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Some Libraries Are More Special Than Others

October 7 2020

There are four main types of libraries: public, school, academic, and special. Special libraries are, by far, the most diverse of the four. If it can be collected, there may be a special library that collects it. We wanted to share with you a glimpse into the weird and wonderful world of special libraries, so we went exploring.

Because they often house rather specific collections, special libraries are already kinda weird without even trying. The least strange kind of special library is probably the type that holds the kind of stuff you would probably expect to get collected, like manuscripts, historical documents, government natural science studies, rare texts, that sort of thing. 

Then we have some more unique collections which are pretty specific but still nowhere near strange by special library standards: music libraries that preserve cultures and genres, fashion libraries owned by top designers to preserve the history of their work (often complete with samples of the finished product), botany and biology libraries to preserve specimens for research, and so on.

Then there are the sparkling gems in the weirdness crown of special libraries. The properly random stuff that makes you double-take and go “Wait, what?”

Here are three of our favourites:

1. Sourdough Starters

For those who aren’t big into baking, sourdough starters are the live culture mixed in with the dough to give sourdough its distinctive taste. Once you get your starter, well, started, so long as you feed it daily and make sure it’s kept in the right conditions you’ve got a starter that can last you generations.

That’s what they collect at Puratos Sourdough Library in St. Vith, Belgium. The library was founded in 2013 and as of April 2020 it has around 125 jars in its collection. Two of those samples come from Canada: one from Blackbird Bakery in Toronto, and another a 120-year-old family starter from the Yukon. They’re using the samples to try to identify the microbes that exist in different starters from different places using different food sources for their cultures to better understand how starters work.

Curious about what a sourdough library would look like? You can take a virtual tour of the library here.

2. Perfume

Osmothèque, the only perfume library in history, holds over 4,000 scents, 400 of which are no longer produced (some of which date back to the 1880s!). You can visit it if you’re ever in Versailles; they have several different educational presentations on the history of perfume-making if that’s something you’re curious about. The main goals of the library are to archive and protect formulas for posterity as well as for research into the history and evolution of perfume-making.

3. 2D & 3D Images of Fish Anatomy Made Using an MRI Scanner

The Digital Fish Library contains 2D and 3D images of 276 species of fish (as of September 9 2020) made with a high resolution MRI scanner. The library was started to provide researchers with a way to describe the anatomy of fish without having to destroy the specimen by taking it apart.

Though created with researchers in mind, the database the images are stored in is open to the public to use for free as well. 

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