It’s National Library Week (April 23-29, 2023). The theme this year is “There’s More to the Story.” At the University of Minnesota Libraries, we have resources, services, and spaces you might not know about. These are available to students, staff, and faculty at the University, while many are available to Minnesotans and scholars around the world.
Today’s blog post features some of the many special collections housed at the University of Minnesota Libraries. From one-of-a-kind artifacts to dynamic exhibits, these collections offer library users an invaluable opportunity to learn about and engage with history firsthand.
Read on for a brief overview of a few noteworthy collections — and check out Part I for even more archival surprises!
Sherlock Holmes Collections
Calling all Sherlockians! The Sherlock Holmes Collection at the Libraries constitutes the world’s largest gathering of material related to Sherlock Holmes and his creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This includes over 60,000 items, from books to journals to a variety of other artifacts.
This spring, the Libraries supplemented its already-robust Sherlockian holdings by hosting a traveling exhibit and event series, “Sherlock Holmes in 221 Objects.” The exhibit will only run through May 5, 2023, but interested viewers can tune in any time to this recorded conversation between the Libraries’ Sherlock Holmes Collection curator Tim Johnson and “Sherlock Holmes in 221 Objects” collector Glen S. Miranker.
And you can watch this video about “The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes!”
Social Welfare History Archives
Among the 340-plus collections comprising the Social Welfare History Archives (SWHA) are the Esther Wattenberg papers. Wattenberg was a tireless scholar and activist devoted to improving child welfare. Though she died in 2019, her legacy is preserved in the Social Welfare History Archives — along with a wealth of other documents recording the history of human services, social issues, and the social work profession. Learn more about the SWHA’s collections, and browse the archive’s curated online exhibits.
And you can watch this video on a past SWHA exhibit that looked at the quirkiness of historical sexual health campaigns.
Special Collections and Rare Books
Of course, our special collections at the Libraries are about so much more than just books. But books are a foundational part of the story, too — especially very old, rare ones!
That’s not all you’ll find in the Special Collections and Rare Books (SCRB) repository, however. This wide-ranging archive includes everything from a collection of historical ballooning documents to a cuneiform collection containing nineteen artifacts inscribed in cuneiform, the script of ancient Mesopotamia.
Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Studies
“We will allow the transgender community to tell their own stories,” remarked Lisa Vecoli, former curator of the The Tretter Transgender Oral History Project (TTOHP), which recently was funded for its third phase. The TTOHP’s mission is to collect, preserve, and make available oral histories of gender transgression, broadly understood through a trans framework. Phases I and II already contain over 260 oral histories combined; in Phase III, community volunteers will be able to serve as interviewers, making space, as Vecoli notes, for even more “grassroots storytelling and activism.”
Alongside the Tretter Transgender Oral History Project, the Tretter Collection houses about 3,500 linear feet of material — including books, periodicals, grey literature, personal and organizational records, zines and pamphlets, artifacts and ephemera, and audiovisual materials — making it the largest LGBTQ-specific archival repository in the upper Midwest. Learn more about the Tretter’s late founder, Jean-Nickolaus Tretter, and watch this 2017 video celebrating Phase I of the TTOHP.
The University Archives is your go-to for all things involving the history of the University of Minnesota. In addition to its physical materials, the University Archives offers an extensive range of digital resources, from a repository of 20,000-plus university photographs to commencement programs dating back to 1873. You might also check out their interactive Campus History project, an application which enables users to explore campus throughout time using maps, aerial images, and building photographs.
Head over to the University Archivist blog to learn more about the archive and its services.
Nathan and Theresa Berman Upper Midwest Jewish Archives
For the Upper Midwest Jewish Archives, history doesn’t live in the records of the powerful few — rather, it’s found in the stories of everyday people. Specifically, the archives collect and make available materials documenting the lives of Jewish communities in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and western Wisconsin.
In addition to its collections, the Upper Midwest Jewish Archives have also created a range of special projects, including the History of Minnesota’s Synagogues Map project and the Soviet Women: “Old Lives, New Lives” Oral History project, a contribution to Minnesota’s Immigrants.
And you can hear from others in this video about the importance of UMJA.
Upper Midwest Literary Archives
From the papers of John Berryman and Carol Bly to the records of Graywolf Press and Milkweed Editions, the resources in the Upper Midwest Literary Archives (UMLA) are integral to the study of literary history, independent publishing, and writers of the prairie. Established in 1971, the UMLA preserves and provides access to the personal or organizational papers of authors, poets, critics, presses, and others whose work has been influenced by the Upper Midwest (Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Wisconsin).
Andersen Horticultural Library
You may have explored the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum — but what about the library inside? The Andersen Horticultural Library (AHL), located on the first floor of the library’s Snyder Building, specializes in horticulture, botanical art, plant sciences and natural history. Not to mention an extensive children’s literature collection and monthly StoryTime!
Watch a February 2023 feature of this hidden gem on KARE 11, and take a look at a recent AHL exhibit, “Flora and Fauna Illustrata”:
Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and Medicine
At the Wangensteen Historical Library (WHL), interactivity is key.
Located in the East Bank’s Phillips-Wangensteen building, this standout collection comprises rare books, manuscripts, and artifacts related to health, medicine, and biological sciences from 1430 to 1945. But that’s not all: the WHL also offers a plethora of exciting outreach and engagement opportunities, from tours to course support to pop up events, like this spring’s recent “Wangensteen in bloom.”
All are welcome to visit the WHL, but appointments are required. Can’t make it in person? Browse their current online exhibits, which include a student-made journey through a 17th-century apothecary manuscript.
You won’t want to miss this video: “Downton Abbey: Behind the Scenes of Health and Illness” that features some fun and scary medical artifacts from WHL.
Doris S. Kirschner Cookbook Collection
Dig out your aprons and ready your whisks! The Kirschner Cookbook Collection, located at the Magrath Library on the St. Paul campus, contains over 5,600 items — from cookbooks to pamphlets to recipes — dating back to 1890.
Want to learn the art of fermentation or perfect your Minnesota hot dish? There’s a book for that! The collection even has a subset of digitized books available for free through UMedia.
Watch curator Megan Kocher review “What’s for Dessert” and “Baking School” on a recent episode of Read This Book by host Lisa Von Drasek.
John R. Borchert Map Library
Rounding out our special collections feature is the John R. Borchert Map Library, which can be found in the sub-basement of Wilson Library. This 600,000-plus item collection includes everything from aerial photography to county plat maps and atlases of the state of Minnesota. Users can also take advantage of its extensive online resources, which include a range of map and geography databases and tools, as well as resources for geospatial data.
National Library Week, sponsored by the American Library Association, is an annual celebration highlighting the valuable role libraries, librarians, and library workers play in transforming lives and strengthening our communities.