8 February 2022
Image from the collection of Nickels and Dimes.  Black and white sketch of woman in 1879 clothing

Northern Illinois University has just released its 2022 entry for #ColorOurCollections, an annual social media festival hosted by the New York Academy of Medicine Library between February 7-11, during which libraries, museums, archives, and other cultural institutions around the world share free coloring content featuring images from their collections. This year's coloring book features items recently digitized from NIU's distinctive collections of dime novels as part of the Street & Smith Project, including illustrations from the late 19th and early 20th centuries of pirates, girl trappers, detectives, bears, and even a bookbinder.

The Street & Smith Project is a collaboration between academic libraries at NIU, Villanova University, Stanford University, Bowling Green State University, and Oberlin College to digitize over 4,400 volumes of story papers, dime novels, and nickel weeklies published by Street & Smith. Street & Smith was one of the most successful publishers of popular fiction in the late 19th Century and the only major publisher to survive the dime novel era and successfully transition into publishing pulp magazines and comic books. This project builds on the collaboration between NIU and Villanova on the CLIR-funded Albert Johannsen Project to digitize the publications of Beadle & Adams, the first publisher of the dime novel format. In addition to making thousands of these publications freely and widely available for the first time anywhere in more than a century, the project will add digital holdings and index entries for every story, series, and author to the online bibliography at dimenovels.org. The Street & Smith Project is funded by a Humanities Collections and Reference Resources grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Publishers of cheap fiction in the United States produced thousands of dime novels that sold millions of copies through subscriptions, newsstands, dry goods stores, and virtually everywhere else except bookstores. While most clothbound novels were a luxury that might cost a dollar or more--equivalent to a laborer’s wages for twelve hours of work--the dime novel was something that almost anyone could afford. Readers included children, women, immigrants, and an increasingly literate working class, often referred to in newspapers and advertisements using epithets like “the Unknown Public,” “the great people,” and “the million.” “Many of these publications were printed on very cheap paper and little effort went into preserving them" says Matt Short, one of the principal investigators of the grant. Digitizing these works is a last chance at preserving an important part of American culture that has largely been forgotten.

This coloring book, as well as those of hundreds of other institutions, can be found from The New York Academy of Medicine at https://library.nyam.org/colorourcollections/.

Today’s guest blog post is by Sata Prescott. Sata is the Street & Smith Project Director at Northern Illinois University Libraries.