Sunday, February 13, 2011
The most valuable item in the Iowa Masonic Library?
Where is the largest Masonic Library in the U.S.? According to Masonic scholar Paul Bessel, a Fellow of the Philalethes Society, it's right here in Iowa! I visited the Iowa Masonic Library this weekend during the Masonic Education Conference in Cedar Rapids. Brother Bill Krueger, the librarian, is always friendly and helpful, and this past weekend with more than a hundred Freemasons wandering in and out was no exception. Many Iowa Masons know about the library, but I wonder if they know just how unique our library is?
I wrote back in August about one of the resources we have at the Library- Index Rerum. It is an index to periodical literature (magazines and journals). Nothing special, you say? I used those old, green covered Reader's Guides when I was in high school, huh? My son uses EBSCO on the school's internet to find magazine articles so what's the big deal? Just google it? Well...
Masonic magazines and journals are not indexed by EBSCO, Reader's Guide, or other commercial on-line or paper indexes. A google search will bring up many sites with lists of periodicals and even a few on-line indexes. But if you spend more than a few minutes examining these links, you find that most are just links to the home pages of magazines; the few indexes that are available are not nearly as comprehensive as Iowa's. For example, I searched the topic symbolism of the Ashlar at the on-line index for London's Library and Museum of Freemasonry. There were three hits. Three. The Iowa Masonic Library has 96 separate entries on this topic referencing articles back to the 1850's.
Comprehensive, professionally maintained indexes to Masonic periodical literature just aren't readily available. Except...you guessed it...at the Iowa Masonic Library in the form of the Index Rerum. This index covers Masonic periodicals back to at least 1857 and probably further; I know it goes back at least to 1857 because I used the Index to find an 1857 article. The Index Rerum was created by librarians of the Iowa Masonic library over the years. Each index card is done by hand. Now, other Masonic libraries might have an index similar to this, but the sheer volume and age of the material indexed makes this one unique. It truly is one of the most valuable resources we have in our Library. There are tentative plans to digitize the Index Rerum to make it available to scholars world-wide, and to protect this one-of-a-kind research tool from damage.