Ryerson's Special Collections

I work at a library. I spent several years working for The Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation & Fantasy before I actually became a librarian - an early introduction to special collections. "Special Collections" are often ... unusual. "Special" even. They frequently get into the realm of "realia." Libraries are generally thought of as a store for knowledge, but most people assume this is in the form of media - primarily books, but maybe CDs, DVDs, even microfilm. But what do you do when someone donates a large and desirable collection of Leninist propaganda that includes a Matryoshka nesting doll of Russia's political leaders? It fits with the collection, it's a good thing for people to be able to see, but it's absolutely not a book. This is realia, and I'm just fine with never having had to catalogue it. I might add that this is a practical example, as Ryerson has this item (perhaps not an exact match for the link I've provided, but very similar) in their collection of Leninist propaganda.

But I'm writing today to talk about one of my favourite topics: cameras. A friend recently offered me the opportunity to join her on a OLA Special Libraries Committee tour of Ryerson University Library's Archives and Special Collections. When I read that it included "the Heritage Camera Collection," I jumped. For many years Kodak had a huge facility out on Weston Road in Toronto (I passed it many times), but when Kodak collapsed after their inability to adapt to the digital age, their archives ended up at Ryerson. And their already excellent collection of cameras (and many other very interesting things from Kodak) pretty much doubled with another huge donation of cameras in the last couple years.

I've been a photographer most of my life, which means my interest in the subject extends to well before the digital age. I've owned several film cameras. And I also hold a degree in Mechanical Engineering, so a well built mechanical film camera is a thing of beauty to me. If it's unusual or weird in some way, all the better.

These tours are great because the people who are showing off their collection know they're showing it to other librarians - people who are really interested and have an understanding of the difficulties and joys of working with a collection like this. So they're enthusiastic and show you the best of their collection. They also tend to give you the benefit of the doubt when you pick up one of their cameras and attempt to disassemble it, as I did with the Ricoh Golden 16 below. (I was successful - although I wasn't really disassembling it, merely determining how the film compartment opened, which is often not obvious.) The Ricoh Golden 16 is very cool: how many miniature cameras (it takes 16mm cartridge film) do you know that have interchangeable lenses?

(That's a rhetorical question. Miniature cameras of any type that have interchangeable cameras are very rare.)

photo: The Ricoh Golden 16 and its telephoto lens (in the wood box)

a couple miniature cameras

photo: The Kodak Petite with the original box (any collector will tell the box pretty much doubles the value, no matter how battered)

A vivid green fold-out camera

photo: the cameras laid out for the tour

cameras, miniature through box and large plate

photo: my latest attempt at art photography

a student alone in a sterile academic space