Literary Tourism

Literary Tourism: Loud Library Collections and Rockin’ Books

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Ashley Bowen

Staff Writer

Ashley Bowen earned a PhD in American Studies and Public Humanities in December 2016. Her research focuses on the history of health, medicine, and social services in the period from the American Civil War to World War I. When she isn't feeling existential angst about finishing her dissertation, she works as a part-time bookseller and plans adventures as a field agent for Atlas Obscura. A Texas native now living in Washington, DC, she has been known to travel long distances for a proper breakfast taco and Dr. Pepper. Her writing appears on Book Riot, Atlas Obscura, museum blogs, and in various "serious" academic journals. Twitter: @aebowenPhD

We know librarians know how to rock, but libraries? These temples of contemplation and intellectual activity? Yes, libraries know how to rock. Around the country, libraries are starting to collect rock and pop stars’ papers, demo tapes, and other ephemera. While I can’t condone trashing your local or university library like the Stones trash hotel rooms, I do encourage you to visit these five libraries to see some rockin’ memorabilia. If you can’t make it to New York, DC, Santa Cruz, Tulsa, or upstate NY in person, we’ve suggested a book or two to read instead.

The Lives of Bob DylanThe University of Tulsa will soon be home to the Bob Dylan archive. This brand new archive has over 6,000 objects that span the length of Dylan’s career. Most items have never before been available for the public (or researchers) to view. The archive is still in development, so you probably shouldn’t run off for a weekend in Tulsa just yet. Instead, pick up Ian Bell’s two-part biography of Bob Dylan, Once Upon a Time and Time Out of Mind. (Way back in 2013, Book Riot contributor Rachel Cordasco reflected on volume one).

Cover for Riot Grrrl CollectionRiot Grrls will want to visit NYU’s Fales Library & Special Collections. Inside this college library is a killer Riot Grrl collection featuring zines, concert posters, and memorabilia produced from 1989-1996. Sadly, this collection is open only to NYU students, faculty, and other “qualified researchers.” If you’re lucky enough to get to visit in person, consider reading Sarah Markus’ Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrl Revolution before you go. If, like me, you don’t fit into one of those categories, you can still get a glimpse of the collection’s highlights in The Riot Grrl Collection catalog, published by Feminist Press.


Cover for The Beat: Go-Go Music from Washington, D.C.There’s more punk history housed in the DC Punk archive at the Washington, DC Public Library. This archive has posters, demo tapes, radio programs, photos, and zines. If you can’t make it to DC to visit the DCPL, pick up Hard Art DC: 1979a photographic survey of DC’s incredible punk scene.

The DCPL is also hard at work on a brand new Go-Go archive. Go-Go is a fantastic, joyous mix of funk, salsa, soul, and blues that features non-stop percussion (it go-go-goes). If you’ve never heard of DC’s “Godfather of Go-Go,” Chuck Brown, you’ve got to listen to this and read up The Beat: Go-Go’s Fusion of Funk and Hip-Hop.


Cover of When The Beat Was BornCornell University in Ithaca, NY has a growing Hip-Hop collection. The archive started to preserve items that document hip-hop’s emergence in the South Bronx in the 1970s and 1980s. Now, it collects artifacts representing hip hop culture more broadly. If you’re hazy on the details of early hip-hop, Ed Piskor’s graphic history series, Hip-Hop Family Tree, offers a great overview. Want to teach your kids about the history hip-hop? There’s no better choice than the incredible (and Coretta Scott King award-winning) When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop.


Cover for Why The Grateful Dead MatterFinally, Deadheads will want to stop at UC Santa Cruz’s Grateful Dead archive. It’s got lots of fan art, audio recordings, posters, and an interactive map to help you find items related to a specific show. The university has made a huge number of items available to view online and anyone can visit Dead Central Gallery, the collection’s exhibition space, during business hours. Pick up true-crime writer and Grateful Dead fan Michael Benson’s book Why the Grateful Dead Matter to brush up on your Jerry Garcia-lore before visiting the collection.

This is just a sampling of the loud collections housed in (supposedly) quiet libraries. There are loads more local and university libraries with popular music collections. Any favorite music books or amazing archives I’ve overlooked?