The Showgirl Collection and Other Archives that Will Surprise You

Five collections that showcase how expansive the idea of a library can be

When someone says the word library, what pops into your head? Books and computers, sure, but libraries have expanded. Maybe you included movies and music, sewing machine and 3D printers, toys and garden supplies. Odds are good that your local library includes most or all of these, but what about puppets, medical supplies or antique valentines? All of these, along with other sorts of special collections exist in large public libraries, on college campuses and corporate headquarters. These unique additions showcase librarianships ability to expand the definition of literacy to include cultural artifacts and other items of historical importance. Below are five collections that showcase how expansive the idea of a collection can be.

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The Grolier Club

The oldest on this list, this New York institution was founded in 1884 when Robert Hoe invited eight fellow bibliophiles to his house. The group, who wanted to advance the state of printing in America, organized leading to the creation of The Grolier Club. They named it in honor of Jean Grolier (1498/90–1565) a Renaissance lover and collector of books who amassed a famous library, one he shared with fellow enthusiasts. Their mission, “the study, collecting and appreciation of books and words on paper,” remains intact. Their library, a growing collection of 100,000+ volumes, requires permission to use, as it’s geared to serious researchers, but for the general public they put on four free exhibitions a year, hosts lectures as well as creating their own publishing arm.

The Peace Collection

The Peace Collection, held at Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, was donated to them by Jane Addams, the famous activist and founder of Hull House. She donated her books, letters, photographs and her Nobel Peace Prize to the college in the 1930’s. The collection includes any “non-governmental efforts for non-violent social change, disarmament and conflict resolution.” As the initial collection came from a woman, over half the primary documents focus on their contributions to any cause for peace starting around 1815 to the present. In addition, it includes interesting ephemera including buttons and pins, posters and signs, scrapbooks and t-shirts.

The Showgirl and Menu Collection

Taking the idea of local history to fun heights, The University of Nevada at Las Vegas have collections focusing on their unique aspects of their community. One, titled the showgirl digs into this combination of burlesque, Broadway, cancan dance halls, nightclubs and the movies to showcase the spectacle and allure of the showgirl. The library’s collection includes drawings, costumes and production notes show the evolution of these staged extravaganzas. One cannot got to a show without dinner first, and Vegas has a long history of great options. From the famous buffets through to the haute cuisine offerings available today, the menu collection showcases both the changes in graphic design as well as the variety of eating options and pallet of the visitors to this tourist destination. Both give a snapshot into this one of a kind city.

The Harry Ransom Center

This humanities research library on the campus of the University of Texas, Austin, the Harry Ransom Center, opened in 1957 contains books, photographs, manuscripts and paintings, but for the aspiring writer, they have made it a mission to collect the works of living writers, both their final printed books, and, a major focus, manuscript versions of those works, showing how these authors rethought about their works, how each novel shifted and changed between drafts. They also believe in showing their treasures, with exhibitions and lectures as well as a magazine you can subscribe to.

The Frank W. Tober Collection on Literary Forgery

The newest collection, bequeathed in 1995 to the University of Delaware library by Frank Tober, this focus on famous literary forgeries. Containing 4,000 books and periodicals highlighting mostly American and British instances of frauds as well as forgery detection, counterfeiting and literary hoaxes. Of special interest to him were British forgers Thomas J. Wise and H. Buxton Forman and he even covered the more modern episode, Clifford Irving’s ‘biography’ of Howard Hughes. A fun reminder that even the stuffy world of publishing has a wild side.

Libraries are not only buildings and books, but gathering places for ideas. As those can inspire any number of things, many beyond books, it seems right that many deep, passionate collections that reflect the variety, creativity and quirks of their subjects find homes there as well. So, whatever you want to discover, some library somewhere can provide you with the knowledge you need.

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