Stack Superlatives: 6 Extraordinary Items We Found in Our Collection

Written by Joe Desiderio, Senior Library Services Assistant, and Taylor Brown, Library Services Assistant, Popular Library Department at the Downtown Main Library  

When you visit the Library, the books you browse on the shelves are but the tip of the iceberg. There are thousands of items that have been added over the years to our stacks the place in the Library that is closed to public use and home to materials both ordinary and unusual.

If you ask staff members what the strangest item housed in the library is, you might get a different answer every time. We saved you the trouble and went in search of the most unexplained, off-beat, and eccentric items you might not be aware of. Join us on this quest that we had a little too much fun with. 

Most Haunted — Dante’s Inferno 

How can you look at this and NOT feel like you are right beside Dante as he journeys through the nine circles of Hell? The leather binding and gilded accents really put you in the mood to read about the underworld. We’d tell you more, but the lights flickered and we ran away. 

Most Covert — Confidential WWII photos/CIA maps 

Secrets are no match for the Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library system. Hidden in the darkest corners of the Library are drawers of declassified WWII air objectives and CIA maps, which are different from regular maps. You can peruse them all without redactions but do not  we repeat DO NOT  take them into the air on offensive missions.

Smallest — Box of Tiny Books 

The most petite book in the library’s collection is so tiny that you can barely see it, so our efforts in photography were futile. Here is the report from the Preservation Lab, opens a new window

We also found what claims to be the smallest Bible in the world in a box of tiny books in the rare books stacks.  The Cincinnati Room is currently closed to the public due to COVID-19, but when it reopens you can schedule an appointment to explore! 

Biggest — Atlas Republica Socialista Romania 

The biggest books in the library are the four double-elephant portfolio volumes of John James Audubon’s Birds of America that can currently only be viewed online in the Digital Library 

We searched through the stacks, and found the next biggest thing -- An atlas of Romania. Atlases are full of places, and this one includes the place where Joe was born -- Buzau!

Most Useful — Map of Mars

Nosey neighbors? Taxes too high? Need more yard space? Consider Mars! Your contractor is going to need to survey the topography of your future estate. Good thing the Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library has this map of the Red Planet. Drink water before you go because we don’t think there's any left on Mars!

Oldest — Cuneiform Tablets ca. 2060 B.C. 

The library has in its possession a set of 4,000-year-old tablets. Some of these ancient writings detail important things such as -- “Expenditure of female goats” pictured here. 

At the end of our adventure in the stacks, we realized that we’d barely scratched the surface of all of the amazing and unusual treasures in the Main Library’s massive collection. With more than 9 million items, the Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library is home to just about anything you can imagine – and plenty you’ve never dreamed of.  

If you’d like to explore for yourself, check out our Digital Library! Our digitization experts are constantly uploading high resolution imgages of our rarest and most fragile pieces so they can be accessed and enjoyed by everyone without the risks of damage posed by regular handling. Interested in seeing something else in person? Let us know! Many of our rare items may require special precautions or preparations to take out of storage, but we’re happy to work with you to find a way to share them. Just Ask a Librarian.

Due to coronavirus, access to our special collections and special research assistance are available at our Downtown Main Library by appointment only. For questions about available library services during COVID-19, please visit our Library Restart page.