Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Meet the KSRL Staff: Vannis Jones

June 18th, 2019

This is the fifteenth installment in a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Today’s profile features Vannis Jones, who joined Spencer’s processing unit in February as a manuscripts processor. Welcome, Vannis!

Photograph of Vannis Jones
Photograph of Vannis Jones in Spencer Research Library’s North Gallery. Click image to enlarge.

Where are you from?

I grew up in Kansas City, but I have spent my adult life in India, Scotland, and France until returning to the Kansas City area this January after graduating with my Master of Science (MSc) in Information Management and Preservation (a fancy way of saying archives and records management!) from the University of Glasgow this past November.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

I play a crucial role in rendering collections both discoverable and accessible through physical and intellectual arrangement of materials, the identification of materials in need of preservation action, and the creation of finding aids, which are often a researcher’s first interaction with the Spencer and our collections.

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

While every collection has its own unique surprises, three particular – and incredibly different – items in come to mind.

  1. Among architectural drawings, specifications, and contracts in the collection of former state architect Charles Marshall is a series of typescript journals by Marshall that he titled “Quips and Observations.” They contain one- to five-line quips, quotes, and vignettes by Marshall that are generally witty in nature and that are drawn from his everyday activities – a trip to the movies, a visit to the bank, grocery shopping, a concert with his wife, etc. Given the generally serious nature of Marshall’s architectural materials, it was fun to get to know the man behind the drawings through these journals.
  2. We hold a lot of scrapbooks at Spencer. Most scrapbooks are a jumble of largely undated and unlabeled newspaper clippings, photographs, ticket stubs, brief notes, and the like, that offer insight into an individual’s interests, but leave a lot up to a reader’s interpretation. An exceptionally unique scrapbook in a collection that I processed recently is one of KU Professor Emerita of English Elizabeth Schultz’s scrapbooks from her teenage years. Schultz’s scrapbook includes specific annotations for each individual object, including cigarette butts, extremely old flowers, a fake diamond ring, chocolate wrappers, a watch (yes, really, a whole wristwatch, glued to a scrapbook page), and more. Through these unconventional items and witty annotations, readers are able to understand Schultz’s thought process in compiling the scrapbook and gain a greater understanding of her playful and creative personality.
  3. A Rosie O’Donnell Barbie doll, completely without context, among the papers of Kristi Parker, the late founder of The Liberty Press, Kansas’s first LGBTQ+ news magazine.

What part of your job do you like best?

I love the opportunity to collaborate and exchange ideas with people on my team working on other projects and with people in other departments like conservation. We really do get to learn something new every day!

What are some of your favorite pastimes outside of work?

I love traveling, exploring other cultures, eating new foods, cooking, weightlifting, and dancing. I also love a good walk and a snuggle with my two dogs, a cavalier King Charles spaniel and a westie, after a long day.

What piece of advice would you offer a researcher walking into Spencer Research Library for the first time?

Don’t be shy, tell us about your research! Our reference staff have excellent knowledge of our collections and can likely help you find materials that you may not come across by simply browsing our catalog, and that could greatly enhance your depth of understanding of your subject area. We’re here to help!

Vannis Jones
Manuscripts Processor

Throwback Thursday: Boat Race Edition

June 13th, 2019

Each week we’ll be posting a photograph from University Archives that shows a scene from KU’s past. We’ve also scanned more than 34,800 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

Photograph of boat races at Potter Lake, 1911
Boat races at Potter Lake (a brand new campus feature), 1911. This photo may have been taken at the opening ceremony that was held on June 5, 1911. Look closely to see Strong Hall in the background, on the far right. University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 0/24/1 Potter Lake 1911 Prints: Campus: Areas and Objects (Photos). Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

Kansas Collection Artificial Photograph Collections

June 11th, 2019

Sometimes archivists and special collections librarians “create” collections for their institutions by grouping together like items that came from different sources. We call these artificial collections, and we typically do this in order to make materials more physically manageable and/or more easily accessible to researchers.

A real photographic postcard of the Wallace County Courthouse in Sharon Springs, Kansas
A real photographic postcard of the Wallace County Courthouse in Sharon Springs, Kansas. Artificial Kansas-Based Photographs Collection. Call Number: RH PH 535. Click image to enlarge.

From the 1980s through early 2000s, archivists in Spencer’s Kansas Collection , focusing on regional history, worked with dealers specializing in photography to purchase a wide variety of photographs of Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, and other surrounding states. These photographs display street scenes and aerial views of small towns; exterior (and sometimes interior) shots of churches, schools, courthouses, and other public buildings; interior and exterior shots of drugstores and other commercial buildings; residences; portraits of individuals and groups; rodeos, theatrical entertainments, and opera houses; and a wide variety of other subjects. Staff carefully chose these hundreds, even thousands, of images for their subject matter and content.

At that time, Kansas Collection staff had a practice of describing these images individually on paper worksheets, assigning each image its own call number, and placing the worksheets in notebooks for patrons and staff to access in the reading room. This practice became untenable over time, particularly as the library moved away from analog description to online finding aids, and hundreds of these images remained inaccessible in an unprocessed backlog.

In the past year, processing staff – in collaboration with curators and public services staff – developed a new workflow for managing these photographs through the creation of three artificial photographic collections: one for Kansas images, one for non-Kansas images, and one strictly for portraits (i.e. individuals typically formally posed in a photographic studio, rather than large groups at church or fraternal meetings, or athletic teams, or other images of people that could fit into a subject theme). These images are now described online in Spencer Research Library’s finding aid system and available for research.

The artificial Kansas collection of photographs includes images from across the state. It is organized by county and then by town or other political boundary within each county. These images are further categorized by subjects such as agriculture, education, recreation, social customs, etc.

A color lithographic postcard of a street scene from Sylvia, Reno County, Kansas. One of the dealers with whom Kansas Collection staff worked most frequently came from Reno County, leading to a large selection of images of that area. Artificial Kansas-Based Photographs Collection. Call Number: RH PH 535. Click image to enlarge.

Non-Kansas images are organized alphabetically by state and then simply by town or other political boundary. 

Men standing and sitting on what appears to be a large pile of buttons at the Iroquois Pearl Button Company in Sabula, Iowa, 1911
Men standing and sitting on what appears to be a large pile of buttons at the Iroquois Pearl Button Company in Sabula, Iowa, 1911. Artificial Non-Kansas Photographs Collection. Call Number: RH PH 539. Click image to enlarge.
A photograph of Fourth and Broadway in Kansas City, Missouri, 1869
According to the caption on the back, this mounted print shows Fourth and Broadway in Kansas City, Missouri, 1869. Included is Sheridan’s pond, as photographed from Sheridan’s residence. The Missouri photographs include a small set of Kansas City street scenes from the late 1860s and early 1870s. Unfortunately, they are in poor physical condition. Artificial Non-Kansas Photographs Collection. Call Number: RH PH 539. Click image to enlarge.

Portraits are organized either alphabetically by family name, if provided, or grouped by babies, children, men, women, and groups of people when individuals are unidentified.

Portrait of Ivan Bowers
Portrait of Ivan Bowers. A note accompanying this unusually mounted print states that Bowers was born in North Lawrence, Kansas, spent many years in the military, and married late in life, and that the photograph was taken by the A. Lawrence Photo Studio. Artificial Portraits Collection. Call Number: RH PH 540. Click image to enlarge.
Portrait of an unidentified woman
Portrait of an unidentified woman. The back of this carte de visite lists Mrs. M. Gainsford of Great Bend, Kansas, as the photographer. Artificial Portraits Collection. Call Number: RH PH 540. Click image to enlarge.

Many of the images in these artificial collections are real photographic postcards, typically sent between 1900 and 1920; many of these same postcards have messages on the back. The artificial collections also include mounted prints, glass plate negatives, cabinet cards, cartes de visite, and other photographic formats and processes.

An exaggeration postcard by Frank D. Conard, a noted photographer based in Garden City, Kansas. Conard excelled at exaggeration postcards, or a kind of trick photography that makes normally small things such as farm crops, rabbits, and grasshoppers appear much larger than they ever do in reality. While some of Conard’s images appear to be based in Garden City, many are not; as a result, processing staff categorized several of these images in the non-Kansas topical photographs. Artificial Non-Kansas Photographs Collection. Call Number: RH PH 539. Click image to enlarge.

When a photographic collection comes from a singular donor, such as a photographic studio or collector of photographs or a local family, these images will continue to be handled as separate and unique collections. The Kansas Collection has a rich and varied set of photographic collections; these artificial collections both supplement and complement what is available in other collections at Spencer Research Library and at other collecting institutions in Kansas and the surrounding states.

Please feel free to explore these newly processed collections!

Marcella Huggard
Archives and Manuscripts Processing Coordinator

Throwback Thursday: World War II Memorial Edition

June 6th, 2019

Each week we’ll be posting a photograph from University Archives that shows a scene from KU’s past. We’ve also scanned more than 34,800 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

Photograph of bells being installed in the World War II Memorial Campanile, 1951

Bells being installed inside the World War II Memorial Campanile, 1951. University
Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 0/22/8 1951 Prints: Campus: Buildings:
Campanile (Photos). Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

Throwback Thursday: Springtime Stroll Edition

May 30th, 2019

Each week we’ll be posting a photograph from University Archives that shows a scene from KU’s past. We’ve also scanned more than 34,800 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

Photograph of KU students walking through campus, 1970s

KU students walking through campus in front of Marvin Hall, 1970s.
University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 0/24/G 1970s Prints: Campus:
General (Photos). Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services