New faces in Special Collections and University Archives!

A few weeks ago, Chris, Descriptive Records Project Archivist, introduced himself to our readers. Here are a few more new faces (as well as some old faces in new positions) at Iowa State University’s Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA).

Rachel, Outreach Archivist.

Rachel, Outreach Archivist.

Rachel is the new Outreach Archivist and has spent the last six years working in the Alaska & Polar Regions Collections & Archives (APR) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She spent two years working primarily in reference and processing collections, then moved on to catalog manuscripts and rare maps, work with donors and appraise potential donations, and organize presentations and exhibits that highlighted the collections and services of APR. Rachel received her MSLIS with an Archives concentration from Simmons College in January 2006 and spent her first two years out of school working as a reference librarian at a public library in Westminster, MA. Rachel’s superpower is she talks at the speed of light!

Amy, Rare Books and Manuscripts Archivist.

Amy, Rare Books and Manuscripts Archivist.

Amy is the new Rare Books and Manuscripts Archivist. She started in this new position on October 19, but she’s already been at SCUA for a little over two years as a Project Archivist. You may have already read some of her blog posts, highlighting collections she has processed, or just those she thinks are cool. She came to ISU from the University of Illinois, where she received her MSLIS in 2013 and spent two years working as a Graduate Assistant at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Outside of work, Amy likes to dance. She has done ballet, jazz, clogging, Lindy Hop, Charleston, and most recently Scottish country dance.

Brad, University Archivist.

Brad, University Archivist.

Brad was named the University Archivist this past November. His new job didn’t take him too far from his old one as he has been a staff member of SCUA at Iowa State for over twelve years. During this time he was in a supporting role working mostly with University records and the film and media collections. Now as University Archivist, he is responsible for documenting the history of the University–an impossible task if not for the amazing work that the rest of the staff in the department does. Brad has lived in Iowa his entire life, growing up outside of Maynard in northeast Iowa. He is a graduate of Iowa State University (BFA 2000) and recently received his MLIS from the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee.


An Introduction


Hello, folks. I’m Chris, and I’ve been working the Special Collections team since late August, 2015, so it’s about time I introduced myself.

My title is “Descriptive Records Project Archivist,” which makes sense once you know what I do here. In some respects, I’m just another cataloger—one of the people who creates and edits the bibliographic information that the public accesses via the ISU library system’s online catalog. On the other hand, I catalog selected resources from the holdings of the Special Collections and University Archives unit, a distinction which matters more than one might assume.

Before explaining that difference, here is a bio in a nutshell.

I was born in the dry heat of Palm Springs, California. When I was a boy, my family was unusually itinerant (which is a story in itself). All that moving around taught me to make my own fun, with or without other kids, so it was natural that I became a book-lover.

I earned a Bachelor of Arts in humanities with a minor in history at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona. That’s where I got involved in special libraries and archives work. After a few years in the trenches, I got my MLIS (Master of Library and Information Studies) at UCLA, where I focused on informatics, especially music informatics.

My wife and I moved to Iowa in August, 2015 when she was offered a good job here. I knew little to nothing about Iowa (let alone Ames or ISU) before taking the plunge, but it’s been a real pleasure so far.

—Which brings me back to my job, and what makes it special. All cataloging is done to help people find, identify, select, and/or obtain information resources. But what if these information-seeking people have very different goals as to how they will use what they find? What if the resources themselves are fundamentally different from, say, mass-produced library books?

That’s where I come in. I have experience working with rare books, archival and manuscript collections, and “special” libraries of several kinds. This department wants to provide deeper description and documentation of its rare, unique, and unpublished materials. There are numerous ways we’re all working to increase awareness of, and access to, our collection. My contribution is to strategically catalog selected stuff that isn’t always well-represented in libraries’ traditional online catalogs. Because our subject matter is both narrower and deeper than that of Parks Library as a whole (academic libraries cover a vast range of topics), I have a terrific opportunity to learn about our specific “audiences,” how they use our resources, how and why we’ll preserve them for posterity, and so on. Doing all that requires embedding me in the department, where I share service desk duties, meet the full range of patrons, and engage directly with the team on a daily basis. In addition, I’m doing a survey of our collections to determine where we stand in terms of cataloging and documentation, and I’m redrafting some local procedures. In conclusion, “doing right” by SCUA’s patrons, collections, and staff involves both “digging in” and perceiving the “big picture.” (Pardon my mixed metaphors—what was that, three in a row?)

Best wishes until next time, Dear Readers. —Chris, Descriptive Records Project Archivist.

Archives in Five Words

The President of the Society of American Archivists, Kathleen Roe, recently called for archivists to come up with a 5 word phrase for engaging people in conversations about archives and archivists. Here at Iowa State University, we’ve decided to focus our five word phrases on why archives are important and what the ISU Special Collections Department can do for you.

Here are the options – vote for your favorites and/or add your own!

Special Collections bids farewell to Stephanie

Stephanie Bennett, ISU Project Archivist.

Stephanie Bennett, ISU Project Archivist.

Here is a special post to announce some exciting news.

A little over a year ago, Stephanie introduced herself and the two other project archivists to our readers. Now, Stephanie will be the first of us to leave ISU as she moves on to a new Collections Archivist position at Wake Forest University Special Collection and Archives. Congratulations, Stephanie!!!

Stephanie’s many contributions to the Special Collections department can be quantified in numerable ways—from processing almost 400 linear feet of archival collections, to greeting and assisting patrons over hundreds of hours at our public services desk, to composing more than 30 interesting and informative blog posts. But there are many other ways that Stephanie has contributed to the department over the last year-and-a-half that will be greatly missed: her quick wit, her enthusiasm, and her insights on all things archival.

Thanks for the laughs and for all the hard work, Stephanie! ISU will miss you *sniff*, but we know you will rock your next job!

Stephanie’s last day is tomorrow, so please join us in wishing Stephanie all the very best in her new endeavors in a warmer climate.

Celebrate American Archives Month

Special Collections staff hard at work, RS 25

Special Collections staff hard at work, date unknown, RS 25

Every October is American Archives Month – a time to celebrate the work of archivists and the physical and digital items that benefit from our care. There are as many ways to celebrate Archives Month (or #archivesmonth, on Twitter) as there are archival repositories. Larger archival institutions have a full range of activities to showcase their work. The National Archives and Records Administration profiles staff members and favorite items throughout the month on social media. Smithsonian Institute Archives covers its work through a number of virtual and in-person opportunities. Here at ISU Special Collections, we celebrate by working: accepting university records and donated materials relating to our collecting areas; working with donors; processing materials; answering questions from the wide variety of folks who enlist our help; educating students through tours and classroom talks; and providing access to our collections through our website and Reading Room.

The Society of American Archivists, our professional organization, is observing Archives Month, of course. The association president, Kathleen Roe, recently wrote a blog post and asked the question “Who have you met on your journey through archival records?” She posed her question in reference to people whom she met through the historical record – such as the faculty and staff, students, and alumni whose collections we hold.

Special Collections Open House

The Special Collections reading room and exhibit space in 1971, RS 25/3

But as I sit in the Reading Room with a researcher hard at work and one of our student workers making preservation reproductions, I think of the meaningful interactions and lessons that I learn from the living people that I interact with in and around the archives. For example:

  • Students of all ages, from middle school on up to retirees who are curious about something and have the time to pop in. And of course academic scholars from ISU as well as other institutions who seek the rare and unique information that we hold. Even the questions that they ask, about the archives or about their interests, teach me lessons about my work all the time!
  • Our student workers, who bring their perspectives and questions to work every week. It’s nice to hear what student life is like in 2014 when I’m used to fielding questions and handling materials that are often older than today’s students.
  • Donors who generously hand their memories, or their loved ones’ memories, over for care-taking. It is a privilege to assess a lifetime’s worth of accumulated materials and process them to allow others to benefit from all the knowledge within.
  • Colleagues who have fielded my questions, encouraged and mentored me, introduced me to other archives colleagues in their network, and so on and so forth through the six degrees of separation between me and Kevin Bacon. No, wait, between me and famed archivist Theodore Roosevelt Schellenberg.
  • Archivists of the wider world who I meet through graduate school, or at regional conferences, or at the SAA Annual Meeting – which was held with two other records-centric organizations this year. There is an unending supply of new people to meet, share stories with, and learn from.

Much appreciation goes out to all those who make our work as archivists possible – especially the archivists ourselves. You can celebrate American Archives Month by coming by to see our new exhibit on Homecoming, doing research, or checking out all the resources we have available through our [newly updated] website!

A New Staff Member in Special Collections

Hi! I’m Kim and I’m the newest member of the Special Collections team.

Kim standing amongst collections

Me with some of our collections

I started in August as a new Archivist. I’ll be serving as the archives lead on digital materials as well as doing general “archivist stuff.” It’s an exciting time – we’re preparing to get a formal digital records program established. It will take some time to get everything in place so keep an eye out in our blog to see the latest developments. Digital records (sometimes used interchangeably with “e-records,” “electronic records,” or “born-digital”) are things with archival value that are originally in some digital form – e.g. e-mail, databases, web sites, Word documents, etc. The Library of Congress has some tips on how to maintain your own digital records:

I’m a California transplant. I grew up in the Central Valley and foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. I’m personally familiar with agriculture and rural life – so I’m seeing some familiar sights around Central Iowa. My high school was surrounded by orchards and berry fields. When I was little we had goats, ducks, and chickens and I ordered my school clothes out of a Sears Catalog at the general store/post office in Coarsegold. My mom grew up in Lee County, Iowa where my grandpa had a farm and raised corn, soybeans, and hogs. Even though I’m a Californian I grew up hearing all about Iowa and now I live here! I recently inherited my aunt’s recipes – six recipe boxes crammed full of hand-written recipe cards many of which she collected from the Donnellson (Iowa) newspaper. So, I’m bringing a little bit of Iowa back to Iowa with me. (Speaking of which, did you know we have a fabulous Iowa cook book collection?)

I’ve been around archives and libraries for a while now. I got my first library job in 1995 as a student worker in a curriculum library at Northern Arizona University (NAU) but switched to NAU’s Special Collections and Archives (SCA) two years later. At SCA I got to do a little bit of everything – processing manuscript and photograph collections, conservation (and preservation work (phase boxes, rebacking books, and more!), exhibit design and construction, and working with people – learning from donors, assisting researchers, and supervising students and volunteers. I’ve mostly stayed in Special Collections or University Archives except for a few brief stints at law libraries and police records.

I earned my B.A. in Humanities (minor in Anthropology) from NAU and my MLIS from University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA). I love university life and campus histories and I’m happiest being part of the rhythm of college campuses. While at UCLA I worked as historical researcher for a book project on UCLA’s history and served as author of the history of the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library. I also worked in the UCLA University Archives. I completed my time at UCLA when I earned my doctorate in Information Studies in 2011. My dissertation “Appraisal Learning Networks: How University Archivists Learn to Appraise through Social Interaction” received the ALISE/Eugene Garfield Doctoral Dissertation award in 2013. I also spent six weeks in Australia last summer as a visiting scholar at Monash University and study abroad instructor learning about e-records and the Australian records continuum. My doctoral focus was archival studies and my sub-specialization was in the History of Science and Technology so working at the Special Collections at Iowa State is a perfect match for my interests!

Kim with Rosella

Me with a crimson rosella along the Great Ocean Road

For the past few years I’ve been serving as Archives Program Director and teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the archival studies area within the MLIS program. I’ve made the decision to return to practice and am very enthusiastic about the possibilities of this position. It’s a great team here. I hope you will visit us and see what we’re up to.

Call for Applications: Summer Digitization Project Internship – Silos & Smokestacks Agricultural Heritage Intern

Through a generous grant from the Silos & Smokestacks Agricultural Heritage Internship Grant Program, the Special Collections and Preservation Departments of the Iowa State University Library are offering a summer internship. The Silos & Smokestacks Agricultural Heritage Internship is a full-time, 10-week project position to develop a digital collection on Iowa State’s early Extension movement and create content for an interpretive website.  We will be accepting applications through Friday, April 18th.  For more information, please visit our website:

Introducing your 2014 ISU Special Collections Blog

Welcome to 2014, readers!

As you might have noticed, over the past several weeks, the blog has taken on a new rhythm of posting. The department personnel have started posting twice a week – on Tuesday and on Friday – and while we get some help, the bulk of the posting is done by the three new project archivists. Our Tuesday posts, which we will now be calling “CyPix,” feature a fun photo from an Iowa State collection; recent photos have highlighted the history of holidays and football at ISU, for example.

Fridays feature longer posts that provide insight into individual collections that are ready and waiting for research, educational, and all other kinds of uses. Since we three project archivists are hard at work on making collections available to researchers, these posts will frequently highlight the collections that we are working on. But we still have some tricks up our sleeves! During National Aviation Month, Amy highlighted Charles Lindbergh’s lesser-known aviation rival, former Iowa State student Clarence Chamberlin. Then, just as I was needing books to read over the holidays, Amy shared the story of the local (defunct) book club the Serendipity Club – complete with reading list. Whitney is no slouch, either – she recently wrote about bank robberies in Iowa, including a few by Bonnie and Clyde.

Since we’re on the topic of changes in ISU Special Collections, let’s talk for a moment about the role of the project archivists. I said earlier that we are helping make collections available to our user base – we use the term “processing” but a good deal goes into that ten-letter word. Similarly, the term “user” or “patron” is more complex than it seems, because Special Collections is open to the same people as the library is: everyone. If you’re reading this, you can come see us! Our users are frequently members of the Iowa State community – current students, staff, faculty, administration, and alumni – but our resources are available to all, and recent visitors have included middle-school students from other parts of Iowa, faculty of other institutions, and folks interested in the design of old Iowa State sports memorabilia. One size does not fit all when it comes to the work in our department, nor the output of this blog.

In a future post, I’ll go into more depth about what we archivists mean when we talk about processing. Our special collections and university archives contain plenty of mysteries, but we hope this space will be a forum for conversation and education about our efforts. As archivists, we know that not every question has a direct answer, but we work to provide access to as much information as possible. Check back next week for more about the whats, whys, and hows of archival work. In the meantime, if you have questions about our collections or projects, please let us know in the comments!

New Faces in Special Collections

There have been some new faces around the Special Collections and University Archives department on the fourth floor of Parks lately. In fact, we have been here for almost three months, so it’s downright rude that we have not stopped in at the ISU Special Collections blog to introduce ourselves. Time to remedy that! Earlier this year, having said goodbye to our Head, Tanya Zanish-Belcher, in February and anticipating the departure of Collections Archivist Michele Christian in August, the department hired three Project Archivists.

The first of us to arrive on scene at the University Library was Whitney Olthoff, who became a member of staff in late July. In fact, Whitney has been here before; she is a 2009 alumna with a degree in psychology. From here, she went on to library school at Indiana University in Bloomington, where she specialized in Archives and Records Management and both worked and interned at the Indiana University Archives. As a student worker, she processed several collections, including the Indiana University Association of Women Students Records and about half of former IU president John W. Ryan’s papers. She also gained experience working with photographs, encoding in TEI and EAD, and creating exhibits and displays. During the interim period between graduating from IU and returning to ISU, she moved back home to the majestic cornfields of Iowa, mastered her cover letter writing skills, and worked part-time as a library assistant at the Ericson Public Library in Boone. Whitney is happy to be back at her alma mater and to be working in her first real grown-up job.

Project Archivists

Our new project archivists, from left: Stephanie Bennett, Amy Bishop, and Whitney Olthoff

Second of the Project Archivists (the middle child, if you will) to arrive was Stephanie Bennett, fresh from Boston College’s John J. Burns Library. While at the Burns, Stephanie was part of a team that processed more than 400 feet of manuscript collections related to the city of Boston, including the papers of a professor and penologist, unfortunately known for a high-number of escaped prisoners under his watch; theater playbills from playhouses all around the world, dated 1850-2005; and the records of the New England Deaconess Hospital, one of many long-tenured medical establishments in the city. Prior to earning her graduate degree from Boston’s Simmons College, Stephanie lived in Washington, DC, and made a living as a research analyst for consulting companies. She hails from the coast of North Carolina, and in a Six Degrees of Separation move that would make Kevin Bacon jealous, has her undergraduate degree from Wake Forest University, where former Head of the Special Collections Department, Tanya Zanish-Belcher, now works.

Last on scene at the University Library, but certainly not least, was Amy Bishop, who joined the Special Collections team in late August.  Her move to Iowa was the latest in a series of determined attempts to remain in the frigid climes of the North while being paid for doing what she loves. After eighteen years in New Mexico, she made a bold move to reclaim her Midwestern roots by attending college in the frozen tundra of northern Wisconsin at Northland College. From there she moved on to Massachusetts where she landed her dream job in… accounts receivable. Well, that paid the bills, but Amy began volunteering at the Thoreau Institute Library at Walden Woods. That led her back to the Midwest, to Urbana-Champaign for graduate school in library science, specializing in special collections. As a graduate assistant at the University of Illinois’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library, she processed the Combat Paper Project Collection – a group of records and art pieces from an art therapy organization developed by and for combat veterans – as well as an addition to the Marcel Proust papers. Much to her surprise, she fell in love with the Illinois cornfields, and so Amy happily moved up the Corn Belt to work at ISU, where she daydreams of snow-covered fields.

In short, though we’ve taken many paths to arrive here, we three are all pleased to join a great team in the University’s Special Collections. You’ll be hearing from us regularly through this blog, as we write about our profession and the collections available at ISU. If something piques your interest, stop by the Special Collections reading room on the fourth floor of Parks Library to seek our help regarding Iowa State’s many interesting records and papers. See you here!