What’s your library obsession?

Well, it’s the day after Valentine’s Day, and whether that leaves you feeling relieved or longing for more, I hope it was a good one for you. In spirit of the most recent holiday and all the weirdness it brings, I’m going to talk about…drumroll…

Library Obsessions!

That’s right, we’ve all got at least one. Maybe it’s something that is crucial to your daily work that you absolutely love or maybe it’s something that’s just plain interesting to you. Last year, I discovered a weird infatuation of mine: miniature books. Seriously, just take one look at the University of Iowa Special Collections’ #miniaturemonday posts and you’ll see why.

Now, miniature books have virtually nothing to do with the type of work I do on a daily basis at Hennepin County Library Special Collections. We have a small collection of them, and I initially just thought they were weird and eye-catching and I wanted to know why they existed. I regularly create displays featuring our archival and rare book collections and I’m always interested in building up awareness for material that people may not realize we have, so naturally, I decided to feature some of our miniature books in a display last year.

This was CHALLENGING. Turns out miniature books are small! Some are reeeeaaally small, and that makes filling an entire display case difficult.

I started by doing background research on miniature books. Luckily, we have two extensive rare book collections on the history of books and printing in our library, so I had ample research material. If you’re interested in miniature books, I recommend starting with Miniature Books: 4,000 Years of Tiny Treasures by Anne Bromer and Julian Edison. It’s a fun read with lots of graphics and it goes into the various functions and varieties of miniature books throughout time.

Miniature Books: 4,000 Years of Tiny Treasures by Anne Bromer and Julian Edison

Miniature Books: 4,000 Years of Tiny Treasures by Anne Bromer and Julian Edison. HCL Special Collections has the regular and miniature version! Photos and materials courtesy of Hennepin County Library.

Then, I looked through our collections and selected books. We have miniatures in nearly all of our rare book collections. I wanted to see if I could find representative examples of different types of mini books that I learned about in my research, and I wanted to showcase a variety of sizes and styles. We had never done a display of our miniatures before, so I thought it would be good to showcase our holdings across collections. I purposefully chose more books than I thought I would need so I could reduce the selection once I started arranging.

After selection, I started planning how I would assemble the display and write captions. Here’s where things got tricky. I don’t normally do a full mock-up of my displays, but in this case, I did. Their size posed logistical problems because it made it hard to estimate how many I could actually fit in the display. I also had to figure out how I was going to get the right height in the case and I had to wait to write some of the captions until I had the arrangement finalized. In the end, it worked out to group most of the books together by collection and I placed books at four different heights (thanks Hollinger!). The setup was a lot of nudging and poking and trying not to bump anything out of place.



Photos courtesy of Hennepin County Library. Materials courtesy of Hennepin County Library and the Minneapolis Athenaeum.

The next phase of the process was truly the best: seeing how interested people were in the display! Turns out, I’m not the only one who finds miniature books fascinating. We’re lucky in that we get quite a bit of foot traffic from the public in our department, so I had ample opportunity to see people’s reaction to the display and talk to people about it. I always enjoyed seeing the look on people’s faces when I told them that our 25mm tall edition of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was indeed a full version. We also promoted the display on Tumblr and Instagram. A few people even requested to use the miniatures as a result of the display. The reaction to the display was quite fantastic considering most people did not know we had these in our collections at all.

At this point, you’re probably wondering if I’ve started collecting miniature books of my own. And the answer is no, I have not. BUT! I did discover a new (mini) obsession when I was in Denmark last year: miniature buildings!

Minibyen in Varde, Denmark

Minibyen in Varde, Denmark – a replica of the town as it looked in 1866.

What’s your library obsession?


Featured image courtesy of Brent Moore, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

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