I recently read an article on LitReactor.com by Kimberly Turner about “The 10 Weirdest and Most Wonderful Libraries in the World.” There is the Biblioburro, a donkey used to bring books to villages in rural Columbia. An outdoor library in a Tel Aviv park has books in 15 languages to serve Israeli migrant workers and refugees. There are vending machine libraries, a floating library, a library-by-camel in Kenya, and numerous Little Free Libraries in small wooden boxes on poles around the U.S. or in recycled phone booths in Britain.
Birmingham, Alabama, doesn’t seem to have anything quite so striking yet. But there are several libraries around the area that you might not expect. One of my favorites is UAB’s Reynolds Historical Library. Located in the Lister Hill Library building, the Reynolds is devoted to the history of medicine and currently houses more than 13,000 rare books and manuscripts. In 1958 Lawrence Reynolds, a physician and Alabama native who had amassed about 5000 items, donated them to the UA School of Medicine, and the collection has continued to grow.
The library has strong collections in a number of subjects, including surgery and Civil War medicine, and also has a number of medical classics, such as first editions of William Harvey's De motu cordis (1628) on the circulation of blood and Andreas Vesalius' De humani corporis fabrica (1543) on human anatomy. Although currently closed for renovations, the Alabama Museum of the Health Sciences is also located in the Lister Hill Library building.
Another specialized library at UAB is the Patient Resource Library located on the second floor of the Kirklin Clinic. Staff at the PRL assist patients and families with finding information from in-house materials including reference books, pamphlets and videos, as well as appropriate material from the Internet.
The Clarence B. Hanson, Jr., Library, on the first floor of the Birmingham Museum of Art, is named after the publisher of the Birmingham News who died in 1983. He was also a museum board member for more than 20 years. The collection includes over 35,000 items mostly related to the museum’s collections and travelling exhibitions. Materials are used by both staff and visitors.
Birmingham Museum of Art
Another well-known local institution with an extensive library is the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. This library holds over 8000 books, DVDs, gardening magazines, a children’s section and rare and archival material. The “Thyme to Read” book club meets monthly at what is the only public horticultural library in the United States.
Perhaps one of the most unexpected of these “unusual” libraries in our area is the Research Library at the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. This collection of 6000 books, 700 videos, magazines and numerous parts catalogs and service manuals has become one of the largest devoted to motorcycles in the world. The facility is intended for use by in-house restoration personnel and not open to the public, but inquiries from outside researchers are welcome.
The Birmingham Family History Center is one of many branches of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, and is maintained by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Genealogical research is a focus of all the centers, and they are open to anyone and free to use. The Birmingham Center has print, microfilm and online resources and offers free workshops and classes throughout the year.
Many libraries in the area have what might be considered “libraries within libraries” that are devoted to a particular subject or resource type. Libraries at Samford University and Wallace State in Jasper have renowned genealogical collections. Extensive printed and archival material related to local history is available at the Birmingham Public Library downtown.
We may not have a floating library or a library on a donkey just yet, but we do have some fascinating and useful collections!
This item appeared on the DiscoverBirmingham.org site in May 2014.