Star Trek glasses from Taco Bell. A copy of the first bodice-ripper ever published (1972’s The Flame and the Flower). Personal-growth leaflets with titles such as The Tyranny of Bad Habits and Shall I Become a Smoker?
When researchers need to study these or other pieces of American ephemera created after 1876, they head to the Ray and Pat Browne Library for Popular Culture Studies at Ohio’s Bowling Green State University Libraries.
Founded almost 50 years ago, the library holds one of the largest comics collections in the country, as well as an extensive collection of mysteries, sci-fi/fantasy novels, and other popular fiction—not to mention 20,000–30,000 romance novels. But it’s liberally salted with more eclectic items, such as bridge tally cards, matchbox covers, and ice-cream-themed greeting cards.
Most of the library’s material doesn’t circulate—it’s too fragile. But head librarian Nancy Down and her staff are happy to help students and visiting scholars find what they’re after and use it in the reading room. Among recent requests Down has fulfilled: automobile pamphlets dating back to the 1940s.
Down also fields donation requests from people hoping to leave their collections to the library, a situation that forces her to think strategically. “It would be impossible to collect everything,” she says. “I have to think about how things fit into what we have already. But the biggest challenge is to think ahead and look at the potential for future scholarship. What will people be studying 10 or 20 years from now?”