New State Fair Exhibit

Iowa State University has a long, historical relationship with the Iowa State Fair. Iowa State has presented exhibits at the fair for different colleges, supported 4H in their endeavors, and had Extension present to help teach the community about new technology like electricity (see photo below).

University Photos, RS 16/1/E, Box 1328, Folder 6.

To celebrate this long relationship, we have a new exhibit on the 1st floor of Parks Library. The exhibit features photos of the “Butter Cow lady”, Norma Lyon, an alumna of Iowa State, 4H artifacts, general fair artifacts, and some of the earliest pictures we have from the State Fair in 1915.

Feel free to stop by whenever the library is open!

Gallery Images:

Summer Hours

Starting after Memorial Day, the reading room will be open 10-4, Monday-Thursday.

2 adult swans, 3 babies
1971 Bomb, page 64

As always, we can also be reached by email at Hope everyone has a fun and restful summer planned!


Happy St. Patrick’s Day, Iowa State community! This holiday has a historically special place in Iowa State’s early traditions. Starting in 1910, the engineering students held a celebration that included a parade that led them to downtown Ames (see picture below). In later years, the day also became an open house for engineering. In 1922, this celebration, along with several others, were wrapped together to become the VEISHEA celebration.

St. Patrick’s Day parade down Main Street, 1911.

There are several other blog posts you can explore to learn more about this tradition.

Genealogy 101: Researching Your Family History

We are excited to present a new genealogy workshop this winter. On February 2nd from 2-3 pm, we will be highlighting the resources available in Special Collections and University Archives as well as other resources that are free to use. You can register and find more information here.

In this workshop you will learn what resources are available through the Iowa State University Library, Ames Public Library, and other local history organizations. We will also provide tips on how to move forward with your research when your family history has not been as well documented as those with ancestors who came from Europe.

Registration is available both on-line and in person, but don’t hesitate as spots are filling fast!

Printed university directories span from 1901 to 2010

Special Collections and Archives: Not just for History Majors

The resources and materials held in the Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) are vast and varied. If someone mentions using SCUA for their research, the first thing that likely comes to mind is historical research. And while SCUA is a great place for that, we have so much more to offer. Here are some examples that may be helpful in reframing how you look at SCUA and how we can serve you.

In our collections we hold the records of the Iowa Crop Improvement Association. As part of that collection, we have records of the corn yield test from 1920 to the present. This contest was designed to determine the best growing varieties of corn in 4 different districts in Iowa. This wealth of information is a bounty for agricultural researchers.

1927 Corn Yield Test. Call number SB191 C8 Io87i

One interesting major at Iowa State is biological and premedical illustration. Over the years, students from this major have visited SCUA to view books such as Flowers of the Brazilian Forests by Margaret Mee. The students have an opportunity to view the book not as a historical document, but an example of the type of illustration they are learning to make for their career.

Plate 13 from Flowers of the Brazilian Forest by Margaret Mee. Call number QK263.M47f

Iowa State is the proud home of one of the best public fashion design programs in the country. Should an aspiring fashion designer be searching for inspiration, they need look no further than the Mary A. Barton fashion illustration collection. The collection (1776-2008) contains plates of general fashion dating back to the 18th century and continuing through the 20th century. You can see many of the fashion plates online (pre-1923). Of course, 19th century fashion doesn’t directly correlate to modern fashion, but it’s just one more great place to get inspiration. Or, if you are looking to recreate clothing from the past, we also have patterns!

Place your bets: Are fancy hats or hoop skirts going to come back into fashion first?

These are just a few examples of the endless possibilities for research to be done in SCUA. Stop by anytime, we’d love to see you! We are open Monday-Thursday, 9-5, no appointment required.

Fall Eats

Now that fall is officially upon us, it’s time to think about delicious fall foods. We have a large collection of Iowa cookbooks here in Special Collections and University Archives, so of course, there are a lot of soup recipes to go with that!

Historic cookbooks are always interesting for what they reveal about the intended users. Notice that the directions are vague and the measurements rare. These are things home cooks would have been expected to figure out and know for themselves. Whether you’re looking to study cookbooks of the past or looking for some new recipes to try yourself, cookbooks from this collection are available digitally and many more are open for research in our reading room. Happy fall, y’all!

A Case of Mistaken Identity: State University of Iowa VS Iowa State University

We frequently get requests from patrons for records of people linked to the “State University of Iowa.” This is a very understandable request. It only serves to reason that the “State University of Iowa” would be the forerunner to “Iowa State University.” However, this is not the case, and we need to refer those patrons to contact the University of Iowa special collections and archives. In this post, I will explain some clues we use to figure out the discrepancy and how the names have changed over the years.

Founded in 1847, the University of Iowa is legally the State University of Iowa. The Board of Regents made the decision that they can go by University of Iowa for everyday usage in 1964 (Source). I see this most often on theses of students of the State University of Iowa.

Iowa State University was founded in 1858 as the Iowa Agricultural College and Model Farm (though the first class did not start until 1868). “In 1898, the name was changed to the Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, to reflect the engineering curricula…” (A Sesquicentennial History of Iowa State University, 313). It wasn’t until July 4, 1959 that Iowa State College officially became a university.

When a request comes in, there are a few clues we use to determine whether a question is for us or for the University of Iowa. If anyone mentions a medical or dental degree, that’s pretty much a guarantee that we need to pass the letter on. Other major areas of study can be a clue, but there is less certainty (like English/writing or art). A mention of Iowa State as a university pre-1960s is often a clue, but not a guarantee since the patron could know that it was technically a college at the time, but using the current nomenclature when asking their question.

Clone, the offspring of Cy, battles Herky at an ISU vs Iowa football game

Of course, if you’re not sure if your question is for ISU or UI, please don’t hesitate to send it our way! We’ll be happy to let you know whether we can help you or if you’ll need to search elsewhere. We take reference inquiries at

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick’s Day was historically a special day at Iowa State. Why, you may ask? Well, St. Patrick is the patron saint of engineers! He earned this honor by “teaching the Irish to build arches of lime mortar instead of dry masonry” (Engineers Ireland).

The first St. Patrick’s Day celebration at Iowa State was held March 17, 1910.  Beginning at 8:30 in the morning, members of the Civil Engineering Society paraded around the campus, wearing tall top hats and pushing their flag bearer in a wheelbarrow.  The group paused for a program of songs and speeches on the steps of Beardshear Hall.  They then proceeded to downtown Ames, where they were addressed by Mayor Parley Sheldon.  In the afternoon, the Civil Engineering juniors played baseball against the seniors—the seniors won, 13-10.  Roller skating and a banquet brought the day to a close.

St. Patrick’s Day parade,
University Photos, Box 1658

Though St. Patrick’s Day began as a day of entertainment, by 1913, it was also serving the function of an open house for the Engineering Division.  Each department had a display.  Outstanding senior engineers were inducted into the Knights of the Order of the Guard of St. Patrick, an engineering honorary.  The inductees were “knighted” with a slide rule, by the “Engineer’s Lady” who had been selected by a student vote at the Engineer’s Campfire during fall semester.  St. Patrick’s Day was celebrated from 1910 until 1921.  The Knighting of the Guard of St. Patrick was incorporated into the VEISHEA ceremonies from 1922 to 1926 and then the ceremony was added to the Engineer’s Campfire festivities. (Previous 2 paragraphs researched and written by Becky Jordan, Reference Specialist.)

St. Patrick and Engineer’s Lady
University Photos, Box 1658

Everyone have a fun and safe St. Patrick’s Day, especially our friends in engineering!


As we start another unusual semester at Iowa State, I wanted to highlight the ways you can still use Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) materials.

We are still open for appointments to see materials in person. Our hours are 10-12 and 1-3, Monday-Thursday. We do require appointments at this time to ensure enough physical distance in the reading room. Email to set up an appointment.

Of course, we understand that some simply aren’t able to or aren’t comfortable venturing to SCUA to do their research. Luckily there are many more ways to access our materials.

Digital Collections Digital Collections highlight works and collections from the Iowa State University Library. These materials include photographs, manuscripts, artifacts, books, and audiovisual formats.

Digital Repository Iowa State University Digital Repository provides free and open access to scholarly and creative works, research, publications and reports by Iowa State’s faculty, students, staff and administrative units. The repository is administered by the University Library, with support from the Office of the Vice President of Research.

For A/V materials, please see our collections on YouTube and in Aviary.

Archive-It Archive-It is a website preservation service provided by the Internet Archive. Browse historic websites created by Iowa State University or other organizations whose records we collect.

When you search our finding aids, if we have digital materials available, they will be linked in the finding aid, which is a great new feature to get you the information you need quickly. Not all collections have digital materials available, and you can learn how to find collections that do have electronic materials in this post. If there are electronic materials available, you will see them linked at the beginning of the finding aid.

Lastly, we can make copies of materials, though the wait time is longer than usual as we navigate the challenges of keeping staff, students, and the rest of our community safe.

Introducing Aeon!

The beginning of August is ushering in a lot of change for Special Collections and University Archives! One of those changes is Aeon, our new registration and materials request system.

Patrons will create a user account online, saving time and paperwork when visiting the reading room. You can also make requests to see materials in the reading room or have them copied by filling out the forms online. This can even be done straight from the library’s quick search catalog or from CARDinal, the database of our special collections and archives finding aids.

Screenshot from Library’s quick search results
Screenshot from CARDinal search results

One of the exciting advantages of using this system is that Aeon keeps a history of what you have requested for you to revisit in the future. No more hanging on to the pink piece of carbon paper to try to write your citations later! You can also save a search without requesting if you may want to look at something in the future but don’t need the material now.

We will be publishing tutorials to help you navigate Aeon in the coming days on our LibGuides. Of course, we’re always available to answer questions at

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