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Sam Howzit

15 Incredibly Specific Special Collections Libraries

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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.

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Animals
These Mobile Libraries Roaming Zimbabwe Are Pulled By Donkeys
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The people behind the Rural Libraries and Resources Development Program (RLRDP) believe you shouldn’t have to travel far to access good reading material. That’s why they have donkeys do a lot of the traveling for the people they help. According to inhabitat, RLRDP manages 15 donkey-powered library carts that deliver books to communities without libraries of their own.

The organization was founded in 1990 with the mission of bringing libraries to rural parts of Zimbabwe. Five years later, they started hitching up donkeys to carts packed with books. Each mobile library can hold about 1200 titles, and 12 of the 15 carts are filled exclusively with books for kids. The donkeys can transport more than just paperbacks: Each two-wheeled cart has space for a few riders, and three of them are outfitted with solar panels that power onboard computers. While browsing the internet or printing documents, visitors to the library can use the solar energy to charge their phones.

Donkeys pulling a cart

Carts usually spend a day in the villages they serve, and that short amount of time is enough to make a lasting impact. RLRDP founder Dr. Obadiah Moyo wrote in a blog post, “The children explore the books, sharing what they’ve read, and local storytellers from the community come to bring stories to life. It really is a day to spread the concept of reading and to develop the reading culture we are all working towards.”

Kids getting books from a cart.

About 1600 individuals benefit from each cart, and Moyo says schools in the areas they visit see improvement in students. The donkey-pulled libraries are only part of what RLRDP does: The organization also trains rural librarians, installs computers in places without them, and delivers books around Zimbabwe via bicycle—but the pack animals are hard to top. Moyo writes, “When the cart is approaching a school, the excitement from the children is wonderful to see as they rush out to greet it.”

[h/t inhabitat]

All images courtesy of Rural Libraries and Resources Development Program

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26 Fun Facts You Probably Didn't Know About Libraries
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Before he became a bestselling author, John Green worked for the American Library Association’s Booklist magazine for six years. Now, the novelist and Mental Floss YouTube host is returning to the stacks once more, delivering bibliophiles over two dozen trivia bits about the free repositories of knowledge.

Since Clearchus—the ancient Greek ruler and student of the philosopher Plato—founded the first-known public library around 364 BCE, readers from around the world have rifled through sacred Buddhist manuscripts in Bhutan’s unique temple library; felt equal parts awed and overwhelmed upon entering the Library of Congress; and paid homage to Morocco’s gatekeepers of knowledge by visiting the world’s oldest still-operating library in Fez, which was founded by a woman named Fatima al-Fihri in 859 CE [PDF].

Learn more about these fascinating libraries—along with which famous children’s author was once a librarian, which president was guilty of having a library book that was 221 years overdue, which Francis Ford Coppola film may never have been made without a school librarian’s petition, and more—by watching the video above, or by subscribing to our YouTube channel.

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