The small, browsable collections of yesterday, still worth another look

For years, being a small academic library meant that we had multiple physical book collections. Like other libraries, we had a main collection of books, and we had a reference collection of specialty resources. However, small libraries such as High Point College would often spin off singular collections so that patrons could easily browse and find interesting books.

Smith Library and its predecessor, Wrenn Library, were no exception and had many of these small collections. They were developed for the ease of browsing but also to help students find appropriate content. Wrenn and later Smith had a Biography Collection so that students could browse books about people’s lives. The libraries also had a small collection called “Fiction.” The Fiction Collection was unique: It was a snapshot of books deemed important to students, collected over a span of 30 years.

The Fiction Collection was fascinating to browse, since it really was a “who’s who” of authors. Melville’s Billy Budd was found alongside the short stories of Willa Cather. The works of Mark Twain were next to the more current authors of the time, such as Buckley and Ursula Le Quinn. Sadly, this collection is just a shadow of its former self and has been moved into the current fiction collection, which can be found in the 813s upstairs in Smith. Even in the 1950s, libraries were reacting to information overload by making smaller, browsable collections that were more “user-friendly.”

okeefe-photoOne of my favorite collections is the Folio Collection. The Folio Collection was created for books that are too large to sit on regular shelves (they are all more than 31 cm in height). In this collection you will find books on art, education, music, math, and design. However, the materials found here are principally art books, making it a beautiful collection to browse. Books on the works of Dali, the works of Georgia O’Keefe, Michelangelo, and many others make up this collection of about 1,000 volumes.

Another interesting small collection is the Bound Journal Collection. Many items in this collection date back to the earliest existence of a library at High Point College. These magazines and journals were bound in colorful covers by year, dated, and then placed on the shelves in alphabetical order for students to browse. The collection today is not as large as it once was and is almost totally duplicated online, but the ability to flip through Life Magazine and look at pictures of the crowning of a new Queen of England, to read stories by authors in Harper’s and flip through Time Magazine and read about the fall of the Czar or the maneuvers of World War II is an experience that we often try to duplicate online, but that sense of discovery that our students found in these small, focused collections is worth preserving for the ages.

d_brydenDavid Bryden is the Director of Library Services, and has been a librarian at High Point University since 1991, and director since 2005. Send comments and thoughts to or call 336-841-9215.