AskDefine | Define Ephemera

Dictionary Definition

ephemera See ephemeron [also: ephemerae (pl)]ephemera


1 something transitory; lasting a day
2 an insect that lives only for a day in its winged form [syn: ephemeron] [also: ephemerae (pl)]ephemeron n : an insect that lives only for a day in its winged form [syn: ephemera] [also: ephemera (pl)]

Extensive Definition

Ephemera is transitory written and printed matter, not intended to be retained or preserved. The word derives from the Greek, meaning things lasting no more than a day. Some collectible ephemera are advertising trade cards, airsickness bags, baseball cards, bookmarks, cigarette cards, greeting cards, letters, pamphlets, photographs, postcards, posters, stock certificates, tickets, and zines. Decks of personality identification playing cards from the war in Iraq are a recent example.
In library and information science, the term ephemera also describes the class of published single-sheet or single page documents which are meant to be thrown away after one use. This classification excludes simple letters and photographs with no printing on them, which are considered manuscripts or typescripts. Large academic and national libraries and museums may collect, organize, and preserve ephemera as history.


Ephemera is a noun, the plural neuter of ephemeron and ephemeros, Greek and New Latin for epi = one and hemera = day with the ancient sense extending to the mayfly and other short lived insects and flowers and for something which lasts a day or a short period of time.

Video and Audio Ephemera

By extension, Video Ephemera and Audio Ephemera refer to transitory audiovisual matter not intended to be retained or preserved. Surprisingly, the great bulk of video and audio expression has, until recently, been ephemeral. Early TV broadcasts were not preserved (indeed, the technology to preserve them postdates the invention of television). Even if radio and television stations preserve archives of their broadcasts, those backcatalogs are inaccessible in practice to the general public, leaving it to a small underground of tape traders to exchange the rare, lucky moments when something unexpected or historical came across the air.
An article on the Ephemera Society of America website notes Printed ephemera gave way to audio and video ephemera in the twentieth century. ... These present even more of a preservation problem than printed materials. Although seldom made available for libraries, when videotapes are acquired for archival preservation they are found to be made on low quality tape, poorly processed, and damaged from abuse by users.
The large capacity and reach provided by resources such as the Internet Archive and YouTube have made finding and sharing video ephemera (past and present) dramatically easier.


  • The Encyclopedia of Ephemera: A Guide to the Fragmentary Documents of Everyday Life for the Collector, Curator, and Historian by Maurice Rickards et alia. London: The British Library; New York: Routledge, 2000.
  • Fragments of the Everyday: A Book of Australian Ephemera /Richard Stone (2005, ISBN 0-642-27601-3)

External links

Ephemera in German: Ephemera
Ephemera in French: Ephemera
Ephemera in Japanese: エフェメラ
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