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Special Collections and Rare Books

This guide is an introduction to Special Collections at Iowa State University.

About this Guide

This guide provides an introduction to understanding and using Special Collections at Iowa State University. You can search for collections via the internet but the actual materials have to be used in our reading room, with the exception of material that is available online. Use the tabs on the left to navigate the guide.

About Special Collections and University Archives

About Us

Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) was established at the Iowa State University Library in 1969. SCUA contains nearly 18,000 linear feet of archival materials documenting the university's main research areas such as rural life and agriculture, natural history, veterinary medicine, engineering, and women in science and engineering. The University Archives consists of official records and faculty and alumni papers in paper and electronic formats, along with over 1,000,000 photographs, 5,000 audiovisual recordings, and 10,000 motion picture films. Included in the archival collections are also the manuscript collections, which document individuals, families, and organizations. There are 55,000 rare books dating back to 1475, with strengths in agriculture and the natural sciences.

Our mission

The Iowa State University Library Special Collections and University Archives collects, preserves, and shares documentation of the experiences, achievements, and memories of people and organizations reflecting the university's major research areas, with a special commitment to documenting the history of the university. Supporting the land-grant ideals of putting science, technology and human creativity to work, we strive to enrich learning and encourage investigation by a diverse community of users.

What do we do?

  • Collect and provide access to university records, and rare books, personal papers and organizational records in the fields of  Iowa State University’s major research areas.
  • Maintain an active public service and outreach program. 
  • Assist visitors with their research.
  • Create virtual exhibits for online visitors as well as exhibits for the Reading Room area and other locations on campus.
  • Work with the University Library's Digital Initiatives unit to digitize selections from our collections.
  • House our records in a controlled environment to ensure their preservation.
  • Collaborate with university units and cultural institutions to promote our collections and develop cooperative projects.


Contact the Rare Books & Manuscripts Archivist

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Amy Bishop
she, her, hers
403 Parks Library

Contact us before you visit!

You will get access to the materials much faster if you contact the archives in advance. Here's why:

  • Off-site/Library Storage Building materials can take up to seven business days to retrieve. Please email to request material and schedule your visit.
  • Related materials: Even if you have something specific you want to see (and know how to request it), we may have suggestions for other materials.
  • Check the holdings: As with most archives, many of our collections don't have detailed descriptions. If you're looking for a specific document or piece of information, contact the archives before making a trip so that you won't be disappointed if the collection doesn't have what you're looking for.
  • Research Help: We understand that using archives can be complicated. We know our collections and are truly happy to help!