Behind the scenes at the British Library: Susan Dymond, Interpretation Manager and Cleo Laskarin, Exhibitions Production Coordinator
We go behind the scenes at the Library to introduce you to our people and the many ways they work to bring our collection to everyone. This month we meet Susan Dymond, Interpretation Manager and Cleo Laskarin, Exhibitions Production Coordinator and the voice of our Anything But Silent podcasts.
Tell us about your roles
Susan and Cleo are part of the team that project manages the British Library’s exhibitions. Working with others across the Library, including curators, conservators, and the loans team – who borrow items from other institutions to supplement our collection (and vice versa) – they pull together the narrative and, with audiences in mind, advise on the most effective ways to display the items.
'I manage the storylines of our exhibitions. Working with the curators and others I look at the messaging and carry out audience testing with the marketing team.' Susan Dymond, Interpretation Manager
Cleo works with designers and other contractors, such as mount-makers, art handlers, lighting and audio-visual experts, to help build the physical exhibition space. She is also involved in the logistics of object-handling, installation and exhibition break-down.
'I work with conservators to keep objects safe and designers to make them look attractive and accessible for our audiences.' Cleo Laskarin, Exhibitions Production Coordinator
Give us a flavour of some of the exhibitions you’ve worked on
Susan has been involved in lots of our exhibitions over the last decade such as Harry Potter: A History of Magic, Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy and Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths. Her focus is currently on Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens, Beethoven and Gold.
'I enjoyed working on Marvellous and Mischievous: Literature’s Young Rebels because putting on an exhibition for a family audience was something new for us.' Susan
Cleo has been working on Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights for the past two years, whilst simultaneously planning exhibitions due to open later in 2021 and 2022.
'I’m also working on a temporary display of miniature books in the Treasures Gallery. It’s ended up being a big job because when the objects are so tiny you can fit more!'
How has Covid-19 changed the way you work?
Usually a very hands-on and chatty team, our Exhibition staff have had to adjust to home-working over the past year. Several of our exhibitions have been delayed by a full year due to closure.
'It was a huge mental adjustment for the team, with projects more protracted and drawn out.' Susan
The team has had to be extremely flexible and only been into the Library for installations and viewing objects.
'The installation of Unfinished Business took twice as long as usual because we could only have half the normal numbers on site with social distancing guidelines. Hanging banners whilst keeping two metres apart was a fun puzzle but it wasn’t as sociable as normal.' Cleo
How did you get into this field?
Susan studied history at the University of Warwick. She started her career in publishing, editing art and history books before becoming web editor for the British Museum. There she moved over to the exhibitions team and joined the British Library in 2010.
Cleo has always had an interest in arts and culture and was dragged to museums as a kid. Her dad is an artist and she used to help out with his installations. She moved to London from Victoria in Canada and joined the Library three years ago starting in Visitor Services and Reading Room roles before joining the Exhibitions team. Cleo also hosted the first series of the Library’s podcast, Anything But Silent.
What do you love about working at the Library?
Cleo and Susan are part of a close team who pull together to deliver exhibitions. This has become even more evident during the pandemic in the way they have supported each other.
'Everyone is more than willing to lend a hand on tasks outside of their roles.' Cleo
What’s your favourite item in our collection?
Susan is a fan of personal items that bring you closer to people such as Beethoven’s laundry list. She’s currently working on the interpretation for Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens and is enjoying the letters the Queens wrote to each other and their handwritten speeches.
'It’s a fascinating insight into these two women and their relationship to each other.' Susan
Despite the complicated installation involved for the display, Cleo has a soft spot for the wonderfully impractical miniature books collection.
'Also a telegram that was sent in response to a damning theatre critic: it’s so sassy and emphatic, it’s hilarious. I love that it was sent via telegram.' Cleo
© The Arvon Foundation. British Library Shelfmark: Add MS 88961/3
What’s your favourite (non-British Library) exhibition you’ve been to in recent years?
Susan’s pick is the Oceania exhibition that was at the Royal Academy in 2018.
'It was a magical experience, I ended up staying three hours!' Susan
Cleo enjoyed both the design and wonderful content in the recent Artic: Culture and Climate exhibition at the British Museum which sadly had a very brief run due to Covid closures.
Any book recommendations for our readers?
Cleo’s book pick is The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson, a memoir that weaves together love, gender theory, queer parenting and language.
Susan has recently read the Booker Prize-winning Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo.
'It’s a landmark book that introduces characters often missing from fiction, and asks really interesting questions about feminism and race.'