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College of Information and Communications

  • Curious George images in the popup exhibit

Pop-up exhibit honors Augusta Baker’s legacy

Top photo: Nicole Cooke (c) with Amanda Jones (l) and Emily Knox, Ph.D. (r), the speakers for the 2024 Augusta Baker Lecture.

Nicole Cooke, Ph.D. and the Digital Collections team at Thomas Cooper Library put together a pop-up exhibit for the 5th Annual Augusta Baker Lecture this past April.

Cooke’s decision to have a pop-up exhibit stemmed from a desire to celebrate and highlight the work and progress School of Information Science students and Digital Collections have made with the collection over the past four years.

The pop-up exhibit featured highlights from the Augusta Baker’s archives, which are held by  the South Carolinian Library. The exhibit included some of her letters, photographs and publications that represent the multiple facets of her long career in librarianship,  children’s literature, and storytelling.

Cooke began her tenure at the University of South Carolina in 2019 as the Augusta Baker Endowed Chair and associate professor. Now a professor, Cooke has just celebrated 5 years in the role.

One of the first things Cooke did in her role as endowed chair was explore Baker’s archives. This was in important step because she wants to continue to honor Augusta Baker’s legacy in the best ways possible.

“I think it’s really important to see the story of those who came before us,” she said. “She broke a lot of barriers, she was a groundbreaking Black librarian at the New York Public Library, she was a social justice activist, an author, and later a storyteller in residence at the School of Information Science. We want everyone to know about her legacy and to be aware of her contributions to librarianship, children’s literature, and storytelling.”

grad assistants

Laura Rudisell and Katie Wilson, digital graduate assistants for spring 2024.

Laura Rudisell and Katie Wilson were two of the graduate assistants in Digital Collections who assisted Cooke with digitizing Baker’s archives during the months leading up to the exhibit. Rudisell started in January 2023 while Wilson began working with the collection in January 2024.

Their roles consisted of working with Baker’s papers by handling and processing the physical items, digitizing them and uploading them to the Digital Collections website.

Both students served as main catalysts for the exhibit as they worked alongside the Director of Rare Books & Special Collections Michael Weisenburg, Ph.D., to decide which pieces should be displayed to the public.

Rudisell explains how impactful Augusta Baker was during her lifetime and what the exhibit hopes to bring to the public.

 “I think that her legacy getting this type of exposure from USC, which was the last institution she worked for, I think it’s almost up to USC to being the leading voice in getting her legacy out there and sharing it with people,” she said. “I hope that even if this exhibit doesn’t exhibit anymore than a couple of times, I hope that it can at least be like a domino effect for other things to come in her name and celebrating her legacy.”

curious george

Items from the Augusta Baker archives selected for display in the pop-up exhibit.

The exhibit debuted at the 5th Annual Augusta Baker lecture, which had over 60 people in attendance who were able to view the Baker’s artifacts.

Future plans include creating a website to document the pop-up exhibit so it can be permanently available to the campus community and librarians from around the state and country.

Cooke is excited to see what she and the Digital Collections team can do to further document Augusta Baker’s legacy.

 “Over the next two to five years, (Rudisell and Wilson) they’re going to be working really hard to continue scanning all the documents and records,” she explained. “The ultimate long-term goal is to completely digitize all of Mrs. Baker’s archives and make them available to researchers, to librarians, to anyone who wants to conduct research on her.”

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