An Internship in the Vault

By Julia Rohn, Museum Studies Intern

Picture this: My eyes are closed so as to not ruin the surprise. A heavy door opens, groaning. Parchment permeates the air, warm and familiar. I am told to open my eyes and a whole world is revealed: books line every wall, towering me. Instead of feeling small, my heart swells. I hunger for this knowledge. And then I look over to thank the hairy prince to my right…

Okay, okay. This is not exactly my memory. But I have watched Disney’s Beauty and the Beast so often that the boundaries between the two have irrevocably blurred. However, this specific scene has always resonated with me. I identified with Belle’s preoccupation with novels, forever reading, yearning for more tales. So naturally I sought an internship, which would place me in close proximity with them.

My first day in Special Collections at the University of Iowa mirrored Belle’s experience. When I was shown to the stacks, the inner me was spinning about in my head, cartwheeling like a gymnast. In fact, I had quite the headache afterwards. My supervisor granted me full access: to be able to reach out and peruse any book I wished. Granted, there was not time for sitting and reading its contents, but you must take your victories where you can. All of the sudden I had access to centuries of knowledge, and I was the gatekeeper. I know: your Nerd Alarm bells are ringing furiously. It even sounds curiously like the X-Files theme song…

The thing about Special Collections is that it is impressively impossible to become bored there. Going about my business I will stumble across a collection of Edgar Allen Poe’s poetry, which leads my to begin quietly whispering aloud Annabelle Lee, hoping no one will hear me. Or maybe I come across a decorated Book of Hours, jewel encrusted, hinges worn (no matter who you are, or your opinion on history, these are flipping cool). Nevertheless, it’s challenging. As a mere guardian of the vault (my preferred title if you see me around) I feel an undeniable duty to not let my little ones (all materials under my dominion) down. The sounds of tearing spines, ripping pages, and flaking covers haunts my dreams; many a night have I woken up screaming to images of breaking the famed clay tablet. Mind you, I have managed to avoid these egregious mishaps so far.

Mostly, gentle readers, its an environment highly conducive to imagination. There is an otherworldly feeling, in Special Collections. Not many have this access, and for that I am grateful. So let me take a moment insist you be our guest in Special Collections (see what I did there?).



Image of William Shakespeare

Fourth Annual Shakespeare Livestream – TOMORROW (Wednesday 4/26) 11AM-1PM

FOURTH Annual Shakespeare Livestream
Tune in live Wednesday April 26, 11:00am-1:00pm CST [Central time in the USA is GMT -5:00]

We’re back! Celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday week by joining us – live on the internet! – for our FOURTH annual Shakespeare’s Death Anniversary & Birthday Week Commemoration Livestream, featuring University of Iowa Shakespeare professor Adam Hooks, alongside Colleen Theisen, Special Collections Outreach & Engagement Librarian.

Colleen and AdamNow is your chance to Ask a Shakespeare Scholar anything about Shakespeare, about being a Shakespeare scholar, and maybe even about your least favorite Shakespeare plays. We will also have a selection of historic, unusual, beautiful, and forged editions of Shakespeare’s works from Special Collections which we’ll be showing and telling stories about LIVE!

Use the hashtag #shxlive to ask a question, or type one here in the comments, or tune in live to ask a question. The event will be added to the UISpecColl YouTube channel as a video after the completion of the event. (See past livestreams).


Tune in here:

Special Collections News & Updates 4/20/2017



Upcoming Events:

Final Mellon Sawyer Lecture Friday, April 28. 8:30AM-2:30PM

Marina Rustow
“Fatimid State Documents, Serial Recyclers and the Cairo Geniza”

Khedouri A. Zilkha Professor of Jewish Civilization in the Near East, Princeton University

Erik Kwakkel
“Aristotle and the Medieval University: The Birth of a New Book Format”

University Lecturer, Universiteit Leiden
10:30 a.m.–noon

Katherine Tachau
“Piece-work and Medieval University Book Production: The Pecia”

Professor of History, University of Iowa
1–2:30 p.m.



April Iowa Bibliophiles Recap

Instruction Librarian Amy Chen presented about her game, Codex Conquest: The Game of Book History at the April Meeting 4/12/2017. The Iowa Bibliophiles, including a group of students from Scattergood Friends School, tested the game in three groups.

Amy Chen will be a guest all next week at Columbia University presenting about the game and play testing. More information:

Follow along on the game’s website for all the updates: 


Elizabeth Riordan is one of the winners of the library student employee scholarship. Congratulations, Elizabeth! Liz is a graduate student in the School of Library and Information Science and has worked in Special Collections all of the 2016-2017 academic year. Elizabeth welcomes the chance to work in the archives where every person and item has a story.



From the Web and Social Media:

Historically Yours Podcast Episode 2: Heroic Deeds with Liz Riordan


Donate to the University Libraries’ Special Collections Fund

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Iowa Bibliophiles browsing new acquisitions

Special Collections News & Updates 3/22/2017


March News & Updates:

Instruction Update:

In February 2017 we had 40 class sessions!


Staff Awards & Updates:

Image of David McCartneyUniversity Archivist David McCartney was elected president of the Midwest Archives Conference for a two year term. Read more.





Event Recap & Photos:


Book artist David Esslemont visited Special Collections for the opening reception for “Open * Set.”  This traveling exhibition from the American Academy of Bookbinders is on display on the third floor of the Main Library outside Special Collections until April 19th.

The evening of the exhibition opening, Acquisitions and Collections Management Librarian Margaret Gamm presented new acquisitions to the Iowa Bibliophiles on March 8th.

From the Web & Social Media:



Donate to the University Libraries’ Special Collections Fund

Want to stay connected?  Follow us on social media:

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