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Durable Trifles

Russell Johnson

University of California- Los Angeles

   UCLA Library Special Collections’ History & Special Collections for the Sciences division, located in the Biomedical Library, built a collection of 19th to 21st century baby record books following the donation of a single title: A. Dunbar Walker’s The Parents’ Medical Note-book. This small 1884 volume stated it was “compiled for the express object of enabling parents to keep a record of the diseases their children have passed through.” The collection grew by leaps and bounds, chiefly through purchases made on eBay and from individual gifts.  It now totals more than 600 titles and editions, with more than 1200 different copies, dating back to 1872.  These are memory books in which parents record a child’s activities and developmental milestones, and which provide a place to gather photographs, locks of hair, greeting cards, quarantine certificates, postcards, school records, and other ephemeral mementos.  Many books track individualized medical information—from height and weight to experiences with various childhood diseases; some also provide infant health care advice for raising a healthy, well-nourished child.  Although the collection development strategy focuses on infant development, health and illness, the books and their handwritten and pasted-in contents have been used for both cross-sectional and longitudinal research in sociology, material culture, linguistics, architecture, advertising, and other topics and disciplines.  The books and their added contents are extensively described in the library’s online catalog  but also are challenging local efforts to digitize and further open this window on research into the history of childhood.

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