Foster School library turns back time to celebrate 25th birthday

When the Foster library first opened, the iMac was changing desktop computing. Now one is part of a special exhibit celebrating the library’s birthday.

Synergy. Yes, that’s the word. Or should we say, that’s the corporate buzzword and one of the many hangovers from American business culture in the 1990s.

It was synergy at work when Jason Sokoloff, head librarian at the Foster School of Business, and his team decided to create something joyful and unconventional to welcome students back to campus last fall. At that point, they remembered their library was about to turn 25.

“The idea sort of dawned on us as we were getting ready to reopen,” Sokoloff says. “We had a small display case and we could exhibit something that had connection with business and industry.” They chose to tap into trappings from a quarter century ago and curate a pocket exhibit they call “It Came From the ’90s.”

“We pulled it together through our social connections,” Sokoloff says. After going through their own attics and sending emails to friends and colleagues, they came up with items including a Nintendo 64 (the last video game console that used cartridges), a Blockbuster card, a pile of Beanie Babies, a Tamagotchi, DVDs and other ephemera.

The ’90s were the era of fax machines and Rolodexes and a heyday for buzzwords like “wheelhouse” and “bandwidth.”  It was the dawn of Zip drives and the decline of floppy disks. “We defined the exhibit as stuff people spent their money on: consumer and office products,” Sokoloff says. “The idea was to highlight consumer technology and pop culture.”

The exhibit’s pièce de résistance is a working iMac G3, borrowed from the Living Computers: Museum and Labs. It is stationed at the library entrance, where visitors can leave digital sticky notes.

The quarter-century-old library itself has the feel of an underground chapel. An 80-foot-long skylight brightens a central area packed with tables and chairs. Mornings there are quiet, but as the day progresses, students fill the seats. “We’re a big and popular study hall, arguably the busiest of the ‘branch’ libraries on the campus,” Sokoloff says.

The library serves more than 2,500 business students, most of whom have no memory of what it was like without computers in the house. For them, much of the exhibit—which runs through June 9— will seem novel and strange.

So much in the world of business is about looking forward, about finding the next new thing. Sokoloff and his team have found joy in looking back.