John Renaud, Associate University Librarian, Research Resources and Chair of the UCI Libraries Exhibits Program
“Do you think this is like the mug that the mob used when they poisoned him?”
“Does anyone have a wig we could borrow?”
“Why don’t any of our usual vendors have the right color felt for a blackjack table?”
“Is there a way that we get a roulette wheel to work properly on an incline?”
Entering year seven in my tenure as chair of the UCI Libraries Exhibits Committee, I’ve participated in some interesting conversations, but I think that my work on our current exhibit, which draws on the papers and other works of Edward O. Thorp, may edge out all others in terms of the interesting questions it has generated.
The Exhibits Committee immersed themselves in this project. Curators Annette Buckley, Becky Imamoto, and John Sisson, with support from Project Manager Colby Riggs as well as Design Services and Special Collections and Archives teams, collaborated to put the finishing touches on a compelling and exciting display and program.
For me, this exhibit is one that has challenged us to do our best work. While we always try our best, if we had made missteps in our past exhibits, I would have less cause for concern. For example, for past exhibit From Bean to Brew: Coffee and Culture, my relationship with coffee is such that I could have dismissed any bean-related concerns with, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Had we accidentally misrepresented any aspect of the lives of Shakespeare or Helena Modjeska and caused offense on the part of the subjects, I could always just ask whoever was running the séance to help mediate. Had our National Parks Exhibit over-emphasized another park over Yellowstone, I could quietly hope that Yellowstone wouldn’t go off on me like a geyser. But creating an exhibit around the papers and achievements of Edward O. Thorp - who has already documented his own life’s story to this point very well and who I respect greatly, created an additional sense of pressure to get it right.
This exhibit has been a process of first ascertaining what story the papers and other objects in the Edward O. Thorp Collection actually tell. At the same time, the entire exhibits team read Thorp’s 2017 book, A Man for All Markets: From Las Vegas to Wall Street, How I beat the Dealer and the Market. Finally, we were fortunate enough to meet with Dr. Thorp and ask him about balancing the exhibit among the main aspects that emerged from the collection: His work as an academic, his work to understand the mathematics of gambling, and his successful ventures in the financial sector.
An example helps illustrate how doing our best work is beneficial for us all. In order to help visualize aspects of this Dr. Thorp’s work, we needed to borrow one of his creations, a wearable computer designed to beat Roulette, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Museum.
This loan arrangement meant that we needed to examine our facilities and security protocols through the eyes of museum curators and this allowed us create documentation that has already been valuable for other purposes. We also learned how to navigate the complexities of insurance requirements and courier options for high value items, which increased our knowledge base for future loans.
The simple logistics of borrowing what is in fact a valuable historical artifact were daunting, but we knew we wanted it to tell the story the right way – and at this point, after the risk management and shipping processes on both ends, we’ve probably established lifelong friendships with the other institution. To complete the paperwork, we were required to do a thorough assessment of our security and environmental systems, which is something that no other exhibit required. We passed with flying colors in regards to the requirements, and now have that documentation. But in the end, I still think being asked if I own a wig is one of the more interesting conversations that I’ve had at work, in any context.
I hope you will visit our most recent exhibit, Finding the Edge: The Work and Insights of Edward O. Thorp. It will be on display during regular library hours until April 10, 2020. To learn more about this exhibit, please click here.