Get to Know...Donna Hirst

Get to Know...Donna Hirst

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A one-on-one with Martin Rare Book Room's curator
Donna Hirst in the rare books room at the Hardin Liibrary for the Health Sciences.Donna Hirst helps everyone from researchers to homeschoolers as curator of the rare books at the Hardin Library for the Health Sciences. Photo by Tim Schoon.

So what do you do here?

I am currently the Curator of Rare Books for the John Martin Rare Book Room at the Hardin Library for the Health Sciences. I assist classes, researchers, and the public in using the 5,500-volume rare medical book collection. I am the coordinator of the History of Medicine Society, offering a monthly lecture series. I publish a monthly newsletter and do promotion of the collection. I purchase books from an endowment, manage the Robert D. Sparks Essay contest for medical students, and manage a digitization project and a project to provide annotations to the online Heirs of Hippocrates database.

Prior to assuming the curator job I worked in the University Libraries information technology group and managed various automation projects from 1986–2010.

What do you enjoy most about working in a higher education setting?

Discovery. Rare books. Discourse. Searching. Teaching. Art. Literature. The river. Health. Collaboration. Friendship. Libraries. Museums. Benefits. Plays. Challenge. Dance. Culture. International and multicultural. Technology. Creativity. History. Study groups. Ducks. Mentoring. Walking. Learning. Respect. Wellness. Rigor. Diversity. Concerts. Symposia.

Take us through your most memorable day at the university.

Recently I had a day in the Rare Book Room where two researchers from South Dakota had come to work with several medical texts from the 1600s. Later in the morning, a father who was homeschooling arrived with his two grade school kids who had dozens of questions and were fascinated by the treasures I pulled for them to look at. Midafternoon, an older man who had an appointment at UI Hospitals and Clinics dropped by for a third time to continue to read the English translation of the Nuremburg Chronicle, the earliest printed encyclopedia, published in 1493.

What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken—and did it pay off?

In 1986, after working at the Law Library for 14 years in numerous jobs I enjoyed greatly, I quit my job in able to become the acting project manager for library automation. I liked the very demanding job of implementing an online library catalog, and my various bosses that year liked what I did so I continued to manage library automation on campus for two and a half decades.

If you could spend a day with anyone, from any era, who would it be and why?

It would be with my son, living in Austin, Texas, and my daughter, who is finishing up law school in Iowa City. I am so energized when I’m around my kids; there’s no one I’d rather be with. I have the great good fortune to go to France with them this summer.

If you could have a song written about you, who would perform it, and what would it be called?

Paul Simon, “She Smiles on Me”

If you could get rid of one invention in the world, what would you choose? Why?

Tools of torture. For the most part I think we need to hold on to our past and continue to embrace that which has not been invented yet, but it would be wonderful if we could just erase torture from our world.

Name five of your favorite things.

Fine dining with some nice, complimentary wine.

DVDs. I have a rather large collection of DVDs and my hobby is to purchase them for $5 or less.

Books. I like to read other people’s books; I’ve read many books from my parents’ libraries and my son’s and daughter’s. It’s interesting to read a book that my grandmother gave my mom.

Volunteer work. I’m president of the Board of the Iowa City Learning Foundation; very active in the Congregational United Church of Christ; lead a Laugh Club in an assisted living residence…

Travel around the world and then back again.


Christopher Clair, University Communication and Marketing, 319-384-0900


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