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Written by: Mary Catherine Santoro
Friday July 11, 2014

There are a lot of books out there.  The VMNH Library includes about 6,000 of them, as well as journals and other periodicals.  That means that if you read a book a day, it would take you 16 ½ years to finish everything currently in our collection. At that point, you could start on everything we added in those 16 ½ years, or take a break and catch up on Game of Thrones.

That may sound like a lot of reading, but our 6,000 books make a relatively small collection for a library.  That’s partly because the VMNH library is highly specialized, which means we generally only have books that relate to natural history.  Most books out there simply aren’t right for our library.  Most biographies, fiction, and nonfiction books on topics such as crime, music, philosophy, and so on fall outside what’s called “the scope” of our library.  Scope is the topics a library covers, as well as the reading levels and the types of materials (books, magazines, DVDs, CDs, etc.) on those topics.  Our library focuses on natural history, on books and journals, and most items are at the high school or college level and above.

For comparison, the largest (and far less specialized) library in the world is the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.  The Library of Congress has more than 36,000,000 books and other printed materials, though even they don’t have them all.  (In case you were wondering, if you read one of their books each day, it would take you about 98,000 years.)

The Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress

But with all those books out there in libraries large and small, chances are, if there’s a topic you’re interested in, there’s a book on it somewhere. 

Take, for example, barbed wire identification.   We have a book on that: Antique Wire Illustrated: Identify Your Barb Wire: 315 Kinds of Barbed Wire that Fenced the West.

Antique Wire Illustrated, cover

Published in 1978 by Antique Wire Sales, Inc., it features illustrations of more than 300 different barbed wires that were produced in the second half of the 19th century, and is intended as a guide for barbed wire collectors.   It features a line drawing of each type of wire and provides the wire’s name and patent number, when those are known.  The guide also provides the date the patent was issued and the name and home town of the person to whom the patent was issued.

Illustrations of barbed wire from Antique Wire Illustrated

So what’s a book for barbed wire collectors doing in our natural history library?  One of the disciplines we research here at VMNH is archaeology, and this sort of reference can be valuable for an archeologist working on a historic (as opposed to prehistoric) site.  If a particular type of barbed wire is found at a site and can be identified, that can provide information that will help determine the date of the site. 

By the way, the Library of Congress doesn’t seem to have Antique Wire Illustrated: Identify Your Barb Wire: 315 Kinds of Barbed Wire that Fenced the West in its 36,000,000 books.

To learn more about the books in the VMNH Library collection, please contact us or visit our account at LibraryThing, where you’ll find listings for Antique Wire Illustrated and more than 3000 of our other books.

Tags: Library, Mary Catherine Santoro, Research and Collections

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