Help Transcribe History for the Library of Congress

by Heidi Lauritzen on December 7th, 2018

You can help transcribe original historical documents through a new program at the Library of Congress. Creating a digital transcription of manuscripts and other documents allows the public to search those documents more easily with keyword searches, and improves readability when original handwriting is difficult to decipher. Go to to learn more about it and to get to work.





Shown above is a page from a diary belonging to Clara Barton, who nursed the wounded on the battlefields of the Civil War, and the transcription of the page.

The benefits to you, the transcriber, are several: in addition to feeling good about helping others use historical documents more easily, you will have the satisfaction of becoming immersed in original sources, and also gain skills in deciphering older forms of handwriting and vocabulary. Rest assured, your transcriptions will be reviewed by others to help ensure accuracy. You may also elect to review other transcribers’ work.

The volunteer program began this fall, and already thousands of pages have been transcribed. Anyone wanting to give it a try may participate. They suggest that it works best to use a device with a full-sized keyboard such as a laptop or desktop computer; a tablet with an external keyboard should work, but smartphones are not yet supported. There is a “How to Transcribe” guide that explains how to get started. A list of common questions about the project is at the website’s FAQ page in their Help Center.

Some of the projects that have been done so far include writings by Civil War soldiers, documents by and about Clara Barton, letters to Abraham Lincoln, and diaries, letters and other papers of Mary Church Terrell, advocate for African Americans and women.  Part of the “Civil War Soldiers” project are submissions to a contest in which Union soldiers and sailors who lost their right arms by disability or amputation during the War were invited to submit samples of their penmanship using their left hands.

A similar project is happening close to home:  the University of Iowa Libraries has had an active crowdsourced transcription platform for a number of years.  Their project is called “DIY History” and has content from the UI Special Collections, the Iowa Women’s Archives, and the University Archives.

What’s the best snowblower? Laptop? Tablet?

by Melody Dworak on November 28th, 2018


Snowblower Ratings

So the 2018 Thanksgiving weekend snowstorm has you considering a snow blower for the next time Iowa City gets 8 inches. Or the gift giving season is causing you to pull your hair out about which laptop to buy to send Sally back to college with. Make informed decisions about your spending by looking up product ratings and reviews on Consumer Reports before you buy.  Read the rest of this entry »

Academic Research @ICPL

by Melody Dworak on November 19th, 2018

History by TNS from the Noun Project

Whenever I get a question at the Info Desk that requires digging deep into a research topic, I get a little excited (#NerdAlert). We may not carry textbooks in our collection, but if we can’t find a book that meets the needs of a research topic, we still can look to our Online Resources database collection to dig into the issue.  Read the rest of this entry »

Did you vote early? Track your absentee ballot!

by Melody Dworak on November 1st, 2018

Today I learned that early voters can track their absentee ballot through the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. Here’s a snapshot of the info you need to look up your ballot:

Information needed to track your absentee ballot

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Hunter’s Moon

by Maeve Clark on October 22nd, 2018


Image via

Have you noticed moon recently? It will be full this Wednesday. It’s a Hunter’s Moon, (though with harvest delay it might be called a Harvest and Hunter’s Moon).

According to the website EarthSky “every full moon has many names, and most are tied to months of the year. But some moon names are tied to seasons, such as the Harvest and Hunter’s Moons. The Harvest Moon is the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox. The Hunter’s Moon is the full moon after the Harvest Moon. The 2018 autumnal equinox was on September 22-23 and the Harvest Moon was around September 24-25. So the upcoming full moon – on the night of October 24, 2018 – is the Hunter’s Moon.

What makes a Hunter’s Moon unique?

Nature is particularly cooperative around the time of the autumn equinox to make the fall full moonrises special. On average, the moon rises about 50 minutes later each day. But when a full moon happens close to the autumnal equinox – either a Harvest or a Hunter’s Moon – the moon rises only about 30 to 35 minutes later daily for several days before and after the full moon. The reason is that the ecliptic – or the moon’s orbital path – makes a narrow angle with the evening horizon around the time of the autumn equinox. The result is that there’s a shorter-than-usual lag time between successive moonrises around the full Hunter’s Moon.

These early evening moonrises are what make every Hunter’s Moon special. Every full moon rises around sunset. After the full Hunter’s Moon, you’ll see the moon ascending in the east relatively soon after sunset for several days. The moon will be bright and full-looking for several nights beginning around October 23 or 24.

The narrow angle of the ecliptic means the moon rises noticeably farther north on the horizon from one night to the next. So there is no long period of darkness between sunset and moonrise, and, around the time of full moon, many people see the moon in a twilight sky.

How did the Hunter’s Moon get its name? There are many different explanations for the name Hunter’s Moon. In the autumn there is not long period of darkness between sunset and moonrise for several days in a row, around the time of full moon. Before there were tractors or tractors with lights, the glow of the Harvest Moon helped farmers to gather their crops. As the sun’s light faded in the west, the moon would soon rise in the east to illuminate the fields throughout the night. A month later, after the harvest was done, the full Hunter’s Moon was said to illuminate the prey of hunters, scooting along in the stubble left behind in the fields.”

I love to watch the night sky, do you?

Orionid Meteor Shower reaches it’s peak this weekend!

by Beth Fisher on October 17th, 2018


If you’re not often outside late at night, you might not be aware that something pretty special has been going on this week.  The 2018 Orionid Meteor Shower began on October 15 and ends October 29th.  Peak nights for viewing the meteor shower this year are this weekend!  Prime viewing time will be around around 2:00 a.m Saturday and Sunday, as the moon will be nearing the horizon.  You should be able to see at least a few meteors during any night the sky is clear during the last half of the month.







The Orionids happen every year in late October when the Earth passes through the stream of ice particles and rocks trailing Haley’s Comet. Haley’s Comet has a highly elliptical 75.5 year orbit around the Sun. It last passed through the inner part of the solar system in 1986.  Each time it passes the Sun a bit of the ice on the comet melts and rocks and larger chunks of ice break off and join the stream of debris following the comet.




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Of Celts, the dearly departed, candy, and other hallowed things.

by Candice Smith on October 16th, 2018
Of Celts, the dearly departed, candy, and other hallowed things. Cover Image

Halloween was a holiday that I loved and hated when I was a kid…I found it a little nerve-wracking to come up with a good costume idea, to dress up and go out in front of people, and to go knock on doors. BUT–the candy. I loved Halloween because of the outrageous amount of candy you could get, for free, by just walking around for a couple hours. It was unbelievable, like a dream come true. Now that I’m older, I can buy my own candy and satiate my sweet tooth like a normal person, but I still enjoy handing out candy to the kids who come to my house, seeing them in all their spooky spectacularness. Just how did this fantastic holiday come to be? I’m glad you asked!

As I have before (for Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas) I went to the excellent America’s Favorite Holidays by Bruce Forbes to find out. As is often the case with days we celebrate, the beginnings of our Halloween can be found centuries ago, and is related to the change in seasons and how that affected everyday life. The Celtic people in Ireland and the British Isles (ca. 500 BCE)  celebrated a harvest-season festival called Samhain; this took place on November 1, a day that was essentially the beginning of their new year. This was the time when the agricultural season was ending and the harvest was brought in, and animals would be slaughtered so that they didn’t have so many to feed over the winter; in essence, their new year began when their work ended, they were flush with food, and they were getting ready to face the coming dark and cold season. They would have a huge three day celebration where accounts were settled, legal matters decided, food shared and bonds strengthened. This last hurrah of the year began the day before Samhain, October 31. In addition to the annual festivities, this was also an important time of year spiritually. No doubt they were influenced by the lengthened periods of darkness and the dying off of flora as winter approached, and they believed that the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead was less substantial. Read the rest of this entry »

Internet cookies…nom,nom,nom

by Alyssa Hanson on October 1st, 2018

Have you ever wondered why you see ads for items you’ve previously looked at online? Those shoes you looked at on Amazon follow you around like a bad Halloween stalker appearing on site after site that you visit. This is the result of cookies. Not cookies you can eat, unfortunately, but ones that websites leave on your computer.

Internet cookies are small little files that can contain a variety of information with each site leaving different types of information. Shopping sites for example will leave information about what you looked at which can be accessed by other sites who may then pull in that information and show you similar items in the ad portions of their page. They will then get a small amount of money if you click on that item. It’s a way for some sites to make money.

But cookies are also left on your computer for things like your username and password for a site. Next you time you visit a site that has saved a cookie for its login, the site will have autofilled in your username and maybe your password so you don’t have to remember it. So there are also ways when it can be convenient to have the site remember you.

What to do if you don’t want cookies to be saved from a website? Most browsers have a mode that will automatically delete your browsing history and all cookies after you close it. In Firefox and Safari it’s called Private browsing, in Chrome it’s Incognito, and in Microsoft Edge it’s InPrivate.Browser settings with private window highlighted I use this a lot when shopping for items online whether I’m just looking up prices for something I’m really going to go pick up from a store, or for things that I’m going to buy online but don’t want to see ads for afterwards.

You can also delete cookies manually by pressing Ctrl + Shift + Delete on a PC and Command + Shift + Delete on a Mac in most browsers.

Of course, private browsing also has its limitations. If you log into any online account while in a private browsing mode, you can still be linked back to sites that you’ve visited even after clearing the cookies from your computer. So while your computer may not know you’ve been there, the site you visited will.

All in all though, private browsing can be an extremely useful tool when you want to look up something and not have it follow you around the internet.

How do I register to vote?

by Melody Dworak on September 24th, 2018

VoteNational Voter Registration Day is September 25, 2018. If you are not yet registered to vote, or not registered to vote in Iowa, National Voter Registration Day is a perfect time to get registered. There are so many places in this area to register in person, thanks to this nationwide voter drive. Anyone can search for events in their zip code on the National Voter Registration Day website. For local events, register in person at the following locations:  Read the rest of this entry »

What’s in the State Historical Society of Iowa archives?

by Melody Dworak on September 19th, 2018

Sometimes we get a question at the Info Desk that makes us turn to the archives held by the State Historical Society of Iowa (SHSI). The SHSI’s official web presence has information maintained by the State of Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, their parent body. You can dig for the links on their website to find a way to search the SHSI’s catalog of items, or you can stick this knowledge in your back pocket: the University of Iowa Libraries hosts the SHSI catalog, so you can go directly to their InfoHawk+ catalog to do your research.


Simple InfoHawk Search Bar

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