Handling Jane Austen First Editions at University of Iowa Special Collections

Univiersity of Iowa

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Kathryn Reuter of the University of Iowa:

What is your role at your institution? 

My title is academic outreach coordinator and I work in a split position at the University of Iowa, providing instruction and outreach services for Special Collections & Archives and the University of Iowa’s Stanley Museum of Art

On any given day I might welcome a class to the art museum and give them a tour of the galleries or conduct a class viewing a selection of art in the museum classrooms – then I might walk next door to the Main Library and set up for a class in Special Collections, viewing archival materials and rare books. I am lucky to be able to work with the amazing materials here in the library and to be able to teach with the impressive art collection at the Stanley.  

In addition to teaching, I plan outreach efforts and programs. My work promotes the connections between the museum and the library, as part of campus GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives, and museums) initiatives.  

How did you get started in special collections? 

As an undergrad, I interned in Special Collections at the Getty Research Institute as part of the Getty’s Multicultural Undergraduate Internship program. I really enjoyed working on a large museum campus and in an art research library environment. So, as a graduate student, I was thrilled to intern at the Watson Library at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I love being a librarian, but I also love working in museums. In my current role at the University of Iowa, I get to do both. 

Where did you earn your degrees?

After earning my BA in history from California State University, Long Beach, I moved to the Midwest to attend the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. I earned a MA in history as well as my MLIS degree from UWM. 

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you've handled? 

Tough to choose! During my first week here in Iowa I was in the Special Collections stacks and saw three volumes of Jane Austen's Emma sitting on the shelf – then I realized they are first editions, printed for J. Murray in London, 1816. I had a special moment while holding them because it felt like “Wow - I made it! I’m a real special collections librarian!”  

As a teenager I was a little bit of a Janeite, and in many ways the goal of becoming a librarian (let alone a special collections librarian) felt unattainable because of numerous barriers for entry to higher education – holding the first editions of Emma was validating and made me reflect on all the work that went into getting to where I am today.  

What do you personally collect? 

Postcards and clothes! I am partial to linen postcards (especially those printed by the Curt Teich company, which pioneered this format) and collect specific themes and locations. I try to keep my vintage clothing collecting to a minimum because this collection takes up way more space than the postcards and can get out of hand. 

What do you like to do outside of work? 

I like to travel, try out new vegan recipes, go to see live music, and read. I make zines and I send mail/ mail art to friends and family. 

What excites you about special collections librarianship? 

It is so heartwarming to see people connect to the material! Whether it is a community member seeing themselves/ their experiences reflected in the archives or a student getting excited about a new concept, it is great to know that the materials we take care of have meaning and value. 

Thoughts on the future of special collections librarianship? 

More inclusion and more access! I got my foot in the door to special collections through an internship program that works to diversify the staff of museums and arts organizations. Museums, archives, and special collections should be for everyone – and we must recognize and dismantle barriers to entry - for both visitors and for staff. 

Any unusual or interesting collection at your library you'd like to draw our attention to? 

When I have time, I like to poke around the Alternative Traditions in the Contemporary Arts (ATCA) collections – this group of collections includes Fluxus works, mail art, and artists’ papers, so there is a ton to look through. We have some of Yoko Ono’s hair from a Fluxus performance and I love to pull that out for class visits.  

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library? 

The University of Iowa Main Library has a dedicated gallery space and currently on view is an exhibit called Out & About, Queer Life in Iowa City. The exhibit does a wonderful job examining local and national issues in LGBTQ+ history. It also raises salient questions about our current moment when there is awful anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ legislation in many states, including in the state of Iowa. You can check out the exhibit’s online iteration here.  

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