UI Libraries Launches Explorer’s Legacy Website

van allen siteThe University of Iowa Libraries has launched an online site that presents the history of the 1958 Explorer I satellite mission and the role played by UI astrophysicist James Van Allen in its success.

The site, Explorer’s Legacy, chronicles the mission that led to the first scientific discovery of the space age when Van Allen identified the radiation belts surrounding the earth. The website also provides, for the first time, access to the complete set of data collected during the Explorer I mission. Digitized from the original reel-to-reel tapes that have been preserved by the University of Iowa Libraries, these data represent the first scientific data returned to Earth from space.

The new website embeds digitized content from the Van Allen papers within a new narrative account of the mission written exclusively for the site by Abigail Foerstner, author of James Van Allen: The First Eight Billion Miles. The presentation provides a complete overview of the development, launch, and success of the Explorer missions, and highlights the participation of the Department of Physics & Astronomy at the University of Iowa in many subsequent space missions, including the current Van Allen probes that continue to make new discoveries within the radiation belts.

“It’s great to have the first scientific measurements ever made in space available to the public,” says Craig Kletzing, F. Wendell Miller Professor in the Department of Physics & Astronomy. “From those first days in 1958 to today’s Van Allen Probes mission, the University of Iowa is still at it, working to solve the mysteries of space.” The data tapes from the Explorer missions were created during the satellite’s orbits around the earth. When Explorer I was launched on January 31, 1958, it began to send a signal back to earth. A series of receiving stations were positioned around the globe that would listen in as the satellite passed overhead, and a technician would activate a reel-to-reel tape machine to record the signals.

In 2009, the University of Iowa began an effort to preserve the original analogue reel-to-reel tapes that were stored in the basement of MacLean Hall on the Pentacrest. Staff from the Libraries’ Preservation Department cleaned and stabilized the tapes onsite, and then transferred them to the Main Library. The entire collection is now physically stable and in appropriate environmental conditions. “This new resource is the culmination of years of effort to preserve these historic recordings,” says Greg Prickman, Head of Special Collections. “The availability of the data tapes in a digital format provides broad access to the foundational information of the space age.”

Explorer’s Legacy is the result of inter-disciplinary collaboration between librarians, conservators, physicists, writers, and digital media specialists. In years to come, it will only be getting bigger—the reel-to-reel tapes holding the data from the next successful mission, Explorer III, have already been digitized, and are being prepared for inclusion in the site.

The site was launched with support from the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust.

Harry Potter and the Quest for Enlightenment

Dragons, mandrakes, and potions have taken over the cases outside Special Collections & University Archives!

Students in Donna Parsons’ Honors Seminar titled “Harry Potter and the Quest for Enlightenment” have curated an exhibit using materials from Special Collections. The exhibit is one part of a semester long project utilizing Special Collections materials for research. The students chose one item from the collection to represent their research and worked together to fit their items into themes for display.

Parsons’ seminar has the students closely read the texts and analyze their themes as well as investigate the influences from the literary canon and the effects on popular culture in the US and Britain. She envisioned the collaboration with Special Collections as an exciting opportunity to enhance student learning. “The Harry Potter series is filled with extensive references to science, literature, mythology, and history,” Parsons says. “Partnering with Special Collections has supplied my students with the resources needed to trace a specific reference and discuss its relevance to a particular scene, character, or plotline. The partnership has also provided the context for a deeper understanding of the series and its appeal to a diverse audience.”

Greg Prickman, Head of Special Collections & University Archives, welcomed the collaboration. “The idea to have the students create an exhibition was Donna’s, and we quickly agreed to it. Rather than showing or telling, we are giving them the chance to do their own showing and telling, which results in a unique learning opportunity that can only be experienced with access to original historical documents.”

Kelsey Sheets, a student in the seminar, loved finding out how complex the world of Harry Potter really is. “In the past I have read books about how J.K. Rowling draws inspiration from a wide variety of historical and mythical sources and incorporates them into the series, but my own research [on links between the study of Potions and the muggle study of Chemistry] really solidified this point and made me appreciate the depth of the wizarding world.”

The exhibit will be on display until June 1st on the third floor of the Main Library outside Special Collections & University Archives anytime the library is open.

Significant Science Fiction Collection comes to the University of Iowa Libraries

Collection encompasses 100 years of material.

The University of Iowa Libraries has acquired a significant collection of pulp magazines, fanzines, and science fiction books owned by the late James L. “Rusty” Hevelin. The collection encompasses nearly one hundred years of material, documenting in great detail the development of science fiction, popular culture, and participatory fan culture in the United States during the twentieth century.

Rusty Hevelin began collecting pulp magazines in the 1930s when they were a popular item on newsstands. Pulps were cheaply produced weekly fiction magazines. They were the training ground for many of the most famous science fiction writers like Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and Edgar Rice Burroughs.   The collection contains thousands of pulps, ranging from the early Thrilling Wonder Stories, the eclectic Weird Tales, character titles such as The Shadow, The Spider, and Doc Savage, and many examples of mystery, western, and aviation pulps.    “This vast collection of material rarely collected by traditional libraries is a goldmine for teachers and scholars,” said Corey Creekmur, UI Associate Professor of English and Film Studies. “Pulp magazines were central to mid- 20th century American popular culture, but their ephemerality has made them rare and inaccessible for later readers. The arrival of this collection makes Iowa a major archive for future research in this area.”

Fanzines push science fiction genre

Readers of pulps began communicating with one another through the letter columns in each issue, and this back-and-forth exchange soon developed into fanzines, which fans produced on home mimeograph or other printers, and distributed through the mail and at conventions. The collection is particularly rich in the early years of science fiction fanzines, including several titles that Hevelin produced.

Science fiction grew out of the pulps and into mainstream publishing, and the Hevelin collection documents this process in thousands of hardcover and paperback science fiction books. First editions of Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, and other writers are included, along with many paperback novels. Together, these materials depict the great diversity of styles in science fiction as the genre evolved.

“The Hevelin collection presents a rare opportunity to study the development of this genre, as seen in many of its most important formats, through the lens of a single collector,” says Greg Prickman, Head of Special Collections & University Archives. “Fans like Rusty weren’t just fanzine writers, or pulp collectors, or science fiction readers, they were all of these things, and Rusty’s collection shows how these materials interact with one another.”

The University of Iowa Libraries is home to internationally significant science fiction collections. Holdings include the Horvat Collection of Science Fiction Fanzines, the Ming Wathne Fanzine Archive Collection, and a growing body of materials resulting from the Fan Culture Preservation Project, a partnership with the Organization for Transformative Works.

Riot Grrrl: Finding a voice

UI Libraries, Mission Creek Festival host zine open house and interactive exhibition March 30

Riot Grrl

In conjunction with the Mission Creek Festival of music and literature, the Special Collections department at the University of Iowa Libraries will host “The Zine Dream and the Riot Grrrl Scene” from 4 to 6 p.m. Friday, March 30. A cooperative project of librarians, scholars, and zine-makers, this event will highlight the 1990s Riot Grrrl movement and its independent publishing zine culture by exploring the intersection of music, writing, and social issues.

Zines (originally called fanzines) are amateur publications produced noncommercially and designed to circulate among a small number of people sharing similar cultural or social interests. Before the advent of the Internet and the introduction of blogging as a tool of personal and creative expression, zines were an important method of communication among members of subcultures traditionally underrepresented by the mainstream media.

The open house will focus on the Libraries’ collection of zines from the 1990s feminist “riot grrrl” movement that cover topics such as female-driven music, complexities of female identity, and a consciousness of institutional, social and cultural sexism. Riot grrrl zines are also concerned with feminist political and social issues such as discrimination, sexual abuse, eating disorders, and body image. Many zines are marked by stories of intensely personal experiences relating to these issues.

“Just before the rise of the Internet, the Riot Grrrl movement used photocopiers, scissors, glue and the Postal Service as tools to develop a hugely influential social network,” says Kembrew McLeod, associate professor of communication studies and co-organizer of the event. “In doing so, these pioneering feminists carved out an independent media space that challenged the dominant culture.”

Monica Basile, local zine-maker, artist, and doctoral candidate in gender, women’s, and sexuality studies, will curate a browseable selection of zines in the reading room. Attendees will be invited to share their experiences and thoughts in a discussion group on the importance of zines and zine culture. They’ll also have the chance to work on a collaborative zine which will be copied, collated, and shared with all of the contributors.

“As a print phenomenon, a Riot Grrrl zine demands attention be paid to its origins but it is physically turning the page that makes the continued relevance and urgency of the messages so evocative,” says Colleen Theisen, outreach and instruction librarian in Special Collections. “Zine newbies, Riot Grrrls, librarians, zine-makers, students, scholars, punk rockers, writers, community members—all are welcome to touch and turn the pages.”

from IowaNow: http://now.uiowa.edu/2012/03/riot-grrrl-finding-voice

Barrett research with Libraries’ Special Collections reveals secrets of old paper

Research by a University of Iowa led team reveals new information about why paper made hundreds of years ago often holds up better over time than more modern paper.

Led by Timothy Barrett, director of papermaking facilities at the UI Center for the Book, the team analyzed 1,578 historical papers made between the 14th and the 19th centuries. Barrett and his colleagues devised methods to determine their chemical composition without requiring a sample to be destroyed in the process, which had limited past research. The results of this three-year project show that the oldest papers were often in the best condition, in part, Barrett says, due to high levels of gelatin and calcium.

“This is news to many of us in the fields of papermaking history and rare book and art conservation,” says Barrett. “The research results will impact the manufacture of modern paper intended for archival applications, and the care and conservation of historical works on paper.”

Barrett says one possible explanation for the higher quality of the paper in the older samples is that papermakers at the time were attempting to compete with parchment, a tough enduring material normally made from animal skins. In doing so, they made their papers thick and white and dipped the finished sheets into a dilute warm gelatin solution to toughen it.

“Calcium compounds were used in making parchment, and they were also used in making paper,” Barrett says. “Turns out they helped prevent the paper from becoming acidic, adding a lot to its longevity.”

Barrett acknowledges that some may wonder why research on paper longevity is worth doing today, when art or text on paper can be scanned at high resolution and viewed later on a computer. He notes that close analysis of the papers themselves can often shed new light on a particular historical episode or figure. For example, when letters from a particular writer are found on especially poor quality paper given the writer’s time and place, it may indicate something significant about the writer’s financial situation. When a book was printed on very high quality paper for its period and location, it may suggest something new about the publisher’s intended audience and marketing strategy.

“Both instances provide evidence wholly lacking in digital scans of the same pieces of paper,” Barrett says. “Paper does more than support words or images. It can bring alive its own moment in history or show us how to make longer lasting paper in the future.”

Even in a digital age, some materials will still be created and preserved on paper. For instance, Barrett and his UI papermaking team worked with National Archives staff in 2000 to produce special handmade paper that now sits beneath the Charters of Freedom at the Archives Rotunda in Washington D.C.

“The information lying dormant in paper in important books and works of art needs to be preserved for researchers in future generations to uncover and utilize,” Barrett says. “Just as important, paper originals — that can be read without hardware and software — will continue to be essential backups to digital scans long, long into the future.”

Barrett’s group included Mark Ormsby, physicist at the National Archives and Records Administration Research and Testing division; Joseph Lang, UI professor of statistics and actuarial science; Robert Shannon at Bruker Elemental; Irene Brückle, professor at the State Academy of Art and Design in Stuttgart, Germany; Michael Schilling and Joy Mazurek from the Getty Conservation Institute; Jennifer Wade at the National Science Foundation; and Jessica White, a UI graduate student who is now proprietor of the Heroes & Criminals Press.

The Institute for Museum and Library Services, the University of Iowa, and the Kress Foundation provided funding for the research. The UI Libraries is hosting the newly launched website http://paper.lib.uiowa.edu/ which details all the project goals, procedures and results. The UI Center for the Book is a part of the Graduate College.