15 Incredibly Specific Special Collections Libraries
Special collections libraries are a strange and wonderful world, full of odd collections and even odder researchers. We chose a handful of our favorites.
This private society for bibliophiles on Manhattan’s Upper East Side features an entire library of books about books. Featuring topics ranging from printing techniques to histories of the book to examples of especially fine bindings, this library is a bibliophile’s playground.
This special collections library at Bowling Green State University in Ohio is something of a legend among librarians. Their collections include over 10,000 comic books and graphic novels, an array of materials related to the Miss America pageant, a Pokemon collection, Star Trek memorabilia, and a collection of vintage paperbacks.
This culinary history collection at NYU’s Fales Library includes many gems, including the 3500-volume library of cookbooks from Gourmet magazine.
Indiana University’s amazing special collections facility in Bloomington has 16,000 miniature books, along with a huge collection of puzzles and many other oddities. Their exhibits are also top notch; it’s worth a visit if you’re passing through Indiana.
Established in 1932, the Folger is an impressive research institution in Washington, D.C. that collects materials related to Shakespeare and the early modern period.
Barnard College is a liberal arts college for women, so it’s no surprise that their zine collection focuses on zines written by women. They also make a special effort to collect zines by women of color.
An archive about punk music is pretty specific—but what about an entire archive about the punk scene in Washington, D.C.? It’s in the works under the auspices of the D.C. Public Library.
Swarthmore College, in the Philadelphia suburbs, hosts this collection dedicated to peace activism and related materials. They have a great collection of political buttons, among other things. Their collections complement the Quaker-related collections of the Friends Historical Library, which is also housed at Swarthmore.
Many special collections libraries are organized by region, like the Center for Southwest Research at the University of New Mexico. The Center collects materials on the Southwestern United States and Latin America, and it’s located in Albuquerque.
Based at the University of Texas at Austin, the Harry Ransom Center collections of cultural materials include a truly impressive array of manuscripts and works-in-progress by some of the world’s greatest writers and artists to help provide insight into the creative process.
Entire collections dealing with a religious group are not uncommon. This library in Center City Philadelphia documents the history of the Presbyterian Church (USA), one of the largest Protestant denominations in the United States.
Many large universities with music departments have dedicated music libraries, but Juilliard is arguably the best-known music and performing arts institution in the country. The library includes scores, sound recordings, and books on music, dance and drama.
The Human Sexuality Collection at Cornell University documents sexual history, especially lesbian and gay history and the history of pornography. The collection includes published and unpublished materials in the form of written works, photographs, video, and oral histories.
Many large corporations maintain their own archives to document and celebrate their company history. Materials from the Walt Disney Archives are frequently exhibited to the public in southern California and beyond.
It’s hard to pick just one of the Smithsonian’s libraries, but this one contains a plethora of cool science-related collections, from zoology to mineralogy to volcanology. The library collections support research on the natural history specimens maintained by the museum, but they’re also open to outside researchers.