The University of Kansas

Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Books on a shelf

Welcome to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library blog! As the special collections and archives library at the University of Kansas, Spencer is home to remarkable and diverse collections of rare and unique items. Explore the blog to learn about the work we do and the materials we collect.

Meet the Staff: Kaitlin McGrath

December 1st, 2023

Today’s Meet the Staff features Kaitlin McGrath, KU Libraries’ new General Collections Conservator/Preservation Coordinator. Welcome Kaitlin!

General Collections Conservator/Preservation Coordinator Kaitlin McGrath sits at her workbench in the conservation lab.
KU Libraries’ new General Collections Conservator/Preservation Coordinator Kaitlin McGrath.

Where are you from?

I’m from Michigan and I grew up just outside Detroit. I went to school at Western Michigan University and here at the University of Kansas. Before I started this job in August, I was living in western Massachusetts.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

I am the new General Collections Conservator/Preservation Coordinator for Conservation Services. I have a lot of different roles. If any book from one of the circulating libraries on campus is damaged, it comes to me, and I assess what treatment it needs. Some things will be sent out to a commercial bindery to be rebound, but many things will be treated in-house in our conservation lab. Some of the common treatments we do include tipping in loose pages, repairing torn paper, adding protective covers, and building new cases and boxes for books. I supervise the student workers who complete most of the treatments on general collections materials. I also order the archival supplies needed for Conservation Services and Spencer Research Library. As Preservation Coordinator, I work on preservation projects in Spencer such as object housings and long-term storage improvements.

How did you come to work at Spencer Research Library?

I was a student worker in the conservation lab from 2018-2020 while I was attending KU for my master’s in museum studies. I worked under Roberta Woodrick and learned the different treatments that are done in the lab. I really enjoyed working in the lab and the problem solving that came with determining different treatments and creating custom housings for objects. After I graduated, I moved away and worked in a couple of museums. I was just finishing up a two and a half year cataloging project at the Emily Dickinson Museum in Massachusetts when I heard that Roberta was retiring. I thought this was a great opportunity to come back to KU and work in the conservation lab in a new role.

What is one of the most interesting items you’ve come across in Spencer’s collections?

KU’s collection of class banners from every graduating year are some of my favorites! I was able to work on a housing project for them when I was a student, and it was so interesting to see all of the different designs. Many of them were hand-made which gave them a creative and unique quality.

What part of your job do you like best?

I like the variety of what I do here. I don’t know what will come through the lab next. It makes work interesting!

What are some of your favorite pastimes outside of work?

I like to play tennis, bake, and knit. I also enjoy trivia and board game nights.

That’s Distinctive!: Tom Sawyer

December 1st, 2023

Check the blog each Friday for a new “That’s Distinctive!” post. I created the series because I genuinely believe there is something in our collections for everyone, whether you’re writing a paper or just want to have a look. “That’s Distinctive!” will provide a more lighthearted glimpse into the diverse and unique materials at Spencer – including items that many people may not realize the library holds. If you have suggested topics for a future item feature or questions about the collections, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this page.

This week on That’s Distinctive! I am sharing a book that many of you might know: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. The book, also known simply as Tom Sawyer, was published in 1876. The book follows a young boy, Tom Sawyer, through mischievous adventures in the small fictional town of St. Petersburg, Missouri, along the Mississippi River. Involved with Tom’s shenanigans is his pal Huckleberry Finn (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn). Writing for Encyclopedia Britannica, Amy Tikkanen notes that “together with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer changed the course of children’s literature in the United States as well as of American literature generally, presenting the first deeply felt portrayal of boyhood.” According to Wikipedia, the book has also been followed by a slew of adaptations including films, theatricals, ballets, comic books, video games, and more.

Mark Twain, whose real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, was an American author who grew up in Hannibal, Missouri (the town St. Petersburg is modeled after). A biography of Twain on the Goodreads website notes that he “achieved great success as a writer and public speaker. His wit and satire earned praise from critics and peers, and he was a friend to presidents, artists, industrialists, and European royalty.”

The book housed at the library is a first edition, second printing published in 1876. A copy of the book can be accessed at the library or online through HathiTrust.

This image has text. Book title in gold against a blue background with black designs and four gold stars.
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This image has text. Facing the title page is a black-and-white illustration of a young boy sitting on a riverbank, fishing.
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This image has text: a list of illustrations and the first page of the first chapter. The latter is accompanied by a black-and-white illustration of a boy standing on a dirt road in front of a house.
The front cover (top), title page (middle), and first page (bottom) of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, 1876. Call Number: C613. Click images to enlarge.

Tiffany McIntosh
Public Services

That’s Distinctive!: Thanksgiving postcards

November 23rd, 2023

Check the blog each Friday for a new “That’s Distinctive!” post. I created the series because I genuinely believe there is something in our collections for everyone, whether you’re writing a paper or just want to have a look. “That’s Distinctive!” will provide a more lighthearted glimpse into the diverse and unique materials at Spencer – including items that many people may not realize the library holds. If you have suggested topics for a future item feature or questions about the collections, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this page.

Though the library is closed for the holiday, That’s Distinctive! must go on! In honor of Thanksgiving holiday, this week I am sharing some Thanksgiving postcards from the Herd Family Papers. With over 37 boxes, 47 volumes, seven oversize boxes, and two folders, the collection – which spans 1817-2013 – houses a wide array of materials. With much of the collection being correspondence, it is appropriate that the items shared today are postcards celebrating Thanksgiving. Two postcards are undated, and the others are from 1908 and 1909.

You’ll notice on the last postcard that the address simply lists the town and state. According to the U.S. Global Mail website, “before addresses were used in the United States, mail would be delivered to prominent buildings in major towns and cities throughout the colonies (and later states) – usually City Hall, the library, or something similar. … Over time, though, the USPS looked for ways to create more and more efficiency. That’s when they created a new addressing system (and later ZIP Codes), totally overhauling the way that mail was sent throughout the country and laying down the foundation for the addressing system we still use today.”

Color illustration of a turkey flanked on each side by wheat, a plow, and a cornucopia of autumnal produce. The text "Thanksgiving Greetings" is at the top.
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Color illustration of three turkeys wearing red and white striped top hats. Two are carrying American flags. The text "Thanksgiving Greetings" is in the lower left corner.
Two undated Thanksgiving postcards. Herd Family Papers. Call Number: RH MS 1374. Click images to enlarge.
Color illustration of a turkey looking at a calendar of November; most days are crossed out in red. The turkey is wearing a hat and carrying a suitcase and umbrella. The text "Thanksgiving Day" is at the top.
A Thanksgiving postcard from 1909. Herd Family Papers. Call Number: RH MS 1374. Click image to enlarge.
Color illustration of a turkey looking at a boy carrying a rifle. The text "Thanksgiving Greetings" is at the top.
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This image has handwritten text.
The front and back of a 1908 Thanksgiving postcard. The transcription is below. Herd Family Papers. Call Number: RH MS 1374. Click images to enlarge.

My Dear Horace:-

I sure wish I could be with you for next Thurs. Wonder if you will miss me. Now eat lots of Turkey for me, and have a good time. Tonight we have a fudge party you like that so much. This is sure a dandy day. I just got home from school.

With Love. Lillian

So, whether you’re having a fudge party, eating lots of turkey and ham, or getting takeout from your favorite restaurant, we hope you have a very happy holiday!

Tiffany McIntosh
Public Services

That’s Distinctive!: Moby-Dick

November 17th, 2023

Check the blog each Friday for a new “That’s Distinctive!” post. I created the series because I genuinely believe there is something in our collections for everyone, whether you’re writing a paper or just want to have a look. “That’s Distinctive!” will provide a more lighthearted glimpse into the diverse and unique materials at Spencer – including items that many people may not realize the library holds. If you have suggested topics for a future item feature or questions about the collections, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this page.

Did you know that Spencer Research Library houses an extensive collection of Moby-Dick editions and adaptations? The more than 100 books in the collection range in type and size, so today I am sharing just a few with you.

Published in 1851, Moby-Dick; or, the Whale was written by American writer Herman Melville. The book “recounts the adventures of the narrator Ishmael as he sails on the whaling ship, Pequod, under the command of the monomaniacal Captain Ahab.” Though it is now considered a great American classic, Moby-Dick did not gain traction until the early 1900s. According to Wikipedia, “the novel has been adapted or represented in art, film, books, cartoons, television, and more than a dozen versions in comic-book format. The first adaptation was the 1926 silent movie The Sea Beast, starring John Barrymore.”

Many of the copies and versions of Moby-Dick at Spencer Research Library, including those shown below, were donated to the library by Elizabeth A. Schultz. Schultz, an emerita professor from KU’s Department of English and a former Fulbright Lecturer, advocates “for both the arts and the environment in Douglas County.” As a scholar and avid enthusiast of Herman Melville, Schultz published Unpainted to the Last: Moby-Dick and Twentieth-Century American Art (1995), which examines artistic interpretations and illustrated editions of the novel. “Deftly interweaving words with images,” notes the University Press of Kansas, “Elizabeth Schultz radically reframes our most famous literary symbol and provides a profoundly new way of “reading” one of the key texts in American literature.” Along with the donated books, Spencer houses a copy of Schultz’s book.

Color illustration of a huge white whale with a man on his back and harpoons sticking from his body.
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This page contains text. Color illustration of sailors standing at the edge of a ship deck, looking at Moby-Dick in the water.
The front cover of and selected pages from Moby-Dick, adapted by Joanne Fink and illustrated by Hieronimus Fromm, 1985. Call Number: Children C144. Click image to enlarge.
Color illustration of a black silhouette of a whale in the ocean with a ship above it.
The front cover of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick: The Graphic Novel adapted by Lance Stahlberg and illustrated by Lalit Kumar Singh, 2013. Call Number: Children D200. Click image to enlarge.
Black background with text. On the right is a partial silhouette of a whale with sections in different colors and patterns.
The front cover of Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page by Matt Kish, 2011. Call Number: CK174. Click image to enlarge.
Color illustration of men rowing a small boat surrounded by whales in the ocean.
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This page has text. One page has a muted color illustration of a young man sitting in a chair and holding a hat.
The front cover and first page of Moby Dick: The Illustrated Novel, illustrated by Anton Lomaev, 2018. Call Number: D7812. Click image to enlarge.

Tiffany McIntosh
Public Services

Spencer’s November-December Exhibit: “Creating Over a Century of Symphonies: The Reuter Organ Company”

November 14th, 2023

While each year we at Spencer process many new collections, we are also adding to preexisting collections through the continued generosity of our donors. From Pulitzer Prize-winning authors to LGBTQIA2S+ activists, an individual’s history doesn’t end when their collection comes through our doors. Individual and organizational histories continue to evolve past the snapshots their historical records provide, and we at Spencer aim to provide as complete a picture as we can! One collection we’d like to draw particular attention to is an addition to the Reuter Organ Company photograph collection (Call Number: RH PH 68). Through this collection, patrons can follow the construction of uniquely hand-crafted pipe organs before they were built into their new homes in institutions all over the world. And now, with a 2023 addition, patrons can see even more of the grandeur of these massive instruments as well as the incredible skill and historical craftsmanship of this Lawrence-based company!

Black-and-white overhead photograph of a large pipe organ.
Reuter Organ Company’s Opus 2179 at the Elm Park Methodist Church in Scranton, Pennsylvania, 1995. Photo credit: Max Mayse. Reuter Organ Company Photograph Collection. Call Number: RH PH 68. Click image to enlarge.

The history of the Reuter Organ Company starts in 1917 when Adolph Reuter established the Reuter-Schwarz Organ Company with his business partner Earl Schwarz. After a disastrous tornado blew through the company factory, the company relocated to the Wilder Brothers Shirt Factory on New Hampshire Street in Lawrence, Kansas, after fulfilling a commission for the city’s Masonic Temple in 1919. Schwarz departed from the company shortly afterwards, and the company was renamed the Reuter Organ Company. In less than ten years, the company grew from a six-employee operation to over 50 full-time employees with over 50 commissions a year. However, after lean years during the Great Depression, the Reuter Organ Company faced a manufacturing ban on musical instruments during World War II and stayed afloat by producing government-sanctioned boxes for munitions materials with a skeletal crew. After the war, the company began to flourish again, and Reuter began hiring skilled staff with formal music education and expertise in organ construction. Through the knowledge base of its staff, the company began to experiment and further develop traditional construction techniques with new pipe organ technology to develop a signature “Reuter sound.”

Black-and-white photograph of a pipe organ in the corner of a balcony in an auditorium.
Reuter Organ Company’s Opus 1741 at the Shryock Auditorium at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois, 1970. Photo credit: Max Mayse. Reuter Organ Company Photograph Collection. Call Number: RH PH 68. Click image to enlarge.

After Adolph Reuter’s retirement in 1961, the company continued to evolve under the direction of longtime employee Franklin Mitchell. Mitchell, with then newly appointed production manager Albert Neutel, purchased the company in the early 1980s. Together, the two continued to refine the Reuter technical craft, particularly with the mechanical aspects of organ construction and the tonal sound of the company’s organs. After Mitchell’s retirement in 1997, Albert Neutel was joined in management by his son, Albert “J.R.” Neutel, a former longtime employee of the company. Under the Neutel family’s direction, the Reuter Organ Company moved operations from New Hampshire Street to a newly constructed and specially designed factory and administrative facility in northwest Lawrence in 2001. Sixteen years later, the company celebrated its 100th anniversary by holding a public open house in their newer facility and inviting old and new customers alike. By this time, the company had constructed over 2,200 pipe organs for public and private institutions around the world. The company had also built a respected name in organ rehabilitation within the pipe organ community. In 2022, amid the retirement of several longtime key staff members, J.R. Neutel, the company’s current president, decided to sell Reuter’s factory and administrative facility. A major selling point of the Reuter Organ Company is the institutional and craft knowledge of its staff. There is a strong tradition of old staff mentoring new staff and passing down historic pipe organ construction techniques. Operating at the same scale without that same level of institutional knowledge was deemed impossible. And in the beginning of 2023, the Reuter Organ Company further scaled back operations to only fulfilling the customary 11-year warranties offered to their past clients with special consideration for smaller projects.

Black-and-white photograph of a pipe organ in a balcony at the back of the church's sanctuary.
Reuter Organ Company’s Opus 2044, 1982 in St. John’s Episcopal Church in Clearwater, Florida, 1982. Photo credit: Max Mayse. Reuter Organ Company Photograph Collection. Call Number: RH PH 68. Click image to enlarge.

To honor this historic company and to showcase a new addition to the Reuter Organ Company photograph collection, we here at Spencer have created a temporary exhibit to display images of a few of the beautiful pipe organs Reuter’s has constructed over the years and to dip into some pipe organ terminology. Have you ever wondered were the phrase “pulling out all stops” comes from or just how big the biggest musical instrument in the world can get? Come on by to learn more about this incredible company and the incredible instruments it made! The exhibit opened free to the public in Spencer’s North Gallery on November 1st and will continue to be on display until early January 2024. We hope you “stop” by!

Charissa Pincock
Manuscripts Processor