Welcome Back Students! An Introduction to the Special Collections Department

A view of Morrill Hall and the Hub in 1908.  Morrill Hall used to house, among other things, the college library.  The Hub, seen to the left, was originally a station for the Ames and College Railway. The University Archives holds thousands of photographs documenting campus, students and university activities.

In the last few weeks, campus has become busier and busier as students have returned.  Then it really got busy as fall semester classes began last Monday, August 22!  New students, faculty, and staff have begun familiarizing themselves with Iowa State and what different offices and departments have to offer.  I thought I would take this opportunity at the beginning of the school year to give a brief introduction to what you can find here in the Special Collections Department.  Before diving in, however, please note that most of our collections are stored in closed stacks.  This means that patrons are able to use our reading room (with a wonderful view of campus!), and will need to ask at our reference desk for the collections and/or books they wish to use.  Items housed here, however, cannot leave the reading room or be checked out!

So what exactly do we have?  The Special Collections Department houses rare books and historical records, many of which are related to Iowa State’s major research areas of science, technology and agriculture.  Our archival collections often primarily include primary documents such as diaries, correspondence, research materials, photographs, and scrapbooks.

1904 sketchbook of an Iowa State alum, Alda Wilson.  A description (called a finding aid) of the Alda and Elmina Wilson Papers can be found here.

The Special Collections Department has both a University Archives and Manuscript Collections.  Our University Archives collects and makes available records of enduring value which document the history of Iowa State University, its administration, programs, services, and members of its community.  These include records from departments, offices, faculty members, students, and alumni.  Examples include the Anson Marston Papers, Louis Hermann Pammel Papers, Barbara Ellen Forker Papers, and the Agriculture 450 Farm Records.

Anson Marston in 1892.  Marston was a very accomplished engineering professor here at Iowa State.  In addition to his teaching duties, his accomplishments include developing the Engineering Division into a prestigious program,  establishing the Engineering Experiment Station (1904), designing the water tower (Marston Water Tower), initiating the building of Engineering Hall (Marston Hall) and supervising the building of the Campanile and the restoration of Lake LaVerne.

Blueprint of Marston Water Tower.  Those familiar with campus will know that it is located behind Marston Hall, between Hoover and Sweeney Hall.

The Manuscript Collections document individuals and organizations not necessarily directly related to Iowa State, but which often document the university’s mission.  Examples include the Hugh Hammond Bennett Papers, Margaret J. Black Papers, Iowa Citizens to Save the Ledges State Park (CSL) Records, and American Society of Brewing Chemists Records.

You may want to check out our website for more information including our subject guides and collections listings.  We also have various online exhibits, including one created during our sesquicentennial about various aspects of Iowa State’s history.  Other online exhibits can be found here.  Links to related sites such as our YouTube channel, Flickr, Scribd, Facebook page and others can be found here.  And, finally, a small selection of our collections can be found online at Digital Collections.

Last year we created a miniature tour of our department – in blog form.  Please take a look here if you’re interested in finding out more about archives and what our department looks like behind the scenes!  Also, if you are interested in looking at our materials, please visit us anytime Monday through Friday, 9-4. We are gradually adding descriptions of our collections to our website, but not everything is there yet.  If you can’t find a description or listing of what you’re looking for, please feel free to ask.

When entering our reading room, you will first see our reference desk with a friendly (oh yes…we’re always friendly!) archivist waiting to assist you!

Finally, please check out previous and future posts here on our departmental blog!  We try to periodically highlight both existing and new collections.

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