Archive for July, 2012


Voices from the Stacks #1: Special Collections’ “Miseries”

Re-shelving, putting items in folders, boxing, labeling, sorting, shifting, dusting and vacuuming are just a snapshot of what happens behind the scenes everyday in any Special Collections or archives and that means our students and volunteers often have unique opportunities to identify unique items in the collections. From time to time in this space we will feature stories from our student workers or volunteers as they stumble upon items that simply have to be shared in a new series “Voices from the Stacks.”

Our first post comes from Sydney Smith, a senior English major who has been working with us for two years:

Many moons ago, I was a member of what I called the “Vacuuming Project Task Force.” Employees of Special Collections were asked to vacuum all the books in the department after a particularly dusty construction project.

It was not the project we were most fond of, but it did lend itself to exploring the stacks more, and when Karen, a fellow student employee, and I could no longer ignore the dusty books, we liked to play “Find the Book with the Weirdest Cover and (Carefully) Read Out of It.” It was during this game that Karen spotted our prize, a book we come back to for laughs on a regular basis; the crème de la crème of wacky and unexpected books (at least within the call number range from xPN2037.M4 through xPQ4627.L28C6.)

The Miseries of Human Life; or, The Groans of Samuel Sensitive and Timothy Testy. With a Few Supplementary Sighs from Mrs. Testy. In Twelve Dialogues contains all the ridiculous, painfully-detailed, horrible things that author James Beresford noticed in his day-to-day life.

Fold out illustration of a parlor with angry and sad people

Call number: PN6173.B4 1806

 These complaints include but are not limited to:

  1. “Pushing up your shirtsleeves for the purpose of washing your hands – but so ineffectually that, in the midst of the operation, they fall and bag down over your wet, soapy wrists.”
  2. “Straining your eyes over a book in the twilight, at the rate of about five minutes per line, before it occurs to you to obtain some light.”
  3.  “Being compelled by a deaf person, in a large and silent company, to repeat some very inane remark three or four times over, at the highest pitch of your voice.”
  4. “Living in chambers under a man who takes private lessons in dancing.”

And, a personal favorite:

  1. “Going, with ardent expectations, to a picnic, and finding that, from some sudden capriccio in the decrees of fashion, there is no nic to pick.

If I were able to compile my own list of miseries, it would probably sound a bit more like this:

  1. The wifi in my apartment isn’t working again, and I desperately need to check Facebook because I’m bored!
  2. My air conditioner isn’t cooling my home fast enough. I’ve had it on for five whole minutes!
  3. My printer is out of ink. I’ll have to walk all the way to the library to get this printed.

Life’s hard, isn’t it?

Call number: PN6173.B4 1995

There are two editions on hand here in Special Collections, one, an early edition with the original illustrations, published in 1806. The second is an edition abridged by Michelle Lovric and published in 1995.  The best part of the abridged edition, and the part that attracted Karen’s attention in the first place is that where it might have had a ribbon bookmark attached to the spine, it has a ball and chain. Thank you, Michelle Lovric!

If the little things are getting you down, please stop by Special Collections and take a look at either edition of Beresford’s Miseries, which is bound to create more laughs  than tears any day. In the meanwhile, add a “misery” from your daily life in the comments!


Book Tasting Event Results

Last weekend at the Iowa City Book Festival, Special Collections & University Archives hosted a Book Tasting event in the Old Capitol.  As a closed stack library usually researchers and readers already have an item in mind when they come to see us.  “Search” will turn up very different results from “browse” as a strategy and so to make it possible to find an unknown favorite, we created a Book Tasting event.   Inspired by wine tasting parties, a “Book Tasting” features a selection of books that the “tasters” have not seen before to browse, add ratings, and perhaps find an unexpected favorite.  Then when the ratings are tallied, a crowd favorite will emerge.

The collection of books we put together for the event was inspired by the exhibition across the hall in the Old Capitol Museum, “Insects: A Collection in Multiple Dimensions.”  We selected 20 scientific books from the 18th and 19th centuries that have illustrations of collections of things.  These collections include everything from an entire four volumes dedicated to every species of antelope to books on butterflies, mollusks, quadrupeds, or flowers. Due to the nature of scientific study at the time these are books that are illustrated in great detail and in the 100+ years represented in the sample, book illustration itself changes dramatically.  The books also make it clear how these types of books were used in the 19th century as the University of Iowa got its start.  Many bear traces such as singed edges and library bindings that tell the story of their survivial from the 1897 North Hall fire while many others bear the stamps of their former owners, eventual donors to the collections such as Dr. Mark Ranney and D.H. Talbot

Though our end goal was to find a crowd favorite what emerged from the data collected was a picture of how diverse people’s interests are.  15 of the 20 books were listed as someone’s favorite.  Three books tied to be the crowd favorite, #9 Popular Greenhouse Botany, #17 The Birds of Great Britain, and #20 History of Quadrupeds

If you could not make it to the event please enjoy the gallery of images on Flickr that will give you a “taste” of what was there, including a cover, title page, and image from the book for each item that was featured. The crowd favorites will be featured this week in our “pop-up” exhibit case right inside the door.  Find your favorite, and as always, feel free to stop by anytime to enjoy these books in Special Collections. 

Click on the link  to view the whole gallery on Flickr.


*See librarian Buffy Hamilton “The Unquiet Librarian” for more information on “Book Tasting” events in other contexts.


Help Document Student Life in the University Archives

The University Archives has two announcements: A new acquisition and an ongoing project, both of which have an embedded call to help document student life here at the University of Iowa. 

Janet Pease, who earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees (including the Ph.D.) in history from The University of Iowa, donated to the University Archives her scrapbook documenting her first year on campus, a delightful compilation of photographs, keepsakes, and notations highlighting special events of that year. Entering the University in the fall 1962 semester, Ms. Pease distinguished herself as an outstanding student, earning recognition as a member of Phi Beta Kappa honor society. Her career in education spanned some 40 years, all of that time devoted to teaching history at the high school level in Arvada, Colorado.  The UI Archives is pleased to add this item to its growing inventory of student life-related collections, and encourages you to contact us if you or a family member may have UI-related items of interest for us to preserve and share with our researchers.

 By any measure, Stephen Smith was the all-American boy. The Marion, Iowa, native lettered in high school football, basketball, track and wrestling and was a class officer, honor student and Boys State participant. He entered the University of Iowa in the fall 1963 semester as an ROTC student with hopes of joining the Air Force. He was also moved to protest what he saw as wrongs of the time: Racial segregation and growing U.S. military involvement in Viet Nam. In July 1964, while in Canton, Mississippi, with other Freedom Riders to help blacks register to vote, Mr. Smith was detained by local authorities and brutally beaten while in custody. The following year he was arrested for burning his draft card at the Iowa Memorial Union, only the second person in the nation to do so under a then-new federal law criminalizing such action. He was sentenced to three years’ probation. Mr. Smith died in 2009, several years after suffering a nearly-fatal heart attack. His adult life was, at times, both challenging and rewarding. For 10 years, until his health failed, he was an instructor of computer science at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids. The UI Archives is now attempting to learn more of Mr. Smith’s life and is in contact with friends and family members to develop a collection to help preserve his memory. If you were on campus at that time and recall the incidents, knew Stephen Smith, or know of somebody who did, please contact David McCartney, UI Archivist ( Thank you.


Sample a Rare Vintage at our Book Tasting Event

Fern book cover and flower illustrationSample a selection of vintage illustrated books exploring the natural world pulled from the stacks of Special Collections & University Archives at our Book Tasting event at the Iowa City Book Festival. Browse 19th century  botany, gardening, children’s textbooks, animals, herbals and more! “Sample” a book, add some tags to help future browsers identify its “flavor” and finish it off with a rating. The highest rated item will be featured in our “popup” case inside Special Collections and through social media.  Stop by, browse, sample, and enjoy! 

3:00PM-4:00PM July 14th  the Old Capitol Museum Supreme Court.

Book festival schedule:


Zine Month in Special Collections

Happy International Zine Month! Throughout July Special Collections & University Archives will be celebrating by highlighting zines from our collections.

Every day this month, Olson Fellow (and zine enthusiast) Kalmia Strong will be selecting a zine from our collections to share on Twitter. Follow us @UISpecColl to see her picks, which will cover a broad range of subjects, styles, and locations.

We will also have a cart of zines in the reading room for drop-in reading. Anyone is welcome to come in and spend a few minutes (or hours!) browsing the zines. They include art zines, Riot Grrrl zines, science fiction fanzines, and zines made in Iowa, among many others.

Did you know that we have approximately 20 collections of zines adding up to over 500 linear feet?  They range in subject from sci-fi to food to punk to comics to feminism, and date from the 1940s to the present. We also regularly receive donations of zines. Two recent acquisitions are several issues of Dishwasher and Moonbeam #3 .These zines are very different in focus but are both excellent examples of the scope of self-produced publications, produced on a copy machine, bound with staples, and distributed through the mail for little more than the price of materials.

Dishwasher was published by Pete Jordan (AKA Dishwasher Pete) in fifteen issues from 1989-2001, and chronicles his journey across the United States washing dishes in every state. By turns tongue-in-cheek, political, and personal, it includes stories of work as a dishwasher, contributions from other dishwashers, collage, comics, quotes, and movie reviews (focusing on dishwashing scenes, of course).

Moonbeam #3 was published in 1978 by Deborah M. Walsh, and was one of the first Star Wars fanzines created after the film was released in 1977. It is an anthology of contributions of original art, fan fiction, and poetry, with a focus on Alec Guinness/Obi-Wan Kenobi. It is particularly interesting to look at early Star Wars zines because of the great excitement and speculation about characters and plot that would be revealed in later films and because of the complicated relationship between Twentieth Century Fox and the growing community of Star Wars fans.

Walsh writes on her website: “Everyone warned me that I shouldn’t try to do a Star Wars zine, because at the time, conventions were frequently the scene to FBI search and seizures of bootlegged Star Wars merchandise. But I was headstrong and crazy for the Force. It proved to be an amazing experience publishing this zine.”

If you’d like to learn more about zines or browse our zine collections, check out our Zine Resources page, or stop by the department on the third floor of the Main Library 8:30AM-5PM Monday through Friday.