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Love Is All Around

Campus Life

Special collections celebrates Valentine's Day with a unique pop-up exhibit

Purple lips

Published February 7, 2023

Special collections may not be the first place you think of as a romantic destination for Valentine's Day—but think again.

The LoveSexRomance: Special Connections in Special Collections pop-up exhibit began in 2020, just a few weeks before COVID lockdowns shuttered the campus. This year it is bigger and better—and sexier—than ever.

The brainchild of Shannon K. Supple, curator of rare books, the exhibit was created to bring students into special collections simply to have fun and celebrate Valentine’s Day.

“The informal goal was to give students access to special collections materials in a casual way, to build interest,” says Beth Myers, director of special collections. “It also exposes students to materials they might not expect to find in special collections—and to be inspired and encouraged to come back to look at materials on their own.”

Archival materials and rare books relating to all aspects of love, romance, and sex will be on display, as well as materials featuring self-love, familial and friendly love, animal companionship, and community. Included in the exhibit are love letters, vintage valentines, lesbian pulp books from the 1950s and 1960s, sketches by cartoonist Alison Bechdel, general erotica, erotic lesbian periodicals, love poems by Sylvia Plath ’55 written when she was a Smith student, love letters between Truman Capote and former Smith professor Newton Arvin—and more! Materials on display this year were mostly curated by student assistants led by Special Collections Post-Baccalaureate Fellow Bena Williams ’22.  

Myers says this year’s LoveSexRomance: Special Connections in Special Collections will be spicy as well as sweet. “You’d be surprised just how raunchy the archives can be,” she laughs. “From lesbian erotica of the 1990s to the lurid pulp covers of the 1950s, our stacks are as spicy as it gets!”

Myers says LoveSexRomance: Special Connections in Special Collections has evolved this year to include more materials, decorations, and goodie bags. “Students have started to treat the event as a way to celebrate Valentine’s Day,” says Myers, “to bring a partner, friend, family member, or to go solo. Instead of dinner and a movie (or Grubhub+Netflix+chill), it’s dinner and the archives!”

After enjoying the exhibit, students can continue the fun with another Valentine’s Day event—Late Night in Lyman Plant House—from 7 to 9 p.m. Students will be issued “passport stamps” and, if they attend both events, their names will be entered into a raffle for prizes. Malika Gottfried ’25, a botanic garden student educator, organized the plant house events and the raffle.

Not only is LoveSexRomance: Special Connections in Special Collections a perfect way to celebrate Valentine’s Day, it allows students to feel more comfortable in special collections. “Special collections sometimes can be intimidating,” Myers says. “Guidelines to safeguard materials can also be barriers to feeling welcome. Special collections have reputations for being very serious places, for serious research only. While that is true, it is not the entire truth. Special collections materials are the experiences of other people in the past and are often full of emotion.”

LoveSexRomance: Special Connections in Special Collections will be held Tuesday, February 14, 4–7 p.m., in Neilson Library 307, Third Floor Special Collections Reading Room.

This event is open to the public. Everyone is welcome. Masking is strongly encouraged.