Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Unseen Hands: Care and Preservation of KU Libraries’ Collections

July 30th, 2019

Conservation Services recently installed an exhibit in Spencer Library titled Unseen Hands: Care and Preservation of KU Libraries’ Collections. Jointly conceived by all staff members in Conservation Services–Angela Andres, Whitney Baker, Chris Bañuelos, Jacinta Johnson, and Roberta Woodrick–the exhibit highlights the work performed by our department to preserve library collections.

Wall graphic for "Unseen Hands" exhibit at Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries.
Wall graphic designed by Nikki Pirch, KU Libraries’ graphic designer, featuring oversized versions of typical conservation tools. Click image to enlarge.

Staff in Conservation Services are responsible for caring for KU Libraries collections in all seven locations. In preserving our books, papers, photographs, audiovisual formats, and three-dimensional artifacts, we strive to make materials available for use by current and future library visitors.

Core functions of Conservation Services include:

  • Monitoring the environment
  • Constructing protective enclosures
  • Preparing new materials for use
  • Repairing and treating damaged items
  • Digitizing audiovisual formats
  • Constructing cradles and supports for exhibitions
  • Preparing for and responding to disasters
  • Training future preservation professionals
  • Engaging in outreach with the campus community and beyond
Examples of audio formats, University of Kansas Libraries
Three types of audio formats: 1/2″ reel to reel, microcassette, audio cassette. Click image to enlarge.

The display spans five cases, each of which focuses on a different aspect of our work: audiovisual preservation, general collections conservation, paper conservation, preservation measures, and special collections conservation. A digital slideshow and videos of recently digitized Spencer collections augment the case displays.

Before and after treatment images for RG 71_99_10, Aeo Hill scrapbook. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.
Before and after treatment of a student scrapbook created by KU student Aeo Hill in 1919-1921. Call Number: RG 71/99/10, University Archives. Click image to enlarge.
Wall graphic for "Unseen Hands" exhibit at Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries.
Key to the tools in the wall graphic. Designed by Nikki Pirch, KU Libraries’ graphic designer. Click image to enlarge.

The exhibit will be on display on the third floor of Spencer Research Library until January 17, 2020. Please visit!

Whitney Baker
Head, Conservation Services

Throwback Thursday: Listen to the Music Edition

July 25th, 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 a man playing a guitar as a woman watches from the Chi Omega Fountain, 1969-1970
A man plays a guitar as a woman watches from the Chi Omega Fountain, 1969-1970. University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 0/24/1 Chi Omega Fountain 1969/1970 Prints: Campus: Areas and Objects (Photos). Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collection).

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

Meet the KSRL Staff: Elspeth Healey

July 23rd, 2019

This is the latest installment in a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Today’s profile features Elspeth Healey, who joined the Spencer Research Library in 2011 as a special collections librarian. 

Where are you from?
I was born in the U.S., but I grew up in Toronto, Canada. From time to time, I’ll have a student come up to me after a class session and say “where are you from?” I have lived in the U. S. since college–so more than half of my life–but sometimes that Canadian accent still shines through!

Elspeth Healey in Spencer Library's North Gallery

Elspeth Healey, Special Collections Librarian, in Spencer Research Library’s North Gallery. Click image to enlarge.

What does your job at Spencer entail?
With my colleague Karen Cook, I am one of two special collections librarians. My curatorial responsibilities include materials for the Americas, including Latin America, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. In addition to building Spencer’s collections by working with donors and booksellers, I collaborate with cataloging and conservation to make the library’s collections accessible, lead instruction sessions, engage in outreach (through events, blog posts, exhibitions, etc.), answer reference queries for researchers on and off site, and contribute to digital projects.

How did you come to work in special collections and archives?
As an undergraduate, I had worked in the preservation department of my university’s special collections library, making mylar wrappers, drop-spine boxes, and other protective enclosures. I was fascinated by the variety of books that would come across my work bench, from 20th century poetry and plays to 18th century mathematical treatises. Later, as I was researching my dissertation in English literature, I came to realize that the moments that excited me most were those spent conducting archival research. I was energized not only by the materials I examined that related to my specific project, but I also enjoyed encountering materials that related to the projects of friends and colleagues and would alert them to those materials. That is what this job is at its heart: helping to connect researchers (of all types) with the materials that have the potential to advance and transform their understanding of a particular question or subject. I applied to library school as I was finishing my dissertation, and attended a program where I had the opportunity to work 20-hours a week in a special collections library while taking the coursework for my MSIS (Master of Science in Information Studies) degree. I always advise those who want to enter the field that gaining hands-on experience working in a special collections library and archives is one of the most important things you can do in library school: it is what will help you secure a job following graduation, and it is what will enable you to determine if this is really what you want to do as a profession.

What is the strangest item you’ve come across in Spencer’s Collections?
There are so many strange and interesting things in Spencer’s collections. We have a three volume scrapbook containing rare ephemera for Astley’s Amphitheatre, which opened in London in the late 18th-century and was originally known for its equestrian spectacles and show riding. As it developed, it incorporated circus-type features alongside other types of performance, so it is often recognized as London’s first circus. The posters, flyers, clippings, and ephemera in the scrapbooks offer a fascinating record of its history, and we hope to feature them at greater length in a future blog post. Other unusual items that pop to mind include 1930s form rejection letters from a science fiction pulp magazine, early Don Quixote fan fiction, and locks of hair (a favorite 19th century keepsake). I love that each day I might come across some new intriguing item that I can then share with others.

Scrapbook page containing flyer for "The Amazing Exhibition of the little Conjuring Horse," Astley's New Entertainments.   Scrapbook page containing "Ducrow's First Appearance this Season" with picture of a man with one foot on the back of each of two horses, April 1831. Astley's Royal Amphitheatre

Image of scrapbook page containing a poster for Astley's Royal Amphitheatre, advertising a Grand Equestrian evening and events featuring Pablo Fanque, Young Hernandez, etc.  Poster for "Astley's on Thursday, November 6, 1845 ...Gala Night," with pictures of show riding along the exterior of the poster in Astley's Amphitheatre scrapbook, volume 3, p. 237

Posterbills for Astley’s performances and Astley’s Amphitheatre in Astley’s Amphitheatre scrapbooks. Posters shown are circa 1775-1847. Call Number: G126, volumes 1-3. Click on images to enlarge (it’s worth it!)

What part of your job do you like best?
See above! I relish connecting researchers–whether students, scholars, or members of the public–with materials that will open up new perspectives and avenues of inquiry.

What are your favorite pastimes outside of work?
The usual things like reading, walking, movies, and travel, but I also love tracking down some of my favorite Canadian delicacies whenever I can: Nanaimo bars, butter tarts, poutine, and candy bars like Eat-more and Coffee Crisp. I’m still waiting for the day when they open a Tim Horton’s in Kansas… Lawrence certainly has much better (and less corporate) coffee and pastries, but some things just remind you of your youth…

What piece of advice would you offer a researcher walking into Spencer Research Library for the first time?
Not everything is in the online catalog. We aspire to get it all there one day, but every special collections library holds materials that haven’t quite made it into the catalog yet for one reason or another. Accordingly it’s always worth speaking to the librarian who oversees the subject area in which you are conducting research to see if there might be materials you that have missed.

The other piece of advice is to enjoy the research process. Sometimes the thing that you came to the library to examine won’t end up being the thing that really captures your intellect and imagination. Instead, it will be a folder of letters you might come across in the box next to the manuscript you were seeking to examine. This unanticipated discovery may lead your project in a new direction. Embrace the serendipity that archival research permits!


Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

Throwback Thursday: KU Astronaut Edition

July 18th, 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!

As we commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Apollo 11 – the first manned mission to land on the Moon – this week’s photograph features astronaut Ron Evans (1933-1990), a Kansas native who graduated from KU with a bachelor’s degree in 1955.

A Navy pilot during the Vietnam War, Evans was one of the nineteen astronauts selected by NASA in 1966. He served as a member of the astronaut support crews for the Apollo 7 and Apollo 11 flights and as backup Command Module Pilot for Apollo 14. Evans’ only space flight was as Command Module Pilot of Apollo 17. (It was during this December 1972 mission that the moon rock housed at Spencer Research Library was collected.)

Photograph of Astronaut Ron Evans presenting a memento carried to the moon, April 1973
Astronaut Ron Evans presenting a KU flag he carried to the moon during the Apollo 17 mission, April 1973. The plaque is inscribed “To the men and women of KU where I took my first steps toward the moon.” Lawrence Journal-World Photo Collection, University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG LJW P/ Ron Evans (Photos). Click image to enlarge.

During the Apollo 17 mission, Evans piloted the command module to the Moon. Once there, the lunar module separated from the command module and carried astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt to the Moon’s surface. Evans (and five mice) maintained lunar orbit while Cernan and Schmitt explored the Moon’s surface, setting records for the longest time in lunar orbit (almost 148 hours) and the number of lunar orbits (seventy-five). According to a NASA description of Apollo 17, Evans also conducted numerous scientific activities.

In addition to the panoramic camera, the mapping camera, and the laser altimeter (which were used on previous missions), three new experiments were included in the service module. An ultraviolet spectrometer measured lunar atmospheric density and composition, an infrared radiometer mapped the thermal characteristics of the Moon, and a lunar sounder acquired data on the subsurface structure.

Finally, Evans brought the astronauts back to Earth. While en route, he completed an hour-long spacewalk to retrieve film cassettes from the lunar sounder, mapping camera, and panoramic camera.

Evans returned to the KU campus in April 1973 to receive the university’s Distinguished Services Award, the highest honor given by the University of Kansas and the KU Alumni Association. (Kenneth and Helen Spencer were the first couple to receive the citation – in 1943 and 1968, respectively.) Evans also spoke a the Senior-Parent luncheon, an event for graduating seniors and their relatives. During the luncheon, Evans presented Chancellor Raymond Nichols with the plaque shown in the photograph above. The plaque was placed in the auditorium of Nichols Hall, which was then the space technology building on campus. The hall’s auditorium was renamed the Ron Evans Apollo Room.

A letter from Robert P. Ryan to Robert E. Foster, 1972
A letter from Robert E. Foster to Robert P. Ryan, 1972
One month before the Apollo 17 mission, KU alumnus Robert P. Ryan at NASA wrote to Robert E. Foster, KU’s Director of Bands, requesting a copy of KU fight songs. Ryan had “received permission to wake up Mr. Evans one morning with” one. Foster was able to provide the songs. Copies of letters in Ron Evans’ biographical file, University Archives. Click images to enlarge.

According to an account in the June 1973 issue of Kansas Alumni, Evans noted in his brief talk at the Senior-Parent luncheon that “I have come back to KU to redeem myself. One day during the flight, they played the Jayhawk fight song three or four times to wake me up and I didn’t hear it!”

An article entitled "Behind the Scenes in the Space Program," Kansas Alumni, March 1973
This article in the March 1973 issue of Kansas Alumni lists the names of KU alumni with known involvement in the space program during preparations for the Apollo 17 mission. Call Number: LH 1 .K3 G73. Click image to enlarge.

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

Spencer Research Library: Home of Kansas’s Apollo 17 Moon Rock

July 17th, 2019

We have previously highlighted the oldest man-made item in Spencer’s collections: a cuneiform tablet that is more than 4,000 years old. You can visit the library and see the tablet on display in the library’s North Gallery exhibit.

But, did you know that there is one item in Spencer’s holdings that is even older than the cuneiform tablet? It’s a moon rock that is approximately 3.7 billion years old!

Photograph of the Kansas Apollo 17 lunar sample display, 1972
Kansas’s Apollo 17 lunar sample display, 1972. Robert Blackwell Docking Papers. Call Number: RH MS VLT 167. Click image to enlarge.

The rock was gathered during the December 1972 Apollo 17 mission, the last human expedition to the Moon. According to information from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum,

[Apollo 17] carried the only trained geologist to walk on the lunar surface, lunar module pilot Harrison Schmitt. Compared to previous Apollo missions, Apollo 17 astronauts traversed the greatest distance using the Lunar Roving Vehicle and returned the greatest amount of rock and soil samples. Eugene Cernan, commander of Apollo 17, still holds the distinction of being the last man to walk on the Moon, as no humans have visited the Moon since December 14, 1972.

Specifically, according to a NASA description of the mission, the Apollo 17 astronauts “deployed or conducted ten science experiments, including the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP) suite of instruments, took more than 2,000 photographs and collected about 243 pounds (110 kilograms) of soil and rock samples at twenty-two different sites.”

Photograph of the Kansas Apollo 17 lunar sample display, 1972
Photograph of the Kansas Apollo 17 lunar sample display, 1972
Close-ups of the lunar sample in Kansas’s Apollo 17 display. The 1.1 gram rock is encased in a small Lucite ball. Robert Blackwell Docking Papers. Call Number: RH MS VLT 167. Click image to enlarge. Click images to enlarge.

The moon rock now housed at Spencer was part of a larger sample gathered at the end of the third and final Extravehicular Activity (EVA) moonwalk on December 13-14, 1972. Here is what astronaut Eugene A. Cernan said as he collected the sample in the Taurus Littrow Valley. (The section below is excerpted from a transcription of the EVA-3 closeout at the archived Apollo 17 Lunar Surface Journal website. You can also watch footage of the sample being collected by clicking on the 169.41.46 video clip link; the section quoted below starts about a minute and a half into the footage.)

I think probably one of the most significant things we can think about when we think about Apollo is that it has opened for us – “for us” being the world – a challenge of the future. The door is now cracked, but the promise of the future lies in the young people, not just in America, but the young people all over the world learning to live and learning to work together. In order to remind all the people of the world in so many countries throughout the world that this is what we all are striving for in the future, Jack has picked up a very significant rock, typical of what we have here in the valley of Taurus-Littrow.

It’s a rock composed of many fragments, of many sizes, and many shapes, probably from all parts of the Moon, perhaps billions of years old. But fragments of all sizes and shapes – and even colors – that have grown together to become a cohesive rock, outlasting the nature of space, sort of living together in a very coherent, very peaceful manner. When we return this rock or some of the others like it to Houston, we’d like to share a piece of this rock with so many of the countries throughout the world. We hope that this will be a symbol of what our feelings are, what the feelings of the Apollo Program are, and a symbol of mankind: that we can live in peace and harmony in the future.

Photograph of the Kansas Apollo 17 lunar sample display, 1972
A close-up of the state flag on Kansas’s Apollo 17 lunar sample display. Robert Blackwell Docking Papers. Call Number: RH MS VLT 167. Click image to enlarge.

An article on the website Collect Space describes what happened to the larger moon rock when it arrived on Earth.

Three months after Apollo 17 returned home in December 1972, then-U.S. President Richard Nixon ordered the distribution of fragments from the rock that Cernan and Schmitt collected, since labeled sample 70017, to 135 foreign heads of state, the fifty U.S. states and its provinces. Each rock, encased in an acrylic button, was mounted to a plaque with the intended recipient’s flag, also flown to the Moon.

Photograph of Kansas Governor Robert Docking with KU Chancellor E. Laurence Chalmers at a basketball game, circa 1969-1972
Kansas Governor Robert Docking (right) with KU Chancellor E. Laurence Chalmers (left) at a basketball game, circa 1969-1972. Lawrence Journal-World Photo Collection, University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG LJW P/ Robert Docking (Photos). Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Kansas’s Apollo 17 moon rock is housed at Spencer as part of Robert Blackwell Docking’s papers. Docking was the governor of Kansas at the time of the Apollo 17 mission (1967-1974); he donated his papers to Spencer in 1975.

A similar lunar sample display was presented to each state after the 1969 Apollo 11 mission, the first manned mission to land on the Moon. You can see Kansas’s Apollo 11 moon rock on display at the Kansas Museum of History.

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services