Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

On a Roll

May 30th, 2013

We receive many rolled posters, maps, photographs, and other paper items in the conservation lab. Oftentimes the cataloger or processor hasn’t been able to open the item to determine what it is. For most of these items, humidification and flattenting is the standard treatment.

Image of a rolled photograph

Image of a rolled photograph before dehumidification.

High humidity environments can be deleterious to paper if not closely monitored. However, sometimes we use humidity to our advantage: to relax rolled paper in order to flatten it. I often use the sink in the conservation lab to create a humidity chamber. On the bottom is the water. We use rubber stoppers with a layer of plastic eggcrate sheeting to make a platform above the water level. On top of that is a blotter paper to protect the collection item from the grid of the eggrate. The rolled item is placed on the blotter and the lid is put on the chamber.

Image of make-shift humidity chamber in the sink.

Humidity chamber created in a sink.

I closely watch the rolled item to determine when I might begin to gently unroll it or when it’s ready to come out of the chamber. Especially for photographs, this step has to be done with utmost care.

Image of unrolling a humidified photograph.

Unrolling a humidified photograph.

Once it is completely unrolled or very relaxed, I remove the item from the chamber and press it between blotters and a spun polyester cloth called Hollytex, with a Plexiglas sheet and weight on top.

Image of photograph after humidification treatment

Finished photograph after humidification treatment.

Sometimes items aren’t 100% flat after treatment. In this case, the photograph is flat enough for a patron to use it, without overstressing the layers comprising the photograph.

Whitney Baker
Head, Conservation Services

The Littlest Researchers

May 23rd, 2013

For the last two years, I’ve had the joy of leading a tour for a group of very energetic library users, a group that will not need to create Aeon accounts, but does need to be reminded to use their walking feet. I’m talking about the Lawrence Community Nursery School, a cooperative preschool that has existed since the 1940s. In addition to being the school where my children attend(ed) preschool, LCNS has another special relationship with the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Like many community and civic organizations, the co-op gives their historical archives to the Kansas Collection. In fact, during the school’s last parent work day, I picked up a new accession of records that will soon be added to our collection (RH MS 616).

Lawrence Community Nursery School visit

Students from the Lawrence Community Nursery School examine historic
photograph albums from the Kansas Collection.

It’s always exciting, when giving a tour of the building, to see what holds a particular group’s attention. This is even more the case when the group in question has an average age of 4.5 years old. This year, fewer children wanted to touch the 4000 year old clay tablets than to page through the photo albums to see what the playground used to look like. The horn books, which generally elicit audible squeals once their purpose is understood, seemed strangely uninteresting this time around. And, of course, the 100 Years of Jayhawks: 1912-2012 exhibit, complete with cardboard Jayhawks, was hard to compete with.

I always remind our visitors that the collections we hold are theirs to use. And in some cases, such as the many community groups with which we work to document their essential work, the collections would not be possible without them in the first place. Looking at the faces of these eager children as they examine photographs of their beloved school from decades past, it’s hard not to feel excited about the future of our mission.

Beth M. Whittaker
Assistant Dean for Distinctive Collections and Director of Kenneth Spencer Research Library

River City Rebels: Beat Poetry in Lawrence

May 17th, 2013

In this week’s post, Museum Studies graduate students Anna Paradis, Bre Wasinger, Karrah Whitlock, and Melody Yu reflect on the experience of curating and mounting the exhibition “River City Rebels: Beat Poetry in Lawrence,” which is currently on display in the Kenneth Spencer Research Library’s exhibition gallery.

On Thursday, May 9th, we celebrated the opening of our new exhibit with a reception. This event marked the completion of the semester-long project in which four museum studies graduate student collaborated with Elspeth Healey, Whitney Baker, and other KU Libraries staff to create an interactive exhibit that compellingly tells the story of Lawrence’s River City Reunion and introduces visitors to some of its more notable characters, including writers Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and Diane Di Prima.

Image of students installing the exhibit Photograph of Museum Studies student Bre Wasinger in front of the case she developed on Allen Ginsberg.

Left: Museum Studies students Anna Paradis, Karrah Whitlock, and Melody Yu install materials in an
exhibition case for the River City Rebels exhibition. Right: Museum Studies student Bre Wasinger
in front of the case she developed on Allen Ginsberg. Click images to enlarge.

Student curator Bre Wasinger remarked she is particularly proud of the “interactives” (or interactive features of the exhibition) – “the listening lounge and poetry wall bring an air of creative sharing and activity to the space that emulates the creative process so central to the Beat community. I hope that people who experience this exhibit find themselves feeling more connected to and curious about Lawrence’s past. Knowing that these rebellious writers were so drawn to Lawrence (a town historically known for its own rebellious attitude) makes me proud to be here, and I hope we can impart this feeling onto others who visit the Kenneth Spencer Research Library.” Fellow students, Anna Paradis, Karrah Whitlock and Melody Yu, learned a lot about the individual poets and the town, as well as the many processes central to planning and executing exhibits through their MUSE 703: Introduction to Exhibits course taught by Bruce Scherting, the Exhibits Director at the Biodiversity Institute.

Photograph of exhbiition visitor at the magnetic poetry wall. Photograph of visitors at the River City Rebels exhibition opening

Left: Exhibition visitor at the Beat-themed magnetic poetry wall.
Right: Visitors at the River City Rebels exhibition opening. Click images to enlarge.

River City Rebels showcases the diverse and interesting holdings at Spencer Research Library for Beat poetry. Karrah Whitlock described the challenges the group experienced when choosing objects for the exhibition, as there were so many unique and visually interesting pieces. Many non-traditional items such as t-shirts, event flyers, handwritten journals, and personal photographs are featured in the collections. It was also important to the student curators to illustrate the strong link of several of the iconic Beat figures to Lawrence. At the exhibit opening several local Lawrencians had personal stories of interactions and experiences with William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, as well as memories of the River City Reunionwhich took place in Lawrence in 1987.

Exhibition case featuring materials from the 1987 River City Reunion in Lawrence, KS. Exhibition case featuring William S. Burroughs materials

Left: Exhibition case featuring materials from the 1987 River City Reunion in Lawrence, KS.
Right: Exhibition case featuring William S. Burroughs materials. Click images to enlarge.

This was a true team effort and the student curators are indebted to librarian Elspeth Healey and KU Libraries Conservator Whitney Baker. Both of these staffers worked closely with the exhibit team and assisted in so many ways. The experience has strengthened our knowledge as well as our real-world abilities to create and share an enriching experience – none of which would have been possible without the support of each other and our collaborators.

Photograph of River City Rebels student curators

Graduate student curators (left to right) Karrah Whitlock, Anna Paradis, Bre Wasinger, and Melody Yu
in front of the River City Rebels: Beat Poetry in Lawrence exhibition title wall

It should also be noted that there are two other student-curated exhibits currently taking place through the museum studies program: Continued Dedication, a special exhibit honoring Senator Dole’s service at the Dole Institute, and Occasional Mayhem: Exploring Crime and Punishment in Lawrence at the Watkins Museum (which coincidentally also features William Burroughs).

Anna Paradis, Bre Wasinger, Karrah Whitlock, and Melody Yu,
Museum Studies graduate students in MUSE 703: Introductions to Exhibits (Instructor: Bruce Scherting)

Heads in Boxes: Rehousing Plaster Masks for the Archives

May 10th, 2013

This week’s blog post comes from Museum Studies Graduate Student and Conservation Student Assistant Jami Roskamp.

There are always hidden treasures in the Archives; however, the containers they are kept in can be far from the treasure chests that these gems deserve.  One of the many interesting items that can be found in the University of Kansas Archives is a collection of plaster masks (call number: 22/12) originally from the Art Department Sculpture Studio.  Several of these plaster masks capture the likenesses of past chancellors and students.  Initially some of these masks were housed in cardboard boxes and wrapped in newsprint, while others were placed in file boxes that did not adequately accommodate the object’s size. 

Photograph of plaster mask prior to rehousing. Photograph of plaster mask fragments

The challenge: how to rehouse fragile plaster masks (some of which were in pieces)

Under the supervision of Whitney Baker, Conservator for KU Libraries, I was tasked with providing the plaster masks with more suitable forms of housing to extend preservation and accommodate their ranging sizes.  I conducted an item condition report on each of the masks–recording measurements for size, material, and damage, if the object had any–prior to rehousing the masks in new containers. 

Photograph of Jami Roskamp examining a plaster mask

Jami Roskamp examines a plaster mask in order to determine how best to rehouse it.

For the rehousing of the masks, they were placed in archival quality boxes that were padded with Ethafoam so the objects would be securely stored.  A few of the masks were in more fragile condition and needed to have further padding created for them to secure their pieces.  Now the plaster masks are placed in spacious new storage containers that effectively house and preserve them so that they will be protected for future Jayhawks to view.

Photograph of mask fragments rehoused. Photograph of new housing for plaster masks of former KU Chancellor Franklin D. Murphy

New housings for plaster masks: (left) fragmented mask by or of “Nelson” and (right) mask of former KU Chancellor Franklin D. Murphy.

Jami Roskamp
Museum Studies Graduate Student and Conservation Student Assistant


Meet the KSRL Staff: Meredith Huff

May 3rd, 2013

This is the first in what will be a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Meredith Huff is Spencer’s Building Operations and Stacks Manager.

Photograph of Meredith Huff in Spencer Research Library Reading Room.

Meredith Huff in Spencer’s Marilyn Stokstad Reading Room.

Where are you from?
Battle Creek, Michigan

What does your job at Spencer entail?
I’m the Building Operations Manager, Stacks Manager and Public Services Student Supervisor.  I manage the closed stacks and building space, keep track of the collections as they are used, find space for new collections, schedule and find projects for our Public Services Student Assistants.

How did you come to work in special collections and archives?
My first job was shelving books at Willard Public Library in Battle Creek, Michigan.  I can still give you Dewey call numbers for some subjects that I shelved regularly. I worked there through high school and community college.  When I transferred to Michigan State, where I earned a degree in Horticulture, I worked in the greenhouses as well as at the main library (in the copy center and at the reserve reading desk).

In 2007, I found myself looking for a full-time job that I would enjoy.  I had tried out a few jobs since college, but never really found a job with the daily variety and challenge that I enjoyed. I wasn’t ready to jump into entrepreneurship just yet.  I had always enjoyed my work in libraries and bookstores. Books aren’t too different from plants; in fact, books are made of plants. Care and handling of delicate plants can’t be too different from care and handling of rare books and manuscripts, I thought.  So I redesigned my resume to highlight my library experience and skills, and began applying for library work.  My husband and I had lived in Kansas for a short-time in 2006, and we knew we liked the area.

I found my current position advertised on the KU jobs site and applied.  Early in August 2007, I was called for a phone interview.  I had done some research on Kenneth Spencer Research Library, and knew it would be unlike any other library where I’d worked, so I knew I would be challenged in my work. I began working at KSRL on October 1, 2007.  Each day since has been different.

What is the strangest item you’ve come across in Spencer’s collections?
I don’t spend much time looking at our collection items specifically.  I’m always focused on the call numbers.  Occasionally, I’ll hear about interesting items from my students or curators.  Someone was in recently researching chocolate.  A student paged something from our Special Collections stacks which turned out to be two pieces of Brach’s Huck Finn Chocolate Candy [editor’s note: safely encapsulated in an air-tight housing to prevent pests!]. I’m not sure how old the chocolates were.   Another student, working on a project, found a few books in Special Collections which had hair inside, something that people rarely collect nowadays.  We’ve got some other really cool things from a moon rock (RH MS 167 VLT) to uranium from the Manhattan Project (RG 17/22) to ancient manuscripts and cuneiform tablets (MS Q4). 

As Stacks Manager, you are the expert at locating anything that isn’t where it should be in Spencer’s stacks.  What’s the secret to tracking down such items?
I’ve always been good at finding things.  When I was younger, if my family couldn’t find something, they’d offer me five bucks to find it and I usually could.  Once my dad had hidden all his credit cards before my parents left for an anniversary trip.  I was offered five bucks, my going rate, to find them while they were in Chicago for the weekend.  I spent the weekend searching.  While doing so, I tried to think about what my dad would  have thought would be a ‘good hiding spot.’  I spent hours searching the kitchen, then upstairs to their bedroom, back down to check the dining room, back upstairs to check clothes pockets in their closet, then back down to check the coat closets, my Dad’s desk drawers and cubby hole. I even checked odd places in the basement.

Determined to find them, I began going through my dad’s books–book by book, bookcase by bookcase. I can still remember which book I finally found them in.  After exhausting every nook and cranny of the house, I decided to have my dad follow my search to find the cards himself.  So I sent him on a scavenger hunt throughout the house, leaving clues leading him to each place I had searched.  Finally the last clue used a riddle to lead him to the book where he had hidden the credit cards. They had been in Sombrero Fallout: A Japanese Novel by Richard Brautigan.  I must say, I earned those five bucks.

I enjoy puzzles, solving mysteries, so tracking down something that is misplaced or that others can’t find is fun to me.  I’ve got my own mental checklist of areas to search, starting with where the item should be located and “Meredith’s Mystery Shelving” (a book truck the student assistants put items they don’t know where to reshelve).  Then I move onto other possible places.  With shelving dyslexia (which can occur when a student has been shelving numerous items or is very tired) the call numbers start to get jumbled, so I try to think of various combinations of the call number.  Was it shelved as a manuscript and not a printed book?  Did it get shelved with the photographs instead of the manuscript boxes?  Once, I’ve exhausted my simple searches, I go back to my office to search our wonderful new program, Aeon, which manages paging requests and circulation.  Who was the last person to ask for this item? What else was paged for that person? Could the item be misshelved with those items?  Are there notes in Aeon indicating the item was sent to preservation or processing?

Usually by answering the above questions, I can place my hands on the item or identify its current whereabouts.  Having the new Aeon program has really helped me locate items much faster.

Photograph of Meredith by the Mystery Shelving Truck

Shelving Sleuth:  Meredith tracking down incorrectly shelved items at her Mystery Shelving book truck

What part of your job do you like best?
The thing about my job that I like best is that each day is different.  I have a variety of tasks and projects to accomplish, and I’m able to approach them as best I can given the daily priorities. 

You supervise Spencer’s public services student assistants.  What have you learned from working with them?
Working with students, I’ve learned that kids nowadays are much more advanced electronically than those of us who were born in the 70s and grew up in the 80s. They have always had electronics and computers. Most of the time, I don’t really feel much older than the students, but when it comes to the learning curve of new programs or electronics, I begin to feel old, especially when I realize most of the kids weren’t even alive in the 80s.

What are your favorite pastimes outside of work?
I enjoy spending time outdoors.  Growing up in Michigan, I’ve canoed, hiked, or backpacked along many of the major rivers.  The Manistee area is one of my favorites.

My college degree is in Horticulture, so I love gardening and have worked at an Herb and Flower Farm, a retail greenhouse, and at a landscape maintenance company.  Someday I’d like to have my own farm business.Working at the Herb and Flower Farm, I was able to experiment with floral designs and cultivate skills such as bow making.

If I’m not outside with my dogs getting dirty, I’m inside experimenting in the kitchen.  I’ve been working on various canning recipes, trying to broaden my skills at preserving my harvest or farmer’s market finds.  I enjoy baking homemade bread too.  I dabble with sewing and knitting, usually my wintertime pastime. I enjoy reading, mostly, non-fiction (on the history of food, plants, or other aspects of society), biographies, and novels every so often.

What piece of advice would you offer a researcher walking into Spencer Research Library for the first time?
Don’t be afraid to come in and ask for assistance.  Let us know it’s your first time; we’re happy to explain why we are a closed stacks library.  We’ve got so much cool stuff!!  You’ll have an opportunity to work one-on-one with a librarian, and librarians are wonderful founts of knowledge. 

Meredith Huff
Building Operations and Stacks Manager, Public Services Student Assistant Supervisor