Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Austen-tacious and (Por)ter-rific: NEH Seminar visits KSRL

July 30th, 2012

On a hot July morning two Mondays ago, a bus pulled up in front of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library and out stepped seventeen scholars.  The erudite visitors were participants in Jane Austen and Her Contemporaries, a five-week NEH Summer Seminar for College and University Teachers held at the University of Missouri and led by Dr. Devoney Looser. After some much-needed tea and victuals in Spencer’s North Gallery (the bus had left Columbia, MO at 5:45 am, after all), the scholars settled in for a day of workshops and research.  No time for pianoforte or leisurely games of cards for these visitors!  The morning’s activities included sessions with Spencer Library staff addressing genres of documents prevalent during Austen’s time, 18th- and 19th- century handwriting, and reference resources for working with rare books and manuscripts.

NEH Seminar "Jane Austen and Her Contemporaries" at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library

Say “Northanger Abbey!”:  Participants in the NEH Summer Seminar “Jane Austen and Her Contemporaries”
with Spencer Library staff.

In the afternoon, the scholars retired to the reading room where they threw themselves into conducting research with some of Spencer’s late 18th- and early 19th-century manuscript collections. Read the rest of this entry »

The North Gallery Revisited

July 18th, 2012

The word “iconic” is often overused, but I believe it describes, better than any other word, the power of the Spencer’s North Gallery. People who have not been on campus for decades remember “the red room,” or the “room with the books.” Often, of course, they remember the “room with the view of the Campanile.”

Spencer Library's North Gallery
Kenneth Spencer Research Library’s North Gallery, view into the
Summerfield and P. S. O’Hegarty collections. Click image to enlarge.

The exposed shelving of the North Gallery (once called “the Ambulatory”) has housed outstanding items from Special Collections since the opening of the library in 1968. Its visual and intellectual appeal cannot be overstated. It not only houses books, like a section of the larger Summerfield volumes, for example, but intriguing artifacts like several horn books and the jumbled writs of habeus corpus that fascinate visitors every day.

North Gallery, Rilke Collection
Kenneth Spencer Research Library’s North Gallery, with view of the Rilke Collection
and the horn books (center shelf) on display. Click image to enlarge.

The Spencer collections, however, are not the same as they were in 1968 when the third floor was the province of Special Collections and books were the name of the game. With the consolidation of the public spaces of Special Collections, Kansas Collection, and University Archives in the early years of the 21st century, and the continuing desire to provide a more interpretive context for our collections in general, we are considering how best to program this stunning space as a true gallery. An enthusiastic group of Museum Studies students recently completed a project to explore bringing diversity and experience into the space through an interesting array of physical and virtual exhibit “stations.”

What would you like see in our signature space for visitors? Is there something we should consider as we move forward with these plans? I’d welcome your input and suggestions as we look ahead to the future of the North Gallery.

The North Gallery at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library

View of the Campanile from the Kenneth Spencer Research Library's North Gallery

Amazing vistas: A wide view of the North Gallery (top)
and looking outward onto the Campanile (bottom).
Click images to enlarge.


Beth M. Whittaker
Head of Kenneth Spencer Research Library

Dragonheart and Weaselfoot

July 13th, 2012

No kidding, there really was a seven-headed hydra, and it took an 18th century St. George to slay it:  Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus. In Hamburg, Germany, Linnaeus exposed as a fake the specimen of a seven-headed hydra that its owner, the mayor of Hamburg, had been trying to sell–and his asking price was high. This curious critter had been looted from a church in 1648 after the Battle of Prague and had come into the mayor’s hands. Even the king of Denmark had supposedly made an unsuccessful bid for it. The mayor found he was having to lower his price, which had been falling steadily when Linnaeus tactlessly published his findings that the jaws and feet were those of a weasel and that carefully joined snake-skins covered the body. Fearing the mayor’s revenge for rendering his hydra worthless, the Swede made a hasty exit from the city. The Kenneth Spencer Research Library holds a significant collection of Linnaeus and Linnaeana (follow the link and scroll down for a brief description of the collection).

Image from Historiae Naturalis de Serpentibus (1757)
Historiae Naturalis de Serpentibus, by Joannes Jonstonus (1603-1675). Heilbronnae: apud Franciscum
Iosephum Eckebrecht, 1757. Call Number: Ellis Omnia E26 item 2. (Click image to enlarge.)

Jonstonus (or Jonston, sometimes Johnstone) was a naturalist of Scottish descent born in Poland. After studying botany and medicine at Cambridge, he settled in Leiden in order to indulge his interest in natural history. His writings are criticized as laborious compilations, and the copper-plate engravings are mostly copies from Belon, Rondelet, Gessner, and others.

Sally Haines
Rare Books Cataloger
Adapted from her Spencer Research Library exhibit and catalog, Slithy Toves: Illustrated Classic Herpetological Books at the University of Kansas in Pictures and Conservations (print copies of the exhibition catalog are available at KU Libraries).

Mapping Kansas, One Repair at a Time

July 6th, 2012

Former conservation student assistant, Noah Smutz, tells all:

In October of 2011 Whitney (Head of Conservation) assigned me the project of working on an item from the Kansas Collection at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library.  The project involved mending extensively on an atlas of Kansas from 1887, The Official State Atlas of Kansas: compiled from government surveys, county records, and personal investigations (RH Atlas H85). The atlas had many fold-out maps of Kansas towns. I was excited to work on this project as it was my first chance to gain experience working on a rare, special collections item.

Image of Official State Atlas of Kansas (1887)

The Official State Atlas of Kansas: compiled from government surveys, county records, and personal investigations. Philadelphia : L.H. Everts & Co., 1887. (RH Atlas H85, Additional copy RH VLT H2)

I began by addressing the first fifteen pages of the book. Over time the paper had become brittle. This brittleness led to the edges of these pages becoming torn to various degrees. Read the rest of this entry »