by Candice Smith on October 13th, 2014
A couple weeks back the Info Desk received a letter in the mail from someone who had recently purchased a postcard mailed from Iowa City. The card had been sent in 1875, and had a unique stamp that was the postage cancellation mark. This person wanted to know if we were able to determine anything about that mark and what it might mean.
Where to begin, right? I’m not very familiar with the collecting and/or research of letters and stamps, and we had little to go on. The cancel mark itself looked like the letters ‘JIC’ and didn’t appear to be handwritten. I didn’t even know what to call the mark, so I started by looking at some general resources about the postal system. I found that, before the advent of machine-generated stamping and marking, postmasters would cancel postage in various ways, including uniquely-carved stamps that were often made of cork. The marks that these stamps made are often called ‘fancy cancels.’ I then started looking for other postcards that had been recorded or auctioned that were sent from Iowa City, as well as looking though numerous different fancy cancels from Iowa. I eventually did find one other postcard that had been sent from the area that had a very similar cancel, but was unable to find any specific information about it. However, that was enough to make me think that we were indeed dealing with a stamp that was regularly used by one of our postmasters.
Without ever being able to positively identify what the initials stood for, a good guess would be ‘Johnson Iowa City.’ Other fancy cancels served a similar purpose of identifying place of origin. I also wondered that it might be the initials of a postmaster…but how would I find that out? I started browsing some of the resources contained in the database Ancestry, and lo and behold, it contains the aptly titled Appointments of U.S. Postmasters, 1832-1971. I was easily able to view all of the postmasters from Iowa City who had appointments during the time this postcard was sent, and…nothing. No names matched those initials. What I did find, though, was that several of the area’s well-known people were appointed as postmasters, including Samuel Trowbridge, Chauncey Swan, and Edward Lucas, son of Robert Lucas. There were other notable names too, such as landowners Jacob Ricard and George Clark, and store owner John Whetstone. Finding these names in this database tells a little more of the story of Iowa City, of the people who lived here and helped build it.
In the end, I was not able to provide a definitive answer for our patron, but I did enjoy trying. If you have any information or ideas related to old postage marks from Iowa City, please leave a comment.
Want to try out Ancestry Library Edition? Stop by the Info Desk for help!
Want to see some old letters mailed to Iowa City? Check out our Digital History Project!
Want to read an oddly fascinating book about postal systems? Check out The Crying of Lot 49!
by Candice Smith on August 29th, 2014
I was just perusing the most recent NYT Sunday Book Review, and I noticed that The Shortlist (brief reviews of current books on a specific topic) contains titles about ‘the mind.’ That is kind of exciting to me, because I am responsible for ordering books in the subject areas that would most likely contain books about the brain and thought processes. So, I went to order the books that had good reviews, and lo and behold, we already have them all! I must have been thinking ahead. Not only do we have them, but as I am writing this, four of the five books reviewed are on the shelf. Hot new books, ready for you, right now!
So, without further ado, I exhort you, thoughtful reader, to put on your thinking cap and come to the Library to check these books out–your mind will expand, you will build new neural pathways, and your brain will thank you!
Kidding Ourselves: The Hidden Power of Self-Deception by Joseph T. Hamilton
History Lessons: A Memoir of Madness, Memory, and the Brain by Clifton Crais
Struck By Genius: How a Brain Injury Made Me a Mathematical Marvel by Jason Padgett and Maureen Seaberg
Me, Myself, and Why: Searching for the Science of Self by Jennifer Ouellette
The Depths: The Evolutionary Origins of the Depression Epidemic by Jonathan Rottenberg
*edited to add that, by the time I published this, another book was checked out…so hurry!
by Candice Smith on August 7th, 2014
We’re getting ready for our next B.Y.O.Book meet-up, and this time we’re taking a wild ride through the digestive system–top to bottom, so to speak!
Join us August 26 at Trumpet Blossom to discuss Mary Roach’s Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal and indulge in some great drinks, eats, and atmosphere. I’ve already gotten a good start on this book, and it’s incredibly smart, entertaining, and just the right amount of ewww/ick factor that one might expect.
If you need a copy of the book, they are now available at the Info Desk on the second floor of the Library–stop by and sign one out! You can also go here to register for the event.
by Candice Smith on August 2nd, 2014
Summer is usually a time where I go through many books, at a fairly quick pace, because I’m doing other things that go well with reading…lying on a beach, relaxing in the air conditioning, sitting on a bench downtown having a cold drink–you get the idea. It’s the time of year where I can be reading several books at once; a book I read on my lunch break, a book by my bedside, one in the beachbag, one in my purse. This summer is no different, except that I didn’t finish most of the books I started. I have no good excuse. I promise that I WILL go back and finish them.
The one book I did read in its entirety is Laura McHugh’s The Weight of Blood. This book has two mysteries confronting main character Lucy–the disappearance of her mother when Lucy was just a baby, and the very recent murder and dismembering of her friend. The book is richly atmospheric, with a slightly dark and menacing flavor to it; it’s set in small town Missouri, an area that is only hours away from us geographically, but manages to seem worlds away in how life is lived there. Small town, long memories, big secrets. The characters are unique and in some cases a bit odd, and are well-drawn and feel somewhat familiar to anyone who’s lived in a small or close-knit community. Without giving away too much, the book also has at its center a very modern and urban-feeling crime, in marked to contrast to its setting, which makes seem even more sinister by way of encroachment.
In full disclosure, the books I didn’t finish (yet):
A Dark and Twisted Tide by S.J. Bolton (I came so close to finishing this!)
I’d Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman (beachbook–waiting to go back to the beach)
Love You More by Lisa Gardner (about halfway done)
A Song For the Dying by Stuart MacBride (didn’t even crack it open)
by Candice Smith on May 10th, 2014
About a year ago, a patron came to the Reference Desk and asked me to help him find a picture of Curtis Bridge. “Who’s Curtis Bridge?” I asked. As it turns out, it’s not a who, but a what. A bridge! A bridge that gave its name to the road on either side of it, which was the road that this man’s family home was located on. His mother had just sold the home, and he was back in town to move her to another state to live near him and his wife, and he wanted to find a picture of the bridge to take with him as a reminder of where he’d grown up, of where his parents had both grown up.
“Where is it located?” I asked him. Nowhere. It doesn’t exist anymore. He didn’t even know what it looked like, but his mother remembered it, and he remembered his parents talking about it when he was growing up. About driving across it. About walking on it. About cars crashing on it and off of it. About people fishing from it. Now it’s gone. He’d always wondered about it, growing up on a road named after a bridge, when there is no bridge. He wanted a picture of the thing that represented that wonder, and of what created those memories for his parents.
We did find a picture that night, and he left a happy patron and was sure his mother would love it. Question answered, right? For him, yes. For me, no. I was hooked on finding out whatever I could about Curtis Bridge. An old highway (in the early 1900s, really just a dirt track), a river, towns on either side of the river, and a bridge that links them…that’s the story of growing community in early 20th century Iowa. Now the bridge and highway (and a town!) are gone–although there are remnants!–and that’s the start of an odd fascination.
One of the tools I discovered while researching Curtis Bridge is a magnificent thing called the Johnson County Property Information Viewer. Look up an address or area, and you can see aerial photographs of it from different years. A very cool resource that you can use to visualize lots of things….what your neighborhood looked like in years past, the growth of roads into different areas, the changing structure of downtown, or how a bridge was there and then not there.
If anyone has their own pictures of Curtis Bridge, or the area around there, we’d love to have you bring them in to our next Scanning Day at the Library; we’re focusing specifically on photos of Iowa City and Johnson County, and we want to add them to our Digital History Project website. Got old photos of the area? Bring ’em in! May 28, 5-8 pm, Meeting Room A.
by Candice Smith on May 6th, 2014
Cinco de Mayo has come and gone, but don’t worry, there is still reason to celebrate this week…today is National Teacher Day! The National Education Association urges folks to take the time to thank a teacher today, and I think it’s a great idea! Of course, I might be a little biased due to the fact that I am married to a teacher, but I am also wise enough to recognize that I wouldn’t be here today, with a great job and an active mind, if I hadn’t had the support of dedicated teachers through all my years of schooling (or, as my Mother is fond of saying, my many, many years of schooling). This is something to be thankful for.
I think it’s especially important now, when there is so much talk about what is wrong with the education system, and long lists of ‘schools in need of assistance,’ to remember what our individual teachers do. They put in a great deal of effort to provide students with life skills and reasoning capabilities, and they prepare their students to go out into the world. It can be a stressful and very time-consuming job, but teachers keep teaching because they find value in it, and because they care.
I think many people who go into teaching do it because they had a teacher who made a great impact in their life. Maybe there is a teacher in your past who made a difference, or maybe your child has a teacher right now who does their job really well…thank them if you can!
If you want to take a look at what some of our teachers are doing in their classrooms to make a difference, check out American Teacher: Heroes In the Classroom. It’s a beautiful book, and very inspiring.
by Candice Smith on April 4th, 2014
There’s really not a whole lot to say about this little book, it speaks for itself. It’s a tiny morsel of complete happiness, wrapped up in a flurry of pictures of ridiculously cute kittens doing kittenish things. Kittens sleeping, kittens learning to walk, kittens eating, kittens playing. Several different breeds are showcased, including Russian Blues, Toygers, Persians and Munchkins (Munchkins?? I know, I didn’t even know there was such thing as a Munchkin cat, but now I need three or four).
Personally, I’m not one of those people who sees cute little kids and feels the pangs of motherhood, but this book made my ovaries ache. If you’re a total cat mama or papa, you’ll want this book. If you’ve got kids that love cats, they’ll enjoy this book. If you’re thinking about taking that plunge into cat-ownership and want to be pushed right off that cliff into the deep end, you should take a look at this book.
You’re not going to learn a whole lot from this book, but you’ll have a few moments of pure bliss and appreciation of the amazingly cute things that can exist in this world, and that is more than worth the ten minutes it would take you to leaf through its pages.
by Candice Smith on March 19th, 2014
In the March 15 issue of Library Journal, Library Science assistant professor Michael Stephens questions whether libraries should be replacing librarians with technology experts who have excellent customer service and instructional skills. This puts me of two minds. One is that we should acknowledge that technology is a big part of the lives of our patrons, and the Library can and should help people learn to use various resources and devices, thereby continuing our mission to educate and promote lifelong learning while at the same time making the Library itself a valuable resource to the community. The change is already here–everyone seems to have a tablet, a phone, and a computer of some sort, and they read their books, talk to their friends, even conduct their business on them–and the Library simply needs to move further towards meeting the needs that arise. The other thought I have is that I don’t want to move entirely away from the things that you might normally associate a ‘Librarian’ with, and if you replace those people with tech-savvy geniuses and helpers, what might you lose? Just last night ICPL had it’s first BYOBook bookclub at the Sanctuary Pub, where a group of people, most of whom had never met before, gathered to talk about a book they enjoyed reading. It was great. It felt refreshing and kind of retro, probably because I do spend a great deal of time at work either on a computer or helping someone with a computer. That ‘tech’ side of me would not have made as good of a host as the ‘at the desk’ or ‘in the stacks’ side of me.
For sure, there is a middle ground. Stephens goes on to state that libraries might begin to hire specialized people who may not be trained librarians, while continuing to hire some librarians who work with programming and projects. But people still ask ‘do we need librarians?’ Do we want them? Do you?
Readers–what do you think? Who do you want to see at your library?
by Candice Smith on March 14th, 2014
Tonight someone called the Reference Desk to find out what the weather was in a particular place, on a particular day. We sometimes get calls related to weather, people wanting to know how much precipitation occurred during that month that seemed to have endless rain, or just how windy it was on what they remember as the windiest day ever…the website I like to use for information like this is Wunderground. It gives current weather, and loads of other information besides, including historical and averages. It’s pretty interesting, and depending on what city you are looking for data about, their records go back a ways. So, I now know that the high temp on the day I was born was 36, but the average for that day is 44, and the record high is 87 (in 1897)!
Next time you want to find out what’s up with the weather, anywhere, give it a try!
by Candice Smith on March 6th, 2014
So, this past Tuesday, I found myself wanting to discuss a good book and have a nice beer. That happens to me often on Tuesdays…wait, what did you say? You too??!!
Well, you’re in luck! Get ready for B.Y.O.Book, the Library’s new books in bars book club. One Tuesday during each of the next three months we’re going to meet in a local bar, discuss some literature, maybe have a drink and meet some like-minded readers. First on the agenda is Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. It’s a long book, I know, but by now a lot of you might have already read it; if not, stop by the Reference Desk and grab a copy. Then, meet us on Tuesday, March 18 at 7 p.m. at the Sanctuary Pub.
To get started, here’s the blog I did about the book on January 15, 2010.