Working with special, rare and archival materials

Within librarianship, there is a unique group of individuals that aspire to work with historical and unique materials. It truly is a fascinating field of work that combines a variety of facets, from material studies and history to language and culture.

This week I spoke with John, Liz, Bethany, Hannah and Caroline, who all share my passion for these unique and historical materials. As SLIS students that all currently work in rare book, archive, or special collection institutions, we wanted to use this episode as a chance to dialog on the significance and challenges inherent in collecting and preserving these materials and why we are interested in a career in this field. We also give some insight into some of the special projects we work on at our jobs: processing a cookbook collection, cataloguing miniature books, crowdsourcing metadata for artist books and processing the newly donated Tom Brokaw papers.

“Working in special collections gives you a taste of what’s out there. You have this ability to see behind closed doors, to see what exists, that I would have never thought of before.” -John Fifield, 2017

It’s clear that the dynamic content, the individuality of special collections and the ability to constantly learn are all reasons why at least this group of students have chosen to pursue a future in this sub-field of library and information science. We also take some time to discuss some of our favorite items we’ve encountered and how our experiences have played a valuable role in guiding us to a future career. As a bonus, John gives us insight into his recent experience interviewing for a rare book seller job.

“[Special collections] is such a big collection, a varied collection, no matter what you’re interested in we can find something for you.” -Elizabeth Riordan, 2017

If you’ve never taken the time to visit an archival, special collections or rare book institution before, I highly recommend you do! You never know what you could find.

Comics and the Library

Of all library collections, comic books, graphic novels, and manga are perhaps some of the most challenging materials to steward. For many of us, that challenge starts with the basics: terminology.

“There is a misperception that comic books are treated often like a genre, but comic books are a format, a medium; there are lots of genres within comics.” -Dennis Cooper, 2017

This week, Allie Paarsmith, Dennis Cooper, and Caroline Allen (SLIS students and some of our local resident comics experts), hash out the common conundrums, misconceptions, and challenges inherent in the role libraries play in stewarding comics, graphic novels, and/or manga.

“It’s starting to become a more accepted medium, and so I think that libraries need to react to that and have them available for checkout.” -Allie Paarsmith, 2017

Across different libraries, comics are handled using a variety of methods; librarians across the country often disagree on the proper way to catalog and provide access to these materials. In addition, many patrons that enter the library express mixed feelings on the place of comics in the library and in schools. And yet, time and again, comics have proven their ability to introduce diversity into communities and bring readers closer to different types of literacy.

“With text, some of our implicit biases can come across in our reading of it, and with a graphic novel it can eliminate some of those opportunities.” -Caroline Allen, 2017

Even if you are someone that doesn’t read or catalog the comics in your library, it’s important that as we enter our careers in librarianship we are aware of the issues surrounding this unique, multi-dimensional medium of materials.

Politics and Libraries, part 1

Politics, policies, government, partisan divides…it all matters when we’re talking about the potential and the ability of libraries to continue providing services to their communities today and in the future.

We don’t claim to be experts on this subject…in fact, we are far from it. But in light of recent national news, in this episode Kyrstin, Caroline and I take a stab at grasping and articulating the implications of politics on and in library world. We briefly touch on topics such as gun legislation, funding, collective bargaining and Caroline’s experience at Iowa Library Legislative day.

“Libraries leverage the tiny amount of federal funds they receive through their states into an incredible range of services for virtually all Americans everywhere, so produce what could be the highest economic and social return on investment in the entire federal budget.” –Julie Todaro, President of the American Library Association, 2017

There’s definitely a lot to stay informed about, which can sometimes be overwhelming and challenging to do amidst our busy lives. Still, as professional librarians it’s important that we seek to understand the impact of politics on the work that we do and make an effort to publicly advocate for our libraries. If we do, we will have the potential to help bring about positive change for our communities.

Unique Library Collections


Libraries just loan books, right? Wrong. Libraries across the country contain more than just books. Recent University of Iowa SLIS program graduate Beth Paul conducted research  about the unique, non-book, “non-traditional” library collections that are currently active in libraries across the country.

“I was really interested in how the library is more than just books and how they [interesting collections] can bring in interesting people.” -Beth Paul, 2016

A screenshot of some of the music tools you can check out from the Ann Arbor District Library.

These unique library collections allow community members to borrow anything from artwork done by local, high quality posters, seeds, musical instruments, gardening tools, and board games, among other items. In addition, Iowa libraries have led the way in the establishment of a cake-pan lending system.

In this podcast we talk to Beth about what she discovered in her research regarding the popularity of these unique collections, why these libraries went about adopting these collections, how they maintain them, why these collections might be controversial, and how they might complement a future of maker spaces in libraries.

Check out these sites for additional inspiration :



Working as the Peace Corps Librarian


We’ve all heard of the Peace Corps, but have you heard of the Peace Corps librarian? And what exactly does a Peace Corps librarian do?

Recently, we were fortunate to speak with Kelly Grogg, a recent graduate of the University of Iowa School of Library and Information Science. In this episode, Kelly provides us with a behind the scenes look at what it’s like to be the Peace Corps Librarian.


“Since I am the only librarian and I have so many different roles, I get to do a little bit of all those things. There’s a little bit of the public librarian aspect where I get to answer questions from the public, I am managing a small library, I am sort of the default historian and archivist for the Peace Corps, and I get to do a lot of in depth research for people here at headquarters like an academic librarian would do, and I get to do a lot of international calls and talk to people all around the world.” -Kelly Grogg, 2017

As the Peace Corps Librarian, Kelly is busy serving, supporting, and communicating with four different audiences: library staff at all Peace Corps offices around the world, Peace Corps volunteers in the field, staff at Headquarters at Washington D.C., and the general public. Kelly describes what it’s like to work as a solo librarian for a federal entity and she speaks about some of the projects she hopes to work on during her term as the Peace Corps librarian.

Although she will only hold this position temporarily (for five years), as a former Peace Corps volunteer, Kelly is grateful for this opportunity to educate others about the PeaceCorps and to share her library expertise with current Peace Corps volunteers in the field. As for the future…

“I know that I would be happy anywhere, as long as a got to work in a library and do work that I believe in, which is why I decided to become a librarian in the first place.” -Kelly Grogg, 2017

**This podcast was prepared or accomplished by Kelly Grogg in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are her own and do not reflect the view of the United States Peace Corps or the United States government.**

10 Takeaways from LISSO’s Social Media Workshop

Social media is, well, cruel. Yet it is also benevolent, often leaving me confused and curled in the fetal position on my living room floor whenever I approach the topic. Look, I’ve got Facebook, sure, and I have Tumblr. I even have a LinkedIn, but it hasn’t been touched in years. And at one point I signed up for Instagram in a wine-induced state of euphoria, determined to reach out to my fellow man, but the username and password are long gone along with the wine.


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What I’m trying to say is that I use social media, but I don’t use it well, which is why I was excited LISSO (Library & Information Science Student Organization) hosted a Social Media Workshop February 10th. Meredith Hines-Dochterman from Iowa City Public Library, Sara Pitcher from Coralville Public Library, Connor Hood from the Digital Scholarship and Publishing Studio, Lindsay Moen from Special Collections, and Jennifer Teitle from the Graduate Development Department all gave their time to help lost souls like myself get a better grip on something that is becoming a more vital tool for librarians.

So in true social media form, I’ve compiled a list of 10 things I took away from the event in the hopes that my newly acquired wisdom will pass onto you, or anyone else suckered into reading this.

1. You better have a game plan before you put on your game face


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If you are like me, putting together a game plan is the most tedious part of a project. When it comes to social media, however, it is essential. With so much information being pumped into the different social media channels, having a well thought out strategy could be what keeps all your hard work from flopping. Sara Pitcher of the Coralville Public Library explained that planning for her “Dalek Invasion” event started at least a month before anything appeared online. You may want to just jump into the social media pool, but trust me, it’s best that you first figure out how you are going to jump.

2. Read the news and stay up on trends


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By staying on top of trends, you’ll be sure to post things that people care about or might find interesting. Connor Hood, who works for the Studio, was the one to really stress this point, and says that it is important especially for a medium like Twitter. You’ve seen Facebook’s “trending” feature on their page, and that is always a good place to start. But you know, reading the actual news is also a good way to stay in touch.

3. Be sure you’re telling the story of your library

tell them your story

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If you are using social media for your library, remember that you are creating a giant narration of what your library is to the public. Instagram, for example, is like one big picture book with your library as the protagonist. So be sure that what you are posting, in whatever medium, tells the goals and accomplishments of your library. (And remember, everyone likes a happy story).  

4. Keep it up, keep posting!


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Remember, social media is a jerk and will forget about you if you don’t keep saying something. If you want your posts to show up in feeds or get any kind of traction, you have to keep on posting. Lindsay Moen at Special Collections posts 5-7 times a week on Instagram. Iowa City Public Library tries to get 4 posts a week on Twitter. And that is just for your library. If you are using social media to create your own professional image, Jennifer Teitle recommends doing at least one thing to reach out on LinkedIn a day and spending at least 20-30 minutes on Twitter each week.

5. Always take pictures, even when you don’t post them right away


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Content creation is exhausting. Heck, I’m exhausted just typing about it, but it has to be done. One thing to help with this is to have a queue of pictures on your phone or camera ready to go, just in case brilliance doesn’t strike you one day. Lindsay Moen’s camera on her phone is almost nothing but pictures she has taken around Special Collections, just in case. And Meredith Hines-Dochterman from Iowa City Public Library calls them “evergreen” pictures because they are not time sensitive and can be shared at anytime.

6. Use LinkedIn to connect with people who have the job you want


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This advice comes from Jennifer Teitle who is a LinkedIn success. She suggests finding people who have the job you wish to have in the near future, reaching out to them, and seeing how they have shaped their LinkedIn profile or Twitter account. Use them as a guide, which also ties into my next point…

7. Get a little personal on LinkedIn, but not like creepy personal


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Adding personal touches to your LinkedIn connections is what will set you apart from the others. As Jennifer Teitle puts it, “you are planting the seeds” for future opportunities. When you ask to connect with someone, sending them a personal message with an invitation to connect. Saying something like “It was great to meet you at the ILA conference. I would love to hear more about your ideas on maker spaces,” can make a huge impact. You can even use it to send someone a congratulations on a new job. It’s like sending someone a personal card to show that you care about their progress. And who knows, those personal connections that you continue to make might come back to help you one day. 

8. Sometimes Twitter won’t work for you


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And sometimes Instagram won’t work for you, and sometimes…well, you get the point. Certain mediums will work great for some libraries, but maybe not for yours. Don’t be afraid to test out new social media sites, and it’s okay to (dare I say) fail. Iowa City Public Library tried to have a podcast, and guess what, it didn’t really work, but they just moved on. The best thing to do is to be aware of  your audience. If you have a younger crowd, Instagram will probably work better than if you have an older crowd who are loyal to Facebook. But also be aware of your story. For example, if you share a lot of links like Connor Hood at the Studio, Twitter is going to get your message out better than Instagram.

9. It doesn’t have to be a solo mission


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It’s very likely that you could be the only person assigned to a social media campaign at your library, but that doesn’t mean it has to be solo work. For one, everyone on the panel was more than willing to be a guide and help with any questions or confusion I might have on my own social media campaign. Regarding the actual execution of social media, try inviting patrons to help take photos, or find inspiration from the roles and interests of your fellow coworkers. Also, collaborating with other groups outside the library by mentioning them in your posts or retweeting/sharing their information is also a great way to foster relationships and get your message out to a larger audience. Don’t be a sad, lonely sack; it’s called social for a reason!

10. Have fun with it! Or people won’t care


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Seriously, if you are not having fun, it’s going to show in the work you produce. Social media is a jerk, yes, but it is also supposed to be fun. Be silly, let your imagination soar, and show social media who is boss.

And there you have it: my knowledge on social media for libraries and social media for library professionals all wrapped up in a tiny bundle. Thanks for making it to the end.

[Elizabeth Riordan, SLIS graduate student at the University of Iowa]

[*A video of the full workshop can be found here.]

More Resources

Social Media in 30 Minutes a Day Workshop (2012)
Social Media Resources 101 for the School Librarian (2014)
Connecting Best Practices in Public Relations to Social Media Strategies for Academic Libraries (2016)
Telling Stories (2017)

Interning at the U.S. National Archives



Erica examining the watermark on a document while rehousing the oversized collection at the Library

This past summer, the summer of 2016, two of our local SLIS students made sure that they did not waste their summer vacations. We wanted to make sure we captured a little bit of their experiences.Erica Knapp spent her summer working at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, NY. Kara Wentworth spent her summer break working at the National Park Service Headquarters in Washington D.C. in the Tribal Relations and American Cultures department. They were both selected for their positions from an initial pool of applicants from across the country.

In this episode we speak to Erica and Kara about their experience delving into special collections work at the federal level, getting to know individuals through the intimate work of collection processing.

“Eleanor had a pen pal that she met in the early ’30s[…], she called her Tiny. We have Tiny’s half of the correspondence, but Tiny’s daughters [recently] donated Eleanor’s half of the correspondence to us. So I got to go through and read all of Eleanor’s letters.” -Erica Knapp, 2016

That summer, they also participated in special events, learned about the workflow and logistics of a functioning national archives, gained a unique understanding of national archive and federal agency standards, and became familiar with the responsibilities of an archivist at the federal level.


Kara standing in the Main Interior Building, the headquarters of the United States Department of the Interior, located in Washington, D.C.

“I was working in a building with a bunch of anthropologists. I processed a 100-square-foot collection for the chief ethnographer of the Park Service from 1978 to early 2000. They wanted to get an archivist in to go through it [the collection] because they weren’t sure how much of it was personal and had to be removed and redacted. [The job] really appealed to me because I wanted to get an understanding, a working knowledge, of the National archive standard.” -Kara Wentworth, 2016