, and his published books and papers reflecting his professional life. The exhibition also included works by other scientists, such as Charles Darwin, who are of both literary and scientific importance.

The Subway at 100: General William Barclay Parsons and the Birth of the NYC Subway

March 23, 2004 through July 29, 2005

Celebrating the centennial of the opening of the NYC subway system in 1904, this exhibition both saluted William Barclay Parsons, the first chief engineer of the subway, and recognized the importance of the subway system to the life and growth of the city. The exhibition included correspondence between Parsons and August Belmont, the major financier of the project, as well as photographs of the signing of the original contract, Parsons turning the first shovelful of earth and others showing the actual tunnel and street digging. Publications, images and documents illustrating station ceramic work, iron artwork and station design, as well as the first subway tickets were also presented. Environmental impact statements on the Second Avenue subway proposal and the efforts to restore the IRT station at the World Trade Center site shed light on the future of the city's subway system. Many items on view were drawn from SIBL's William Barclay Parsons Collection; other materials were on loan from The New-York Historical Society, The Museum of the City of New York, The Transit Museum, The Museum of American Financial History, and the Parsons Brinckerhoff archives.

Opt In to Advertising's New Age

September 27 through December 31, 2005

The focus of this exhibition presented by the Online Publishers Association and SIBL was the history and future of advertising. The exhibition showcased a selection of great creative works from print, radio, television and online advertising, from the 18th century to today. Shown were some of the most significant and beloved ads of all time and the impact of new technologies on creative advertising formats was emphasizes. The SIBL’s assistant director John Ganly and The One Club’s executive director Mary Warlick and marketing and interactive director, Kevin Swanepoel served as co-curators for the exhibit. The One Club provided creatives from its vast archive. Panasonic provided the technology and equipment to create each of the displays and production and design was undertaken by LD Gertz and Associates, the Entity Agency and Brad Geagley.


Places & Spaces: Mapping Science

April 4, 2006 through August 31, 2006

The exhibit compared traditional historical mapping of political entities with the mapping of individual fields of scientific research. Science is mapped by tracking citations to papers indexed in the Web of Science database. Panels in the exhibit presented traditional early maps and several specific instances of the mapping of science. An interactive module permitted the viewer to create a digital map of a specific area of science.

Ads Matter

September 26, 2006 through December 30, 2006

This was an Ad Council exhibit which documented the advertising industry's long standing commitment to better America by producing compelling public service campaigns. Smokey Bear and McGruff the Crime Dog are among the icons depicted in images from a dozen memorable ads. The exhibit was accompanied by a number of programs related to advertising and the media. A companion exhibit which looked at the male image in advertising from 1900 to date using material from the collections of the Science, Industry and Business Library was also on view.

Lower Manhattan 2010: It's Happening Now

January 23, 2007 through September 15, 2007

The exhibition, sponsored by the library and the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center, looked not only at the Freedom Tower but also at some of the 58 other building projects under way in downtown from Chambers Street south to the Battery. Highlights included a webcam showing the construction of the World Trade Center site, wide-angle panoramic images of developing projects, and documented transportation projects such as the South Ferry Terminal.

The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic

December 3, 2007 through January 31, 2008

Several hundred suitcases filled with the personal belongings of former patients of the Willard Psychiatric Center were discovered in an abandoned attic room after it closed in 1995. As a team of curators explored these belongings, individual histories were revealed and this exhibition was born. It included 20 free-standing panels of information and photos about the patients, as well as two display cases full of their belongings. These suitcases and their contents illuminate the rich, complex lives the individual patients led before they were committed to Willard and speak to their aspirations, accomplishments and community connections, as well as their loss and isolation. This was an exhibit of the Exhibition Alliance presented by NAMI-NYC Metro, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and Office of Consumer Affairs, and The New York Public Library’s Science, Industry and Business Library, with the support of the New York Community Trust.


The Real Men and Women of Madison Avenue and Their Impact on American Culture

June 24, 2008 through September 26, 2008

This first-of-its-kind exhibition, presented by The One Club and The New York Public Library, showed that the people who created some of the most famous advertisements of the 20th century were as colorful as their slogans—from former spy David Ogilvy to scrappy street fighter George Lois, to tough, hardworking women such as Mary Wells Lawrence, Phyllis Robinson, and Shirley Polykoff, who held their own in the famously male world of 1950s and 1960s Mad Ave. The exhibition highlighted the lives and work of dozens of brilliant copywriters and art directors who helped to shape American consumption and culture over the past 80 years. It featured more than 200 advertisements, posters, books, TV commercials, and video and audio interviews that amount to a commercial history of 20th-century America. The majority of the men and women represented have been elected into The One Club’s Creative Hall of Fame.


Not a Cough In A Carload: Images Used By Tobacco Companies To Hide the Hazards of Smoking

October 7, 2008 through December 26, 2008

Early in the last century, questions about the health effects of smoking became a topic of widespread discussion, as terms like “smoker’s cough” and “coffin nails” (referring to cigarettes) began to appear in the popular vernacular. Recognizing the need to counter this threat to their livelihood, tobacco companies undertook a multifaceted campaign to allay the public’s fears. One strategy was to promote smoking as a beneficial practice through endorsements by healthy and vigorous-appearing singers, Hollywood stars, elite athletes, and actors posing as medical professionals. This exhibition examined the advertising in which, between the late 1920s and the early 1950s, tobacco companies tried to reassure the public of the safety of their products. A related event featuring a lecture by the exhibition's curator, Dr. Robert Jackler of the Stanford University Medical School, included the presentation of vintage video advertisements for tobacco products.


Lloyd Goldsmith: Downtown at the End of the Twentieth Century

January 12, 2009 through February 6, 2009

“In setting out to paint the continuities, to focus on what’s the same day after day rather than on what’s different, Lloyd Goldsmith necessarily, and knowingly, paints an abstract city,” writes Kevin Oderman in the monograph Downtown at the End of the Twentieth Century. This exhibition of Goldsmith’s painting is complemented by illustrations from Oderman’s book, indicating the process and development of the painting over a period of several years. Notes Goldsmith, “My subject is New York—my hometown—the urban landscape. To me, the city is organic growth; layer over layer, always in transition, be it a small change of a storefront or a major destruction and redevelopment.”

The Future Beneath Us: 8 Great Projects Under New York

February 17, 2009 through October 31, 2009

This joint exhibition, a project of the New York City Transit Museum and SIBL, focused on eight megaprojects planned by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The Library spotlighted City Water Tunnel No. 3, the Trans-Hudson Express Tunnel, the Water Filtration project, and the World Trade Center Transportation Hub. Images and sounds drawn from the resources of the Transit Museum, the Library, and the concerned agencies revealed the unseen and ongoing efforts. Projections from the agencies, reports on the current status of the projects, and design information served to suggest the impact these projects would have on the future of New York City and its people in terms of quality of service, improved security, and overall economic and social well-being.


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