Curating a Nancy Drew Collection

Posted on February 7, 2020

by Library News

Editor’s note: This guest post is by Jennifer Fisher, who contributed the Jennifer Fisher Nancy Drew Collection to Main Library. It was originally published on Fisher’s blog, and is reposted with her permission.

The rain gods danced a merry dance until the sun crashed the party as daylight broke over downtown Toledo on the morning of September 28, 2019. This day was a year in the making as Main Library would be re-opening after a year of renovation had closed its doors to the public. What changes were in store for the patrons was a coveted secret that only its inner worker bees buzzed about.

As finishing touches were being made, there was one particularly mysterious room located around the corner from The Mystery Wall, aptly named The Mystery Room. Manager of the Local History and Genealogy Department Jill Clever and her team were fast at work loading beautiful wooden cases with books and collectibles dedicated to an infamous character – one whose bold and independent adventures have inspired millions of kids, including our ladies of the U.S. Supreme Court.

It always had a greater purpose: to inspire, to educate and to reach new generations of Nancy Drew readers and fans.

Minutes to opening, they finished with a flourish and the doors opened. Patrons armed with treasure maps in hand worked their way through the Library to find The Mystery Room and all the secrets it might behold.

The Mystery Room features beautiful wood paneling – original to the 1940 opening of the library – and sports a view of the downtown and striking original copper chandeliers. The ambiance of the room is one of a cozy library collection all nestled into what used to be two rooms, including an old office. Two large open rooms are connected by a seating area replete with an original fireplace, comfy wing back chairs and carpet reminiscent of tweed that is so appropriately vintage in style. Display cases have glass doors with secure closures for some and others keys to the clues they behold. One set of cases has a series of 12 large enclosed pull-out drawers at the bottom at kid-friendly height to discover all the fun memorabilia housed in each drawer. Atop some cases are rows of Nancy Drew books from the Library’s circulation with signs enticing patrons to check them out. Just outside the room is a sign naming the collection the Jennifer Fisher Nancy Drew Collection, and underneath is the Literary Landmark plaque that was dedicated in 2015 to the original Carolyn Keene, Mildred Wirt Benson, whose writing career spanned 135 published books and an over 50-year career as a journalist in Toledo.

A portion of the original collection before it was donated to the library.

As you enter the Saloff Children’s Library, you find many neat interactive elements to this amazing section of Main Library including cars you can climb into, ships, giant books, dioramas including Nancy Drew from her infamous cover of The Secret of the Old Clock, a giant interactive mystery wall sporting the cover to Old Clock, and a whole section of Dr. Seuss and so much more waiting to be discovered – an aquarium, a giant light bright set, play areas, tiny doors leading to exciting adventures, a whole gallery of original children’s book cover art – it’s truly a child’s playground of the imagination just waiting to be discovered.

Just around the corner of the Mystery Wall you’ll find The Mystery Room, which houses The Jennifer Fisher Nancy Drew Collection.

Hanging under the collection plaque is the Literary Landmark dedicated to author and journalist Mildred Wirt Benson, and her 135 published books and numerous news articles from decades as an author and journalist – this was dedicated in 2015 and sponsored by the Nancy Drew Sleuths, The Blade and the Library Legacy Foundation.

I was honored that the landmark is located there by my collection.

The front room features two cases on the left and right of the room. The right side features a large case. Spots above the cases where you see wood paneling now will also be filled in with framed items from the collection soon.

The middle section of the two rooms features two chairs, and a case on the left and a fireplace and mantel with short display case on the left of the fireplace and the Nancy Drew Tandy painting for The Secret at Shadow Ranch.I was really humbled to have this painting hang in the room with my collection.

Above the fireplace mantel hangs a striking painting – one of the library’s prized original art paintings for the original 1931 cover of The Secret at Shadow Ranch, volume five in the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories series, illustrated by commercial artist Russell H. Tandy. America’s teenage sleuth Nancy Drew sits atop her trusty steed sporting a bright red riding blazer and brandishing a riding crop as she observes a villainous woman engaging in dastardly deeds. Nancy’s steely eyes are watchful, and we want to dive right into the scene to see what course of action Nancy Drew might take to save the day and right a clearly grievous wrong.

Standing watch over the large Mystery Room, this timeless painting of Nancy Drew reflects a nostalgic era among a room full of similar mysterious scenes on Nancy Drew books spanning 1930 to present day, plus collectibles and paper ephemera which all come together to tell a story and are all pieces of the larger puzzle that is Mystery’s IT Girl. Nancy Drew Sleuth reigns supreme in here.

The inner room features two very large sections of cases which house quite a few Nancy Drew collectibles from over the years related to the books, the movies and TV shows and the modern merchandise and collectibles from recent decades. Paper and advertising ephemera.

The classic Nancy Drew in cloche hats from the 1930s, to a ’50s Bobby Soxer and then mod ’60s sleuth with her titian-haired flip meets modern Nancy Drew from the ’80s, ’90s and 2000s, every decade reflecting that generation’s style. Shelves hold books filled with vintage and modern tales of a very daring and intelligent sleuth with a penchant for baffling mysteries, besting the local police force and always nabbing the villain in the end and restoring order to chaos. There are many exciting adventures to be had in Nancy Drew’s world of lost wills, haunted houses, lost treasures and musty old attics full of secrets and sinister suspects. There are also many stories to tell behind the scenes of Nancy Drew and her creators and this collection can provide the clues to unravel all these mysteries – real and fictional.

For over twenty years, I have curated a collection of over 4,000 pieces of Nancy Drew books and memorabilia, connecting dots, weaving stories with historical background material and paper ephemera to finished books and collectibles. It was always more than just my Nancy Drew collection. It always had a greater purpose: to inspire, to educate and to reach new generations of Nancy Drew readers and fans. Collecting dust in my living room was never in the cards when I set out to find a perfect place to donate my collection in the future where a large portion would always be on display. I had mentioned to the Library about donating it someday. Some Day. But the renovation gave the Library and I the perfect opportunity to have the collection be accommodated, a room created just for it and the chance to help shape the manner in which it would be donated and displayed. Several months of shipping over 50 large boxes have resulted in a treasure trove of delights as boxes have been unpacked and pieces of the puzzle uncovered. The rich history behind Nancy Drew and those who created and wrote the books, including Benson, who wrote of the 23 of the first 30 Nancy Drew books, some of them in Toledo, is a history that needs to be preserved. I am currently writing a biography of Benson, a real life Nancy Drew.

One of my favorite of many features, is the case on the right which will house a lot of neat display drawers at kid friendly height that pull out to show off so many neat collectibles and ephemera that are hard to display on a regular shelf.

On top of the two front room cases are some books from the library’s circulation of Nancy Drew books with signs enticing patrons to “check me out!” and I love that they relocated some of these in this room with my collection. Books range from classic to modern which is great.

Issues of the Nancy Drew Sleuths’ zine, The Sleuth, are available for reference use while at the library and can be used for research which is great! There’s even a clue from The Mystery Wall to be found in the collection room…..

My goal in giving the Jennifer Fisher Nancy Drew Collection to the people of Toledo and to the 500,000 annual visitors to the library, was threefold. I wanted a place where kids could be inspired as so many generations of Nancy Drew readers have been, so the series will stay alive in the hearts of our youth whose generation will continue to enjoy these treasured books and keep passing them down to future generations. It was also for the adults and fans who love to revisit happy childhood memories reading these wonderful mysteries and inspire people to collect the books and related ephemera and showcase what is out there to collect. And finally for scholars and researchers to have a place where they can study the books and the stories behind the scenes and gain a richer perspective on this series and its publishing history.

Nancy Drew is a pop culture icon and so many have been inspired by her to do more in their lives including nearly all of the women justices on the U.S. Supreme Court. Nearby Bowling Green State University has an entire department dedicated to studying Popular Culture and so this collection will serve as a great focus for academics near and far. Ultimately, I hope to inspire other collectors who have items in their collections that I don’t, to donate to the library to enhance the collection and make it even more unique and add to the wealth of knowledge to be gleaned from this collection.

I know my collection has a warm, respectful and proper home at the Toledo Lucas County Public Library and will be well kept by her trusted caretakers for many years to come.

It has warmed my heart for the two decades that I’ve met other collectors and heard from many fans and school kids through my Nancy Drew website,, to learn about their Nancy Drew connections. Most everyone has a Nancy Drew story or sentiment and I’ve loved being able to provide an organization like Nancy Drew Sleuths with online forums and social media for fans to gather and share, a shop to treat yourself or a fellow fan to a nostalgic gift, conventions for fans to meet and follow in Nancy Drew’s footsteps in real life book locations, and a subscription based zine – The Sleuth – that reflects all aspects of Nancy Drew and similar books and series and is now a reference zine you can research in while visiting the library and the Nancy Drew Mystery Room.

I know my collection has a warm, respectful and proper home at the Toledo Lucas County Public Library and will be well kept by her trusted caretakers for many years to come. Plans for making the collection more interactive, digitizing it and making it available for research are great benefits of letting it go. Interactive programming will be developed to use the collection to its full potential and items will be rotated so more of the collection will be focused on and seen throughout the year. In July 2020, the library will host a grand opening party to formally introduce the collection with lots of fanfare and I hope that everyone can attend and support this endeavor.

Cases that have deeper shelves house rows of books and some front facing books to show off the covers and mysterious scenes of Nancy Drew’s sleuthing adventures – one side of the front room features the classic era of books 1-175 and the other side features all the modern series since 1979 and various spin-off series

As a collector, I’ll always collect and I will continue to add items to the existing collection that are missing. And as for myself personally, I have kept some of my collection for now – some of my childhood books, original cover art, signed books and some unique and special items which will end up in Toledo in the future. I plan on making sure I have one of each story published since 1930 – over 600 Nancy Drew books – in my personal collection, so I’ll always have the books to read and for research. So, for me, collecting is never over. It’s just taking on new shapes and purposes. I am forever thrilled at being able to be given this opportunity to carve out a space – a mini museum if you will – for all Nancy Drew fans to visit and enjoy. Every generation has had their Nancy Drew – and they are all there at the library just waiting to be rediscovered.

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