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OSU’s Cartoon Library and Museum launches online database for easy access

About 70,000 cartoons and items related to them are now available online from Ohio State’s collection.

OSU’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum has opened a new database to make it easier to access a portion of one of the world’s largest collections, said Lucy Caswell, museum curator and professor.

“Even though we have between 60,000 and 70,000 records in this database, it really is the tip of the iceberg,” Caswell said.

More than 400,000 original cartoons exist in the collection.

The collections are worth millions of dollars, Caswell said.

“In some ways they are priceless,” she added, because the art is original and could never be replaced.

The library and museum already had a database.

“We had a homegrown database for probably 15 years,” Caswell said. “It had a number of quirks.”

The new database is meant to manage all the original art. Its software, PastPerfect, allows the library to manage acquisition and donor information and to embed an image of a piece, she said.

The museum and library’s name comes from local cartoonist Billy Ireland, who was known for editorial cartoons and worked for The Columbus Dispatch for 37 years.

Ireland’s family made a $7 million donation through the Elizabeth Ireland Graves Foundation to help renovate Sullivant Hall, and the museum was named in July 2009 in recognition of the gift, Caswell said.

In 1977, OSU’s Cartoon Library and Museum was established and placed in the Journalism Building after receiving the Milton Caniff collection. Two rooms in the Journalism Building were used to house the Milton Caniff Reading Room, the original name of the museum.

OSU alumnus Milton Caniff, a cartoonist, was known for creating “Terry and the Pirates” and “Steve Canyon.”

Caniff started “Terry and the Pirates,” an adventure cartoon strip, in 1934 and left in 1946 to start “Steve Canyon,” another adventure cartoon strip, which he wrote from 1947 to 1988.

“His collection was the seed from which the library grew,” Caswell said.

Then in 1989, the Wexner Center opened and the library and museum moved there.

“The collection was considerably smaller than it is now,” Caswell said.

The entire collection is stored on site and includes 2.5 million comic strips.

OSU’s Library Book Depository on Kenny Road is used to store part of the published books collections.

About 3,000 square feet of additional storage is on Ackerman Road, in the building where library materials were before the William Oxley Thompson Memorial Library reopened, she said.

The collection includes editorial cartoons, comic strips, comic books, graphic novels, sports cartoons and magazine cartoons.

The library and museum are part of the OSU University Libraries and are now exhibiting “What’s New? A Sampler of Recent Acquisitions.”

The exhibit is wide-ranging and showcases cartoons, such as a James Gillray engraving from 1806 and an editorial cartoon by 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winner Nick Anderson.

“It really is a nice cross-section of what’s here,” Caswell said.

The exhibit opened April 26 and ends Aug. 20. 

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