To celebrate its 25th anniversary, Foster Business Library exhibit parties like it’s 1998

The dream of the ’90s is alive in … Foster Business Library?

That’s right. Nestled among its 60,000+ books, journals and reference materials is an unpacked time capsule of cleverly curated ephemera and artifacts from the late 1990s, done up in the decade’s gaudy neon palette and mismatched font families.

The exhibit, “It Came From The ’90s,” celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Foster Library, which first opened its doors in the 1997-98 academic year.

The project was conceived in the collective memories of librarians Jason Sokoloff, Jessica Jerrit and Amanda Pirog, and produced with help from I-School graduate assistant Giselle Shannon (who, it must be said, was not yet alive in the year being feted).

Museum quality

The team curated a collection of museum-quality pop-culture mementos, whose procurement required some creative digging.

An APB sent to colleagues across the UW Library system yielded a pile of tradeable Pogs, an iomega Zip drive (among a variety pack of arcane removable media), a Lilith Fair box set, a South Park cast poster and a Blockbuster Video membership card (presumably expired).

Jerrit provided a colorful clan of Beanie Babies, the best-selling video adventure game Myst, and some Star Wars prequel memorabilia (though the first wouldn’t hit screens until 1999) from her personal archives. “These are my childhood treasures,” she says. “I ransacked my parents’ closet.”

Sokoloff borrowed a replica red Volkswagen “New Beetle” from his kids’ toy box. “You can’t find them anymore,” he says.

A Spice Girls CD, Titanic DVD and Phantom Menace VHS tape were exhumed from a used bookstore.

A Tamagotchi “digital pet” arrived in mint condition from the East Coast in response to a call on Facebook.

A vintage—and operable—“Bondi Blue” iMac is on loan from Seattle’s Living Computers Museum (which, sadly, remains powered down since its COVID-19 closure).

And a working Nintendo 64 game console comes courtesy of a “community member who knew the guy from the Living Computers Museum,” Sokoloff says. “The kindness of strangers!”

When computers were cute

Of all the late-1990s relics on display, visitors to the Foster Library appear to be most enchanted by the cartoon-cute iMac, which could double as a Star Wars droid, bee-boo-bopping its way across a dusty intergalactic landscape.

A vintage iMac from 1997.

“The iMac seems to be the most appealing to students—who weren’t even around when it came out,” Sokoloff reports.

Though it lacks an internet connection, and needs to be awakened from frequent slumber with a mouse swipe, it has a few vintage computer games loaded. Staff encourage students to play and post desktop messages using the old Stickies app.

Post-pandemic bonding

The retrospective project has bonded three generations of library staff over fond and forgettable pop-culture keepsakes. Shannon (of Gen Z) discovered the pleasures of playing Myst on the antique iMac, a game that Jerrit (Millennial) grew up on.

She also grew up raising a Tamagotchi, porting it to school to make sure it didn’t miss a digital meal.

“It was every teacher’s nightmare,” laughs Sokoloff (of Gen X).

The Titanic cache reawakened strong feelings in one-time fangirls Pirog (another Millennial) and Jerrit, who recalls a childhood friend wallpapering her bedroom with 80 Leonardo DiCaprio posters. Shannon reports being unsettled by all the drowning.

Exhibit curators Giselle Shannon, Jason Sokoloff and Jessica Jerrit (Amanda Pirog, not pictured).

And everyone has opinions on the Star Wars prequels. Shannon’s introduction to a galaxy far, far away came from her enthusiastic parents. “My mom,” she says, “is an Anakin apologist.”

“Movies are forever,” concludes Sokoloff.

Beyond celebrating the Foster Business Library’s silver jubilee, Sokoloff says that creating and curating this exhibit, which opened last fall, has also been a fun way to welcome students back after extended COVID closures. “This was our first exhibit since pandemic reopening,” he says, “so the 25th anniversary seemed like a fun—and colorful—theme to run with!”

“It Came From The ’90s” will remain on display through the end of spring quarter during the Foster Library’s regular opening hours. Staff are planning more fun trips back in time, like a guess-the-company-by-its-1997-logo trivia contest, to come later this year.

Photography by Paul Gibson.

Ed Kromer Managing Editor Foster School

Ed Kromer is the managing editor of Foster Business magazine. Over the past two decades, he has served as the school’s senior storyteller, writing about a wide array of people, programs, insights and innovations that power the Foster School community.