Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

New Finding Aids Available

June 6th, 2013

Finding aids are inventories that help researchers navigate collections of manuscripts, organizational records, personal papers, and photographs. Please scroll down for a list of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library’s newest finding aids and then visit the library and explore!

Film still from The Cheat, 1915

Newly inventoried! A still from The Cheat (1915), part of a sizable collection of Movie Stills, 1895-1998, amassed by KU Professor of Film & Media Studies John C. Tibbetts. Call Number: MS 297, Box 1, Folder 72

 

 

To search across all of Spencer’s finding aids, please click here.

 

History in a Bottle

April 18th, 2013

Those of you who have visited the Kenneth Spencer Research Library in the past few months have discovered that we are in the midst of another small renovation project. This time, we are renovating our processing spaces, where books, manuscript collections, and other items are described and prepared for use. Our collections keep growing, while the space we have for these essential activities does not, so we are removing some interior walls and opening up some spaces to allow us to house materials more efficiently before and during processing, and also to refresh staff spaces. There has been some noise and some other disruption, but work is well underway, and we look forward to great results.

As part of this process, the in-wall exhibit case that had once welcomed visitors into the  space when it was the Kansas Collection reading room was removed. One day a few weeks ago, KU Libraries Associate Dean Kent Miller arrived at my office door with a small glass bottle. The demolition crew had found it in INSIDE the wall as they took down the case, so it was obviously placed there during construction.

Image of whisky bottle found during construction at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library.

This bottle of Grant’s Stand Fast Scotch (8 years old) is empty, but still has the tax sticker, and you can see a yellow notation of “238.” I have no idea what a half-pint of scotch costs now, so I’m not sure this would reasonably have been a price in the late 1960s—perhaps it means something entirely different. I am certainly not a historian of alcohol, international commerce, or product design. But I have been keeping this bottle in my office and thinking a lot about it lately as we continue to rethink the physical spaces that we inhabit.

First of all, this bottle was empty, so I’m wondering who drank it, and when. Was it a construction worker who brought it from home as a lark? Or was it consumed in situ? I have been told of a tradition where building workers leave behind something, like a mark that will be covered by paint, to claim their work. If this is the case, who could this bottle of scotch have served as a signature? Or perhaps a prankster staff member snuck it in during construction? Is the person who did this still in Lawrence, and have I unknowingly seen them at Dillon’s?

Forbidden substances, of course, have a colorful history in libraries, and the Spencer Library is no exception. We still prohibit food and drink in most areas, although we maintain a robust schedule of catered events, and our staff members have a comfortable break room as well. We are scrupulous about removing trash every day to discourage pests and protect collections even from a seemingly harmless glass of water. Smoking has been prohibited for decades, but I remember sneaking a smoke in what is now one of our classrooms when I was a student assistant, something that is inconceivable now. We certainly never would have expected whiskey-drinking construction workers to leave behind evidence, but we do still need to remind visitors that their Cokes and Skittles should be consumed outside.

I spend a lot of time imagining how these amazing spaces may evolve, and this small time capsule forces me to consider how it once was. The care and dedication and craftsmanship that led to this beautiful building reflects a time when even a utilitarian item like an alcohol bottle seems to have been created a little more carefully. The processes for printing both the duty stamp and the label itself were much more labor-intensive than in the computerized present. And while I celebrate the changes we have brought to make our library more functional, more inviting, and more comfortable, I’m tempted to raise a glass to the people who put that bottle in the wall forty-five years ago, reminding me of where we have been as we look towards where we want to go.

Beth M. Whittaker
Head of Kenneth Spencer Research Library

We’re Not Just About Papers

January 31st, 2013

When the Spencer Research Library receives a collection of personal papers it can sometimes include materials that aren’t papers at all. Further, the creator of the papers may just be the most famous of a whole constellation of friends and family members whose stories are also revealed in those papers.

This first came to my attention, as an assistant in the Processing Department, with the personal papers of E. H. S. Bailey (call number: PP 158).  Edgar Henry Summerfield Bailey arrived at the University of Kansas in the fall of 1883, where he taught chemistry for the next fifty years until his death in 1933. In addition to teaching he also authored the lyrics for the famous KU “Rock Chalk” chant and pioneered the detection and exposure of fraudulent practices on the part of food manufacturers in the early 20th century.

Late in his life, he took a great interest in genealogy, and his papers include much about his relatives in 19th century Connecticut. Among them, his maternal grandmother, Charity Birdsey Miller, is vividly represented by a surviving portrait in oil (artist unknown) that also arrived with the Bailey papers. A stern, sensible-looking woman, she is portrayed wearing eye glasses. Those spectacles are included with Bailey’s papers in the University Archives, as is the original case in which they were sold by a jeweler and optician in Meriden, Connecticut.

Portrait of Charity Birdsey Miller

Photograph of Charity Birdsey Miller's glasses and glasses case

Top: Portrait of Charity Birdsey Miller.  Personal Papers of E. H. S. Bailey.  Call Number:  PP 158, Oversize Folder 8.  Bottom: Charity Birdsey Miller’s eye glasses and eye glasses case.  Personal Papers of E. H. S. Bailey.  Call Number:  PP 158, Box 4, Folder 140. Click images to enlarge.

For further insight into the life of this woman, the collection includes her Last Will and Testament, as well as probate documents inventorying her possessions and their distribution among her three grown daughters.

Thus, a collection which might have been expected to address only the life of a Midwestern academic in the early 20th century can also be of great value in illuminating the life of a virtuous woman of modest property in early- and mid-19th century New England.

Larry M. Brow
Program Assistant,  Spencer Research Library Processing Department

Lastest Finding Aids and Additions to Finding Aids

December 20th, 2012

Trying to decide what you would like to do over the winter holidays?  Why not get a head start on your research?  Here is a list of the newest finding aids and additions to finding aids available at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library.  Please scroll down for images from three of these collections.

 

Image of "Free the KU Twelve" buttons

Image of Letter from Jennie Johnson to Will Johnson, January 26, 1886  Image of Letter from Ernest Boyd to Kenneth Reddin, October 14, 1936.

Top: “Free the KU Twelve” buttons. Gail J. Hamilton Collection. Call Number: PP 497: Box 1, Folder 26; Left: Letter from Jennie Johnson to Will Johnson, January 26, 1886. Jennie Johnson Collection. Call Number: RH MS P909: Folder 1; Right: Letter from Ernest Boyd to Kenneth Reddin, October, 14, 1936. Kenneth Reddin Collection. Call Number: MS 14: Box 3, Item C1. Click images to enlarge.

No Taste for Innocent Pleasures: L. E. L. and the Nineteenth Century

November 15th, 2012

Student Manuscripts Processor and Museum Studies Graduate Student Sarah Adams revises her ideas about the nineteenth century after working on the collection of British poet L. E. L.

When we think of English society in the nineteenth century, we often associate it with what we’ve read in classic novels. British literature and culture of that era seemed to me to lean heavily on polite social decorum and chaste modesty. With such stringent moral codes, people from these periods can at times appear dull compared to modern society. However, after working on a certain nineteenth-century collection in the processing department, I have a hard time believing this to be the case.

Image of Portrait of L. E. L. (1)  Image of portrait of L. E. L. with text

Two portraits of Letitia Elizabeth Landon (L. E. L.). Left: by S. Wright del; S. Freeman sc.; Right: by D. Maclise ; J. Thomson. Letitia Elizabeth Landon (L. E. L.) Collection. Call Numbers: MS 223 E1 (left) and MS 223 E2 (right). Click images to enlarge.

Letitia Elizabeth Landon (1802-1838), or L.E.L., was an English poet and novelist in the early nineteenth century.  She was controversial in her time due to rumored inappropriate relations with a man, a broken engagement, and her suspicious death (perhaps by suicide). Her small collection at the Spencer Research Library (MS 223) includes some of her poetry as well as personal correspondence. In her letters, L.E.L. displays a certain frankness that I was surprised to see in that time period. She could be quite harsh on those she felt were unexciting or uninspired.

In one passage from a letter to Mrs. E. Lytton Bulwer [1834?], she said this of her cousin Caroline:
“My cousins have all good constitutions, complexions, and tempers. They have always lived surrounded with every comfort and have ideas as regular as the lines in a copy book. They hold rouge to be endangering your immortal soul, the opera as sinful, and theaters the downright profession of the devil. In short, Caroline’s idea of London, where she spent a few weeks after their bridal excursion, is that of the whole set, my that ‘it is a great, wicked, expensive place.’”

In another passage, she writes regarding her cousins’ ideas of recreation:
“I have no taste for innocent pleasures.”

Image of a detail from the first page a letter from L. E. L. to Mrs. Bulwer.

 Detail from the first page a letter from L. E. L. to Mrs. Bulwer.  Letitia Elizabeth Landon (L. E. L.) Collection.
Call Number: MS 223 Bc2.  Click image to enlarge

And further:
“One of my little cousins has a gold chain to which she attached at least as much the idea of dignity as of vanity. Her younger sister first implored her to give it – no – then to lend it. The negative nod even more decided. At last the petition became a ‘farther looking hope’ and she exclaimed, ‘Will you Annie leave it me in your will?’ ‘No,’ replied the cautious Miss Annie, ‘I shall want it to wear in Heaven.’”

This attitude toward her cousins likens L.E.L. to one of the many “villains” of Victorian literature. Perhaps, though, there was another side to nineteenth-century English society that some modern readers choose to ignore in the interest of romantic ideals we’ve grown to love in our favorite classics.  I, for one, find it much more exciting to imagine this slightly wicked side in our beloved heroes and heroines.

Curious about L.E.L.’s work? Click here for a link to one of her poems, “Revenge.”

To read the entirety of the letter from  L. E. L. to Mrs. E. Lytton Bulwer discussed in this post (MS 223: Bc.2), please click on the thumbnails below.

Image of Letter from L. E. L. to Mrs. Bulwer, page 1  Image of Letter from L. E. L. to Mrs. Bulwer, pages 2-3.  Image of Letter from L. E. L.  to Mrs. Bulwer, page 4

Sarah Adams
Student Manuscripts Processor and Museum Studies Graduate Student

Editor’s Note: An online finding aid for the Spencer Library’s Letitia Elizabeth Landon (L. E. L.) Collection will be available through our finding aids search portal in the coming weeks.