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University Libraries awarded more than $448,000 for digitization project

January 9, 2017

hiddencollection_beadlesThe Council on Library and Information Resources has awarded the University Libraries, in collaboration with the Falvey Memorial Library at Villanova University, with a Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives grant for $448,893 to digitize its Johannsen Collection of dime novels and story papers.

Dime novels were the direct precursors to the pulp magazine and a close relative of the comic book, read by a wide audience that included working class people and children who often could not afford conventional hardback fiction. Albert Johannsen (1871­-1962) wrote The House of Beadle and Adams and Its Nickel and Dime Novels (1950), a history of the firm that perfected the cheap fiction formula that made dime novels such a sensation. As the leading publisher of the format and one of the most successful publishers of the 19th century, Beadle and Adams also played an important role in the evolution of early American popular fiction, especially the Western. While working on his book, Johannsen amassed one of the largest private collections of dime novels and story papers in the United States, purchased by Northern Illinois University in 1967. This collection contains 6,593 publications issued by Beadle and Adams between 1852 and 1897.

Dime novels have received little scholarly attention relative to other formats of popular literature, in part because many of these novels have not been commercially available since the 1920s. Scholars interested in the format must have access to one of the few major research collections specializing in 19th century popular literature, limiting who is able to study this significant part of American history and culture. Mass digitization has begun to change who has access to these collections, democratizing scholarship in much the same way that dime novels themselves democratized reading.

NIU Libraries has been independently digitizing dime novels from its collections since 2014, with over 2,000 novels currently available through the site Nickels and Dimes. With this Hidden Collections grant, an additional 5,400 dime novels will be digitized and made freely available to read and download. The project will also work closely with Villanova University to incorporate metadata from Albert Johannsen’s bibliography, including relationships between stories, editions, and authors, which will be published as open linked data through the Edward T. LeBlanc Memorial Dime Novel Bibliography. The project will culminate in a symposium at NIU in 2019 on the dime novels of Beadle and Adams.

Principal investigators on the project include NIU’s Metadata Librarian Matthew Short and Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections Lynne Thomas, as well as the Director of Library Technology at Villanova University, Demian Katz.

Hidden Collections is a program of the Council on Library and Information Resources, an independent, nonprofit organization that forges strategies to enhance research, teaching, and learning environments in collaboration with libraries, cultural institutions, and communities of higher learning. The Digitizing Hidden Collections program is generously funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.