Story by Larissa Wurm
Photo by Luke Nankivell
The upper west side of the building has been under construction over the summer to house Tom Harkin’s papers, along with a series of other documents, including some from the university archives.
Planning for where the papers would go started around February.
“We were thinking about where we wanted to put the archives and it actually started on the ground floor,” said Rod Henshaw, dean of Cowles Library. “But one night I walked through the building and thought it would fit better on the second floor. It just makes it part of what we are.”
“It also gives it more prominence and the status it deserves just by putting it on the second floor,” added Claudia Frazer, an associate of Henshaw’s on the project and the digital initiatives coordinator at Cowles Library.
Another benefit of having the archives on the second floor is its accessibility to everyone, including those with disabilities.
“We were very cognizant of the fact that one of Tom Harkin’s big pet issues is the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), so we didn’t want to make it into a situation where if someone wanted to come in with a wheelchair … they wouldn’t be able to,” Frazer said. “We really wanted to make a research room that would be ADA compliant … This makes it a lot more seamless.”
The project cost about $1 million between construction and planning.
Precautions were taken when planning the construction to eliminate anything that could deteriorate the contents of the archives, Henshaw said.
“We couldn’t use carpet, we couldn’t have wood tables or anything with fabric and the concrete was sealed,” he said.
It will also be built with mobile shelving and a state-of-the-art environmental control center to keep temperature and humidity constant.
Additional steel beams were brought in to reinforce the second floor, to make sure it could support everything included in the archive.
The area is divided into two parts: the storage area and an outer area used for research. There will also be staff to help process and support people who come in to use the documents for research.
“What will happen is we’ll have finding aides set up,” Frazer said. “Anyone coming in will have to sign in.”
Frazer has worked with a number of archivists and Senator Harkin’s staff about the transfer of the documents.
After retirement, officials have three months to clean out the offices, during which all the documents will be transferred to campus. From Harkin’s office alone, the university is expecting 1500 boxes of content.
“The staff has been exceptional to work with,” Henshaw said. “They’re organized. It has gone really smoothly compared to horror stories we’ve heard from other schools getting their collections.”
Both Frazer and Henshaw caution that Harkin’s papers will only be a small part of the whole archive.
“It’s easier to think of it as the Cowles Archive,” Henshaw said. “There’s the university archives, library special collections, and these political archives.”
“What’s really exciting that I’ve heard,” Frazer said, “is that this ADA collection is so big, it could gain worldwide attention.”
“This is clearly an opportunity built from President Maxwell’s relationship with Harkin,” Henshaw said. “This is a tremendous opportunity. We actually had something like this in the master plan, but we didn’t think it would come along for another three to four years. This was a really great opportunity to move that agenda forward.”
The library is expecting to receive over 3 million documents for the archives.
Originally in the upper west side of the library were books, which are now compressed into the east side of the library and the ground floor.
The construction of the archives, complete at 6,000 square feet, will be finished in September, with a tentative open house in October.
“We like to help build a sense of community and this does that. It will bring people to Drake and bring people to the library,” Henshaw said. “We’re delighted to be working with the senator and his family and friends.”