Skip to main content

Skip navigation

Rare Books and Special Collections At Northern Illinois University: American Popular Culture

A brief guide to Rare Books and Special Collections at Northern Illinois University

American Popular Culture Links

American Popular Culture Collections

We have several complementary popular literature collections, which help us to conserve aspects of popular publishing from the rough period of 1840 to the present.


During this earlier period, dime novels, penny dreadfuls, and story papers proliferated, as the reading population grew steadily. These books were closely followed by series literature for children, along with early magazines. Most of the materials in RBSC collections are American, but some are British. Rare Books and Special Collections has collected over 50,000 titles in these areas.

Horatio Alger Society Repository NIU has the largest collection of materials related to Horatio Alger, Jr. in the country, and is the official repository of the Horatio Alger Society.

American Popular Literature Collection: The American Popular Literature Collection is comprised of mass-appeal publications issued in America from approximately 1840 - 1940. The collection includes first or early editions of best-sellers by both American and British authors of this period. Among the childrens' authors represented in this collection are Victor Appleton (Tom Swift books), Louisa May Alcott, Edgar Rice Burroughs (Tarzan books), Stella M. Francis (Campfire Girls series), Oliver Optic (various boys' series), and Helen Louise Thorndyke (Honey Bunch series), to name only a few. Also included are popular history, gift books, poetry, periodicals such as Chatterbox and Frank Leslie's serials, and other publications that were best-sellers or designed for mass audiences.

Albert Johannsen Dime Novel Collection: The working collection of Albert Johannsen, author of the seminal multivolume bibliography The House of Beadle and Adams. An electronic version of his bibliography is available here. Permission to reproduce images or text from this bibliography must be obtained from the University of Oklahoma Press, which still holds the copyright. Their contact information can be found here.

Edward T. LeBlanc Collection: The working bibliographical collection of Edward T. LeBlanc, one of the foremost bibliographers and scholars of dime novels.

Merriwell Collection: A comprehensive collection of the novels featuring Frank Merriwell.

Edward Stratemeyer Collection: A collection of first editions of the series novels written by the Stratemeyer Syndicate. This collection was purchased through the Friends of the NIU Libraries.


As an extension of our popular literature collection, RBSC also holds more modern popular reading materials, such as pulp science fiction and western fiction magazines and comic books. There is also a small collection of original art by comics creators.

The basis for our Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature collection are books nominated for the Nebula Awards, donated by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). These are complemented by our science fiction magazines and the literary papers of 55 science fiction and fantasy writers.



Horatio Alger Fellowship for the Study of American Popular Culture
Northern Illinois University

The University Libraries, Northern Illinois University, invite applications for the Horatio Alger Fellowship for the Study of American Popular Culture. Funding is available to scholars who will be using materials from the Libraries’ major holdings in American popular culture. These holdings include the Albert Johannsen and Edward T. LeBlanc Collections of more than 50,000 dime novels, and the nation’s preeminent collections related to Horatio Alger, Jr., and Edward Stratemeyer. Eligible collections also include our comic book, science fiction and fantasy literature, and American Popular Literature Collections. Topics which could draw on the collections’ strengths might include the plight of urban children, image of the American West in popular literature, widespread use of pseudonyms, and stereotypical portrayals. Preference will be given to applicants who signify an interest in conducting research related to Horatio Alger, Jr.

The 2017 Fellowship award consists of a $2000 stipend. 

Candidates should submit a letter of interest, a curriculum vitae, a brief proposal for their research, and two letters of recommendation to: Lynne M. Thomas, Head, Rare Books and Special Collections, University Libraries, Horatio Alger Fellowship, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL 60115-2868. Electronic applications may be emailed to

The deadline for applications is May 31, 2017, with research taking place between July 1 and December 31, 2017.

Unfortunately, due to state and university regulations, this award is available to US residents only.

Subject Guide

Lynne Thomas
Contact: (Personal Blog)
Website / Blog Page

Interested in Making a Gift?

If you would like to make a gift to RBSC, there are lots of ways to do that.

Our Collection Development Policy explains what kinds of books and manuscripts we are interested in.

A sample of our Deed Of Gift document lays out the agreement when you donate. 

Gifting digital materials? This guide may help.

To make a monetary donation, please contact the Curator (lmthomas AT for more details.

To make an online donation to an existing fund, go to the NIU Foundation website, and enter the fund name in the notes field.

By topic:

  • Children's Series Literature: The Gordon W. & Jeanne M. Huber Endowment
  • Horatio Alger / American Popular Literature: The Horatio Alger Society Endowment
  • Science Fiction & Fantasy Literature & Fandom: The Peggy Rae Sapienza Fund
  • 18th Century Literature: The Martin Kallich Endowment
  • Education, Travel, and Leisure: The Bernadine Hanby Endowment
  • General RBSC materials: The Friends of the NIU Libraries Endowment
  • British Drama: The S. Orville and Adra Baker Library Endowment