The Dark Plate of Dombey and Son

Dickens sitting in a rocking chair with a phantasmagoria of images unspooling out of his head, all his characters he created
Buss, Robert William; Dickens’s Dream; Charles Dickens Museum, London;

Illustrations! When did books lose their way and stop putting them in?

At one point in Victorian literature, they were MORE IMPORTANT than the story! Yes, stop rolling your eyes. You see, at first Dickens’ phenomenon-starting The Pickwick Papers, was intended as window dressing for illustrator Robert Seymour’s drawings. However, floored by Dickens’ incredible imagination and energy, Seymour found the story dominated the drawings. Unable to keep pace and already in a bad mental state, Seymour committed suicide after several chapters had been published.

Still, illustrations remained key to Dickens’ stories for the rest of his career. Soon afterward, “Boz” (Dickens’ pen name) hired Hablot K. Browne (“Phiz”), who illustrated his books for the next 24 years. The popular images of many of Dickens’ characters: Scrooge, Uriah Heep, Wackford Squeers, and more come from Phiz’s faithful drawings.

And what great art! Let’s look at a special one.

Enter Dombey and Son, Dickens’ career hinge-point novel.

“On the Dark Road” by Phiz, relating a night scene of the novel uniquely featured a pre-tinted plate out of which the scene was drawn, one of the earliest examples of this method.

Dark grayscale drawing of a carriage with horses feeling down a dark road
“On the Dark Road” by Phiz


When you look at one so dark and exhilarating, don’t you want them back?

Come see “the Dark Plate” for yourself up in Special Collections and University Archives!

A Grand Tour Around the SCUA Reading Room

General view of the SCUA Reading Room with green chairs and tables, bookshelves and a bright window vies.
The SCUA Reading Room

Hello! Welcome to a tour of the SCUA Reading Room on the 4th floor of Parks! You’ve just stepped foot into maybe the most peaceful room of Iowa State’s library. Isn’t the bright full daylight coming in from the big windows nice?

Glass constructed front desk of the SCUA Reading Room. Has a little red Cy mascot plush!
The Reading Room Front Desk

First stop is the front desk! Here you’ll meet one of our friendly archivists to help you with any materials you want to look at. While you get your materials, you can put your spine-killing backpack in the lockers and take a seat in the comfy table chairs.

Now here’s a secret. . .

When you sit dow in SCUA, you don’t just get to look at awesome old manuscripts and rare books. . .up here is the best view in Parks Library! Right now in the beautiful last of winter, it’s a peaceful spot to look at the 23 CyRide clocking by, the Campanile in the distance, and students walking to class.

Downward view outside the SCUA Reading Room window. Students walking to class on a snowy day with Cyride driving past.
One of the views from the SCUA Reading Room

What better feeling than delicate old paper in your fingers and beautiful Iowa State view? Take a few minutes up here for the best part of your day.

View of the Hub as well as the Campanile n the distance on a snowy day with a pale blue sky and bare trees.
View from the SCUA Reading Room

#TBT Studying in the Library

University Photos, box 389

The photo wasn’t dated, but I would guess this was taken in the 1950s.  Dead Week is the perfect time to share a photo of students studying in the Library Rotunda in front of our Grant Wood murals.

During Dead Week in 2018, the Rotunda is more suited for a relaxing break than studying since we will have some four-legged friends visiting for Barks @ Parks.

Study hard and good luck with finals next week!

History of the Library, Pt. 4

This is the fourth and final post in our series on the history of the library at Iowa State University.  Need to catch up? Read our first, second, and third posts.

We left off last time after the second library addition in 1969.  Thus far the story of the library has been about expansion, and this post is no different.  Continuing with the trend, the library was acquiring materials rapidly to help meet the expanding student population and growth in programs at ISU.  In 1967, the library had 680,027 bound volumes.  About a decade later, that number had nearly doubled to 1,180,951 volumes.  This does not include the other collection items such as serial titles, microfilm, and maps.

Between the 2nd and 3rd addition, the library also established the Special Collections Department and the Media/Microforms Center.  The library collections were growing, straining the space in the existing library.  Additionally, with a continuously growing student population, reading and study space in the library was also quite limited.  Thus, the library needed to expand again.

The third expansion of the library was completed and opened on August 15, 1983, and largely transformed the library into what it looks like today.  The addition took place in two stages: first was the addition and second was renovating the existing building.  For example, the Periodical Room was restored while retaining its 1920s design.  Overall, the third addition added a little over 70,000 square feet of usable space.*

One major change that came about with the third addition that anyone who has seen Parks Library will recognize is the glass front of the library.

Library 3rd Addition, University photos, box 259

You may be wondering why the library is known as the Parks library.  The University President at the time of the second and third expansions was W. Robert Parks.  He and his wife (Ellen Sorge Parks) were big supporters of the library and believed a strong library was essential to a strong university.  President Parks was instrumental in securing funding for the expansion and renovation of the library.  In order to honor his and his wife’s efforts, the library was dedicated as the Parks Library in a ceremony on June 8, 1984.  A portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Parks hangs in the library; you can see it on the first floor on your way to Bookends Cafe.

Library staff putting up the Parks’ portrait in 2000, University photos, box 2043

Of course, these history of the library posts have focused on changes to the building, but a whole other set of posts could be devoted to changes in staffing, automation, and countless other changes and improvements the library has had over the years.  If you are interested in exploring more, please visit the reading room!

*Post written with the help of “A Short History of the Iowa State University Library 1858-2007” by Kevin D. Hill.



History of the Library, Pt. 2

This is the second in a series of posts about the history of the library at Iowa State.

When we left off in 1914, the library was in Beardshear Hall, and the collection was bursting at the seams.  As early as 1911, money was allocated by the legislature to build a library building.  However, the process was slow-going, especially when it was discovered that in order to build a building of adequate size, much more funding would be needed.

Finally in 1923, construction on the new library building was started, and the first cornerstone was laid on October 11.  Construction was complete in 1925, though not all books were moved until early 1926.  One of the major benefits of the new library was that the materials were consolidated into one space instead of being spread out between Central (Beardshear), Agriculture Hall, Chemistry Building, Engineering Hall, and the Veterinary Building.

Southeast view of the library, 1925, University Photograph box 313

The building had space to store 200,000 books.  At the time of opening, the library had “about 160,000 carefully selected volumes” (Catalogue, 1927-1928).

The library hours during regular sessions were:

Monday-Friday 7:50 am-6pm and 7-9:30pm
Saturday: 7:50am-2 and 1-6pm
Sunday: 2-5pm (no procrastinating until Sunday night!)

South end of Periodical Room, 1927 University Photographs box 146

Periodical Room (Main Reading Room), 1925, University Photographs box 170

In 1925/6, the library offered 4 courses; classes in library usage specifically for agriculture, home economics, and industrial science students, and a course in bibliographic research.    A 5th course in library methods had been added by the next year.  The dean of the library was Charles Harvey Brown. Brown served as dean of the library from 1922-1946.  In 1927, the library had 10 staff members and 12 assistants listed in the catalogue (compared to today’s 143 staff between librarians, support staff, and students).

The Alumnus had a rather interesting take on the new library building in their November 1924 issue:

“Officials say that the library will be ready for occupancy some time in January.  Some time early in the year, six libraries will be consolidated into one, and the amorous youth will no longer wend his away to Central, but to the new white structure beyond it, there to seek out his fair bibliophile and divert her affections to something more substantial than books.” (RS 4/8/4, box 12)

Sounds like the library staff had their hands full!

1925 Library Staff
Library Staff 1925, University Photographs box 2040

From 1925 to the present the library has been in the same location but has grown.  Join us for the next installments to see how the library has expanded in the last (nearly) century!

At the Library #TBT

It’s Finals Week, and the library has been an especially busy place. Today, students can be found looking up resources on their (or the library’s) computers, but 50 years ago their searches looked more like this:

Students using the card catalog to find resources, circa 1951. University Photographs, RS 25/3/F, Box 2046

Of course, not everything has changed since then (although the card catalog is certainly a relic of the past). Students still spend a great deal of time studying in the library, and they are still spotted hunched over a table with a book, notebook, and pen. True, many of them have laptops or tablets with them as well, but the spirit is the same.

For those who still have exams, papers, and/or projects to complete, best of luck! For those who are done, congrats on a semester finished!

CyPix: A House of Books

"This is the House That Books Built." Library Display at the May 1928 VEISHEA. (University Photographs 22/12/G, box 1724)
“This is the House That Books Built.” Library display at the May 1928 VEISHEA. (University Photographs 22/12/G, box 1724)

The library’s contribution to the 1928 VEISHEA was the house made of books that you see above. The sign over the door reads “This is the House That Books Built.” June is Freshman Orientation month at Iowa State and here in the library we are preparing to welcome students and their families by showing them a bit of what we do to support their time at the University. This VEISHEA construction was the 1920s librarian’s way of showing the wealth of knowledge available at the campus library.

We don’t advocate the use of books as building blocks in displays, but we do appreciate the sentiment. As an archivist, I would say “These are the books that archives built” – underscoring that books and publications rely on archives as their foundation –  drawing from the observations, evidences, and human experiences found in records, manuscripts, photographs, and other archival materials.

As we welcome visitors over the next month, we encourage you to avail yourself of the wealth of books, databases, manuscripts, records, media, photographs, spaces, technology, and people eager to assist you in both Special Collections and elsewhere in the library.


CyPix: Ode to the Card Catalog

The card catalog. That gargantuan set of filing cabinets with drawers full of catalog record cards was oh, so useful in the days before wide-spread internet access. Now, of course, we search for the library items we want or need on the online catalog, which is easier in many ways. Many of you probably remember using the card catalog to find the books you wanted, not unlike the student in the photo below.

A student using the card catalog, 1948. [location]
A student researching near the card catalog, 1948. RS 25/3/F, Box 2046
This is how I learned to navigate libraries, too, and am part of the last generation to do so. Card catalogs bring about feelings of nostalgia in people – you can even purchase old ones to use for storage or conversation pieces in your home! However, moving the catalog online provided major benefits like saving space that can be used for other things like study areas or more stacks, and convenience – we can just type in a title and see right away if it’s available. Still, although the card catalog is more or less extinct in its natural habitat, it is an iconic piece of library history.

Feeling nostalgic? More photos of card catalogs in Parks Library can be found here. Also, in case you want to know about its origins and some fun facts, here is a history of the card catalog. Many more photographs involving the library or other buildings and departments on campus can be found in our University Photograph Collection – come in and see what we can find for you!

Historical Images of Parks Library

As the semester draws to a close, many students have been spending time here in the Library studying for exams and finishing up those end-of-the-term papers.  The library is less crowded now than at the beginning of the week, but students are still finishing up their studies here in the library!

We all often have our favorite places to go in the library, and for some that might be the high-ceilinged Periodical Room.  We recently scanned a few historical images of the present Periodical Room in Parks Library, and I thought it might be fun to show a few of these here.  Even though the basic design of the Periodical Room remains similar now, the photographs reveal changes over the years – there is no longer a reference desk and the hats from the 1920s have also disappeared!

1927 (University Photographs, box 146)

Here’s a closeup of the 1927 image above.  (University Photographs, box 146)

1935 (University Photographs, box 146)

The caption on the back of the 1935 photograph reads:  “The 300 seats in the main reading room of the Iowa State College Library are usually filled throughout the day by students who are using library materials in the preparation of papers or reports.  Approximately 12,000 volumes of reference books are on the shelves in the room.”

1943 (University Photographs, box 146)

1954/1955 (University Photographs, box 147)

Please note that these are not the only historical photographs we have of the library here in the University Archives – more are available in the University Photograph collection.  In addition, information can be found on the library’s history in various places such as our subject file of news clippings and other materials  (RS 4/8/4).  For other historical images of Iowa State, you can also visit the Digital Collections (go under CYbrary: ISU Digital Archives and then University Photographs) or our Flickr site.

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