Iowa State University nameplate

Inside Iowa State
Gold bar
July 20, 2001

She shatters the librarian stereotype

by Steve Sullivan
Karen Craft has worked at Iowa State for 24 years every -- one of them in the periodical room of the Parks Library.

But, don't paste any dusty notions of librarians on Craft. This holistic healer who studies animal communication defies stereotype.Yes, she tends to talk in quiet tones, but 24 years in the periodical room would do that to anyone. In fact, it is the soothing serenity of the stately room that has kept Craft there so long. It's her haven from the politics and bureaucracy inherent in university life.

Craft began work at the periodical room after earning an English degree from Iowa State. (Her father, Frederick Schwartz, was an Iowa State professor of German.) She has supervised the periodical room for about 20 years. Craft spends her professional hours surrounded by thousands of academic journals, magazines and newspapers.

"A few years ago, the library was closed for five days in a row. I knew there'd be a lot of newspapers waiting when I returned to the office and, out of morbid curiosity, I brought a tape measure with me. The newspapers equaled my height I'm 5-10," said Craft with a laugh.

When she isn't coordinating the influx of periodical room staples (50 to 100 magazines, journals and newspapers a day), Craft is busy checking out materials to periodical room patrons; putting daily newspapers on spindles ("a good test for hand/eye coordination"); packaging up publications to send to the binders (after removing those annoying subscription cards); managing a large student staff; and listening to patron complaints about unavailable materials and noisy, prehistoric copy machines.

Budget cuts and the Internet have changed the use of the periodical room, Craft said. Empty spaces on the shelves are evidence of discontinued materials. Periodical room staff spend more of their time explaining the library's electronic services to patrons. There are fewer international newspapers, as student groups are opting to read them on the Web. The periodical room circulation desk isn't circulating as much it used to.

"We used to check out thousands of materials each month, now it's just below one thousand," Craft said.

Yet, the periodical room remains a popular destination for those seeking information (or a nap). It still is the place where you can read everything from Road and Track magazine to Adhesives Age, a publication serving the global adhesives and sealants industry. It still is where students from Beijing, China, and Belle Plaine, Iowa, can be found perusing their local newspapers.

"I've got a lot of job security here because it is such a popular place. A lot of students tell us that this is their favorite place in the library," Craft said. "Most of our interaction is with undergraduates. We see more faculty and graduate students using the periodical room for research during breaks."

After more than two decades, Craft has a deep connection with the periodical room. But, she admits, when she leaves the office, she leaves the job behind and spends her time on some significant personal interests interests, which even Craft admits, some may find weird.

Craft is a Shamanic Reiki Master and practices a form of holistic medicine that involves tapping into the universe's energy and using it to ease discomfort. (A library janitor's sore knees reportedly feel much better because of Craft.) She also studies telepathic communication with animals at a farm in New York that bills itself as the world's first center for the teaching of interspecies telepathic communication.

"I had a few minor intuitive experiences as a child, but they were 'unnatural' so I squelched them. When I was about 18, I heard someone call my name and when I turned to see who was there, it was my cat," Craft said. "I had to get to be nearly 40 before I gave myself permission to see that these things weren't flukes and to lose some of my fear of appearing weird to other people. Choosing your teachers carefully is important since there are so many egomaniacal charlatans running around. I had to connect with the right people to enable me to step out of the closet or think outside the box, as the cliches go."

Some of Craft's outside-the-office interests are more traditional. Craft and her husband, David, a freelance writer, have three Siberian huskies Keeva, Angel and Katie and two Alaskan huskies Tundra and Skyler.

"I fell in love with Siberian huskies when I was a kid at a Veishea parade," she explains. "Vet Med's student club was running a chariot-type rig behind a half dozen huskies. The engine under a float had broken down, the parade had ground to a halt except for these ridiculously happy dogs weaving back and forth between floats and marching bands. I wanted a husky from that day forward."

Needless to say, the dogs generate comments when they are out walking. "If we got paid for every time someone rolled down a car window and yelled, 'Hey, where's your sled?' we could retire," Craft said.

Siberian huskies. Holistic healing. Animal telepathy. Craft clearly is living a life filled with as many intriguing and abstract concepts as, well, as the periodical room.

Periodical room veteran Karen Craft. Photo by Bob Elbert.

... Becoming the Best
Ames, Iowa 50011, (515) 294-4111
Published by: University Relations,
Copyright © 1995-2001, Iowa State University. All rights reserved.