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Wednesday June 29th

'Talk pop-up books': UNC SILS library holds a collection of over 1,700 and counting

Kenny Jones, a library assistant at the School of Information and Library Science's Library, holds one of the 1,700 pop-up books housed in the Library. "I always tell people I can understand how they pop out," said Jones. "But folding the books back in is crazy to me."
Buy Photos Kenny Jones, a library assistant at the School of Information and Library Science's Library, holds one of the 1,700 pop-up books housed in the Library. "I always tell people I can understand how they pop out," said Jones. "But folding the books back in is crazy to me."

In the workroom of the UNC School of Information and Library Science's Library lies a collection of over 1,700 pop-up books.

“The walls in the workroom, the bookshelves there are just full of these pop-up books,” Brian Sturm, the SILS associate dean for academic affairs, said.

Rebecca Vargha, the head librarian of the SILS Library, started the collection with around 200 pop-up books. Years later, the collection grew with a donation of over 1,300 pop-up books from Sterling Hennis, a professor emeritus who retired from the UNC School of Education in 1998.

Hennis donated to the collection after attending a presentation on pop-up books sponsored by SILS, University Libraries and the Friends of the Library.

"He was an avid pop-up book collector," Vargha said. "So that’s really how a lot of this began."

What makes pop-up books so special, Sturm said, is that they provide readers with motion. He also said for children, pop-up books give words, specifically verbs, meaning that can’t be understood on a flat page.

“It’s just incredible that that amount of three dimensions can fold up into a book," Sturm said. "So they are absolutely remarkable texts ... what astounds (me) is that something that big can go into a book that folds flat."

The collection is used mostly by SILS students or professors who are trying to understand the literacy learning processes of young children. SILS classes that study children's and young adult literature also often use the collection, Sturm said.

Most of the pop-ups are in the children’s genre, but the collection is open for viewing to people of all ages, even if one is not specifically studying a related topic. 

“The delight of the pop-up book is perhaps even more powerful for adults because adults have the cognitive capacity to understand the meticulous craftsmanship that goes into making these things work," Sturm said. "You see the intricacy of the mechanism and the wonder of the paper art that goes into creating it.”

Pop-up style books have been around for hundreds of years but rose in popularity among medical students in the fourteenth century as a way to understand human anatomy. By 1860, pop-up books were produced in mass quantities — and the phrase "pop-up book" and style of them commonly seen today emerged in the 1900s.

Kenny Jones, a SILS library assistant, emphasized the paper engineering behind pop-up books, which are often made by hand.

The pop-up books housed at UNC include "The Aquarium," a book published in 1880 by the McLoughlin Brothers, one of the earliest firms to create moveable books in the country. The collection also includes books that were published over the last two decades.

“There is certainly anything that you would imagine that could be made into a pop-up book,” Jones said.

Because of how rare and unique pop-up books are, Jones said not many people collect a large number of them. However, libraries are able to collect them on a large scale — which is what creates the magic behind this specific collection, he said.

"I think partly it’s important because they are niche, like many things, most people aren’t going to have them, most people aren’t going to be able to access them," Jones said. "... It's like archives or other things that wouldn’t be practical for most people to keep but libraries are able to do that at scale and so it’s a good community resource."

Because the pop-up books are extremely delicate and can easily get torn, the collection at SILS Library, which is owned by University Libraries, is not circulated. However, with the supervision and guidance of a SILS librarian, the collection can be observed and used by anyone who stops by.

“We are delighted to work with everybody on campus," Vargha said. "I would encourage anyone who’s interested to please come by, and we’ll talk pop-up books with you."

The pop-up books are located on the first floor of Manning Hall, and visitors can read them Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.


Alice in Wonderland is one of over 1300 pop-up books at the UNC School of Information and Library Science.


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