Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Community Outreach: Preschool Bookbinding Activity

March 20th, 2018

I recently had the opportunity to combine business and pleasure when my son’s preschool teachers put a call out to parents interested in being “Mystery Visitors” to the classroom. Parents were invited to join the class at group time to read a story, lead an activity, or share a hobby or interest. I knew that my colleagues in Conservation Services had taught workshops in the past for school-age and preschool children, which sounded like fun to me. I was excited for the chance to test my skills at communicating some basic concepts of my job to a young audience, and of course to see the (hopefully pleasantly) surprised look on my son’s face!

After talking a bit with the teachers to get a sense of the kids’ skill levels, I planned to try sewing a three-hole pamphlet with the class. The teachers felt that the kids would be able to handle the simple folding and sewing, with the three of us and an aide on hand to guide them. The class supply closet had plenty of paper for text blocks and covers, and I provided colorful plastic needles and lengths of yarn from my stash at home. From the lab, I assembled some other tools and supplies: a piercing jig made of scrap binder’s board, a few bone folders, and a chunky, blunt awl that punched the perfect, extra-large holes for small hands wielding big needles. I also made a sample book to show the class.


Pamphlet making supplies

Ready, set, sew!: pamphlet-making supplies. Click image to enlarge.

On the day of my visit, I arrived at the time of the afternoon when the class normally has “large group” time. My son’s initial bewilderment gave way to excitement when the teachers announced me as the Mystery Visitor, and I was soon swarmed with kids wanting to know what I had brought to share. The teachers and I decided to do the activity in small groups by turns, while the rest of the children played at other activities around the room. I set up at a small table and, assisted by one of the teachers, helped groups of 3 to 5 kids at a time make their own pamphlet-sewn book. I was really impressed by their folding, sewing, and especially listening skills! They were a very eager and engaged group, and it was sweet to see how proudly they displayed their finished books to their parents as they arrived for pick-up time.

The school’s privacy policy prevents me from sharing photos of children other than my own, and in any case the afternoon was a bit too energetic and fast-paced for me to take any good pictures. However, I did manage to snap a quick shot of my boy with his book as we were loading up to head home. He was quite pleased with his creation, which he began filling up with a story as soon as we got home!

Child holding finished pamphlet

Pamphlet completed and ready for stories!

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services

Albert T. Reid: Conservation Internship

December 5th, 2017

During the 2017 fall semester I had the opportunity to work as the Ringle Conservation Intern at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. My time here has focused on treating and housing the Albert T. Reid Cartoon Collection, which includes 1899 original cartoons from various artists. This collection started as a generous donation of works from Reid in the 1930s, and between 1954 and 1956 the William Allen White Foundation and the School of Journalism at the University collected around 1750 items from around 600 different cartoonists.

The process of treating this collection required me to spend time dry-cleaning and housing every cartoon; this gave me the ability to read a majority of the cartoons, which gave me insight to the nature of the world in which these artists resided. Cartoonists, especially those who were creating political or editorial cartoons, were critiquing the world they inhabited. It was often hard not to draw parallels from our current political state while viewing cartoons of Russia’s influence on the world or a dawning of nuclear war. It was also particularly interesting that at the same time as these political cartoons were being created, so were early incarnations of some of our favorite pop-culture icons.

Collection, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries.

Bugs Bunny, Warner Bros., 01/13/1954 (CS 326)
Click image to enlarge.

When working with this collection I was particularly drawn to the comic strips, especially the strips that were science fiction oriented, i.e. Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, and Brick Bradford. There’s something wonderful about the worlds these artists developed with little knowledge of where we would find ourselves. Looking at these today is like looking at a nostalgic future. I also found it fascinating that many of these same tropes and design ascetics are used by contemporary science fiction creators. I wonder if contemporary creators were influenced by these characters and cartoonists as I was.

Collection, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries.

Flash Gordon, by Dan Berry, 09/01/1954 (CS-312)
Click image to enlarge.

Collection, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries.

Buck Rogers, by Rick Yager, 02/27/1956 (CS-308)
Click image to enlarge.

The Reid Cartoon Collection is a fantastic resource. It brings me great satisfaction that this collection will soon be accessible.

Matthew Willie Garcia
2017 Ringle Conservation Intern
Conservation Services

Improving the Physical Environment in Spencer Library: A first visit from Image Permanence Institute

November 14th, 2017

KU Libraries was recently awarded a planning grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, under the Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections program. The purpose of the grant is to work with an environmental consultant, Image Permanence Institute (IPI), to study the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system in Spencer Research Library in order to better preserve our collections while also hopefully finding ways to save energy.

On October 23-25, 2017, we had our first visit from IPI consultants Christopher Cameron and Kelly Krish. The consultants met with the KU team, which consists of representation from Facilities Services, Campus Operations, Center for Sustainability, KU Libraries, Facilities Planning and Development, and the Department of English.

The first visit allowed the consultants to get a lay of the land: listening to participants’ concerns about the building’s environmental systems and collections issues, touring the spaces, and installing dataloggers to collect more information.

One of the first stops was the Spencer Library mechanical room. Facilities staff led the tour, pointing out how the system works, and, in particular, which parts have been most difficult to maintain.

In the mechanical room, Spencer Library, University of Kansas   In the mechanical room, Spencer Library, University of Kansas

Left: Entering Spencer Research Library’s mechanical room.
Right: Kelly Krish and Christopher Cameron in the supply air area, with filters to the left.

In the mechanical room, Spencer Library, University of Kansas

Facilities staff share energy data with IPI consultant Christopher Cameron.

The consultants also met separately with collections staff, walking the stacks and taking notes on anomalies in temperature and humidity, light, and other environmental issues. They asked many questions and took copious notes. They also used a handy infrared (IR) attachment to a smart phone in order to record hot and cold spots in the stacks. The IR images confirmed the ancedotal evidence that some of the vents aren’t functioning properly.

Consultants in stacks, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

Kelly Krish and Christopher Cameron learn about environmental concerns in the stacks.

Consultant in stacks, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

IPI also used an infrared camera to locate hot and cold spots in the stacks areas.

After discussing problems with collections staff, Christopher, Kelly, and Head of Conservation, Whitney Baker, discussed where additional dataloggers should be placed in order to supplement five years of data from thirteen loggers already in Spencer Library. They added loggers into the air handling unit, vents, and in collections spaces not previously monitored in order to gain a better overall picture in the coming months of the climate in Spencer Library.

Man placing datalogger in vent, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

Christopher Cameron placing a datalogger in the air stream.

Until they visit us again next spring, we will take monthly data readings for twenty-three loggers in the Spencer stacks, vents, and mechanical systems. We look forward to IPI’s return visit, when we examine the data from the first six months and discuss additional testing that may be undertaken at that time.

Whitney Baker, Head
Conservation Services

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this blog post do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. “Improving the Physical Environment in Spencer Research Library” has been made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections.


For all your custom housing needs!

October 24th, 2017

One of the most useful tools in a conservator’s arsenal is a good basic box template. Once one masters a simple enclosure pattern, the elements of the pattern can be adapted to create custom housings for just about anything – and in library and archives conservation, many objects besides books are in need of protective enclosures.

Our audiovisual preservation specialist Chris Bañuelos recently came to me with a few reels of videotape that were in need of housing. Enclosures for many types of audiovisual materials can be usually be purchased from archival suppliers, but this particular format, 2-inch quad tape, is apparently so obscure that containers for it are hard to come by. Chris had original boxes for some of the tapes, but these were made of acidic corrugated cardboard. I agreed to try and replicate the style of the original boxes using archival corrugated cardboard – I always enjoy a good enclosure challenge.

I did not set out to reinvent the wheel here; I wanted to mimic the original boxes as closely as possible by adapting the pattern for a basic corrugated book enclosure. I unfolded one of the old boxes and traced it on a blank sheet of paper to get a rough outline, then I measured the box and added the measurements to the tracing to make a template. I planned to use B-flute corrugated board, which is approximately but not exactly the same thickness as the original cardboard. Because of this difference I expected that my first trial of the template would likely be imperfect, but I went ahead with it anyway. I wanted to see what would be off in the finished box so that I could go back and fine-tune the template accordingly.

Sure enough, my first attempt wasn’t quite right – the lid was a bit too short and an even bigger bit too narrow, causing it to fit too loosely to stay closed. I added an eighth inch here and a quarter inch there and tried again. This time it looked great, but the lid was now just a little too tight for a person to easily and comfortably open it. After yet another small adjustment to the template, I had a box with a well-fitting, easy-to-open lid.

The last step was to fit the inside of the box with a short hub that would keep the reel from shifting. I used my handy circle cutter (which dates back to my high school days!) to score circles in scraps of the corrugated board, then finished cutting them out with a scalpel. I stacked three disks together, adhering with double-sided tape, and centered the stack in the bottom of the box, again with double-sided tape.

The finished box is similar in style to the original. Now that I’ve perfected the pattern through a little trial and error, I have a reliable template that I can hand to a student worker who should be able to successfully recreate the box.

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services

Dressy Boxes for Special Books

October 4th, 2017

The Spencer Research Library is very fortunate to have a host of student employees to assist with the daily functions of the Library; certainly, the same is true for Conservation Services, the preservation department for all of KU Libraries including Spencer Research Library. One of the important and on-going projects performed by our student employees for Spencer Research Library is creating custom enclosures for some of the more fragile materials. Books with loose or missing covers, damaged spines, or warped covering boards are among those identified by curators, catalogers, and the special collections conservators as candidates to be housed. The enclosures, known as tuxedo boxes or “tux boxes” for short, are custom fitted, four-flap wrappers, constructed from acid-free card stock.

The books are measured using a wooden device known as a MeasurePhase. It is a wonderfully handy tool that functions much like a pair of calipers designed to map the height, width, and thickness of a three-dimensional object.

Tuxedo box, Conservation Services, University of Kansas

One of the great advantages of this tool is that the books (or objects) can be measured in situ and the dimensions recorded on strips of paper with a pencil. These strips can then be taken to the conservation lab, where the materials and equipment needed to construct the boxes reside. This minimizes the likelihood of damage that can occur during handling and transport of the delicate books. Conservation Services student employees use the MeasurePhase, paper strips, and pencils, as noted above. They might need to turn the book several times for each of the dimensions, until the point of greatest width is found.

Tuxedo box, Conservation Services, University of Kansas

Next they transfer the information from the paper strips to the card stock, cutting two long pieces of card to form the wrapper. One piece is cut to the height of the book and the second to the width. The thickness or depth of the book is added, as the students mark, score, and fold the card.

Tuxedo box, Conservation Services, University of Kansas

The two long prices of card are joined using double-sided tape, and a slot and tab is created on the outer two flaps of the wrapper. The tab, in particular, is a task that requires a skillful touch with the straight-edge and scalpel. All pencil marks are erased from the boxes, and the students place the completed boxes on a shelf where they are labeled by our bindery staff person.

Once a group of boxes is labeled, the students return the boxes to Spencer Research Library where they are united with their books. The label information is checked against the book itself  and the book is returned to the shelf. Conservation services student employees construct hundreds of tuxedo boxes each year for the more at-risk books in Spencer Research Library. These enclosures reduce damage from dust, handling, and light, and prevent loss of pages from loosely bound volumes. In this way, a small amount of preservation is spread among a large number of volumes.


Roberta Woodrick
Collections Conservator
Conservation Services