“The thing that I am seeking should not be far to seek”

by on May 9th, 2016

bookOver the weekend, we were reunited with a book from long ago, Aline Kilmer’s Vigils (1921). We weren’t looking for it; the book was legitimately withdrawn from the collection. But, perhaps the book was seeking a return to us. Of course, I was interested in the history of this particular book and perhaps you are too. So, to the accession records!

In storage, we hold accession records for books we purchased dating back to January 14, 1897. In the ledger, each book was given a number, assigned in the order in which it was added to the collection. If interested (I am!), the first entries include twenty-four books by Sir Walter Scott (Waverly was the first entry), eighteen books by William Makepeace Thackeray, and sixteen books by Charles Dickens. Readers of the 1890’s loved their Scott. The accession records include when we purchased the book, the title, author, publisher, cost, and where we purchased it. It also includes the date we removed the book from the collection.


Our librarian predecessors wrote the accession number (27046) on the title page of Vigils. In our accession books, we find that on March 1, 1923, librarians from the Iowa City Public Library added Vigils by Aline Kilmer. We paid $1.70, purchasing the book from a local book store, Book & Craft. I decided to go a little farther and look up Book & Craft in the city directory.


According to the 1922 Smith’s Directory of Iowa City, the store was located at 124 E. Washington Street. The corresponding ad on page 9 states that it specialized in books, stationary, and gifts and it was owned by May Gibson Shuck and Kjaerstine Mathieson. Was this business owned by women?

Let’s go to the census! According to the 1920 Federal census, May Gibson Shuck and Kjaerstine Mathieson were women, owned their own business (the bookstore), and also lived with Nina R. Shaffer (a librarian at the university) and Anna Mathieson (Kjaerstine’s younger sister) at 314 N. Clinton Street. All were born in Iowa, but Kjaerstine and Anna’s parents were from Denmark.

shuck census

We withdrew Vigils in 1943. If you are interested in reading Vigils, the University of Pennsylvania has digitized the book of poetry. Aline Kilmer was married to the poet Joyce Kilmer—who wrote the poem, “I think that I shall never see / A poem as lovely as a tree.” He is often found in collected American poetry volumes.

Thank you to the individual who sent us this book. It was a joy to track down its story. If you have a history mystery, try our city directories, census records, and other local historical materials here at the Iowa City Public Library, or contact the Information Desk.

2 Responses to ““The thing that I am seeking should not be far to seek””

  1. Anne Stapleton says:

    Fascinating! Thanks so much for finding and writing about the earliest entries in the accession records (and GO Waverley!). The 1897 entries also coincide with the opening of the Library of Congress, which proudly displays a bust of Walter Scott outside the entrance, welcoming visitors to the largest library in the world.

  2. Larry says:

    Thus begins the journey to replace Irving Weber!

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