Sam Howzit
Sam Howzit

15 Incredibly Specific Special Collections Libraries

Sam Howzit
Sam Howzit

Special collections libraries are a strange and wonderful world, full of odd collections and even odder researchers. We chose a handful of our favorites.

1. The Grolier Club

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.

2. The Browne Popular Culture Library

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.

3. The Marion Nestle Food Studies Collection

This culinary history collection at NYU’s Fales Library includes many gems, including the 3500-volume library of cookbooks from Gourmet magazine.

4. The Lilly Library

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.

5. The Folger Shakespeare Library

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.

6. Barnard Zine Library

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.

7. DC Punk Archive

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.

8. The Peace Collection

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.

9. The Center for Southwest Research

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.

10. Harry Ransom Center

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.

11. Presbyterian Historical Society

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.

12. Juilliard Library and Archives

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.

13. Human Sexuality Collection

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.

14. Walt Disney Archives

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.

15. National Museum of Natural History Library

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.

Adem Altan, AFP/Getty Images
Trash Collectors in Turkey Use Abandoned Books to Build a Free Library
Adem Altan, AFP/Getty Images
Adem Altan, AFP/Getty Images

A stack of books abandoned on the sidewalk can be a painful sight for bibliophiles. But in Ankara, Turkey, garbage collectors are using books left to be discarded to build a free library. As CNN reports, their library of salvaged literature is currently 6000 titles strong.

The collection grew gradually as sanitation workers began saving books they found on their routes, rather then hauling them away with the rest of the city’s trash. The books were set aside for employees and their families to borrow, but eventually news of their collection expanded beyond the sanitation department. Instead of leaving books on the curb, residents started donating their unwanted books directly to the cause. Soon the idea arose of opening a full library for the public to enjoy.

Man reading book at shelf.
Adem Altan, AFP/Getty Images

With support from the local government, the library opened in the Çankaya district of Ankara in September 2017. Located in an abandoned brick factory on the sanitation department’s property, it features literature for children, resources for scientists, and books for English and French speakers. The space also includes a lounge where visitors can read their books or play chess. The loan period for books lasts two weeks, but just like at a regular library, readers are given the option to renew their tomes.

People reading books in a library.
Adem Altan, AFP/Getty Images

The experiment has proven more successful than anyone anticipated: The library is so well-stocked that local schools, prisons, and educational programs can now borrow from its inventory. The Turkish sanitation workers deserve high praise, but discarded book-loving pioneers in other parts of the world should also get some recognition: For decades, José Alberto Gutiérrez has been using his job collecting garbage to build a similar library in Colombia.

[h/t CNN]

Los Angeles Libraries Letting Young Readers Work Off Late Fees By Reading More

Though you’re more likely to catch today’s kids with their faces buried in a smartphone as opposed to a book, libraries in the Los Angeles area are doing their part to give kids every opportunity to fall in love with reading. As the Los Angeles Times reports, Los Angeles County has introduced some new measures to help kids discover a love of reading, including working with the local school systems to automatically sign every student up for a library card, eliminating late fees for anyone under the age of 21, and allowing youngsters who currently have any overdue book fees to pay off these balances by reading more.

Leilany Medina, an 11-year-old aspiring librarian, was one of the first kids in the area to take advantage of the new policies. Last week, she turned up at the East Los Angeles Library to “read off” her $4 balance.

"You tell them you'll read and they'll sign you in and you start," Medina, who is in fifth grade, told the Los Angeles Times. “When your head starts losing the book you can stop reading and they tell you how much money they took away.”

The program, which kicked off in June, allows young patrons to work off $5 of fees per hour of reading and has already seen tremendous results. According to Darcy Hastings, the county's assistant library administrator for youth services, the library system has already managed to reinstate 3500 previously blocked accounts because of its new “Read Away” policy. (Any account owing $10 or more in fees is automatically suspended.) Though it might not seem like a ton of money, owing even just a few dollars can be enough to dissuade a child from tapping the library as a resource for learning.

"When charges accrue on a young person's account, generally, they don't pay the charges and they don't use the card," Hastings said. "A few dollars on their accounts means they stop using library services."

Aleah Jurnecka, the children’s librarian at East L.A. Library, says that they’re seeing at least 100 students per week come in to "Read Away" their fees—and Medina is a prime example. Though she, too, loves computer games and uses the internet for homework, her voracious love of reading makes her stand out among her peers.

"She's using some words at home that other kids her age don't know if they're using tablets and not building their vocabulary," Yeimi Cortez, Medina’s cousin, told the Los Angeles Times.


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