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Left: A 4-H knit cap. Center: Iowa State Can Koozie. Right: a stereoscope with two images mounted on board.

The Artifact Collection

Organizing storage has always been a problem for museums, libraries, and archives. Space is limited and comes at a premium. Housing and archival practices must be sustainable for the collection to remain within the limits of its designated space in an organized, coherent fashion. Pressed by this need for such a prized commodity, staff are even undertaking a massive transfer of books from the general collection stacks in Parks library to an off-site storage facility. It is imperative to revise current practices for the artifacts storage area in order to provide an efficient framework for the future.

The artifact collection is no small deal. There are over 4,000 objects in the special collections storage space. These range from the typical swag bracelet you might get at an engineering college event to signed Greek Life paddles from the second half of the 20th century to surveying equipment used in the construction of Iowa State College in 1858. There is quite a range of both types of artifacts and sources. Items began being accessioned as far back as 1993—nearly 30 years!

The artifacts in the special collections stacks.

Artifact overflow on the map cases.

The artifacts occupy two aisles of rolling stacks, a back wall of stationary shelving, and are sprawled along the tops of map cases in an adjacent aisle. As the rest of the storage space hosts archival and special collections, there is no more room for the artifacts to go. This is not simply a case of having too many artifacts and not enough shelf space: many of the artifacts have been housed improperly, resulting in wasted space both inside the box and out. Small pins have been placed in much larger boxes along with wads of tissue. This tissue often conceals additional artifacts, putting them at risk for loss. Some artifacts are without proper housing or without any housing at all.

Housing Issues. Clockwise from top left: Framed certificate stored without an enclosure. Multiple boxes have made artifacts difficult to retrieve. A small pin housed in a much larger box. Artifacts stored in non-archival housing.

 

A fair few of the artifacts (nearly 300) do not have records in our museum database, Past Perfect, making them impossible to search for and retrieve. These are at high risk for dissociation, one of the ten primary agents of deterioration, as related artifacts are in separate locations, often without proper documentation linking them. This has rendered the purpose of the artifacts—to be utilized by researchers and archivists—null. At the same time, staff with extensive institutional knowledge of the artifact collection have moved on to other positions, taking some of the objects’ origin stories and associations with them.

Our goals with the artifact rehousing project was to provide documentation for all of the artifacts in the collection, and to implement a more sophisticated and effective housing system than the current method of just throwing things onto the shelf in a box.

Buttons and ribbons in box without label tags or protection.

 

Lead Processing Archivist Rosalie Gartner, Head Conservator Sonya Barron, and myself, Assistant Conservator Cynthia Kapteyn examining artifacts during a meeting.

The Process

We began surveying at the beginning of October, 2018 for 1-2 hours a day. This involved examining the item, inferring its place within the collecting scope, and brainstorming ways to categorize them during the rehousing phase. We entered this information into Past Perfect, our museum database software. As the lead on this project, I organized PastperfectLogosurvey times with colleagues and managed the various tasks involved with documenting objects and researching the collection. Additional time was spent outside of survey hours adding photos into the database as some pictures were blurry or dark, and some records did not have photographs. I utilized the project management software to converse with archivists. There we could ask questions about how seemingly arbitrary artifacts fit into our collecting scope by creating a task. I made tasks for items that needed records in the database so archivists could add them. Tasks were also used to note exact duplicates to be considered for possible deaccession by archivists, or flat, paper objects that could be added to their associated archival collections.

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A rusted horseshoe in need of a little TLC (Tender Loving Conservation!).

The main challenge at the beginning of the survey was coming up with housing categories into which we could organize the various objects. Archivists had to come to an agreement about how the objects should be grouped that also satisfied the requirements of preservation and supported ‘browseability’ by staff. In preservation, we wanted to group items by type, and, at a deeper level, subject. For instance, grouping buttons together or textiles together would result in better and more compact housing. Each type of object would then be grouped by subject, such as agriculture or 4-H—two notable collecting areas for the library. This would allow safe, effective and secure storage while supporting archivists’ ability to see a variety of related items at once.

Educational Opportunities

Throughout this process, several resources have been extremely useful. STASHc provides useful solutions to various storage situations, such as this tutorial on hanging rolled storage for oversized objects. We participated in Planning your Re:Org Project, a webinar  that helped us to reconceptualize our storage planning process through worksheets and examples that took us through the processes several institutions went through using the Re:Org method. Free additional workbooks and resources are available on the Re:Org Method page hosted by ICCROM.

 

 

 

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One of two boxes of farm crop identification seed vials.

Looking Forward

We are closing in on the final leg of the survey, after which we must organize the object records into working spreadsheets that can be used to plan the rehousing. This plan will involve calculating for rolled and hanging storage for large flat textiles and garments, and possibly incorporating vertical storage for long, thin items like surveying rulers, canes, and flat, obtuse objects such as muskrat skin stretchers.

And now for some highlights from our artifact collection…

 

4-H Dress and pins. Date of origin unknown according to donor paperwork.

 

 

 

De Vry 35MM Film Projector found in the stacks with reel still inside. Our AV and Film Preservation Specialist, Rosie Rowe, identified the film as Kodak Safety acetate.

 

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 Dr. George Washington Carver, educated in agricultural sciences at Iowa State College, was more than just a researcher and producer of peanut products. He also studied dyes and pigments. See this article by ISU professor in textiles and clothing Eulanda Sanders, and ISU alumni PhD candidate Chanmi Hwang for more information.

 

Be sure to check out a great blog post by staff in Special Collections for more neat artifacts!

Image courtesy of www.comicsbeat.com
An image from the pages of Wonder Woman, with Trina Robbins’ signature in the lower left corner. Photo credit: www.comicsbeat.com

History and background

The term “underground comix” defines a style of small press or self-published comic books produced outside of the mainstream styles. The Underground Comix Collection in Iowa State University Library’s Special Collections includes over 1,500 printed comics, hand-drawn sketches and related materials ranging from 1947 to 1995. Rare Books and Manuscripts Archivist Amy Bishop notes that while many of the pieces in the collection made their way to the university library in the 1970’s and the 1980’s, records indicate that there are some comics in the collection from as recently as 2007.

Photo courtesy of Iowa State Daily
Fight Girl by Trina Robbins, 1972. Underground Comix Collection,
MS 0636, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the artists who worked in this style created comics that discussed controversial topics and mocked conventional society. Their work explored mature themes like drug and alcohol use, sexuality, violence, feminism, anti-abortion and anti-war sentiments, Black Power, and LGBTQ+ issues. In doing so, the artists and the publishing companies did not adhere to the Comics Code Authority (CCA), which was introduced in 1954 and was intended to censor comic book content. At one time, Underground Comix were banned books.

The official logo of the Comics Code Authority (CCA).

As an aside: While doing a little online research, I came across an interesting blog post on this subject. It was published by The Robert E. Kennedy Library of Cal Poly State University on their Special Collections blog. You could take a brief detour and read it: “Understanding Underground Comix: An Introduction to the Moore Collection.

Covers of selections from the Moore Collection of Underground Comix, Special Collections of the Robert E. Kennedy Library, California Polytechnic State University. Photo credit: CPSU

People

Many artists published with Underground Comix instead of a larger company because it gave them the opportunity to present their work with less censorship of the X-rated content. Underground Comix greats included cult figures like Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Richard Eugene “Grass” Green, Denis Kitchen and Trina Robbins.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
Robert Crumb and Gilbert Shelton at an event at Lucca Comics & Games in 2014, Tuscany. Photo credit: Creative Commons

You may be surprised to learn that popular TV shows like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Johnny Quest, and Space Ghost drew their first breath as underground comix. In fact, Trina Robbins, a female artist who published with Underground Comix, was the first to draw Wonder Woman. Richard “Grass” Green was the first African American comix creator to participate in the movement.

Photo courtesy of the Jewish News of Northern California.
Trina Robbins, the first woman comic artist to draw Wonder Woman, poses in a book shop next to her creation. Photo credit: The Jewish News of Northern California.

ISU Library Special Collections also holds a related collection of Clay Geerdes photographs (MS 0630). Clay Geerdes took numerous photos of Underground Comix artists and of their work. Geerdes’ photographs have appeared in many publications and were published as a book, “The Underground Comix Family Album“, in 1998.

Left: Gilbert Shelton inks a page for his Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers in Venice, CA, July 1971. Right: Gary Arlington gives a few tips to Armageddon artist Barney Steel in his San Francisco Comic store, 1971. Images from the Clay Geerdes Collection, MS 0630, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library

Conservation treatment

The library’s collection of 3-dimensional artifacts contains a few dozen buttons from the early 1970’s. The buttons feature some of the iconic characters from Underground Comix. Assistant conservator Cynthia Kapteyn and I have recently run into a box of these buttons in the process of doing a comprehensive survey of the library’s artifact collection.

Underground Comix buttons, 1971-1972, Artifact Collection, 2009-R035, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library

Recently we have been seeing lots of Comix at the Preservation lab, both printed issues and artist sketches.

Left: An issue of E.C. Comics Tales from the Crypt, 1953, PN3448 S45 T34x, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library. Right: Crime SuspenStories, 1952, PS648 C7 C74x, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library.

The printed issues were from the 1950s, published by E.C. Comics. Many of the covers and pages had become torn and creased over time. Chunks of brittle paper have been lost, since these prime examples of ephemera were printed on low quality wood pulp paper and were not made to stand up to time and the relentless deterioration mechanisms of oxidation in cellulose. Mindy Moeller, Senior Conservation Technician, has repaired hundreds of pages using light weight Japanese tissue, pre-coated with a mixture of wheat starch paste and methyl cellulose and activated with a light application of de-ionized water.

Mends and fills made with pre-coated Japanese tissue are visible around the edges of the back cover.
Left: A large fill in a back page was made with Japanese tissue that was pre-coated with a mix of wheat starch paste and methyl cellulose. Right: A detail from an artist sketch, Underground Comix Collection, MS 0636, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library.

One of the oversized boxes within the collection holds a number of drawings by an unknown artist associated with Underground Comix. The sketches were taped together with masking tape. The adhesive from the tape has started to penetrate through the paper, giving the paper a translucent oily quality and causing the sketches to stick together.

Using a micro-spatula, Sonya is lifting the edge of a small “speech bubble” fragment, taped over a previous version.

The artist had gone through a fascinating editing process, while creating their story line. If the artist was dissatisfied with a given cell or a speech bubble, they would rework the image or text on a fragment of paper and tape the new fragment over the segment they did not like. The artist used small loops of masking tape to stick down the fragments, so that the tape would not be visible past the edges of the stuck-on fragment. But over time the adhesive from the tape had leeched into the paper, making the tape underneath show through.

Left: A smaller fragment of paper is attached to the larger sketch with loops of masking tape. Right: Masking tape is lifted and a previous iteration of the sketch is revealed under the small fragment.

Masking tape was removed from the sketches and adhesive residue was reduced as much as possible. Mends of Japanese tissue were used to hold the sketches together in place of tape.

A heated spatula is used to remove fragments of masking tape from the reverse side. A Japanese tissue mend runs along the mid-line of the sketch (note the faint white tint).

The artist’s “edits” were reattached to the sketches using small hidden hinges made from Japanese tissue, using wheat starch paste. The sketches look and function in much the same way as they did before the conservation treatment. But the damaging tape adhesive has been removed, so it will no longer contribute to deterioration of the paper.

Other mentions

In the past, the Underground Comix Collection has been mentioned, exhibited and written about by other people on campus too. The Special Collections and University Archives blog, Cardinal Tales, has featured the Underground Comix Collection in 2015 in a post titled “Not Your Ordinary Comic Books”. The staff at Special Collections has used some rather spooky Underground Comix titles for the library’s Halloween Pop-Up Exhibit.

The Special Collections department featured Underground Comix in their Halloween pop-up exhibit in 2017.

The ISU Daily student newspaper had published the article “Underground Comix Have Rich History” in 2013. Student writer Victoria Emery had interviewed ISU College of Design professor John Cunnally about his scholarship related to the collection.

This is my humble homage to the candid and unapologetic art of Underground Comix artists. The image on the left is part of the cover of “The R. Crumb Handbook”, by R. Crumb and P. Poplaski, 2005.

Back in March of 2018, our department conservator Sonya wrote a blog piece about the slides and papers in the Hortense Butler Heywood Collection here at ISU. The collection was digitized, and is now online for public viewing. One viewer, Kelli Ireland, stumbled across our piece and the collection while researching her barn in an effort to get it listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Kelli reached out to Sonya to let her know that Heywood’s name is quite literally written on her barn!

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“Mrs. R.E. Heywood 8-29-1929” photograph by Kelli Ireland, Clay County, Iowa

Hortense Butler Heywood was a well known entomologist who was born and raised right here in Iowa. She co-authored the book, Handbook of the Dragonflies of North America and is also known for her detailed illustrations of specimens.

Ireland’s family rented the property from Hortense’s daughter Julia for a number of years before purchasing the land. How cool for this family to have such an interesting piece of history in their own yard! Thank you to Kelli for sharing this wonderful information with us, and for allowing us to update our readers!

 

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The Butler Heywood Barn photograph by Kelli Ireland, Clay County, Iowa.

Hortense Butler Heywood papers and microscope slides, early 1900’s

Hortense Butler Heywood was an entomologist who was also a prolific illustrator. A lot of her work focused on the study of dragonflies. The collection of her papers at Iowa State University Archives includes several dozen microscope slides with samples of dragonfly parts. Below are images of some slides and their extreme-zoom closeups. The slides are in fragile condition and would be tricky to view in the reading room on the light box. Digitizing them made a lot of sense. So we did it! And we loved every minute of it. A link to the complete Heywood digital collection can be found on the bottom of the  Women in Science and Engineering webpage:

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, how did we do it exactly?  My first idea was to use the camera attached to the microscope to generate an image. But, sadly, the picture was too blurry and indistinct. Plan B was to use a light box and our nice Nikon D4 SLR camera on the copy stand. The massive resolution of the image files made it possible to zoom in and see the details of the specimens. Without magnification the samples looked like tiny specs of debris. With magnification they were intriguing and presented a direct link to Ms. Heywood’s illustration work.

Organizing the slides

Making sure the slides are organized and ready to go before reformatting starts.

The photo setup

Positioning the slide so that only a minimum amount of cropping is necessary.

Digital imaging

Shooting raw files, at 600 dpi.

Mindy McCoy is editing in Photoshop

The only alteration to the raw files was to crop the images  and to save them as TIFFs.

Lawrence H. Skromme farming goods catalogs

Another digital  adventure, which promises to be ongoing for a while, is working with a comprehensive collection of ephemera related to farm machinery and equipment. The cards, pamphlets and catalogs  date from mid-1800s to early 1900s. This collection is frequently requested in the reading room by students and professors involved in courses on mechanical engineering, agricultural sciences and history of farming.

Archivists from ISU’s Special Collections have already written some blog posts about the Skromme collection: Ephemera in the Archives and Agricultural Machinery Product Literature.

Party in the front. Butcher & Gibbs Plow Co., Imperial Plows advertisement card, date unknown.

Business in the back. Butcher & Gibbs Plow Co., Imperial Plows advertisement card, date unknown.

Many of the catalogs have been used extensively in the field (literally in the field), folded and stuck into pockets, left in barns and tractors – you get the idea… And keep in mind that the paper they were printed on was never meant to last (ephemera!). Direct physical handling of this stuff basically kills it. So, this large collection was a wonderful candidate for digitization. And what fun it has been to review! See for yourselves…

Powerful lady of multi-tasking. J.M. Childs & Co., Tiger Self Dump Wheel Horse Rake advertisement card, not dated.

This image of a patriotically-clad woman riding a roaring tiger, while also managing to plow, has been very inspiring to me.

Project Management:

Clearly, these objects need to be available online so a large number of people can see them. Working on several concurrent digitization projects requires collaboration, concise and clear communication and tight organization across department lines.  Adopting a project management software tool has really enhanced our efforts.

We use Meister Task to track progress of items as they pass through the Selection-Conservation-Digitization-Metadata pipeline. The software is easy to use and visually pleasing. I will even venture to say that using the interface is somewhat intuitive.

Repairs:

What about numerous conservation repairs that are needed to stabilize the super-fragile and damaged ephemera for digitization? My strategy has been to expedite without cutting corners. Using remoistenable (pre-coated) tissue has helped save time. One benefit is the quick drying time. Another benefit is the ability to use 5 gsm or 3.5 gsm tengucho tissue with ease and expediency. The tissues are pre-coated with a mix of diluted wheat starch paste and 4M methyl cellulose, per handout from the 2009 LCCDG/ACDG session. Most of the paper that needs to be mended in this project is lightweight and fragile, so the thinner tissues are a good fit.

Applying remoistenable tissue mends. C. Altman & Co., Buckeye Annual Catalog, 1889

For  many of the pamphlets, the covers have become detached from the textblocks. Since they will be digitized on the OpticBook book-edge scanner, which also functions as a flatbed scanner, it would not make sense to reattach the pages. The materials are archival and are meant  for study purposes, not for display, so I consider toning fills to be unnecessary.

Not attaching covers to textblocks; not toning fills. Aultman, Miller & Co., Swedish Buckeye Catalog, 1899.

Some of the covers and pages that are detached are also very brittle and have numerous tears. It would take too long to mend them all and the page would still not be stable for handling because of its brittleness. Enclosing a page in a Mylar L-sleeve and calling it a day is an acceptable treatment option because the item can be scanned directly through Mylar.

Enclosing the cover in Mylar after mending significant tears; not mending numerous minor tears. C. Altman & Co., Buckeye Annual Catalog, 1889.

This is one of my favorite, most irresistible images from the Skromme Collection. The artists that worked for these companies were incredibly talented and imaginative.

A cutout advertisement made from thick card stock. Bucher & Gibbs Plow Co,. Imperial Plow advertisement card, not dated.

Plow ink! who would have thought?? Bucher & Gibbs Plow Co,. Imperial Plow advertisement card, not dated.

Preserving history of use:

As I mentioned earlier, certain signs of use are evident when examining the catalogs: fold lines, dirt, water damage, ink stains. But there are other signs as well, which I think of as “signs of life”. They are traces of people who inhabited the world with these paper objects. Even though the traces of personal history are not connected to a famous individual or a specific historic event, the altered paper objects do tell a compelling story about American farm life.

Child adds some embellishments with colored pencils  in the parent’s magazine. Charles H. Childs & Co., Riding Cultivators Catalog, 1892.

The culprit’s signature on the other side of the page. Charles H. Childs & Co., Riding Cultivators Catalog, 1892.

This advertisement booklet had blank pages inside. It was used to write down recipes for baked goods and cakes. A delicious read. Instead of using a book-edge scanner, the pages of the booklet will be photographed with a digital camera on the copy stand. The booklet will be opened and supported at 90 degrees in order to safely keep the nail in place

A page with a recipe is attached to the inside of the pamphlet, using a nail. J.M. Childs & Co., Tiger Self Dump Wheel Horse Rake memorandum book, 1884.

My two short months as the 2017 Lennox intern in the preservation lab have quickly come to an end! Even though it feels like I just started yesterday, I have had the opportunity to participate in so many projects in the lab which allowed me to stretch myself and exercise skills in many different areas. Here are a couple of the highlights:

One of my treatment projects was working on two WWI photographs with major losses.

For reference I used Victoria Binder’s article in Topics in Photographic Preservation entitled ‘Digital Fills for Photographs with Glossy Surfaces’

Ex-servicemen working on engines, before and after treatmentThese two silver gelatin photographs showing ISU’s part in post-war rehabilitation of WWI veterans were selected as part of a group of objects which will be shown in an upcoming exhibit by Special Collections/University Archives. Since the photographs will be on display, the large losses to the image area were determined to be distracting for the overall interpretation. I used Adobe Photoshop and a digital image of the photograph to create a fill for each loss that matched the surrounding image area.

Beekeeping, before and after treatment

Each fill was then printed out on glossy photo paper, which gave it a shiny finish that matched the original photograph nearly perfectly, a feature that is very difficult to reproduce manually with traditional materials. Another great feature of creating fills this way is that the color and exposure can be manipulated quickly and easily to match the original photograph exactly, cutting out a lengthy inpainting and color-matching process. One thing to be careful of while making digital fills, which was discussed at length with the curator beforehand, is that the recreation of lost information can easily go too far, verging on suggesting imagery that may not have existed. Therefore, the fills are very nondescript, focusing on light-dark contrast and overall texture instead of completion of objects or figures.

Another great blog post, “Digital Fills to the Rescue” by Rachel Pennimen, can be found on Duke University Libraries blog Preservation Underground.

Throughout my time here Sonya was working on updating the library-wide disaster response and recovery plan. These plans are a crucial part of the institutional planning, and can help significantly reduce response time and overall damage to the collections in the case of an emergency such as a flood or fire. I helped with the updating process by making sure vendor contact information was current, filling in missing sections, and sifting through extant and potential format options to pull useful information and organization ideas and put them together into a streamlined, yet thorough, plan.

Sonya and archivist Laura Sullivan recording information about priority collections in the stacks

One step toward a helpful disaster plan is identifying collection priorities, both in terms of value and sensitivity. To this end, Sonya and I did walkthroughs of Special Collections stacks with the curators to pick out certain items or collections that were especially important to the University. Knowing this information and the inherent sensitivity of the materials in the stacks can help pinpoint objects that should be salvaged first in the event of an emergency. This project taught me a lot about how disaster plans are actually built and are meant to function within a large institution like ISU Library.

My time at ISU was  busy! But I am so happy with all that I learned and accomplished over these two months, and know I will put that experience to good use in my upcoming projects!

This program for the ISU vs. University of Minnesota football game, held on October 24, 1896, has seen better days. After being used as a scorecard, presumably by a fan who attended the game, rolled up (possibly by the same nervous fan), nibbled on by insects, and hastily put back together with two separate campaigns of pressure-sensitive tape, this object has finally arrived at the Preservation Lab for treatment prior to digitization.

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Back cover with notations

The treatment involves removing the tape holding the covers and leaves together and then reassembling the fragments and mending with tissue and wheat starch paste. The tape removal has been tricky so far, accounting for the majority of the treatment hours. Since there are two different types of tape, the ideal method for removing the carrier and reducing the adhesive residue has to be found separately for each kind.

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Removing the plastic tape carrier with a heated spatula.

The plastic carrier is removed using heat (or peeled straight off, if the adhesive is degraded enough), and then the remaining adhesive is removed from the surface of the paper using a combination of erasers, heat, and mechanical reduction using a scalpel blade. In some cases, the staining from the tape adhesive can be removed with solvents. For this archival object, however, the aesthetic outcome of the treatment is less important than the physical stabilization, and the staining will be left untreated.

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Emilie working on a few pages at a time

It was hoped that the booklet could be reassembled after mending, but it appears the individual leaves are too fragile for that level of manipulation and will be individually encapsulated in polyester sleeves.

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Encapsulated pages in a 4-flap enclosure

This program is one of hundreds in the University Archives’ ISU Dept. of Athletics Football collection that have been digitized for public viewing online. Early films of ISU football games will be showcased at a tailgating event, hosted by Special Collections and University Archives at the November 11th football game with Oklahoma State. Visitors to the library’s tent will be able to view objects from the collections, such as football programs from years past, banners, buttons, commemorative beanie hats and early photographs and learn more about the history of the University and the Athletic Department.

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During treatment: group photo of the 1896 team from the football program

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From the University Archives: image of the 1895 football team

 

Football is a historic tradition at Iowa State and I recently finished a project scanning football programs that range from the early 1900s to the 2010s.

I was able to use our new book edge scanner that made scanning the bound programs easy and gave us a great image. It was been an enjoyable project to see the evolution of these programs over time. From the type of paper used to make the program to the graphic design of the program, many things have changed in football programs over the last 80 years or so. There’s a lot of information shown in these programs beyond just football. While I did get to observe changes in coaching staff and players in the football programs, I also observed a lot of the growth on Iowa State’s campus. By digitizing these programs, I hope that others will be able to observe and appreciate these changes as well. Digitizing these programs is important because there may come a day where programs only exist in the digital form. If paper copies no longer exist, the physical copies we have from the past will become a rare item that will have preserved the information presented in them as well as the traditions they represent at Iowa State.

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