Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Celebrating Fifty Years of Spencer Research Library

November 28th, 2018

This week’s post is a slightly revised version of remarks given by Beth M. Whittaker, Associate Dean for Distinctive Collections and Director of Spencer Research Library, at the library’s fiftieth anniversary celebration on November 8th.

Photograph of event programs at Spencer Research Library's fiftieth anniversary celebration, 2018

Event programs at Spencer Research Library’s fiftieth anniversary celebration,
November 8, 2018. Photograph by LeAnn Meyer. Click image to enlarge.

It was not long after I returned to Kansas that I realized that the 50th anniversary of Spencer Research Library was impending; it seemed a long way off and we spent a lot of time thinking about how we would mark this occasion. Looking back at the many celebrations Spencer has commemorated, there were so many possible ways to go. The dedication of the building in 1968 was an august affair. Lord C. P. Snow spoke on the topic of “Kinds of Excellence” and if you’re interested you can read the remarks recently added to KU’s Scholar Works repository.

The 25th anniversary included a signature exhibit and catalog that we still reference today; other anniversaries have come and gone more quietly, many of them witnessed by people still here with us.

Photograph of a guest exploring the "50 for 50" exhibit at Spencer Research Library's fiftieth anniversary celebration, 2018

A guest exploring the “50 for 50” exhibit at the
fiftieth anniversary celebration, November 8, 2018.
Photograph by LeAnn Meyer. Click image to enlarge.

But what we really wanted to do for an exhibit was not to talk about the collections ourselves, as we so often do, but to get the stories from people who had used them for study or research. That, after all, is why we are here, and why this building has stood for fifty years and will stand for the future. Many of our friends and supporters answered our call, and the exhibit currently on display is the result. Although the word has become watered down by trendiness, this exhibit is actually “curated” by everyone who submitted a suggestion, took a walk down memory lane, or sent an email, and it is a reflection of the value of these items and these collections. It will live on in the gorgeous exhibit book we produced which is also available electronically. It is my hope that this exhibit stands the test of time for another fifty years.

Of course, this exhibit is not the whole story of the golden anniversary of the library. On February 7, 2019 we will celebrate our next exhibit “Meet the Spencers: A Marriage of Arts and Sciences,” which will focus on this extraordinary couple and their philanthropy across the region. Please mark your calendars and plan to join us. For a sneak peek at the kind photographs and correspondence that will help shape this exhibit, make sure to check out the small exhibit cases on either entrance of the North Gallery on your next visit.

Photograph of Beth M. Whittaker speaking at Spencer Research Library's fiftieth anniversary celebration, 2018

Beth M. Whittaker speaking at the fiftieth anniversary celebration,
November 8, 2018. Photograph by LeAnn Meyer. Click image to enlarge.

It is traditional in these situations to talk about how much has changed, but I want to lead with what is the same. Every day, we welcome students (from KU to preschool and everything in between), researchers and the community into our beautiful spaces; we lead tours and classes; we support researchers both here and remotely; and we share the joy and wonder of original documents with everyone. As Associate Professor of English and stalwart friend of Spencer Library Laura Mielke said in her submission for the exhibit:

Every time my students and I come to the Spencer Research Library, we have a transformative moment. Eyes light up, hands reach out gently, smiles spread across faces.

This has been happening for fifty years, and will continue.

Photograph of attendees at Spencer Research Library's fiftieth anniversary celebration, 2018

Attendees listening to remarks at the fiftieth anniversary celebration,
November 8, 2018. Photograph by LeAnn Meyer. Click image to enlarge.

However, some things HAVE changed. New collections have sprung up and grown; new formats have emerged to convey information; researchers have asked new questions of our materials; and new classes have come through our doors. If we had asked the attendees of the dedication in 1968 what the research library would look like in 2018, I doubt any of them would have come close to predicting this future.

The building itself, of course, has also changed. Those of you who have been here before know that my passion for this building includes always looking for ways to make it better, so we looked at the 50th anniversary as a chance to do some “touch-ups” after years of significant renovation projects. After the creation of the Stokstad Reading room and the exhibit space that currently houses “50 for 50”; renovation to work spaces that make cataloging, digitization, and conservation easier and more efficient; and most significantly and gloriously, the renovation of the North Gallery, the 50th gave us an excuse to do things like freshen the classrooms, install new technology, and reupholster Mrs. Spencer’s specially selected furniture. Through it all, we have tried to honor the style and inspiration that Helen Spencer brought to the building. She did not want a “museum or a mausoleum.” She wanted this library it to be a useful and workable addition to academic life, and as that academic life has changed, so have we.

We have also used the occasion of the 50th anniversary to tackle some programmatic needs. Thanks to generous donors, our research grant program has been reinvigorated and we offer three grant programs to bring people to Lawrence to use our collections. In time for the 50th we instituted regular drop-in, staff-guided tours. If you haven’t yet come to one of our Friday afternoon tours, please do so and spread the word. We have kept busy.

Photograph of Spencer Research Library's North Gallery in snow during the fiftieth anniversary celebration, 2018

Spencer Research Library’s North Gallery in snow during the fiftieth anniversary celebration,
November 8, 2018. Photograph by LeAnn Meyer. Click image to enlarge.

This exhibit and our celebration on November 8th kept us even busier. I need to give my thanks to the exhibit team, who worked with me to refine my wild idea and shape it into something magical: Sherry Williams, Angela Andres, Meredith Huff, and Mary Ann Baker.

My colleagues in Spencer Public Services: Caitlin Klepper, Kathy Lafferty, Stacey Wiens, and the indomitable Meredith Huff and Emily Beran, who may finally be able to get back to their primary responsibilities without me interrupting them constantly with “50th” ideas and concerns.

Librarians and archivists Sherry Williams, Elspeth Healey, Karen Cook, Becky Schulte, Letha Johnson, and Deborah Dandridge, who helped select and provide context for items from the collections they curate. Catalogers, manuscripts processors, conservators, digitization experts and always changing brigade of student workers–I am especially grateful to the student workers.

Our colleagues in KU Libraries Office of Communication and Advancement: Nikki Pirch, whose beautiful graphics have enriched everything about the 50th, and Bayli Rindels, who supported me throughout the planning for the event, along with LeAnn Meyer, Leah Hallstrom and Courtney Foat, under the leadership of Christy McWard, who arrived at KU Libraries only to learn her new colleague had an ambitious plan already in place; she and her team jumped in with both feet.

Finally, I have to thank those who came before me in this role. Sandy Mason, who set and steered the course for decades; Bill Crowe, whose leadership and vision helped the library manage a time of extraordinary change; and Sherry Williams, who served in the interim and from whom I continue to learn something new every single day. As Jim Gunn, emeritus professor of English — and, dare I say lifetime support of this library — told me, “You walk in big shoes.”

Beth M. Whittaker
Associate Dean for Distinctive Collections
Director of Spencer Research Library

Improving the Physical Environment in Spencer Library: The Second Visit from Image Permanence Institute

May 8th, 2018

KU Libraries recently hosted Christopher Cameron and Kelly Krish, consultants from Image Permanence Institute (IPI), for their second visit as part of the planning grant we were awarded from the National Endowment for the Humanities, under the Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections program. The purpose of the grant is to work with our environmental consultants 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 April 24-25, 2018, Christopher Cameron and Kelly Krish met with members of the KU team representing Facilities Services, Campus Operations, KU Libraries, and Facilities Planning and Development. We first met to discuss building and mechanical system updates since their visit in October.

Staff and consultants conferring, Spencer Library, University of Kansas Libraries

Whitney Baker (left, KU Libraries) confers with Christopher Cameron and
Kelly Krish (Image Permanence Institute). Click image to enlarge.

We then took a tour of the building to retrieve information from all the dataloggers in various collections spaces and the mechanical room. We use Preservation Environment Monitors (PEMs) that were developed by the Image Permanence Institute to record relative humidity and temperature. The data is uploaded into eClimate Notebook, software that was also developed by IPI. Christopher and Kelly can remotely access our data from New York; we have met via conference call periodically to discuss anomalies since their visit last October.

Consultant using a datalogger in the Spencer Library stacks, University of Kansas Libraries.

Downloading data from a Preservation Environment Monitor (PEM)
with a thumb drive. Click image to enlarge.

Staff member using a datalogger in the Spencer Library stacks, University of Kansas Libraries

Whitney Baker retrieving data in the
University Archives stacks. Click image to enlarge.

Christopher brought a new infrared (IR) camera to continue analysis of the vents in the stacks. Some seem to be blowing cold air into the space while others produce hot air. It’s a puzzle, and the IR data helps pinpoint how the conditioned air is delivered into the collections spaces.

Consultant using an infrared camera in the Spencer Library stacks, University of Kansas Libraries.

Christopher Cameron using an infrared camera to locate
cold and hot spots in the stacks. Click image to enlarge.

The consultants and KU team ended the visit by discussing the data, making plans for some controlled studies, and discussing how we might use some designated grant funds to conduct further testing or make small improvements to the system.

We look forward to hosting the IPI consultants again in late fall or early winter, 2018. In the meantime, we will take monthly data readings for twenty-three loggers in the Spencer stacks, vents, and mechanical systems.

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.

Throwback Thursday: North Gallery Edition

August 31st, 2017

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!

Spencer’s North Gallery has been the library’s iconic space since the building opened in 1968. Earlier this summer we finished a renovation of the space and installed a new permanent exhibit featuring a snapshot of Spencer’s collections.

Come see the changes in the North Gallery any time Spencer Research Library is open, or attend the grand reopening next Thursday, September 7th, 3:00-4:30pm. The opening reception is free and open to everyone, and we hope to see you there!

Photograph of the Spencer Research Library North Gallery, 1960s

The North Gallery at Spencer Research Library, 1960s.
University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 0/22/82/i 1960s Prints:
Campus: Buildings: Spencer Research Library: Interior (Photos).
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

Workshop Recap: Care and Identification of Photographs with Gawain Weaver

June 20th, 2016

Last week Spencer Research Library hosted a workshop on the care and identification of photographs, taught by photograph conservator Gawain Weaver. I was fortunate to attend the four-day workshop along with three other fellow Spencer staff members from Conservation, Public Services, and Processing, as well as archivists and conservators from Missouri, Texas, and elsewhere in Kansas.

Our group met in Spencer’s Johnson Room and jumped right into things on day one by preparing paper to make our own salt prints. We coated paper first in a sodium chloride solution and, once dry, in a silver nitrate solution, then we placed leaves on the coated paper and exposed them in the sunlight over our lunch break. This simple exercise was a fun and engaging way to demonstrate the fundamentals of photographic chemistry.

Salt print (photograph)

The salt print I made in the workshop…it isn’t pretty, but the exercise was very useful!

Over the four days, we divided our time between Gawain’s incredibly information-packed lectures on the history of photographic and photomechanical processes, and lively hands-on sessions examining examples of many of the processes we’d learned about. The workshop fee included a small 60x-100x handheld microscope and a binder filled with the lecture slides, reference guides for identifying various processes, articles and recommended reading lists, and lots more useful information. Participants also had the option to purchase a sample set of photographic and photomechanical prints – a great addition to an archivist’s or conservator’s reference library.

Hand-held microscope

This microscope is small, inexpensive, and very handy for identifying photographic & printmaking processes.

Photographic sample set provided by Gawain Weaver

Photograph sample set of eighteen different photographic and photomechanical prints.

In addition to covering photographic history and technique, Gawain also discussed digital prints and issues of photograph deterioration, storage conditions, and proper housings. I enjoyed this workshop a great deal, and I came away with a clearer understanding of how photographs are made as well as greater confidence in my ability to identify photographic processes and to better address the particular preservation needs of photographs in the collections I work on. Many of the guides and resources in the workshop packet are available for purchase or to download for free from Gawain’s website, along with links to many more resources and information about this and other workshops that Gawain offers.

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services

Calling All Bibliophiles: Enter the Snyder Book Collecting Contest!

January 25th, 2016

Okay, so you didn’t win 1.5 billion dollars in the recent Powerball drawing, but you still have the chance to turn your love of books into a nice little rainy day fund. This year KU Libraries is celebrating the 6oth anniversary of the Snyder Book Collecting Contest. To help mark this banner year, the contest will offer even larger prizes than usual.

Winners will be selected in both graduate and undergraduate divisions, with the following cash awards:

  • First Prize: $1000
  • Second Prize: $600
  • Honorable Mention: $300

Each winner will also receive a gift card in the following amounts from contest co-sponsor Jayhawk Ink, a division of KU Bookstore:

  • First Prize: $200
  • Second Prize: $100
  • Honorable Mention: $50

Start combing your shelves, though, since entries are due by 5 p.m. Friday, February 19, 2016. The winners will be announced at an awards ceremony on Thursday, April 14th, 2016.

Snyder Book Collecting Content 2016 Banner
The contest was established by Elizabeth M. Snyder in 1957 to cultivate and recognize undergraduate and graduate students’ interest in collecting books.

In recent years, the rules have expanded to include digital objects and non-print materials. You can learn more about the contest and how to enter by visiting https://lib.ku.edu/snyder/. There you’ll also find a handy FAQ as well as selected essays, bibliographies, and a sample collection to help you on your way.

In need of further inspiration? Take a glance at some of the evocative titles of winning collections from the past fifteen years. What might you title your collection?

  • Clandestine Publications, by Resha S. Cardone, 1st place Graduate Division, 2002
  • Writing for No One: Zines and the Literature Undergroundby Joe Morgan, 1st place Undergraduate Division, 2004
  • On Being and Becoming a ‘Total Woman:’ Bestselling Books on Christian Marriage, 1972 to 1979, by Jennifer Heller, 1st place Graduate Division, 2004
  • Binding Times: Central American and Caribbean Literature Created in Crisis, by Erin S. Finzer, 1st place Graduate Division, 2005
  • Out of Season: Collecting Hemingway In Our Time as the Su[m] Also Rises, by Todd Giles, 1st place Graduate Division, 2007
  • The Mythology of Mozart, by Bailey Pike, 1st place Undergraduate Division, 20o8
  • High and Low: Commix, Art and Their Influence, by Thayer Bray, 1st place Undergraduate Division, 2009
  • Return With Us Now: The Rise of the Old Time Radio Hobby, by Ryan Ellett, 1st place Graduate Division, 2010
  • A Genre of One’s Own: Constructing Science Fiction as a Space for Feminist Discourse, by Meagan Kane, 1st place Undergraduate Division, 2011
  • The Evolution of Scientific Knowledge: Vintage and Antique Textbooks of the Natural and Physical Sciences, by Laci Gerhart, 1st place Graduate Division, 2012
  • Language and Linguistics: How Words Changed My Life,  by Allie Alvis, 1st place Undergraduate Division, 2012
  • Discovering Hollywood’s Mysteries: Juvenile Literature from Cinema’s Golden Age, by Baiba Sedriks, 1st place Graduate Division, 2013
  • A Decade of Yarncraft, by Emma Fahrlander , 1st place Undergraduate Division, 2014
  • Southern Appalachia: Historic and Imagined, by Clarissa Nemeth, 1st place Graduate Division, 2015

 Clarissa Nemeth, 2015 Graduate Division Winner with her collectionClarissa Nemeth, with her collection “Southern Appalachia: Historic and Imagined.”
Nemeth won first place in the Graduate Division in the 59th Annual Snyder Book Collecting Contest (2015)