Students go to the library to study, but sometimes a few short Facebook or snack breaks are necessary. Recently, there has been a more productive and eye-catching study break option for students, faculty and Ann Arbor residents to take advantage of at the Hatcher Graduate Library. Until May 24, the library’s gallery will host the traveling exhibit “Places and Spaces: Mapping Science,” a collection of 60 conceptual and literal maps along with interactive stations and child-friendly sections.

Places and Spaces: Mapping Science

Through May 24
Hatcher Graduate Library
Free

The exhibit is organized by “iterations,” each one a set of 10 maps. Every year, a new iteration, centered around its own theme is added to the collection. The University is the first to host this exhibit, with its new sixth iteration from 2010, for a grand total of 60 maps.

Rebecca Hill, local exhibit curator and assistant librarian for the Shapiro Science Library, said she has seen a lot of students stopping by the exhibit and become lost in its colors and organization. She noticed students would try to get glimpses of the maps even before the exhibit was fully set up.

For Hill, “Places and Spaces” has a twofold appeal, to those who are focalized in the sciences and to those who find interest in science but don’t have a large grasp of it.

“It’s a really great way to kind of get science across to people,” she said. “People think ‘science’ and automatically think it’s very dry — that it’s lab work and numbers. But with the maps, they can see the history of science and more.”

It’s natural to think maps can only show locations, but this exhibit challenges that notion and goes far beyond the traditional, with maps ranging from actual locations on the planet to mental and conceptual maps as well. A few examples include a map showing mankind’s ecological footprint on the planet, a map showing where the plots of world famous novels are set and others representing concepts like well-being or potential disease outbreaks, all based on research.

Tim Utter, a local exhibit curator and access and information services librarian, said the interdisciplinary nature of the display attracts even more interest from people only slightly interested in dazzling maps.

“That’s one thing that’s really unusual is that the maps show different ways to communicate data or information,” Utter said. “You could be showing data in a table, and that’s one way to display information. But for me, because I’m much more visual, if someone makes an interesting map, that’s easier for me to understand.”

One creative map on display was produced by a Ph.D. student in order to explain his proposal for a doctoral thesis. Using subway tubes to connect his thoughts, the student was able to map out his ideas in order for his advisor to understand his goal and later approve of the topic.

With this student’s map as an example, Utter said maps can tell more than a person’s current location — if done right, they can tell a story.

“People remember stories,” he said. “Someone tells you a story and that’s what you remember. If someone gives you a statistic, it’s hard to really remember that. These maps work that way — like stories.”

The exhibit is designed to encourage contemplation and show its spectators the variety of ways of combining different schools of thought and forms of communicating information.

“It’s fun,” Utter said. “It’s interesting, it’s stimulating and it’s a great opportunity to see an important international type exhibit that’s here in town.”

Students may now consider stopping by the gallery exhibit the next time they have some free time or feel the need to take a break from their 10-page paper they’re viciously working on at the library.

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