In Dublin in 2008 I had the opportunity to spend an entire day at The National Library where they had mounted the greatest exhibit about a writer I have ever seen, devoted to the life and work of William Butler Yeats. Usually, at least in my experience, exhibits about writers tend to be disappointing: “Look, there’s his chair! His desk, the couch he used to sprawl on to take naps, his dictionary, and ooo, ooo, come over here, there’s a manuscript page under glass with a coffee ring on it!” It’s all a bit like coming to the tomb on Easter morning and gawking, “Look, there’s the rock, there’s a piece of shroud, etc.” But this exhibit, besides being comprehensive and deep in its considerations of Yeats and his times, and besides being organized like an excellent biography that is able to braid the chronology with the themes of each era of the poet’s work, uses the resources of technology to the fullest to engage viewers and readers. I left feeling that I had been handling Yeats’s manuscripts all day — and I had, albeit digitally.
I could go on and on: can’t make out Yeats’s handwriting? Click to the print version. Prefer to hear it? OK, then Seamus Heaney will say it for you. But I won’t go on, because NOW THE WHOLE EXHIBIT IS ONLINE with the manuscripts, films, artifacts, and recordings available at your desk.