Throughout America’s history, drug use and classification continue to shift as science reveals more about how they are made and how they affect the human brain and body.
The Arizona Health Sciences Library is showcasing the “Pick your Poison: Intoxicating Pleasures & Medical Prescriptions” traveling exhibit for community members to visualize the history, and transformation, of common drugs in the U.S.
The UA’s medical library partners with the National Library of Medicine (NLM) to showcase traveling exhibits on campus. Some are harder to book than others, but are all for the benefit of the community according to Curt Stewart administrative associate at the UA Health Sciences Library and coordinator of the exhibit.
“Pick your Poison talks about intoxicating substances that were previously used for medical purposes but now have become either taboo or we know a little more about them,” Stewart said.
The exhibit features highlights on drugs like tobacco, opium, cocaine and marijuana. There is also a section on alcohol. They each have their own, separate panels with a history of how they have been changed and how they have been used both positively and negatively throughout history.
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“Pick your Poison” was created to show the changing definitions of certain drugs that were once considered deadly, and vice versa. Throughout the exhibit, the audience is encouraged to take note of the different categories: botanical, curative, market, consumer and prohibitive.
Tobacco, as shown in the exhibit, is something that has been used by Native Americans for spiritual purposes and later seen as “God’s Remedy.” It is now seen as something highly addictive and carcinogenic.
All exhibits at the UA Health and Science Library are open to the general public. The library offers different programs in the hopes to drive conversations centered around health and wellness for both students and members of the community to participate.
The exhibits come from the NLM, located in Bethesda, Maryland. It is the world’s largest biomedical library, and maintains a vast print and digital collection available to the public.
They partner with universities all across the nation to help display traveling exhibits, like “Pick your Poison,” to their communities.
“All our exhibits are meant to showcase medical and artistic collections,” said Patty Tuohy, the head of the Exhibition Program at NLM. “We give communities across the country and around the world a chance to showcase a particular topic but also add their own collection to it.”
Sharing exhibits helps create “events around these exhibits for communities to go to the libraries” that host them, according to Tuohy.
Putting together an exhibit takes two phases. First, researchers must come up with an idea and piece together collections from NLM or other sources relevant to a topic or conversation. It also has to be compelling to an audience.
From there, after the “script” is written, the program puts together digital elements and sends them to a designer who creates visuals for the information.
Then, the exhibit is assembled and made open to the public. It can also start to travel across different libraries for display.
“It’s a chance to talk about these topics in more depth and bring people to libraries,” Tuohy said. “These exhibits are a way to raise people’s awareness of this valuable resource [NLM] and provide a gateway to our collections.”
A main reason exhibits travel from NLM to libraries like the medical library is the outreach that NLM conducts, according to Jill Newmark, the exhibition registrar at NLM.
“It’s a way of allowing people to see things that are in our collections,” Newmark said. “A way of exposing them to those collections that they might not have access to because they can’t come to the library [NLM].”
NLM has about 46 exhibitions traveling around the country on a regular basis, all loaned out by libraries for a six-week period at a time. Libraries and coordinators keep contact with the NLM to choose what they want displayed in their communities.
“We try to have diverse topics and post them on an itinerary online and whomever wants to book those topics they can book them,” Newmark said.
“Pick your Poison: Intoxicating Pleasures and Medical Prescriptions” will be displayed at the Arizona Health Sciences Library, located at 1501 N. Campbell Ave, until April 14.
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