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!

Job Opening: Project Archivist

The Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library is currently searching for a 2-year term Project Archivist.  If you are interested, please visit for a complete description, qualifications and application instructions (Vacancy ID:  130256).

Below is a brief description of the position:

The Iowa State University Library is currently seeking applications for a Library Associate II position. This position will serve as a Project Archivist in the Special Collections Department. Responsibilities include appraising, arranging, rehousing, general preservation activities, and describing large 20th century archival collections. Collection management duties include establishing an overall organization for the collections; assuring efficient, effective, and appropriate processing based on archival policies and procedures; and creating finding aids that include historical notes, scope and content, and series descriptions. This position will work under the direction of the Collections Archivist.

The Project Archivist will work collaboratively with others in regards to the archival processing, preservation and digitization of records. This position will serve as backup on the departmental reference desk and may also supervise part-time student assistants.

The successful candidate will have the ability to work independently and collaboratively, creatively, and effectively as a part of a team; interact effectively with library staff; and communicate effectively (written and oral). The ability to perform physical activities associated with archival environments including lifting up to 40lbs will also be needed for success in this position.

To ensure consideration, please submit your application by April 21, 2013.

A Farewell to Tanya Zanish-Belcher!


On February 1, 2013, our Special Collections Department will be just a little different.  Not only will the office across from mine be empty, but our department will have said good-bye to our Head, Tanya Zanish-Belcher.  She will be moving on to Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina where she has accepted the position as Director of Special Collections & University Archivist.  She has worked here at Iowa State for over 17 years, led our department for over 14 years, and began in the Special Collections Department in 1995 as Curator for the Archives of Women in Science and Engineering (WISE).  She has been a supervisor, manager, leader, mentor, guide, role model, fellow archivist and colleague.  To say that she will be missed is a vast understatement.

Tanya has been such an integral member of the Special Collections Department for so many years that it is hard to quickly summarize what she does for the department.  As her resume states, she “Manages the Special Collections Department through the general administration, planning, evaluation, and implementation of program goals including reference services, collection development, digital project coordination, preservation, and technical processing; promotes archival issues and the Department’s activities and holdings to campus and outside constituencies; and selects and appraises organizational archives and personal manuscript collections in a variety of formats. Responsible for the Department’s grantsmanship and development efforts; overall supervision of the departmental faculty and paraprofessional staff; and participation in divisional and library management.”  In addition to  her duties as Head of the Special Collections Department, she has maintained her position as Curator of the Archives of Women in Science and Engineering and has continued to work with donors to bring in a variety of collections documenting both women’s organizations and individuals in this area.

Tanya has worked with numerous donors to bring in rare books and archival collections.  Shown above is the Robert R. Harvey Rare Book Open House.  Professor Emeritus Robert Harvey donated over ninety volumes of his amazing landscape architecture books.

Tanya has worked with numerous donors to bring in rare books and archival collections. Shown above is the Robert R. Harvey Rare Book Open House. Professor Emeritus Robert Harvey donated over ninety volumes of his amazing landscape architecture books.

Tanya has not only lead and managed the Special Collections Department, but she has not hesitated to do the day to day work such as handle reference requests, conduct tours (in fact, she is conducting one right now as I write this post!), and when we lost staff she quickly volunteered to be the one who stayed in the department over the lunch hour to pull a rare book or archival collection when everyone but the archivist at the reference desk was out to lunch.  Not only has she conducted her work here with enthusiasm, energy, and dedication but she has also been committed to local, regional and national professional groups.  She is a founder of the Consortium of Iowa Archivists (CIA), and has been involved in a variety of professional groups such as the Midwest Archives Conference (MAC) and the Society of American Archivists (SAA).  She is a Past President of MAC and was recently elected to the Council for the Society of American Archivists.  She is also an SAA Fellow.  In addition to her work with professional organizations, she has regularly given presentations to local and regional groups.

Tanya at the Association of Moving Image Archivists conference in 2000.

Tanya at the Association of Moving Image Archivists conference in 2000.

She has contributed much to the Special Collections Department, University Library, Iowa State University, and the State of Iowa.  Even though she may be leaving us for a new opportunity, she has pointed out repeatedly that she will only be a phone call or email away.  Her dedication to Iowa State will not completely disappear, but her steadfast leadership will be missed.  We wish her all the very best in her new endeavors!

Parks Library will be closed December 23 through January 2. This includes the Special Collections Department!

The photograph above is a winter image of the Iowa State campus in February of 1915.  Beardshear can be see in the distance. (University Photograph Collection, box 348)

The end of the semester is definitely here, and the crowds of students hard at work in the library are a daily reminder that those final weeks are upon us!  Winter break is coming soon.  Ames even received a light dusting of snow last night as reminder!

All physical library facilities, including our own Special Collections Department, will be closed from Friday, December 23rd, 2011 through Monday, January 2nd, 2012.  In an ongoing effort to reduce costs and conserve energy, the University Library will close its physical facilities (including the Parks Library, the Veterinary Medical Library, and the Design Reading Room) for these eleven consecutive days during winter break. For more information on this closing, please visit the library’s news announcement.

If you are curious about the energy savings from past years, please visit this University Library announcement detailing last year’s savings and the Preservation Department’s blog post from last year.

For your research here in the Special Collections Department before the end of the year, please visit us before December 23rd!  We are open 9-4, Monday through Friday.

Job Opening: Digital Repository Coordinator (University Library, Iowa State University)

The Iowa State University (ISU) Library invites applications and nominations for a new position, the Digital Repository Coordinator. This individual will oversee the creation and management of a campus-wide Digital Repository for ISU, to be administered by the University Library.  The Digital Repository will eventually include scholarly and creative works, research, publications, and reports contributed by faculty, students, staff, and administrative units, as well as special, thematic, and multi-media collections from the Library and the University Archives.  Platforms supporting the Digital Repository will include bepress and CONTENTdm.  This position reports to the Library’s Associate Dean for Research & Access.

The successful candidate will have demonstrable analytical, organizational, planning, and project management skills. Ability to work both independently and collaboratively in a rapidly changing environment. Excellent interpersonal and communication skills, both oral and written.  Ability to interact effectively with audiences of diverse technological backgrounds.

To ensure consideration, submit application by December 28, 2011.

To view the full job announcement and for application instructions, please visit the vacancy details here.

American Archives Month: Fun Tools For Discovering What Archives Are About!

Archives are exciting…just as much as this 1943 Cyclone football game appears to be!

October is American Archives Month!  What is American Archives Month?  It’s a month to celebrate  archives.  In addition, it is a month in which archivists around the country focus on raising awareness of archives and what archives have to offer.  If you are a regular follower of the Special Collections Department blog, you may have read past blog posts which has some basic information about our department.  When this school year first began, we had a post giving a general idea of what we have here.  For last year’s American Archives Month, we had a blog version of a tour of our department.

After reading the posts listed above and perusing our website and our catalog records available through the library’s search system, you may still have other questions about how to use an archive.  We hope to someday create our own tutorial for our department, but for now we’ll list for you below some fun creations others have made which might help you get a better idea of what archives, and archivists, are all about.

The Archives of American Art have put together a wonderful blog post called “Our Archivists’ Toolkit” in which staff members have written brief descriptions of their favorite tool to use in their daily work.  What a wonderful idea – we wish we had thought of it first!  Take a look and find out about the variety of devices archivists use when hard at work.

The Archives Society of Alberta has an interactive tutorial which allows you to take a tour of a generic archive.  The tour includes a research room, stacks area, processing room, preservation lab, and an archivist’s office (including the bookshelf)!

A view of our collections storage area, showing boxes of university archives collections.  Don’t worry – this is only a small portion of our archival collections!

Yale University’s Manuscripts and Archives have put together a very detailed online tutorial which helps researchers learn how to find primary resources and do research in an archive.  They have tried to make the tutorial helpful to researchers using other repositories.

Ever wonder how to handle rare materials, especially rare books?  The Folger Shakespeare Library has put together a wonderful video on YouTube giving you the details:


If you still have questions after checking out the resources highlighted above, please do not hesitate to visit us and ask!

When you come and visit, here’s the view of our Reading Room which you will see.  The Reading Room is where researchers look through our archival collections and rare books.

Thanks for following us during our first year!

A new year has begun!  Our departmental blog was started last year (the first post was February 17, to be exact).  Although not strictly a year in existence, I thought it would be fun to start off this new year off with some highlights from last year – including some not announced on this blog.

Posts with the most visits were:

1.  Images of Past ISU and Ames Floods

Hopefully this year we will see nothing even close to last year’s flood here in Ames!  However, I took advantage of being the only one to make it to the office that day by putting together a quick post on past floods.  As you can see, many visited this one!

1918 Flood: the Dinkey and floodwaters again

2. New Collection: Agricultural Machinery Product Literature

This is a wonderful collection of agricultural literature, and although I enjoyed writing most if not all blog posts – I think I had the most fun with this one!  We hope to have even more posts, although perhaps much shorter, on new incoming collections in the future.


Buckeye Mower and Reaper catalog, 1874

3.  Friley Hall images now on Flickr

One of our wonderful students helped describe and put these images up on Flickr, and her work has paid off!  We hope at some point to add more dorm images to Flickr.


A student in his Friley Hall dorm room working on homeworrk in 1964.

Other highlights from last year:

The Library’s new Digital Collections site (using CONTENTdm) was launched.  Many of the original collections on this site are housed here in our Special Collections Department.

During October’s Archives Month, I created a blog version of a tour of our department.  We are hoping to create a video version of the tour to put up on our website.

An image of our collections in storage seen on the "tour."

One of the many excellent donations this year was that given by Professor Emeritus Robert Harvey of ninety-two rare books to our Department.  Back in October we had an after hours open house which highlighted books from this donation and allowed visitors to speak with Professor Harvey and members of our staff, including Preservation.  Many of these books were related to his field of expertise, landscape architecture.  For more information on this donation, please see our Preservation Department’s post.

Several of the books on display at the Open House.

Although not announced yet on this blog, we received the exciting news later last year that the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust is funding $137,000 to support the design and construction of a Special Collections and Preservation classroom on the fourth floor of Parks Library.  Courses, seminars and workshops will be held in the classroom space.  The Trust is a philanthropic foundation in Iowa with assets of more than $250 million and annual grant distributions of over $11 million.  We have a number of classes which visit both our department and Preservation each semester, and we are looking forward to having a much larger and accessible space for presentations, tours, seminars, workshops and class projects with our collections.

Happy New Year to all!  We are looking forward to 2011, and hope you are as well.  Thanks for your readership and support!

For American Archives Month: An Online Tour of Special Collections!

October is American Archives Month, which is an opportunity for archives to raise awareness about archives, showcase their holdings, and, basically, let people know what we as archivists do.  We give tours of our department throughout the year to classes and other groups, in part because our collections, unlike those of most libraries, are stored in closed stacks which are are normally not accessible by the public.  As a part of this year’s Archives Month, this post will include a brief explanation of what a Special Collections and University Archives is all about and a blog version of the Special Collections tour .

To start, what exactly is an archives or, for that matter, a Special Collections?  A Special Collections, often within a library such as Parks Library here at ISU, contains rare and unique materials including rare books, publications, artifacts, films, and a variety of primary source materials.  Primary materials can include diaries, correspondence, scrapbooks, and photographs.  Pictured to the left are photographs from the International Conference and Workshops on Iceberg Utilization for Fresh Water Production, Weather Modification, and Other Applications Records (RS 0-4-4).  A small selection of our photographs can be found on Flickr.

Botany class with Professor Pammel

The difference between archives and manuscript collections can sometimes be a bit confusing, but the difference is not really necessary to know to get what you need here at Special Collections.  Archives and manuscript collections are materials created and/or collected by a person or organization.  For example, our University Archives contains the records of Iowa State University including faculty, students, alumni, and administrative offices which contain historical, administrative, legal, or fiscal value.  An example of one of our University Archives collections are the Louis Hermann Pammel Papers.  Pammel was a Professor of Botany here at ISU, and instrumental in the creation of Iowa’s state park system.  Our manuscript collections are papers and records of people and organizations not necessarily associated with Iowa State but often related to the areas of agriculture, science and technology.  An example of one of our manuscript collections would be the National Family Farm Coalition Records.  To learn more about our mission and collecting areas, please visit our website.

If you love definitions of archives related words, or, as is more likely, come across a word we archivists use which is unfamiliar, please visit the wonderful Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology by Richard Pearce-Moses.

You probably noticed above that there are links to the finding aids of the Louis Hermann Pammel Papers and the National Family Farm Coalition Records.  A finding aid is a structured description of a collection, and goes more in-depth than the catalog record you would find in the Library Catalog (a link to the catalog can be found on the library’s home page).  Our finding aids generally contain a descriptive and administrative summary, historical or biographical note, collection description, and folder listing.

One important item to note in the administrative information found at the front of a finding aid is the extent, which will tell you how large a collection is (both the number of boxes and total linear feet of boxes).  We primarily use three different sizes of boxes for the records (in addition to the oversize boxes, which are flat boxes in an assortment of sizes):  records center, document and half document.  Pictured above are the smaller of the two, the document boxes.  Each document box is 0.42 feet in length.  And just in case you were wondering, the half document boxes are half the size of the document box, or 0.21 linear feet.

The records center box is the larger box, and is about one foot wide by 1.3 feet long.

The collections in our university archives and manuscript collections are housed in acid-free folders and boxes, pictured above.  When getting a collection ready for public use, often referred to as “processing,” archivists will rehouse, arrange, and describe the collection for storage and use by patrons.  The folders contain the collection number (more or less equivalent to a book’s call number) and title at the upper left hand side.  The folder title is in the middle, and the dates of the records housed within the folder are at the right hand side, along with the box and folder number.

And now for the online tour of Iowa State University’s Special Collections and University Archives Department:

When you walk into our reading room, which is the area visitors will use to look at our rare books and collections, you will see our front desk and a friendly archivist ready to assist visitors.  Once you have let us know what you need, we will have you fill out a registration form and put your coat and bags in our closet.

The material you request, whether it is a rare book or collection, will be pulled from the back and you will choose one of our desks in the reading room to do your research.  No food or drink is allowed in the reading room, since many of the items are rare and unique and therefore hard to replace.  In addition, pencils (not pens – which can leave a permanent mark!) need to be used.  Pencils are provided at each of the desks.

Most of our books, and all of our collections, are stored in the closed stacks which are not open to the public (unless you are on a tour led by one of our staff members).  However, duplicates of some of our frequently used books about Iowa State are available in the reading room.  These include directories, catalogs, the Bomb (Iowa State’s yearbook, published from 1894-1994), and books on the history of Iowa State including A Sesquicentennial History of Iowa State: Tradition and Transformation, The History of Iowa State College by Earle Dudley Ross, and VEISHEA the first sixty years.  A public computer is also available for use.

The reading room also contains small exhibits featuring ISU history and our collections.  Our current exhibit is about ISU football:  “Ev’ry Yard for ISU: Cyclone Football Through the Years.” To learn about our future exhibits, please visit our website.

The area beyond the reading room includes our processing area.  Pictured here is the author of this post processing a collection.

The collections are housed in a separately climate controlled area, with lower temperatures and relative humidity than the rest of the library.  This is to better preserve the collections.  Pictured above are the shelves you would first see when entering the collections area.  These are just a portion of our new collections and additions to collections we already hold.  When new materials come in, we generally re-box them and put them on these shelves, awaiting a time when we can process the collection.

Our rare book collection contains over 50,000 volumes and includes (but not necessarily limited to!) books related to Iowa State University, agriculture, science, technology, Iowa, landscape architecture and the natural sciences (including entomology, botany, and ornithology.)

The rare books include theses and dissertations by Iowa State graduate students, shown above.  As you can see, there are quite a few – and these are not all!

And above is one row of our collections.  We have approximately 15,000 linear feet of university archives and manuscript collections.

Above is our university photograph collection.  Some university photographs can be found within the collections (if this is the case, it is noted in the finding aid within the folder title), but many are separated into this collection for various reasons.  Photographs include students, staff, faculty, alumni, university grounds and buildings, university departments, and other images related to university sites and activities.

In addition to books and historical records, we also have audio and visual materials including over 10,000 films in our film collection, the majority of which were produced by, or are about, ISU.  These films focus on the activities of Iowa State faculty, staff, students, and alumni. They cover the topics of agriculture, science, technology, home economics, and campus events.  A selection of these films can be found on our YouTube channel.  Some of our audio materials, including oral histories, can be found on the university’s iTunesU under Parks Library.

The department also collects a variety of artifacts. Currently, there are about 2,500 items in the artifact collection dating from 1849 to the present. Examples of these objects include the death mask of Margaret Stanton (preceptress and wife of Edgar Stanton, class of 1872), a letter sweater, freshman beanies, the National Medal of Technology given to John Vincent Atanasoff, and numerous buttons and pins from various campus organizations and events.

Although we’re in a separate area up here on the 4th floor of Parks Library, we often work with other areas of the library, including the Preservation Department.  The preservation of our materials is very important, and a recent blog post by our preservation department discusses American Archives Month and the department’s importance to our mission.

And thus ends the online tour of Special Collections.  Please visit our website to learn more!