Reopening August 17th!

We are excited to announce the reopening of our Reading Room on August 17th. We are committed to providing a quality learning and research experience for the Iowa State community and also our off-campus and off-site researchers.

In order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, we have revised some of our policies and rearranged our furniture to protect both our researchers, staff, and our collections.

  • We will be open by appointment only between 10 AM – 12 PM and 1 PM – 3 PM, Monday through Thursday.
  • We are requiring 24-hour notice for appointment requests.
  • Allow 3 business days for us to bring materials from off-site storage to the Reading Room.
  • Occupancy of Reading Room reduced to one researcher per table.
  • We will be following ISU policy regarding use of masks and social distancing.
  • Collection materials will be briefly quarantined after use.
  • We will be open for instruction sessions, though depending on class size, we may opt for remote sessions or hybrid of remote and in-person visits.

It is likely there will be additional updates, but we wanted to share these new policies now so that people can begin planning for their class visits and research.

Here is more information on Fall Semester start for Iowa State University:

Please email us at for any questions or concerns you may have regarding our reopening.



Announcing COVID-19 Stories Project

What began in March as an activity for library student employees to record their experiences with COVID-19 has expanded into a project with a much broader scope. Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) is inviting not only the ISU community, but also folks throughout Iowa and the Midwest, to participate in COVID-19 Stories, a group of projects that ask people to record their experiences with the pandemic on specific topic areas:

  • ISU Stories: Open to the entire ISU community, this project seeks to record how faculty, students, staff, alumni, and others are responding to and dealing with the effects of COVID-19.
  • Agriculture, Food, and Rural Stories: Open to the broader community, these projects focus on the effects of COVID-19 on rural and small-town life, people’s relations to agriculture and local food systems, and cooking during the pandemic.
  • Chronicling Race and Ethnicity During COVID-19: Open to the broader community, this project seeks to record the experiences of communities of color that have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, and/or have experienced harassment and stigmatization.

Stories can take a many forms, such a journal, notes, essays, photographs, or creative works. They can be submitted digitally or physically. If you need inspiration for what to record, prompts are given on the website.

Black and white photo of a large gym acting as a hospital ward. Beds with patients fill the entire space in six rows. Cloth barriers are set up between each bed. Nurses and men in uniform wearing masks across their nose and mouth stand throughout the room.

State Gym converted into a hospital ward during the 1918 influenza pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a significant historic moment. Just as today historians look back to see how the University responded to the 1918 flu pandemic, so researchers in the future will want to know how students, faculty, and staff, as well as alumni, are handling the challenges of this historical moment. ISU Stories helps to add these current narratives to the University Archives.

Text reads: Serving Our Community. East Poweshiek Ambulance Service. Community Cookbook, Brooklyn, Iowa. Call 911 for Emergency. Images include a bald eagle in front of an American flag, a 9-1-1 graphic, a caduceus symbol, a red cross, and an ambulance.

Cover of the East Poweshiek Ambulance Service community cookbook. Call number TX715.2 M53 E27x 2002.

The Agriculture, Food, and Rural Stories project includes three components, and participants can engage with one or more of these:  Rural and Small-Town Life, Gardening and Local Food Systems, and Cooking During COVID-19. These aspects of the project correspond to the some of the existing strengths in the Agriculture and Rural Life area of Special Collections. The cooking component also ties in with the Iowa Cookbook Collection, which gathers together community cookbooks from around Iowa. We know many people are doing “quarantine baking,” trying new recipes or sticking to old favorites, and adapting recipes when staples are not available on grocery store shelves. We hope that many of you will capture your experiences in these areas and donate to the COVID-19 Stories project.

Across the country, communities of color have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, as Black, Latinx, Asian, and American Indian individuals make up a significantly higher proportion of confirmed cases of and deaths from COVID-19 compared to their percentage of the population. Additionally, Asian Americans have experienced harassment and xenophobia in relation to the pandemic. Here in Iowa, a high percentage of the Latinx community has been exposed to the virus as the result of negligent labor practices in meatpacking and meat processing plants throughout the state. The inclusion of these stories in archives is  critical to keeping an accurate historical record of this period. Historically, and still today, institutional archives such as this one have routinely failed to adequately include the perspectives of people from a range of marginalized groups. The Chronicling Race and Ethnicity During COVID-19 project is a step towards rectifying this. If you are a person of color living in Iowa or the Midwest, we welcome your stories of your experiences during COVID-19. If your stories include sensitive content, we are more than happy to work with you to determine an appropriate amount of time to keep your story restricted (not available or advertised to the public) until it is safe to release it. We also welcome feedback and suggestions for ways to make this project more inclusive and welcoming.

For more information, please check out the COVID-19 Stories webpage. Please send any questions or comments to

CEAH partnership

As part of our #COVID-19 Stories Project we’re happy to announce a partnership with the Center for Excellence in the Arts & Humanities (CEAH) to archive faculty responses to the pandemic. CEAH is offering mini grants of up to $250 to faculty to create a local record of their experiences during these trying times. We will work with Digital Initiatives to preserve and provide access to these narratives in the ISU Digital Repository. Read more on the CEAH funding site.

For more info about our COVID-19 Stories Project visit:

Out of the Office but Still on the Job

Daniel Hartwig, Head of SCUA

These are challenging times for us all. They require us to revisit our priorities, rethink how we do things, and envision new possibilities. We in SCUA would therefore like to provide an update on how we are meeting the teaching and research needs at ISU and beyond in our remote environment. First and foremost, we continue to provide reference and research assistance, as well as support for courses and student projects. Part of that support includes select digitization of collection materials. Thanks to our capable staff, as well as staff in Preservation, we are proceeding with remote digitization projects in support of high priority reference, teaching, and research requests. Included amongst these digitization projects are ISU lectures, publications, and theses, as well as oral histories and photographs.

Second, we are utilizing this opportunity to greatly enhance the accessibility of our collections through crowdsourced transcription, translation, OCR clean-up, and audiovisual captioning. ISU students are engaged in transcribing The Bomb—ISU’s yearbook (1893-1994), as well as captioning oral histories and sharing their stories about the COVID-19 crisis. Library staff are helping us transcribe, translate, and clean up OCR for more than forty SCUA collections via From The Page. Initial collections we have made available include: Iowa seed Catalogs, Curtiss-Wright Engineering Cadettes, We are ISU—Snapshots of Student Life, and Iowa State Parks. Once, these collections are completed, we’ll roll out the next batch for user contributions. Staff are also helping us caption oral histories and audiovisual recordings for use in Aviary, a platform for syncing audio and text.

Third, to document these historic times, we are engaging the ISU community in a collaborative project to share their experiences as part of ISU COVID-19 Stories Project. Every member of the ISU family is encouraged to share their story through written accounts, audio or video recordings, photographs, artwork, and/or oral histories. Visit the site for more information, to submit content, or sign up to be interviewed for an oral history.

We thank you for your patience and welcome your thoughts and ideas to help us all work together better during this crisis and in the future.

Matt Schuler, Stacks Manager

I have been working on opening up a range in the Library Storage Building (LSB) by removing the beat-up overstock Bomb yearbooks.  Also, have been working through and proofing the Lectures Committee collection, which has so many errors, I can’t even describe them all.  I also had a sizeable stack of materials to file into LSB collections, along with a couple boxes of “to-be-filed” things already in our processing room.

Olivia Garrison, Reference Coordinator

I have been getting more reference questions than I was expecting, and I’m very grateful for that! I love being able to help people find useful information.  Of course, there are struggles and frustrations that come with trying to do this in a remote environment, but we’re actively trying to get more items digitized so we can be as helpful as possible for our patrons!  Please feel free to keep sending your questions to We may not be able to answer your question right away, but I’m keeping track for when we’re back in our department with our beloved materials.

Rachael Acheson, Assistant University Archivist

I have been attempting to pivot on a few projects that may or may not end up in the form for which they were originally conceived. I had been looking forward to presenting on my first panel at the Midwest Archives Conference Annual Meeting, slated for May in Des Moines. But this, like many other professional conferences this summer, was cancelled, so my group is looking at a few alternative routes for sharing the presentations. Similarly, I have been working with Amy Bishop to develop both concepts and contingent alternative avenues for sharing SCUA’s Fall 2020 exhibit. I have also been helping out with the departmental project on collecting campus community COVID-19 experiences, communicating with current and potential student donors, participating in the newly-online version of our DEI committee’s annual book club (reading and writing short essays on How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi), developing outreach programs for next school year, and organizing some back-end clean-up for our web archiving system, Archive-It.

Laptop and tablet in background, grey cat sleeping on laptop.

Image courtesy of Rachael Acheson.

Rosalie Gartner, Lead Processing Archivist

Like the rest of the department, I started working from home full time on March 18. Thankfully, a lot of my job can be done remotely, so even though I won’t be able to do as much as usual I’m still working to make as many of our collections accessible as possible.

I’ve been working to update our existing processing procedures, as well as continuing work on developing our digital processing procedures. I’ve also been working with my colleagues to make as much of our digital records available as possible, which is something we can all do from home. We’re also taking this time to update and improve our descriptions, which is something that often gets overlooked.

Work continues on with the same basic goals, the view from the office is just a little different these days.

Little black dog on green lawn, trees in background, bringing back stick.

Image courtesy of Rosalie Gartner.

Amy Bishop, Rare Books and Manuscripts Archivist

I am the Rare Books and Manuscripts Archivist. What does this mean? One, my job involves bringing in collections materials, interpreting them, and managing their care. Two, the collections I work with document entities other than the university. In spite of working with largely physical collections that I cannot access right now, there is a lot of work that I can do from home!

Amy at her home office. It is nice to have windows for daydreaming breaks. Image courtesy of Amy Bishop.

Given the historical nature of the current COVID-19 crisis, I’ve been putting together a documentation project to capture how the crisis is affecting the communities relevant to our collecting areas—rural areas and small towns, agriculture and food systems, and cooking during quarantine. Look for more information about this in a future blog post from me. Besides that, there are plenty of back burner projects that have suddenly come into their own. Here are a few examples: Finalizing metadata guidelines for websites captured in our Web Archives; reviewing finding aids for recently processed archival collections; reviewing existing collections to identify which organizational donors I should follow up with for additional donations of material. All that to say that, although I am at home, I’m still working to be sure that we are continuing to document and provide access to collections that are of interest to researchers!

Color coded columns representing steps in workflow.

Kanban board for finding aid review workflow. Red arrow indicates Amy’s ever-growing list of finding aids to review. Image courtesy of Amy Bishop.

Carson, Processing Archivist

Moving out of the office and into my living room has certainly been an adjustment—unfortunately, I don’t have any amusing or adorable new “coworkers” to talk about, but I do have a succulent slowly growing toward the plant light.


What does processing look like when you’re working remotely? Well, some of it looks like this.


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The collaborative parts of my job haven’t stopped, they’ve just moved: being on a call with a colleague while we both edit a document, for instance, or discussing how to link digital records to physical collections in the finding aids. Connectivity is more important (and network sketchiness more of a hassle) than ever while we’re geographically dispersed, and being away from the stacks and collections is certainly focusing my attention on our digital resources.

Greg Bailey, University Archivist

Since starting to work from home on March 17th , I have been engaged in a few projects. I am working with colleagues to clean up our internal electronic files as we are migrating to a new system. I have been surveying University Archives collections to identify areas that need expansion. Finally, I am overseeing the “Tell Your Story” project that documents Library student workers experiences during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Kahlee Leingang, Processing Archivist

As a processing archivist, a large portion of my job depends on access to physical collections. Since that is not possible at the moment, I have been writing the description for finding aids and editing old finding aids. To increase the accessibility of collections, I am working on adding digital records to finding aids so that researchers are able to access a small portion of our materials remotely. I have also been working with Carson and Rosalie to write documentation and procedures for accepting and processing born-digital records.

Rachel Seale, Outreach Archivist

I have a lot of variety in my work and it was hard to focus at first. Now that we are about 7 weeks in on working from home, I have figured out I just need to schedule out my day in 2 hour chunks between meetings. This allows me to concentrate on my to do list instead of hopping around it and feeling like I’m not getting anything done. I have been attending a lot of webinars, group meetings, and online presentations. Many of these have been hosted by groups, such as Society of American Archivists or the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries, a division of the American Library Association, and are centered around how to teach about primary sources online or  how to continue to serve our community and researchers while we are separated from our collections. It is helpful to see how our colleagues around the world are dealing with this crisis and it gives me ideas on how to provide instruction and programming related to our collections.

I have also been editing an ebook that should be out in the library’s digital press next month — Cardinal Tales: Highlights from 2018.  It’s a compilation of blog posts from SCUA’s blog in 2018 that best demonstrate the work we were doing that year. I’ve been reviewing current research guides created by our department and putting together new content that will reflect how SCUA can assist with instruction and research online. Most of our research assistance and instruction has been in person but we are refocusing how we can best serve our community during this pandemic.

My home office is a mess, but it works. I have taken over my coffee table and take different seats around my living room depending on how I feel that day and what I’m working on.


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The constants in my day are my demanding pets who refuse to practice social distancing and want to join in on my video chats. They do remind me when I need to get up and move and I appreciate that. I have also added plants to my space. Now that I’m home so much, I could see that my apartment really needed plants. And more art on the walls. And a map of the world. But — plants first.

ISU Stories – Kaelyn Swetala

I feel like the coronavirus was on my radar earlier than most people, at least in the US. I knew people who had been in Wuhan, China over the summer and I, personally, had gone to Vietnam during that time. I made friends there and I had seen some of their experiences before it occurred here in America. When I first heard about it, though, I was confused. My parents own a dog daycare and they have required shots that dogs need to have before coming in. One of them is for a version of the coronavirus, also known as kennel cough.

I can remember a phone call with my parents around the beginning of January. They mentioned the coronavirus and said they weren’t sure why, but they were more concerned about this disease than others they’ve heard on the news in the past. They weren’t necessarily worried, they were just more aware of it. I am a part of an organization called International Friendship Connection, so after this call, I talked to my friends in this group. There are a few people from China in that group and others from different Asian countries. I talked with them over the course of January and February about their families at home and how they’ve been affected. Most of their families have been safe, even up until now, so that has been good news.

I was also planning on going to China this summer for a research internship. That was the first thing to get canceled. This happened before the coronavirus really hit America. I was already missing out on experiences before people here really understood what was going on.

Then it came to America. It had seemed like we were going to be fine for a little bit and then all of a sudden we were not. I kept hearing about more and more cases in the US. Suddenly it was all anyone ever talked about. I got really tired of talking about it. I still hadn’t known anyone personally affected by the disease and I had seen a lot of different information on the low death rates. Even though I knew there was a high infection rate because of the incubation period, I thought the reaction was a little over the top. I didn’t understand the point of flattening the curve at first, but I soon learned its importance.

When I first heard the news of schools being cancelled, I was in disbelief. I wasn’t aware at the time that my Vietnamese friends had already had their schools cancelled for a month at that point. I thought it was crazy that our university would go online for two weeks. It blew my mind that other schools were already doing that for the rest of the semester. As I thought about it more, I realized it would probably happen with our school too.

I think it finally hit me when my spring break trip was cancelled. I was going on a roadtrip to CA with people who had been living in Ames (there were no confirmed cases in Ames at that point) and we would be camping outdoors for the trip. That was such a low-risk trip compared to how spring break could be. But it was through the school, and they made their decision. They really

held out on giving us that verdict, though. I didn’t find out until 2 days before it was cancelled. That’s when I started realizing how serious it might be. I decided to go to Indiana with some friends just to do something rather than nothing for the break. Every day on that trip, I was learning about more closures and developments. We even had tocome home early because we heard Illinois might be closing its borders.

I made the decision to bring my plants home from my college apartment when I went back to Minnesota for the rest of spring break. I also brought all of my clothes home and my more important items. I’m glad I did becauselater I found out school would be online for the rest of the semester. I haven’t been back to Ames since spring break. I still have a lot of things I left behind and will need to get at some point.

The things I miss the most are the clubs I’m a part of. I am very involved in campus life and it’s been hard not being able to do them, especially because I’ve been doing most of them since Freshman year. I choreographed a dance for Orchesis II and the show got cancelled. I can redo it next semester, but all of my dancers were graduating seniors except for 2. It won’t be the same. I have continued to keep contact with people on Zoom calls, but that’s still not the same.

Now, I’m finally adjusting to working at my parent’s home. I tend to have the “it’s just a break” attitude because I’m only ever home when I’m on a break. Classes haven’t been too terrible online, but it’s hard to concentrate when you have a dog jumping on your laptop and your family is having fun while you need to work.

It’s also hard to do labs. The best part of labs are putting theories into practice and now all I do is watch videos of it and do technical report write-ups. I chose mechanical engineering because it was more hands-on, so this has been a bit of a letdown. My professors and TAs are doing the best they can, however, and I am grateful for the chance to complete them this semester. I already am graduating a semester later due to a co-op. It would be such a bummer to have to push it back even farther. I never thought I would say this, but I am glad that I didn’t graduate this semester. I would’ve missed out on a lot of last moments as a college student and I wouldn’t be able to walk for my graduation ceremony.

ISU COVID-19 Stories Project

We are pleased to launch the ISU COVID-19 Stories Project to  document and preserve the ISU communities’ experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic.  ISU students, faculty, staff, and community members are invited to share their experiences and thoughts during this unprecedented time. All stories are welcome.  The Archives will gather these materials and create a digital collection, as a contribution to the historical documentation of these events. 

For more information visit our website, which includes instructions, links for uploading stories or linking independent projects, and a sign up for oral history interviews. Questions can be sent to

See also our Tell Your Story Project to see how Library student workers are responding to the pandemic.

ISU Zoom/desktop backgrounds

We’re happy to share several historic images with the ISU community for use as backdrops for remote meetings and/or desktop images. Here’s a link to instructions for swapping background images in Zoom and WebEx.

4H: We’re from Iowa, 1924
Iowa State College banner
Curtis-Wright engineering cadets, circa 1942
Beardsheer Hall
Iowa vs. Iowa State football
Cy vs. Herky
Jack Trice and teammates, 1923
Mechanical Engineering, circa 1905
Lake Laverne
Marston Water Tower under construction, 1896

Learning with Primary Sources: April Edition

Welcome everyone! This is my second post in our Learning with Primary Sources series. This series focuses on teaching primary source literacy and includes primary sources available online. I will include digitized materials from our collections and collections available from other institutions.

What are primary sources?

Primary sources are first hand accounts of events. They come in a variety of formats including, but not limited to, photographs, meeting minutes, correspondence, newspaper articles, diaries, social media posts, autobiographies, oral histories, and news clips. They do not have to be historic events —documenting one’s every day life provides evidence of how we live now to future generations. Think of how much life has changed from when you were a kid to now, much less the lives of older generations.

Why should primary sources be included in the curriculum?

Using primary source materials

  • improves critical thinking and research skills,
  • engages students by making historical events more personal which helps them view history as a sequence of human events instead of distant historical events, and
  • encourages students to use evidence for their research.

ISU Lecture Series

The ISU Lecture Series is a collection that includes political debates, academic forums, and cultural events. It includes performances — music, art, dance, and film. These lectures are from the Iowa State Lecture Series that continues today.


Have students listen to a lecture. Ask them to note names, terms, phrases, and any other language they are not familiar with. Have group discussion with students discussing lecture.

*If you do not have the means to facilitate online discussions, you can use the questions for students to submit writing prompts.*

  • What was it about?
  • What did they learn?
  • Any questions?

Then let students google names and any other terminology they had noted that they were not familiar with. Then you can have another discussion on having contextual information affects their understanding of the lecture.

  • How does the additional information affect their initial conclusions?
  • What other questions are raised with this more complete picture?
  • How does this topic relate to what is happening in the world today?
  • What would be lost if this lecture had not been recorded?

If conversation is lagging, brainstorm words that describe the lecture and topic of the lecture. Use these words to brainstorm possible research topics. Or, you can use those words to connect to current events and discuss those current events.

The Equal Rights Amendment

This is a set of primary sources that have been digitized and are hosted by the Digital Public Library of America. They come from a variety of institutions. There are tips for each resource on what students should focus on. A teacher’s guide and links to additional resources are also included.


This is a resource that includes digitized historical documents from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). This site also has document analysis tools and interactive activities for teachers to use with their students. I have just started to experiment using this site but I can tell you there is a lot of material that has been scanned. American history will be the emphasis here because the NARA preserves the historical records of the U.S. government. An account is not required in order to access the historical documents, analysis tools, and activities that have already been created by the educators from NARA. However, you must create an account to create your own activities. It is free to create an account and very little personal information is collected.


Iowa State University Library Special Collections and University Archives Audiovisual Collections

Digital Public Library: Primary Source Sets

DocsTeach: the online tool for teaching with documents, from the National Archives


Aeon Introduction

Hello everyone!

We’ve got an exciting change coming! This summer we will launch Aeon, a special collections and archives circulation system.

What does this mean for you? After you create an Aeon account, you will be able to make reading room and reproduction requests directly from our finding aids and the library’s catalog. You will also be able to access your request history–no more keeping track of your pink call slips! You can also save searches for the future while getting ready to do your research.

Aeon is a great tool for us to be able to collect anonymous data to know which collections might be good candidates for digitization, exhibits, even for use in classrooms.

Keep checking Cardinal Tales in the coming months for more updates, instructions, and neat features.

New Library Guide for Oral Histories Available

We are pleased to announce the availability of a new library guide for oral histories in Special Collections & University Archives. Organized by subject, the guide lists more than 50 collections, including oral histories pertaining to agriculture, the arts, community & culture, diversity, government, ISU history, and science & technology.

Coach Harold Nichols, Ben Peterson, Chris Taylor (far right) at WOI-TV, 1972