4th Floor Special Collections At-a-Glance
The James K. Hosmer Special Collections Library
at the Minneapolis Central Library is comprised of 10 collections, including five that belong to the library, four that belong to the Minneapolis Athenaeum and one shared collection. The Minneapolis Athenaeum was founded by the city’s lumber barons in 1859, just one year after Minnesota achieved statehood. These early business moguls were transplants from New England and they sorely missed the expansive private libraries that dotted the East Coast. Not long after arriving in Minnesota, they pooled their money and started collecting books. At first the Athenaeum functioned as a private subscription library. Only members who bought a yearly membership could access the books. However, when the Minneapolis Public Library opened in 1889, the Athenaeum entered into a contractual agreement with the library. The contract stipulated that from that day forward, the Athenaeum would abolish subscriptions and make their collections publicly available to the citizens in Minneapolis. The library would, in return, provide a librarian to oversee the Athenaeum’s collections. The Athenaeum continues to have its own board of directors and functions autonomously from but in cooperation with the library. Over the years the Athenaeum has donated roughly 100,000 books to the library.
The Special Collections Department was created in 1987 to draw together the library’s rare and valuable treasures that were previously scattered throughout various departments. The five collections include the Minneapolis Collection, the Kittleson World War II Collection, the Nineteenth Century American Studies Collection, The Huttner Abolition and Anti-Slavery Collection and the Hoag Mark Twain Collection.
Special Collections and the Athenaeum jointly contribute to the History of Books and Printing Collection, among its highlights are books printed by such notable publishers as the Kelmscott Press and the Doves Press. It also includes a leaf of the Gutenberg Bible. Because the Twin Cities is home to a very active book arts community, there is much interest in this collection and we are actively adding to it. Earlier this year we added a beautiful $15,000 copy of Chaucer’s Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, published by the Ashendene Press and bound by the Doves Bindery in 1889. We have also made a commitment to support local book artists and recently purchased What it’s Like Here, winner of the 2007 Minnesota Book Award for best fine press book and ordered the newest offering from internationally renowned artist and printmaker Gaylord Schanilec’s Midnight Paper Sales Press in Wisconsin.
The Athenaeum’s collections
include the North American Indians Collection, the Early American Exploration and Travel Collection, and the Heffelfinger Aesop’s fables Collection. The Athenaeum’s premier collection is the Spencer Natural History Collection which features numerous rare books with exquisite hand-colored plates and also contains one of six remaining copies of John James Audubon’s Birds of America
. This book, published in London in the early nineteenth century, currently valued at between $8 to 10 million.
OF SPECIAL NOTE:
The largest of the collections is the Minneapolis Collection, which was created by the Library Board in 1940. Approximately 93 percent of customers who visit Special Collections do so to access this collection. Highlights include:
- Building Permit Index cards (1884-1973). These cards contain a list of all permits pulled for each address in the city during these years including building permits, moving permits and wrecking permits. They are heavily used by house history researchers, preservationists, and developers. The cards have recently been digitized and will be available online in 2008.
- Minneapolis High School Yearbooks (1890 to present)
- A vast selection of books on Minneapolis history
- Thousands of vertical files that contain newspaper clippings arranged by subject and covering all aspects of the city’s history including neighborhoods, parks, schools, businesses, churches, social organizations, famous residents, crime and many other topics
- Approximately 10,000 photographs, most of which have been digitized and are available online
- Historic maps of Minneapolis. Seventy of the earliest maps have been digitized and will be available to be viewed online in 2008.
- Manuscript and archival collections
- Trade catalogs for local businesses
- Current and historic Minneapolis periodicals, with a particular emphasis on neighborhood newspapers.
Special Collection Librarian