Memories of the Libraries

Read the memories that were collected for our 150th anniversary celebration in 2005.


In the fall of 1946, I entered the University of Iowa as a freshman, three years out of high school, having worked at Collins Radio during World War II. A friend who was a page at the main library, then located in Macbride, recommended me for employment to Miss Ada Stoflet of the library staff. At that time, the stacks were closed and it was my job to locate books which patrons wanted. What an adventure to try to find the books on the shelves and such a feeling of success when they were actually there! My friend was a graduate student and had a carrel in the basement of Macbride. These were placed in bay windows of the building. I used the carrel to study–it was quiet–and to watch the steady flow of students passing by, with the sun shining in the windows–one of my favorte memories of my year at the library in Macbride.
–Voanne Miller Hansen, B.A. American Studies, 1974; M.A. Library and Information Science, 1977


Some decades ago, when my father was still living, I came home with something from University Libraries that brought a sentimental tear to his eye. His grandfather had toured on the Redpath Vawter Chautauqua circuit in the early 1900s as Farmer Bill, the Barnyard Philosopher. We had no record or photos of him. The accurate and comprehensive cataloging and knowledgable and helpful staff in Special Collections were instrumental in discovery of two photos, a monologue, and lots of reviews and letters of my great grandfather. Copies I presented copies to my dad which he very proudly shared with the rest of the family. University Archivist Earl Rogers knew more about local and university history than any three people I can name. Beyond that, he knew where to find out about much more than he knew. He had the patience and memory facillitate recovery of the useful documentation buried within the obscure and disconnected bundles of ephemera.

Another department that made a profound impression was Government Documents. As an official U.S. depository library the U. of I. receives nearly countless documents from an alphbet soup of agencies. Whatever report was sought, Frank Allen knew how to track it down. White short sleeved shirt, tie, horn-rimmed glasses, he was efficiencey personified, especially if you had the NTIS number. His wry humor was a welcome bonus to any visit. In the Map Library Rich Green knew where all the charts were buried and had a smile for everyone who came through the door. Things you would never have imagined existed were brought to light if you gave him an inkling of what you were trying to learn or teach. John Forys continues to deliver maximum service for minimum in budget at the Engineering Library. I am amazed at what he makes available to students, staff, and faculty. Accessing so effortlessly the vast resources he brings the university too often let us forget the dilligence and vigilence that make it possible. These are a few memories and luminaries. There are many, many, more. The University of Iowa Libraries is a resource Iowa can be very proud of.
— Dan Daly, Iowa City


In June 1972, I moved to Iowa City from Atchison KS to complete my PhD studies in English. That summer, the UI Library opened its carrels for PhD candidates on the third floor of the renovated Main Library. I was assigned a carrel, luckily, to enhance my graduate study, at that time a solely book-bound discipline. I connected immediately as well with the wonderful, gifted staff of the Library: reference, special collections, reserve reading room, for research and instructional support, intra-library loans, facilitated with conspicuous ease, and, above all, the “Browsing Room,” which permitted many hours of relaxation from correcting piles of student assignments, and from the predictable drone of researching and writing endless graduate papers. During the first-year of my PhD studies, the specialized reference librarians offered unlimited support to me owing to the Department of English Research Assistantship I held that year. After passing my PhD comprehensives in 1975, I was granted a full room library research carrel, which enabled the focused concentration I required to complete my dissertation research and thesis writing on Virginia Woolf. The staff librarian for inter-library loans never said no to any request for which I begged, including connecting me to specific Woolf manuscript collections at University of Sussex in England, the University of Texas, Austin, and the New York Public Library, Berg-Tilden Collection. The Library has been an institution, a friendly edifice, inextricably linked to my 34-year residence in Iowa City. After graduation, I accepted positions in UI academic administration, taught as an adjunct professor in English from 1977-1999, a time when I relied upon the vast primary and secondary resources made available through the Library. I have long-standing associations with libraries, viewing them as the formative and sustaining compass of my intellectual life; from receiving my first library card at age 5, Silas Bronson Public Library in Waterbury CT, through the libraries at universities in which I matriculated in Louisville, including the reciprocal University of Louisville graduate student library privilege exchanges at Indiana University, and later at the Kansas University Library in Lawrence, which enhanced my “salad days” teaching experience at a private liberal arts college, and, of course, the UI Main Library, which continues to stimulate the intellectual currents of my reading and research pleasure and always will. Congratulations on the sesquicentennial anniversary of UI Libraries, and many thanks for the boundless fortune this library system has provided me.
– Luke J. Flaherty, 1977 Ph.D. English


My first acquaintance with the University of Iowa Libraries was from a distance. In 1951 I took a job at the Midwest Interlibrary Center near the U of Chicago. It was established to relieve the bulging overflow of some sixteen midwestern university libraries in the days just prior to the development of microfilm collections. MILC had its own truck with driver to bring in loads of materials that were infrequently used but too valuable to be fully discarded. Our job was to sort, eliminate duplicates, catalog and house for the future needs of all members. Not till 1971 did I set eyes on the University of Iowa library building, when I took a teaching job at the library school. The proposed quarters for the school were under construction on the south side of the building. We were housed in Jessup Hall, and didn’t move into our new home for another year or so. When we did move, we first had our own departmental library. It was later merged into the general collections.
Velva Jeanne Osborn, Professor Emeritus, School of Library & Information Science


I have been using the library and the medical library since I came to the University in 1941. I remember when the main library was housed in Macbride Hall, and the medical library was on the second floor of Med Labs; Miss Frohwein was the librarian. It was a pleasure to work in and use the library. You may know at that time I could give the librairan a list of books and go the next day to find the books pulled and placed in one of the cubicles, ready for me to review. When the Hardin Library was opened, the facilities were greatly expanded and it has been a pleasure and convenience having such an asset.
— Ignacio V. Ponseti, Professor Emeritus, Division of Pediatric Orthopaedics


My associations with the University of Iowa Libraries must be as manifold and nearly as old as anyone’s. They began with my obtaining a card to use the library more than half a century ago, when I was still a student at Iowa City High School. I had to get a letter from the high school librarian, presumably to assure the University librarian that I was a responsible boy who liked to read….
Laird Addis, Professor Emeritus, Philosophy


I remember somewhat fondly those days in the old medical library sitting and reading about things like interferon as a possible treatment for viruses. I remember being excited about the future for medical care even though at that time they were saying that it was fair and can be made in quantity for treatment. Although it was a good place to study, it was also fun to do extra reading.
— Mary Hacker, 1969 Medicine


The Iowa library is exquisitely home to me since it has become haven for sources and scraps of my two biographies (Ross & Tom, A Daring Young Man). Very traumatic parting with that stuff but delivering it to Sid Huttner, Chief Wizard of Special Collections, made it seem like getting an advanced degree. Always felt very safe and protected in the reference room where I repaired a lot of damage I’d done during my secondary and collegiate education.
— John Leggett, onetime director of the Writers’ Workshop


During the fifties when I was a graduate student in the Music Department we often presented our chamber music programs in scattered locations because we lacked sufficient and satisfactory facilities of our own in the Music Building. Shambaugh Auditorium was a good “hall” for these concerts.
– Ronald W. Tyree, BA, MA, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, School of Music


I especially recall a kind and helpful Hardin Health Sciences Library (HHSL) staff. Ed Holtum spent many hours helping me garner relevant citations during the days of restricted medline usage. Somehow the aura of the library was mentally invigorating. The lions share time in writing one of my books was done at the HHSL.
— Gary L. Smidt, Professor Emeritus, 1969 MA & PhD


The library staff of the University of Iowa possibly provided more good-natured help than has ever been provided before for the writing of a book; I would particularly like to thank Mr. Robert W. Cryder for this.
— G. Edgar Folk, Jr., Emeritus Professor, Dept. of Physiology & Biophysics


During my more than forty years of scholarly pursuits at the University of Iowa, I have made frequent use of the U of I Libraries for my research. I have also engaged David Schoonover and the Special Collections in identifying and collecting over 300 culinary mysteries, all of which I have donated to Special Collections, where Schoonover was kind enough to prepare a donor’s bookplate for me. This is an ongoing project. I am also grateful to now-retired Jim Julich for serving as a library liaison and for educating me on the emergence of High Tech Markup Language.
— Robert Wachal, Emeritus Professor of Linguistics


In my first two years as a grad student in music, I made much use of the psych library in East Hall, and also the main library in MacBride hall, where I remember the sometime long waits while the librarian went off to the closed stacks to find what I wanted. What a pleasure when the open stacks arrived in the current new main library. The medical library became a nice workplace for me after I became a medical student. Mr. Cryder was always a fine help there, and it was he who introduced me to their open stacks, even with their crowding and very low ceilings for the lower levels. At a later time, when that library was moved from Med Labs to the new Hardin library, and I became the associate dean for continuing medical education, my CME office was situated in exactly the spot where I had so often sat to study in the former reading room. The Hardin library has been a joy (even though I’ve often gotten lost in its “unusual” layout) and its helpful staff have deserved more credit than I have offered them. I enjoyed a special relationship with Dr. John Martin and the Rare Book Room named for him and his stellar collection. And that relationship also brought me into happy relationship with Dale Bentz, Dave Curry, Dick Eimas and Ed Holtum. And I have rejoiced that the mural in the Hardin galleria, which arose through some effort of mine and was paid for from my continuing medical education budget, has survived almost three decades with hardly any graffiti or other physical deterioration. All UI students and faculty, past and present, owe so much to our library system.
— Richard M. Caplan, 1955 Medicine


I knew little about Iowa City when I arrived from New York City in 1973, bringing with me certain stereotypes about the Midwest. These were quickly dispelled, including the availability of a library comparable to the ones I depended on while attending the City University of New York. What a great collection of libraries we have at Iowa! During my first two years here, my T.A. stipend wasn’t much, so I decided to get a job at the Main Library. My supervisor was Mr. Rittenmeyer, and my job was to collect all the books left by patrons on tables and study areas, sort them, and return them to the stacks. I always did my job (honest!), but sometimes I took longer than necessary because I could not resist opening the inviting volumes of great literary masterpieces on the 4th floor, where all the foreign language books were kept at the time!
In spite of the many (and wonderful) technological advances of today, there is nothing more exciting than the smell of books, touching them, anticipating what might be inside them. It was great fun working at the library. Upon completion of my M.A. comprehensive examinations, I had to return some books; I was still working there, and I remember dropping off over 85 volumes down the return shoot outside the building. When I went inside to work, another stacker said “Some fool just dumped on us a whole bunch of PQs!!!” I never said a word. I have continued to use our wonderful libraries, particularly the Main and Music Libraries; the staff is extraordinary in all our libraries. Had I had the talent, I would have become a librarian.
— Ozzie F. Diaz-Duque, M.A. (1976), Ph.D. (1980) Romance Languages


As a faculty member in the Institute of Child Behavior and Development, 1969-1973, then in the Department of Psychology until I retired in 1989, I frequently used the Psychology/Education Library in Seashore Hall. It was a wonderful resource, headed by an extraordinary librarian, Miss Evans, who was very knowledgeable, helpful, and somehow managed to acquire an exceptional collection of scholarly works, even in sparse budgetary times. However, I still regret to this day that many of the precious irreplacable holdings of the library and research records from the Institute of Child Behavior and Development were not preserved. The hallways of the Institute were filled with file cabinets containing longitudinal data,only some of which apparently survived. Historic memorabilia were were also mostly lost at the time that the Institute closed its doors. I would hope that the current system is better able to preserve its collections by instituting archives or arranging to have such materials sent to a national archive center, such as the one for Psychology in Ohio.
— Sue R. Rosner, Emeritus Associate Professor of Psychology


The Main Library in the late 60’s had only three floors and the south section was not yet built. The third floor was a great, quiet place to study provided you were with a companion and not in a secluded area among the stacks for it was rumored to be a dangerous place for a co-ed to be alone. The study booths were old with some graffiti etched in pencil by some students neglecting their reading… One I particularly remember was “God is alive and living in the Field House.” The OLD Field House, that is.
— Kathleen E. Schmidt Renquist, 1969 General Science


My mother was Dental College librarian in the 1930s, Merle W. Webster; the best service was from Macbride Hall where each week, from 1936 while I was still in Iowa City High School, through 1942, I checked out the orchestral scores of what the New York Philharmonic would be broadcasting on Sunday from Carnegie Hall; and since I lived in Iowa City, I would spend much time researching papers during Christmas and spring holidays at the branch in the Old Armory.
— John C. Webster, 1941BA, 1943MA, 1953Ph.D.


In my four years of college at the University of Iowa I was lucky enough to have the perfect work-study job on campus. For many years, the Biology Library was located in the older portion of the Biology building. During the last year of my college career, I helped design and move the current Biology library which is now located in the Biology Annex. I remember moving the old library (as well as the Botany Library which used to be located in the Chemistry Building), through the snow packed sidewalks of Iowa City one cold and snowy week.
— Lisa Kreber, 1999 B.S. Psychology


I worked during the summer of 1943, 44, 45 and later full time for 1½ years in the order department. My several jobs over the years included circulation, periodicals, and order department. The main library was in Macbride, the order and catalog departments were in the basement, and periodicals housed at the bottom of the hill in a separate building. When someone wanted a rare book, I had to obtain it from a locked area in Macbride. At the time after WWII the library had obtained many German books, so the order librarian sent two of us to German classes.
Avis I. Long, Education, 1965 MA


My first experience with the UI Library was as sophmore in high school at summer debate camp. We virtually lived in the government documents section at the Main Library researching the upcoming high school debate topic. I have fond memories “camping” out for the day with fellow debaters in the private study rooms. My freshman year at Iowa in 1975 we did almost all our studying on the second floor of Main Library and used to be upset if somebody beat us to “our” table. Later years were spent in the study carrels at the Health Sciences Library where trust meant you could leave your books and notes there all day and not worry about them being stolen. And of course many great naps in the lounge couches. The UI has a terrific set of libraries and they hold grand memories for alums like myself.
— Dan Pomeroy, Pharmacy, 1981


The University Libraries have served me in so many ways over the years. Living here in Iowa City, I am a frequent visitor. I do most of my work through the Special Collections and enjoy the librarians there. They have a wonderful Iowa Authors collection. If I have a question, any question, I know it can be answered at the University of Iowa Library.
— Paul C. Juhl, History/Education, 1966


Grace Van Wormer rented a suite of rooms in the Roger Williams house, which was also the Elmer Dierks family home. I was third born, in 1933, and remember little about her except how private a person she was and how petite. In 1952 I was employed while in my last year at University High in the reclassifcation project from Dewey Decimal to Library of Congress. My part was to erase the Dewey ID from the cards gently enough to allow for the subsequent placement of the LC ID. Especially memorable was working alongside a woman from eastern Europe who spoke essentially no English. Her husband was a professor. With our body language, we discovered that we were both daughters of clergy. I took her and her husband to the Greek Orthodox Easter overnight service in Cedar Rapids, all planned sans ordinary language.
— Beatrice Dierks Wilson, 1956 B.A.


Having returned to the University of Iowa in the fall of 1949, to study for my M.A. in accounting, I took a part-time job at the University Library, probably Macbride, to supplement my GI bill income. Our first baby was due at any time and my wife stayed behind in Mason City until after the birth. Our son was born several weeks before the due date, but I had left the library phone number just in case. When my sister-in-law called at the library to announce his birth, I let out a loud “whoop.” My supervisor shook her head, put her finger to her lips, and indicated that “silence” was in order!
— Richard J. Smith, BSC 1947, MA 1951, CPA


I remember browsing the library stacks with a friend. We discovered Flanner O’Connor’s thesis and brought it to the attention of Special Collections that it was too precious to be on the regular shelves. That’s how I met Frank Paluka. I used to study in Special Collections and read, because it was a quiet and peaceful place. When I was through, if Mr. Paluka was around, we’d chat. He knew I was a writer, but I’d never written a scholarly essay. I asked him if he had any material that might inspire me to write one. He shared Laurence Housman’s letters to George Galloway with me, and I became enthralled with that medium and their exchange. I wrote an essay and shared it with Mr. Paluka. I had my first academic essay published in Books at Iowa because of Frank Paluka. When D. H. Stefanson and I took a printing course with Harry Duncan as an elective, I gave Frank a copy of my first book of poetry, TO MAKE A BEAR DANCE. That began a very long relationship with Special Collections, because since 1970 all my books in all genres have been bought or given to Special Collections. I’ll never forget Frank Paluka for whetting my appetite about scholarly research.
Rochelle Lynn Holt, English/Writers Workshop, 1970


When I entered the University of Iowa in the fall of 1932, the library system was definitely not centralized. In Natural Science, now Macbride Hall, there was a card file and a limited collection of books. Using the Reserve Library in the Old Armory was a challenge. Just getting there when there were no foot bridges was an effort especially on a chilly winter morning when you had to return a book checked out for overnight before 8:00 o’clock! Fortunately, I was able to do most of my assignments in the Classical Languages Library which was in Liberal Arts, adjacent to the Romance Languages Library. Here the stacks were open, tables were available, and the lighting was adequate. A graduate student was at the desk. I think he was paid ten cents an hour for assisting us. Looking back over my library experience at Iowa, I can’t honestly say that I had any serious difficulty with it. I had learned how to use a library when I was in high school… I am sure that knowledge helped me cope with the complications of searching for a book in the Iowa system in the 1930’s and 1940’s. When I actually had the book in hand, I felt victorious.
— Katheryn E. Marriott, BA 1936, MA 1940


I secured a job in the University Libraries, specifically the old Reserve Library … The most striking memory I have of that job was the fact that the (3rd floor in the new building) was unfinished. The near Stygian darkness was unbroken except for a few electric lines with naked 60-watt bulbs every 20 feet or so, hanging over every other aisle. All call slips came over tubes…once we got the request, we picked up our sturdy two-cell flashlights and ducked into the shadowed alcoves where we beamed each shelf until the volume was illuminated and – most of the time – retrieved.
— Robert Hilsabeck, MA History, 1951


As an undergrad, I’d gone alone  to the main library in the evening to research a paper. After finishing, I decided to explore, ending up in probably the third floor. There were carrells for the grad students, empty this evening, but those stacks were fascinating. Wow, even old Hawkeye yearbooks!  I was deep in those when the lights went out.  Closing time.  Maybe there had been a warning but I hadn’t noticed. It was pitch black, no light anywhere not even from the outside. Disoriented, I waited for my eyes to adjust to the dark.  They never did, it was just too dark. It didn’t occur to me to scream or yell for help–I’d just have to get myself out of this predicament. Finally I felt for my notebook, gathered it up and  began to grope my way along  the shelves, then the wall, very carefully heading towards what I remembered was the way to the stairs.  It took awhile, but finally I saw a dim light coming from what proved to be the stairwell.  Reaching that I felt my way downstairs to the well lit  but deserted lobby  and fled out the door which fortunately  was not locked, at least from the inside.
— Nancy E. Baker, BA Spanish, 1953