How To See Libraries' Special Collections

Photo: j zamora

“It’s like a museum but with no people, and where you have to do all the work.” Developer and internet artist Darius Kazemi (you might know him from his Twitter bots) has a truly nerdy travel habit: he likes to visit libraries near his hotel and browse their archives and special collections. He explains how to look for, get access to, and find the best content in a library archive.

If you have particular academic interests that aren’t always covered by museums, you might enjoy library archive tourism when you travel or in your own area.

As Kazemi explains, you’ll find interesting collections at public libraries and university libraries, and usually both are open to the public. After you find libraries near you, go to their websites to find lists of their special collections. Some library sites will have front page links to special collections; some will need you to search. The New York Public Library has a whole portal for its collections.

For something a bit closer to home, The State Library of New South Wales has a similar portal, and a range of Special Collections that can be accessed with a Special Collections card.

University sites also often include comprehensive lists of the contents of various collections, called finding aids.

Once you’ve found a collection to browse, you might need to make an appointment with the library. The staff will need to bring you the specific materials you’ll be looking through. As Kazemi says, they won’t mind helping you out, so you don’t need to pretend you have any more specific purpose than “I like to browse library collections and this looked interesting.”

The library might ask you to wear gloves, or leave certain items outside the browsing room to avoid damaging materials. Follow the rules, be careful, and don’t steal anything.

How to be a library archive tourist | Tiny Subversions


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