Guest Opinion | UI Special Collections and Archives serves campus community

The University of Iowa Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives provides various opportunities for the community.

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In an opinion piece on Oct. 24, 2021, the author highlighted the need for a renovation of the Main Library. As director of Special Collections and Archives at the University of Iowa Libraries, I would like to acknowledge how true that is and clarify some points that the author mentioned in her article.

The University of Iowa Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives is responsible for preserving and making accessible a comprehensive collection of unique, valuable, and rare materials to the campus community and beyond.

We pride ourselves on the number of researchers we assist and on the number of classes that come through our doors. With roughly 250 visits to the reading rooms and 100 classes since August, we are far from forgotten and have served thousands of students in just a two-month period.

Special Collections and Archives offers the opportunity for anyone to literally get their hands on a book of ours from 1480, the papers of Mildred Wirt Benson (author of many Nancy Drew books), or a 1967 University petition signed in blood.

You can look for inspiration for your creating writing assignment, research the history of the Iowa Memorial Union for your paper, or even bring a date to look at miniature books in the reading room on a Tuesday afternoon.

It is a hard offer to resist for those who learn about us. But a renovated building would greatly improve our ability to serve an even larger number of students both in the reading room and in the classroom.

Storage capacity is limited within the Main Library, and the current stacks are not up to modern preservation standards. At the most basic level, as the author suggests, a fire suppression system, new shelving to accommodate the standard boxes that house archival materials, and a new HVAC system would greatly help us steward our important collections for future generations.

These upgrades, which come with a hefty price tag, would keep materials from falling off the shelves and keep the climate at a stable temperature and humidity in order to maintain rare books, photographs, and more in the best condition possible.

We are grateful that the university has started the planning process toward the next phase of modernization for the Main Library. We hope this project will bring the stacks, reading room, and instruction spaces even more into the public eye, making them unmissable to anyone walking into the library, and also place our materials in safer stacks.

But in the meantime, we will keep working with what we have: a space that has served the campus and beyond for decades.

Margaret Gamm, Director, Special Collections and Archives, UI Libraries

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