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Interactive 'Print To Pixels' Exhibit At Central Library Demonstrates How Words Changed The World

St. Louis Public Library's "Print to Pixel" exhibit looks at the history and power of the printed word.
Jen Hatton | St. Louis Public Library
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St. Louis Public Library's "Print to Pixel" exhibit looks at the history and power of the printed word.

With items on display ranging from cuneiform to 3D printers, the new exhibit at St. Louis Public Library’s Central Library branch showcases the evolution of print over the course of two millennia.

Titled “Print to Pixels,” it looks at how words have changed the world “in nearly every way possible,” as Waller McGuire puts it.

“[And it] continues to do so,” the SLPL CEO told host Don Marsh during Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air. “People [now] talk about creating print that is introduced directly into the brain, and it makes one think: Will that be print? How do we react to that?”

St. Louis Public Library CEO Waller McGuire (at left) and Firecracker Press owner Eric Woods joined Tuesday's talk show.
Credit Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Public Library CEO Waller McGuire (at left) and Firecracker Press owner Eric Woods joined Tuesday's talk show.

On view in the library’s Great Hall through June 2, “Print to Pixels” includes interactive aspects such as trying out vintage typewriters, watching a 3D printer in action and enjoying demonstrations by the Firecracker Press, which is serving as “printing press in residence.”

Eric Woods, owner of Firecracker Press, said his particular interest is in the last five centuries or so of printing history.

“We basically go [back] to [Johannes] Gutenberg, and folks often ask us, ‘Well, what’s special about what Gutenberg did?’ And he gets credit for inventing the printing press,” Woods explained. “But you also have to consider the combination of tying the printing press to movable type – so letters on blocks that can be moved around, recomposed, printed, taken apart.

“[And then] the next day you come in and you work on another project. And that concept right there, alone, changes the world.”

A display case inside the Central Library branch's Great Hall in downtown St. Louis includes several vintage typewriter models.
Credit Jen Hatton | St. Louis Public Library
A display case inside the Central Library branch's Great Hall in downtown St. Louis includes several vintage typewriter models.

Woods added that Firecracker will be taking some of their own presses and movable type to the library for “Print to Pixels,” running part of their operation out of the library over the course of the exhibit.

McGuire noted that the interactive activities push back against “all sorts of misconceptions” about libraries, such as the idea that they’re always very quiet spaces.

“We want to show people just the impact, literally, of a press on paper and what’s involved in it,” he said, “[and another] part of this exhibit is built around typewriters, because it’s our argument that typewriters were a huge portion of the development of printing and making everybody a printer at home.”

McGuire added that “there are all sorts of noises going on in the Great Hall, and that’s a great thing.”

Related Exhibition
What: Print to Pixels: How words changed the world
When: Now through June 2, 2019
Where: St. Louis Public Library’s Central Library (1301 Olive Street)

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Evie is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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