At its height, Iowa's rural school system was comprised of over 12,000 one- and two-room schools stretching across the state. These schools provided much of the state's population with its educational training from 1850 to around 1960.
In May of 2007, with the help of a grant from the Iowa State Historical Society, Preserving the History of Iowa Rural Education, a UNI Museums project, was able to work with Iowa's Area Education Agencies (AEAs) to transfer the over 100 years' worth of official records to the University of Northern Iowa. At the time, the AEAs housed the gathered records of their constituent counties, a result of the statewide consolidation efforts of the mid-twentieth century.
While these records had been in the care and protection of the AEAs for decades, a point was reached at which they were unable to provide the professional attention to preservation and public access that the records warrant. The future and integrity of the records came into jeopardy as the instances of temperature and humidity control, pest infestations, dampness, acid storage materials, dust, and cramped conditions proliferated. Use of the records at that time was also made difficult by a lack of organization, finding aids, or staff trained in assisting researchers. This lack of consistency is a clear reflection of the early independence counties, boards of education, and schools maintained, and has left many of Iowa’s rural school records missing.
In 2011, with the support of an Institute of Museum and Library Services' Museums for America grant, the UNI Museum began organizing and arranging the rural school records of eighty-six Iowa's counties. The Center is working to catalogue these records into an online, searchable database of finding aids to increase researcher access and ease of use.