Mining the Bound Periodicals Section
April 6, 2009 6:40 PM   Subscribe

What hidden gems can I find in the periodicals archive of my library?

My campus library has an enormous bound periodicals section that covers half of an entire floor. A good portion of it is archives of academic journals in subjects I'm not very interested in, but I feel like in all those shelves there have to be journals that will appeal to the average, non-technical reader.

I've read some of the archives of Poetry (the title was so wonderfully self-explanatory) and everything that's there of McSweeney's Quarterly Concern. (Just a few issues, unfortunately.) I also found a few volumes of Mother Earth News from the early seventies that were amusing for their overwhelming hippiedom, but everything else that I pull off the shelf at random seems to be some kind of German law journal.

What interesting or unique magazines or journals might I find squirreled away? I'm interested in anything as long as it's readable and doesn't require in-depth knowledge of a certain subject.
posted by Rinku to Writing & Language (15 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I used to read old Pravda newspapers - strange, strange stuff.
posted by R. Mutt at 6:48 PM on April 6, 2009

What library is it? You should see if they have old copies of Print magazine from the 50s. You will see some beautiful graphic design.
posted by waywardgirl at 6:51 PM on April 6, 2009

I'm not much for Victorian literature, but a couple of summers ago I had a research job sifting through old periodicals that turned out to be a lot of fun. The Strand is the biggie, of course, and you're in for all kinds of fun stuff from profiles of royalty and contemporary celebrities to reports on psychical research, as well as some great (and delightfully not-so-great) short fiction.
posted by synecdoche at 7:14 PM on April 6, 2009

I would probably find myself going through old issues (pre-1990s) of The New Yorker. Many famous short stories were first published in the magazine and it's always neat to read a physical copy of those stories as they were first published. The ads from back in the day are cool to look at, too.

It might also be interesting to go back and read old newspaper articles (esp. the front pages) concerning the big stories of the time to see how the opinion of those events then contrasts to today's.

Also, old National Geographic magazines.
posted by blithecatpie at 7:15 PM on April 6, 2009

Look for the Journal of Irreproducible Results. They publish things like "All theories proven with one graph".

It's geek humor, but geeks can be surprisingly funny.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:35 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Talk to the Librarians. This is what they're there for:)
posted by cestmoi15 at 8:14 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I used to go read old copies of Byte magazine at the library since everything old is new again it seems.

I've also pulled down the major magazines that were published the week, month, year I was born.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 8:33 PM on April 6, 2009

This is a question every reference librarian at that library would lerve to answer.
posted by Foam Pants at 8:37 PM on April 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

How far back do your library's paper archives go? At the NYPL, you can get Town and Country from the 50s on...very interesting from a sociological perspective. It shows firsthand how the concept of "socialites in high society" evolved as the demographics of the United States changed, and provides insight into the rise of the paparazzi and "celebrity culture". If you like fashion photography a la Lisa Fonssagrives, don't miss it!

I also got a lot out of reading issues of Cosmopolitan from the late 30s: sociological insight, hilarious advertising, and some truly excellent short stories. Very different from the Cosmopolitan of today! Not to mention the fact that you'll come away with a better understanding about what life in the Great Depression was like for the upper middle class.

If you enjoy reading about spies, tradecraft, and the history of espionage, check out the International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence. If you can find it, Jane's Intelligence Review is also rock solid.

When I was a teenager, I used to delight in going to the science library and reading teratology journals and grossing everybody out with random facts about bizarre genetic diseases and birth defects....good times! heh. Not everyone's cup of tea, but if you pick up virtually any random medical journal you'll come away with an interesting tidbit you'd normally never find in a million years.
posted by aquafortis at 9:08 PM on April 6, 2009

I also found a few volumes of Mother Earth News from the early seventies that were amusing for their overwhelming hippiedom

Oh I have a box of those. One of these days I swear I am going to make my own braided rug from discarded pants.

I'm a librarian and I just wander around the bound periodicals a lot. I usually find a timeframe that I think might be interesting -- 1890's say, or 1920s -- and then try to find stuff from then. Good things to look at, in my opinion, are things with neat art and/or really timely stuff for the time. So like Life magazine (great photos) or old Scientific American (great diagrams) or old farming magazines (I am a fan of Small Farmers Journal) or design magazines from the fities can be neat. If they're grouped by title then it's harder to go browsing in a subject area, but you can probably search your online catalog for date ranges and see what sorts of things they have and then go looking for specific titles.
posted by jessamyn at 9:26 PM on April 6, 2009

The writing in Gourmet from the post-WWII period is pretty fascinating. Their writers were checking in from every corner of Europe, reporting on what aspects of food and wine survived and what were destroyed or radically altered. Some of the writings on Paris were recently collected into a book but there's definitely a LOT more to discover.
posted by bcwinters at 5:40 AM on April 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

I guess you could just browse them to find what appeals to you. I dig the 19th century architectural journals and early 20th century art history mags from Spain. Some other things may appeal to you but it depends on the collection. The bulk of my research is local microfilmed newspapers from the early 20th century so I'm sure you probably won't dig that.
posted by JJ86 at 5:49 AM on April 7, 2009

I've found that old Socialist/Communist papers - American, from the inter-war period - are fascinating and amusing. They're full of bad poetry and warnings regarding working for certain contractors. ('This guy is OK with Union workers but will only let you sleep under the trees in the orchard.')
posted by cobaltnine at 7:55 AM on April 7, 2009

Rolling Stone for about the first decade or so of its existence (1967-77). So much different from its current incarnation that it's hard to believe that they were printed on the same planet.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:48 PM on April 7, 2009

See if they have Colors, especially from its first few years. Spy magazine in its first go-round (eighties) was brilliant. Blind Spot is an interesting photography/essay journal. Short-lived, obscure: FMR.
posted by argybarg at 10:46 PM on April 7, 2009

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