In the farming community of Ronks, Pennsylvania, sits an immense collection on a miniature topic: toy trains. Roughly 500,000 materials spanning the 1800s to the present—books, periodicals, trade catalogs and price lists, instruction sheets and wiring diagrams, advertisements and fliers, photographs, files on American and world manufacturers and retailers, and convention souvenirs—make up the National Toy Train Library (NTTL), the noncirculating research library of the Train Collectors Association (TCA) and its National Toy Train Museum.
“Our focus is anything toy trains and model railroading,” says librarian Lori Nyce (pictured). “We get calls sometimes wanting us to look up information on real locomotives—we tend to have to refer them.”
Nyce and Library Assistant Tyler Keck stay on track answering reference questions (mostly from TCA members, authors, and hobbyists hoping to identify or refurbish their models), cataloging (“we might get hundreds of items in a donation,” Nyce says), and organizing holdings. When a query derails her, Nyce turns to TCA’s library committee for its members’ expertise in pre–World War II, postwar, and modern toy trains.
The library, which also includes a children’s section and resources on other toys and collectibles—“anything that would be on a toy-train layout,” such as small-scale figures of buildings and cars, says Nyce—is even steaming ahead on an oral history project. About 60 audio recordings in its collection cover everything from TCA members’ early memories of their first train sets to former Lionel employees describing what it was like to work for the toy-train manufacturer.
“People who use the library [are] really good at letting us know how helpful we’ve been,” says Nyce, “whether they’re trying to repair something and they need some sort of instruction sheet, or we’re helping them find out more about a toy train they’ve had since childhood.”