When people think of special collections, they tend to envision medieval pamphlets, rare Egyptian papyrus, or handwritten letters. Few think of a bouquet of flowers that never wilt, working pinhole cameras, or even a Tyrannosaurus Rex trying to pull itself off the page.
But that’s exactly what the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill has in the ever-growing collection of pop-up books housed at its School of Information and Library Science (SILS) Library. The collection holds over 1,950 pop-up books, most from the 1970s to the present day, with the oldest books dating back to the 1880s.
“When I start thinking about pop-up books, I think about the art behind [them] and the mechanics, and what it actually takes” to make one, explained Rebecca Vargha, head of the SILS Library. Many books require sophisticated paper engineering to create the incredible effects that make the stories come alive.
UNC’s small collection of pop-up books grew exponentially thanks to a 2015 gift of 1,300 books from the late Sterling and Anita Hennis. Sterling, professor emeritus in the School of Education, had seen the potential of pop-up books for learning, Vargha said in an interview with UNC’s The Well.
These books are intended to help reinforce teaching, research, learning, and creativity in SILS. “We support a program that is educating undergraduates, graduates, and professional students, and they’re going to be the next generation of leaders in our libraries and other information settings,” Vargha explained.
Graduates will go on to work at public and academic libraries, media centers, and more. These collections will help students think about how children read, and how to engage their imagination. “It’s those details, like the dinosaur jumping off the page with those jagged teeth, that help children visualize it more than if the book is sitting there,” said Vargha. Storage of the books presents a challenge, since many are very thick and some cannot lay flat on the shelf. The SILS Library works with the UNC’s preservation department to help find a way to best store the materials for posterity. Because of the fragile parts of the books, they are non-circulating items.
The collection also helps support faculty and Ph.D. students in the English department, as well as SILS students who study different facets of children’s literature. But the books are open to the student body as a whole, as well as the general public, since UNC is a public university. Due to the fragility of the books, they are not circulating, but can be viewed on request.
Library Assistant Kenny Jones pointed out that while the majority of books are for children, many are intended for older audiences as well. “The books are about practically anything you can imagine,” he noted. The collection includes many adaptations of children’s books like The Wizard of Oz and The Little Mermaid, but there are also many nonfiction works, including books on architecture, paleontology, and bird ecology. For movie fans, there’s a pop-up book of David Lynch’s film adaptation of Dune. One book is a working pinhole camera that comes with film, and people can use it to take photos.
The collection includes work from local publishers as well as national ones, such as a book created by a local paper artist to celebrate two local sisters known for their magnificent garden.
The oldest pop-up book in the collection is The Aquarium, published in 1880 by McLoughlin Brothers, one of the first publishers of pop-up books in the United States. While it may be less complex than the functional camera, the book is still impressive. Composed of boards and cellophane, The Aquarium was used to help teach children about science.
“I think an effective pop-up book is going to have a theme or some kind of content that’s meaningful,” said Vargha. “These are very carefully constructed. It isn’t just, ‘Wow, look how complicated that is.’ There has to be the other part of that as well.”
When asked what the SILS librarians have learned through the collection, Vargha pointed out that “there’s an overlay with the history of publishing.” In the past, many pop-up books were published in South America, where it would have been normal for 30 people to work on a single book, given the complexity of the paper engineering. Now the production has moved to India, she said.
The collection is still growing through acquisitions from publishers and donations from collectors. The library is in close contact with the major publishers of these works, as the books may not have a long press run and there’s often a short window to acquire them.
Vargha and Jones emphasized that they want people to come to the library and enjoy the collection, whether they are students at the university, parents bringing in their children, or scholars doing research.
Jones’s favorite thing? “It’s the look on the students’ faces when they open a pop-up book for the first time,” he said.
To read the original article, see: https://www.libraryjournal.com/story/Special-Collection-Pops-Up-Off-the-Page-at-the-University-of-North-Carolina-Archives-Deep-Dive