Picture of Micaela

An Olson’s Goodbye

An Olson’s Goodbye

By Micaela Terronez
Picture of Micaela
Micaela Terronez

For the past two years, I have had the great fortune of learning about the inner workings of special collections and archives as the Olson Graduate Assistant at The University of Iowa Special

Collections. It’s hard to believe my time at Iowa has already come to an end. It feels like just yesterday when I arrived on my first day and was in complete awe of the amazing collections and people in the department. I remember being so utterly terrified, however, of the stacks upon stacks of materials. How would I ever figure out where something was?! It took time and, well, a library catalog. But I also relied heavily on the talented staff and students of the department to help me adjust to what seemed like a never-ending world of manuscripts, books, maps, and artifacts. I have learned so much in the past two years, and I am forever grateful to the department for their guidance and knowledge that they have graciously shared with me. Also, thank you to my friends – both old and new—and my family for your unconditional support and love over the past two years. Like former Olson Hannah Hacker’s goodbye, I have also decided to leave with my own spin on a classic song. Here is “The Stacks are Alive,” a rendition of “Prelude/ The Sound of Music.”

 

The stacks are alive with the sound of book carts
With squeaks that they have sung for several years
The books fill my heart with the sound of reading
My heart wants to hear every word that appears

My heart wants to beat like archival boxes
that open and close by patrons
My heart wants to sigh like brittle paper
from near and far places
To laugh with a friend when you are working
tears on the way
To sing through the day like an old book cart hoping to stay

I go to the stacks when my heart is lonely
I know I will hear what I’ve heard before
My heart will be blessed with the sound of libraries
And I’ll return once more

 

Thank you Micaela for everything you’ve done for this department! We wish you the absolute best in the next chapter of your adventure. 

Clay Tablet in hands

A Unique Document, a Unique Opportunity

The following is a post written by graduate student Kristi Hager, who recently finished her certificate for Book Studies at Center for the Book. As a student in Dr. Jennifer Burke Pierce’s History of Readers and Reading course through the School of Library and Information Science, Hager was given the opportunity to explore and learn more about an unexpected item found in the archives.

 

Imagine how many pieces of paper are used each year to record population changes, business transactions, or taxes.  Even in an era of digital processes and storage, many companies and individuals still rely on paper as a secure version of a document and will print hundreds of pages of records.  Finding secure ways to document business is not a new process. Thousands of years ago, administrative documents were being recorded, and some still are readable today.

On recent visits to the University of Iowa Libraries’ Special Collections, I was drawn repeatedly to a small display box covered with grey buckram holding a single object, an object that seems so out of place among the other books and papers displayed. In an archive full of unique items, it can be tough to stand out, but this clay tablet does.

Labeled simply as “Clay tablet dated to ca. 2050 b.c., from Umma, modern Djoka,” (call number xPJ4054.U55) this lump of dried clay is the oldest item in the archive.  The tablet is small and almost square, only about 1.5 inches per side and no thicker than a slice of bread.  There are black markings now on the tablet, almost reminiscent of small black ink droplets. It is hard to say where these marks came from or what they are.  Even the content is unusual: written in Sumerian cuneiform, the tablet is actually a receipt.

For a sacrificial offering. Of a goat. 

Proof that even 4,000 years ago in the Third Dynasty of Ur in Mesopotamia, in what is today part of Iraq, administrative and bureaucratic paperwork were a common enough occurrence that documentation was necessary.

In the center of the back of the tablet, there is the seal of the scribe who recorded this transaction.  He identifies himself as Akala, a son of the “chief cattle manager.” The seal is a bit difficult to see, as it isn’t as deeply inscribed as the text of the receipt.

This seal and the date next to it are also proof of the importance of administrative documentation.  The name of the scribe and the year the offering was given are evidence of a population large enough that members of the priesthood who received the sacrificial goat may not have known those giving the offering on sight.

This receipt is one of thousands that still exist.  According to the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative, there are nearly 103,000 administrative texts from the same period as this one in museums and archives around the world.  The Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative (CDLI) is a joint project of the University of California, Los Angeles; the University of Oxford; and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science that sought out cuneiform manuscripts in institutions and compiled the archival information.  Materials from places such as the Louvre in Paris; the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia; the Iraq Museum in Baghdad; the Israel Museum in Jerusalem; the New York Public Library; National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh; and the Semitic Museum at Harvard reveal a wide range of documents.  Photographs, translations, location information, age, and purpose of the document have allowed scholars access to manuscripts that may have been difficult to access due to travel and budget concerns.

And right alongside the documents from these prestigious museums is xPJ4054.U55, the clay tablet in Special Collections here at Iowa.  Being able to view a document with this sort of history up close is an opportunity a casual or budding scholar may not realize is possible.  But it is here, available for anyone interested in learning more about ancient cuneiform, historic manuscripts, administration records, Sumerian religion, and about any other subject you could think of, ready to be studied.

 

Written by Kristi Hager

For Further Exploration

 Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative, 2019.

Archival view of P235777.”  Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative, 2019.

Eleanor Robson, “The Clay Tablet Book in Sumer, Assyria, and Babylonia” in A Companion to the History of the Book, ed. Simon Eliot & Jonathan Rose, 2007.

 

Chronicles of a Coleopterists Strikingly Curious Swarm

Olson Graduate Assistant Acquisitions Project

Olson Graduate Assistant Acquisitions Project

Every year, Special Collections hosts two Olson Graduate Assistants who have chosen to specialize in the field of Special Collections Librarianship or Archives for a two-year assistantship. These prestigious positions supplement knowledge gained in the classroom with experience gained from real-world application, balancing theory with practice.

The H. John and Florence Hawkinson Libraries Acquisition Endowment has introduced an exciting new element to this experience: in the second year of their assistantship, the Olson Graduate Assistant can now be given a budget for material acquisitions. The Graduate Assistant chooses a curatorial area of interest in alignment with collection strengths, and works with the Curator in that area to learn about the material selection process. They may attend meetings with book artists and book dealers, peruse catalogs, and search online for the right item(s). They then formally recommend items for purchase and, once the Curator approves of the recommendation, are looped in on the relevant communication. This is a spectacular learning opportunity for them, and a valuable way for Curators to remain in touch with how the next generation of librarians is approaching the work of acquisitions.

This year, Olson Graduate Assistant Micaela Terronez selected four items that will be purchased for the Special Collections department using the Hawkinson Endowment. Working with Head of Special Collections, Margaret Gamm, Micaela located materials that would either develop or fill in gaps within the collections. Below, Micaela has provided a brief description of the selected works and why she was interested in them.

 

Forming Common Threads

By Mari Eckstein Gower

Redmond, Washington: Mari Eckstein Gower, 2018.

My eyes were immediately drawn to the vibrant colors and structure of Mari Eckstein Gower’s Forming Common Threads. The artist’s book features beautiful watercolor paintings by the artist, as well as silk and paper threads attached to a series of words such as “inspire,” “support,” and “heal.” Gower’s work links the many stories of strong women from history in contrast to the toxic and misogynistic rhetoric she grew up with.  From the Japanese Tarasen patterned papers to the modified stitched drumleaf format, I was also interested in this book because of the multitude of materials and techniques utilized in its creation.

Vamp and Tramp description

 

Chronicles of a Coleopterists Strikingly Curious Swarm

Chronicles of a Coleopterists Strikingly Curious Swarm
Images of Gabrielle Cooksey’s book courtesy of Vamp and Tramp website

By Gabrielle Cooksey

Tacoma, Washington: Gabrielle Cooksey, 2018.

Anyone that knows me well knows I absolutely hate bugs. Spiders, flies, beetles – I squirm at the sight of them all. Gabrielle Cooksey’s Chronicles of a Coleopterists Strikingly Curious Swarm has officially changed my mind about the beauty of these tiny creatures. Included in the artist’s book are twelve aluminum beetles with stories from the author, as well as Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Darwin, Hans Christian Anderson, and Aesop. The book, bound in Cave Paper, was meant to mirror a research field guide. Perhaps one day I’ll have the courage to do my own research on insects. Until then, I think I’ll stick to examining and admiring them from afar with the help of Cooksey’s work. The book will certainly be an enchanting addition to the artists’ books collections.

Vamp and Tramp description

 

One Day · Un Día

By Alex Appella
San Antonio de Arredondo, Córdoba, Argentina: Alex Appella, 2018.

I am not a native Spanish speaker, but the language certainly carries an emotional connection to my roots and upbringing. Some of my earliest memories of Spanish, for example, originate from daily experiences with my grandparents. One Day · Un Día by Alex Appella utilizes bilingual text (Spanish, English) and a collage of family photographs to document the last day of her grandfather’s life and the last days of her mother’s life. By interweaving family and language, Alex Apella’s work recalled memories of my childhood with my grandparents – both living and passed. When I first arrived at Iowa, I had a difficult time locating bilingual, visual works in Spanish and English. Now, I hope that this work will supplement research, teachings, and emotional reunions. 

Vamp and Tramp description

 

Enumerations

By Stephanie Gibbs

Los Angeles: Stephanie Gibbs, 2018. 

As a humanities-focused graduate student, I rarely have the opportunity to truly explore the sciences. Mathematics, in particular, has never been my strongest point. Anyone else still count with their hands, or is it just me? Whether you are a science enthusiast or not, Enumerations by Stephanie Gibbs will allow you to consider the interesting intersections between the sciences and humanities. Designed within a clamshell box, the artist’s book includes different forms of memory and computing. A slide rule, memory diagram, diskettes, and Trigonometry screenprints are just a few of the interesting components. Enumerations also includes Ada Lovelace’s description of Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine. I’m incredibly excited to add another bookwork representing women in science to the collections.

Vamp and Tramp description 

 

Thank you to Margaret Gamm and Micaela Terronez for sharing this experience with us. 

An Exhibit for the Senses

The great thing about artists books is that it shows us the various shapes, sizes, and textures that books can come in. Publishing companies, who also vary in shapes and sizes, help get these books out into the world for everyone to enjoy.

Curated by University of Iowa Professor Jennifer Buckley, Seeing Seeking Feeling Reading: Granary Books is an exhibit highlighting the book’s flexibility as a concept and as an intellectual and sensory experience by exploring the works published by just one company, Granary Books.

Granary Books is an independent publishing company in the United States and one of the proprietors is a University of Iowa graduate, Steven Clay. Clay graduated with a Bachelor’s in English and Religion in 1978. He describes Granary’s mission as “exploring the relationships between seeing and reading, reading and seeking,” which is where the name of the exhibit comes from.

The exhibit will feature Granary editions all organized into three categories: limited edition artists’ books, writer/artist collaborations, and books about books.

“These Granary Books live on the third floor in Special Collections, but many library patrons don’t know that they exist, or where to access them,” Buckley said. “The Main Library Gallery is a wonderful publicly accessible and beautiful site in which to share the riches of Special Collections.”

Buckley was able to work with Clay and library staff, including Exhibition Designer Kalmia Strong and Head Conservator Giselle Simón, in order to make this exhibit happen.

Seeing Seeking Feeling Reading: Granary Books will be open to the public on February 1 until March 15 on the first floor of the Main Library.

In addition to the exhibit, Cecilia Vicuña, a multidisciplinary artist-activist who makes poems, paintings, installations, books, performances, and films, is coming for a lecture on February 14 at 7:30 p.m. in 240 ABW and she will be doing a poetry reading on February 15 at 4:30 p.m. at the Dey House. 

Steven Clay is also coming to give a lecture about the publication and materials in the Main Library on February 15 from 3 p.m.-4 p.m. 

“I want viewers to leave the exhibit reminded that books come in many forms and formats, and that viewing is not all we do to or with them,” Buckley said. “Readers can interact with books in multiple ways while using multiple senses. Exhibitors should come back to Special Collections to see, hold and feel Granary Books for themselves.”

“It’s your Special Collections, too!”

Image of Arthur Bonfield

Discovering the Rich World of the Encyclopedia

Encyclopedias.

If you’re like me, then you haven’t really given them much thought. Growing up in pre-Google days, my family owned a 1988 set that was used and abused by my siblings and I, for both school reports and building forts, and they proved a go-to for school projects and reports in those early years of my education. However, I was more concerned about the information contained within these volumes that I never thought about these encyclopedias as an object in themselves. 

On February 13th, Iowa Bibliophiles will finally give you and me the chance to take a moment to appreciate the encyclopedia as an object. Professor Emeritus Arthur Bonfield will be giving his talk “Development of the Eighteenth Century English Encyclopedia or Dictionary of the Arts and Sciences,” exploring not only the history of the English encyclopedia, but also examining early Latin and French encyclopedias that preceded the 18th century English publications.

Image of Arthur Bonfield
Professor Arthur Bonfield among his collection.

Professor Emeritus Bonfield has been collecting rare books for over 60 years now. His collections includes over 1,000 original copies of books from early printing days, including volumes on exploration, geography, English literature and history, and of course encyclopedias. 

Encyclopedias might seem like an uncommon topic to collect, but as Rebecca Romney and J.P. Romeny explain in their book Printer’s Error: Irreverent Stories from Book History

“The ability to organize information and distribute it to the public is an incredibly powerful tool…to prioritize information is to control information. And to control information is to control people.” (Romeny 90)

Please join Special Collections and Iowa Bibliophiles on February 13th to hear a fascinating talk about something so many of us take for granted with Professor Bonfield. 

An image of ‘electricity’ found in an 18th C. English Encyclopedia

Event starts at 7pm in the Special Collection’s Reading Room (3rd floor of the Main Library), with refreshments served at 6:30pm. Find out more on our Facebook event or on the UI Event Calendar