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McGill library showcases ‘extraordinary’ collections with intricately designed pop-up book

AMAZE: A McGill A-Z Experience also celebrates the university’s 200th birthday.


With COVID-19 restrictions keeping many people at home for the last 18 months, the McGill University Library & Archives has found a way to bring items from its “extraordinary” collections out from behind glass cases and out of storage. AMAZE: A McGill A-Z Experience is a pop-up book that was launched in March 2021 to celebrate the university’s bicentennial.

“We knew that we wanted to give people a way of interacting with [our collections], not just from a distance, but actually being able to engage with them,” says Nathalie Cooke, an English professor and associate dean of rare and special collections, Osler, art and archives (ROAAr) at the library. “Our mandate is to create moments of wonder,” she adds. And over the past year, “we were all badly in need of moments of wonder.” A pop-up book felt like a playful way to create them.

McGill professor Nathalie Cooke says it took about 17 tries to get the level of detail you see in this pop-up illustration of a restored printing press. Photo by Paul Weeks.

Dr. Cooke, who edited the publication, says McGill’s rare and special collections are “rich and diverse,” so using the alphabet as an organizing structure allowed them to put together disparate objects in one book. She and her team worked with paper engineers based in Britain to create the illustrations and design the pop-up elements. Dr. Cooke notes that they included “Easter eggs” throughout the book – small surprises that take some looking to find. “So viewers are rewarded for really scrutinizing the pages.”

Turn to the “P” page, and you’ll find the “wow” part of AMAZE: a detailed pop-up illustration of a restored Columbian printing press that is housed in McGill’s collections. “I think we went through 17 iterations of that page because of the level of detail that we had to show,” Dr. Cooke says. “And that printing press, by coincidence, was designed and created in 1821. So it’s exactly the same age as McGill.”

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