NIU Library Joins #ColorOurCollections Campaign

Feb 8, 2019

Coloring books for adults are growing in popularity. Curators at Northern Illinois University's Founder's Memorial Library hope the hobby can bring attention to one of their more unique collections. On this week's Friday Forum, WNIJ's Jenna Dooley talks with the curators about the "ColorOurCollections" event.

#ColorOurCollections is a weeklong event on social media organized by libraries, archives, and other cultural institutions around the world. Each participant creates coloring sheets based on items from their materials. In NIU's case, they have a large collection of dime novels.

Sata Prescott directs the project to digitize the dime novels. He says readers can think of these as the "grandparents" of comic books. They were sold in the late 1800s and chronicled the adventures of Calamity Jane and other characters. The term "dime novel" comes from the books' cost.

Prescott says their illustrations were ideal for creating colorful artwork.

"There are a number of fantastical beasts and creatures from some science fiction type stories," he said. "The first is this phenomenal image of a captain of a ship who has a pirate lion get-up. It's not actually supernatural. It's a mask, but it looks like something straight out of Alice in Wonderland."

Matthew Short is a digital collections librarian at NIU. He says there are topics included in the visuals and the novels which tackle topics of their time.

"There are stories about romance novels about working girls, for example, who might work in factories," he said. "One of our favorites is about a bookbinder who is a woman."

There's also an entire genre of temperance novels.

"For the most part when we think about social issues and dime novels, we're thinking about treatments of race, gender, and class which come up in almost every single one of them," Short said.

For Prescott and Short, the goal of joining the national event is to bring the collection to a new audience.

"There's also building contextual materials around them," Short said. "While there's a lot of scholarship about comic books, for example, there's not a ton of scholarship about dime novels. So we want to see these being used in research and in the classroom."

The exhibit runs through Friday.