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.
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.
Chronicles of a Coleopterists Strikingly Curious Swarm
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.
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.
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.
Below is a reflection from Micaela Terronez, Olson Graduate Assistant, on the “Manuscripts at Special Collections” open houses.
Can I really touch it?
One curious visitor asked this question in amazement as they gazed at one of the twenty-one visiting manuscripts from Les Enluminures, a gallery of unique text manuscripts with locations in New York, Paris, and Chicago. As a part of the program, “Manuscripts in the Curriculum,” Les Enluminures temporarily loans a select group of unique manuscripts to educational institutions. Fortunately, The University of Iowa Libraries’ Special Collections was able to host the manuscripts, covering various contexts and locations from the 13th to the 19th century. In addition to classroom integration, Special Collections planned a series of open houses for the University and broader community to have hands-on experience engaging with these one-of-a-kind pieces. From August to November, around 200 visitors viewed the visiting manuscripts—along with a couple favorites from our own collections.
Logistically speaking, each open house exhibited 10 to 12 manuscripts aligned with a pre-decided theme. The themes included: Signs of Production, Decoration and Illumination, Script and Scribe, Manuscripts Outside Latin West, Medieval Society, Vernacular Texts, Music, Medieval Authors, and Bestsellers. This diverse set of themes allowed us to highlight certain texts each week without exhausting the materials or the visitors. The open houses were marketed through classroom instructions, social media, departmental networking, events, newsletters, and blogs. These efforts garnered an audience of students, scholars, and outside community members of various ages and backgrounds.
At the open houses, guests were given brief guidelines to handling the manuscripts and were encouraged to turn the leaves by the margins. Like the curious visitor above, many could not believe that they could touch, let alone, move through the leaves of a codex to see every script and image. However, in cases with a large number of visitors, guests were advised to admire the manuscripts without touching as to protect the longevity and structure of the manuscript. During these events, special precautions were taken to make sure the manuscripts were handled carefully, while also allowing the viewer to engage and ask questions. Non-flash photographs were highly encouraged, and many patrons took away some amazing captures to keep and share with friends and family. We also offered an interactive matching game of medieval authors, temporary tattoos, buttons, and bookmarks for visitors to take home.
Because of an increase in public visitors, the fall semester was a whirlwind of planning, marketing, curation, learning, and teaching. For example, Elizabeth Riordan (Outreach and Engagement Librarian) and I created specially made description cards for each manuscript on display—that’s a lot of writing and research! The description cards served two purposes. First, it was the perfect way for us to learn more about the visiting manuscripts, along with the interesting details and histories. This knowledge proved highly valuable during open houses and classes. Secondly, visitors were able to easily understand the terminology, history, production, and uses of the items exhibited. These descriptions also helped to spur questions and discussions throughout the weeks. Riordan and I also enjoyed choosing manuscripts from our own collections to feature alongside the visiting manuscripts. In this way, we were both able to think more contextually about the manuscripts from Iowa and what themes can be highlighted throughout them. In addition to our visitors, we both walked away from the open houses more knowledgeable about medieval manuscripts, their features, and histories.
There were several other benefits and take-aways from these open houses. Perhaps most importantly, we learned a great deal about the value of increasing access and visibility of the manuscripts through hands-on exploration. Patrons made incredible observations about the texts, while also initiating fruitful discussions amongst themselves and with staff. They also inquired about the contexts, materiality, users, producers, and authors. More so, visitors were able to actually feel the hair of the parchment, translate scripts, study the bindings, and so much more! With calm medieval chants playing in the background, many also took the events as an opportunity to relax and purely admire the artistry behind the texts. I would say friendships and interactions were created among these beautiful works, an effect that perhaps wouldn’t have happened without the hands-on experience with the manuscripts.
The open house series ended with one last exhibit, as well as a visit and talk titled “People and the Book: the Voices of Manuscripts from the Middle Ages” from Laura Light of Les Enluminures. These final events allowed visitors to ask intriguing questions about the visiting manuscripts from Light, an expert historian on medieval works. As November comes to a close, it is now time to say goodbye to these works. I, for one, am going to miss the manuscripts very much. Here are a couple of photographs from my favorite visiting manuscript, a “Roll of Arms” created during the Elizabethan period in England. The manuscript features stunningly detailed shields, illustrated crowns, and stylized arms shaking hands to signify marriage. Like myself, I am sure many visitors appreciated the work and talent that went into these lovely pieces.
The successful planning and implementation of the open houses was a team effort of the library and conservation staff, and we were incredibly grateful for the opportunity to engage with the community, students, and faculty during these open houses. Thank you to all that visited Special Collections, asked questions, and made us ponder the creation and use of these manuscripts. We hope you continue to visit us in the future, whether it is for research, exploration, or just admiring a cool book or leaf.
The University of Iowa Libraries Special Collections is looking for the next Olson Graduate Research Assistant. If you are a graduate student, or an incoming graduate student, find out more here.
However, you might be asking what does being the Olson Graduate Research Assistant actually mean? Well, who better to explain that then those with the experience. Hannah Hacker was Special Collections’ Olson GA from 2016-2018 and will be graduating with her Masters in Library and Information Science this winter. Micaela Terronez has been our Olson GA since 2017, and she will be graduating May 2019 with a Masters in Library and Information Science. Below they explain what it means to be an Olson GA and the experiences and opportunities that come with the job.
From Hannah Hacker:
Being an Olson is like being at a buffet, but with rare books and archives. You get a little taste of everything in special collections librarianship. If an aspect of the department gets you really excited, you can dive right in and have a big helping.
For me, the areas that I dove into were instruction and reference. My passion for librarianship stems from the enthusiasm of a student or patron who discovers something for the first time or is eager about researching a particular topic, and that happens the most when I’m in a classroom or at the front desk. Talking with people one-on-one and listening to what gets them excited is one of the main reasons why I’ve enjoyed my time as an Olson as much as I have. It’s those small moments with people that get me fired up about being a full-fledged librarian some day.
From Micaela Terronez:
This past year as the Olson Graduate Research Assistant has been a wonderful opportunity for me to gain practical knowledge and experience in the work of special collections and archives. For example, I have learned about the day-to-day operations and responsibilities of a large university special collections — an experience that nicely complements my MLS coursework and previous professional work. Additionally, I cannot express how thankful I am for working alongside such incredible and supportive coworkers. Through this fellowship, I’ve been lucky to gain several mentors that have taken the time to listen, discuss, and collaborate with me as a new staff member.
Thus far, my favorite experiences in this position have been in the Special Collections classroom where I’ve had the opportunity to instruct courses utilizing library materials — a responsibility that I was completely terrified to do originally! But because of the support and training I received as the Olson, I’m more comfortable than ever to conduct classes and experience some great moments with students. One of these moments was with a group of 20 Latinx high school students from Upward Bound, a program that brings first-generation students from the state to experience life as a college student for six weeks. The students gravitated toward stories of migration and underrepresented individuals that could be seen in several collections from the University Archives and the Iowa Women Archives. By far, this was one of my favorite classes because I saw firsthand how archival materials can resonate with students and the effect it can potentially have on their self-identity.
For more information about the Olson Graduate Research Assistant position or application, please contact Lindsay Moen. The deadline is October 29th, 2018 at 5:00pm.