Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

My Life with Lillian: The Year (And Then Some) I Spent Transcribing MS B173

July 14th, 2021

Last July, I mentioned in our ‘Spencer Public Services Working from Home’ blog post that one of my work from home projects was creating transcriptions of some of our handwritten collection materials. Well readers, a year later here is the follow-up on one of those transcriptions – the Lillian North diary – and a bit of the story of how a New York suffragist helped me through the pandemic.

Photograph of the first page of Lillian North’s diary with entries from January 1 and 2, 1915.
The first page of Lillian’s diary with entries from January 1 and 2, 1915. Lillian North Diary. Call Number: MS B173. Click image to enlarge.

Who was Lillian North?

Lillian was born on August 17, 1881, in Stafford, New York, to parents George and Mary Thomas Radley. On September 26, 1906, Lillian married Frank North, a farmer. They were married for fifty-seven years before Frank’s death in October 1963.

Lillian’s diary entries span from January 1, 1915, to May 14, 1917, and detail her day-to-day life as a homemaker and farm wife. Her days were full of activity: cleaning and improving the house, washing and mending clothes, baking bread and pies, canning pickles and strawberries, and churning her prize-winning butter. I can confirm that I was motivated to clean on more than one occasion after working on this transcription; you would be, too, after reading about Lillian cleaning daily while your dishes stared at you from the kitchen sink.

Photograph of the entries in Lillian North's diary from September 21 and 22, 1916.
Entries in Lillian’s diary from September 21 and 22, 1916. She mentions spending the day at the suffrage tent at the fair and her butter being named first premium. Lillian North Diary. Call Number: MS B173. Click image to enlarge.

Outside of her work managing the home and helping on the farm, Lillian attended social engagements and community events almost every week. In her diary she recounts automobile rides and dinners with friends, visiting with her mother and sisters, weekly church, and listening to various speakers and concerts in the area. She frequently attended meetings for the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the Ladies Aid Society, and The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry. She was involved in the women’s suffrage movement as well – attending meetings and talks and even campaigning for the cause. It was her work as a suffragist that initially introduced me to her diary while I was conducting research for other projects related to the centennial anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment.

Photograph of Lillian North's diary entry from October 13, 1915.
Photograph of Lillian North's diary entry from October 13, 1915.
Lillian’s entry from October 13, 1915, highlights a suffrage lecture given by Mrs. Phillip Snowden of London and Mrs. Keating from Colorado. Lillian North Diary. Call Number: MS B173. Click images to enlarge.

Where did this project take me?

Working on this transcription took me on a bit of a journey; I found myself embroiled in some side research projects I was not expecting to do when I started. While the diary provides extensive details about Lillian’s day-to-day life for over two years, there was so much more I wanted to know about her and her family beyond 1917 when the diary ends. I began researching, trying to find whatever I could find based on the information in the diary, our published finding aid, and our records from when the diary was acquired. Eventually, I tracked down obituaries for Lillian, Frank, and Lillian’s mother Mary Radley via Newspapers.com.

In addition to wanting to know more about Lillian, my curiosity was piqued about some of the acronyms and abbreviations in the diary. What did all of them mean? Several of them I deciphered fairly quickly with the help of some online resources. Others were not so easy to interpret or did not seem to be related to any organizations I could find. By taking clues from the context in which these acronyms appeared and some additional research, I was able to make some guesses about possible meanings, but questions still abound.

All of these side projects did lead somewhere beyond satisfying my own curiosity: The additional information gleaned from the obituaries allowed us to update the biographical information in our online finding aid – providing a more accurate picture of Lillian’s life and family. We also added the list of possible meanings for the acronyms and abbreviations in hopes that this would help future researchers who are interested in the diary and Lillian’s many activities and organizations.

Photograph of Lillian North’s obituary in the Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), December 19, 1963.
Lillian North’s obituary in the Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), December 19, 1963. Courtesy Newspapers.com. Click image to enlarge.

Why did it take over a year to transcribe one item?

Now, I know many of you are probably wondering how I am just now finishing the transcription of Lillian’s diary – a full year after that initial blog post. After all, this is not the first item I have transcribed so this should be a faster process, right? Well, here are a few details to consider:

It’s a long story: Lillian’s diary is not quite like the other items the staff at Spencer have transcribed. We typically focus on transcribing shorter documents, primarily letters. Lillian wrote daily in her diary for over two years; there are over 700 entries and roughly 200 pages to transcribe. It was only because of the pandemic and working from home that I even had time to take on a transcription project of this scope. No matter how fast I worked, this was going to be a long project.

Handwritten = hard: Reading someone’s handwriting can be a challenge (how many of us frequently wonder if our doctors are writing actual words on those prescription pads?). Add in factors like age, access, and series of acronyms and abbreviations and, suddenly, handwriting can become practically indecipherable. You have to learn to look for patterns in how someone shapes their letters and rely on context clues frequently – a process that takes time to do.

Photograph of entries in Lillian North's diary from June 23, 25, and 27, 1916.
Entries in Lillian’s diary from June 23, 25, and 27, 1916. These more crowded pages show some of the reading difficulties associated with this transcription, including Lillian’s use of abbreviations. Lillian North Diary. Call Number: MS B173. Click image to enlarge.

There is only one of me: Working on transcriptions was only one of my work from home projects during the pandemic. I was also revising training documents, updating instruction plans, participating in professional development opportunities, and conducting research and creating content for other projects, most notably other blog posts and an online exhibit – to name a few things. Some of these activities had scheduled times and due dates; creating a transcription for general use did not so it was the project to fill hours and provide breaks instead of the top priority.

Opening up: Spencer Research Library re-opened at the beginning of the school year in August! With the re-opening came an end to my full-time work from home status. I was back in the building several days a week and helping with paging, shelving, reference, and instruction. Even though I was still working from home some days, my focus shifted to other projects that supported what was happening onsite. Again, a transcription without any specific deadline was moved to the back burner more often than not.

Saying good-bye: The world turned upside down in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic brought unimaginable stress, trauma, and heartbreak to so many. In the last year and half many lost their lives, their livelihood, and their loved ones. I recognize that I am incredibly fortunate that I was able to continue working and that my family and friends were largely spared from any serious health issues related to COVID-19. However, that does not mean 2020 was without difficulties for me – particularly related to mental and emotional health.

I live by myself in a one-bedroom apartment. Honestly, I am quite the homebody and pretty introverted so prolonged periods of time in my own space and on my own are welcome. But despite my introverted tendencies, I also have people I enjoy seeing and spending time with regularly – family, friends, colleagues. And then poof! I really could not see anyone, especially not frequently, for quite some time. That gets lonely after a while and I could feel the effects. All of this was on top of the anxiety I was feeling about work and school and life in general during the pandemic.

During that time Lillian’s diary became a distraction from the uncertainty and isolation I was experiencing. After reading increasingly grim outlooks on public health, I could turn to this diary and read about Lillian taking the family horse to get re-shoed or working on a sewing project with a friend. Reading and transcribing Lillian’s diary was like talking with one of my friends about their week when our lives were not consumed by COVID-19; it was a welcome break. As time went on and I became more invested in Lillian’s life, I began to procrastinate on this project – prolonging the point when I would finish the transcription and lose this source of comfort at a time when I really needed it.

Photograph of the last page of Lillian North’s diary, 1917.
The last page of Lillian’s diary, written on the inside of the back cover. Lillian North Diary. Call Number: MS B173. Click image to enlarge.

At the end of Lillian’s diary, she ran out of pages and began writing on the inside of the cover. Why? The reason is likely pretty practical – to save money, to use up all the available space, etc. – but the appearance gives the sense that she was trying to put off saying good-bye to this little book for as long as possible. It is a feeling I am all too familiar with as I reach the end of this project and, more importantly, my life with Lillian.

Emily Beran
Public Services

Spencer Public Services Working from Home

July 14th, 2020

Spencer Research Library has been closed since March due to the coronavirus, with in-person services unavailable and staff members working from home with little or no access to physical collection materials. So, what do librarians in a unit with “public” in it’s title do when the building is closed to the public? The answer is to continue serving patrons remotely as best as we can while working on myriad behind-the-scenes projects that will hopefully benefit users long after the current pandemic.

Even though we have not been able to interact with our library patrons face-to-face for several months, our underlying purpose remains the same: providing high-quality services that encourage and welcome users to engage with Spencer librarians and collections in ways they find interesting, exciting, thought-provoking, and meaningful.

Read on to see what each member of the Public Services team has been working on from home.

Caitlin Donnelly Klepper, Head of Public Services

What have you been working on?

Since March, I have taken over the daily monitoring of Spencer’s reference email account (ksrlref@ku.edu), answering some research queries and forwarding others to colleagues. Like my coworkers, I’ve also attended a good number of KU, KU Libraries, and Spencer Research Library meetings, town halls, and virtual updates. While some are new since covid-19, most others are Zoom and phone versions of the in-person meetings I would normally attend.

My other projects have included cleaning up statistics and corresponding reports, updating the Spencer website, catching up on a backlog of professional reading, and clearing out my email inbox. I’ve also attended many webinars and other online professional development opportunities. This month, much of my focus has shifted toward working with colleagues to develop plans for reopening Spencer’s Reading Room and providing instruction this fall.

Why is this work important to the library?

Much of my work at home has directly or indirectly helped maintain some of Spencer’s core operations; other projects have contributed to new initiatives at the Libraries and improved my personal ability to better serve our users.

What will you miss about working from home when we return to Spencer?

My husband and I purchased our first home in early March, and despite the current circumstances I’ve appreciated getting to spend so much time enjoying our new space. I’ll miss things being able to do things like eating at my desk and taking periodic breaks throughout the day to tackle some housework or walk on the treadmill.

Photograph of the view from Caitlin's home workspace
The view from Caitlin’s home workspace. Click image to enlarge.

Meredith Phares, Spencer Research Library Operations Manager

What have you been working on?

I have been working on a legacy project of our individual photo collections in the Kansas Collection. There are roughly 2,500 images that do not have a finding aid or catalog record. Patrons can only access these photos by reviewing a three-inch three-ring binder full of dividers and charts that is located in our Reading Room. I’ve been entering the details about these images into our ArchivesSpace database; from there, Manuscripts Coordinator Marcella Huggard and her team can take the information and create finding aids and catalog records. 

When I have had enough of data entry, I have been working on a training manual for our Public Services student assistants, along with data cleanup in our Aeon system, which tracks the circulation of Spencer materials. 

Since late April, I have been able to work in Spencer a couple of hours each week. I have kept up on my temperature and relative humidity monitoring of the stacks and have been able to get some stacks projects accomplished.

Why is this work important to the library?

Entering our individual photo collections into ArchivesSpace gets us a step closer to having our photograph collections more accessible. Data cleanup in Aeon allows me to be sure everything has been re-shelved correctly after it’s been used by researchers and staff members. Regular monitoring of our stacks environment is essential for the safety and preservation of our collections.

What will you miss about working from home when we return to Spencer?

I commute from Topeka, so I will miss the quick commute to my living room, the flexible work schedule, and spending time with my newly-adopted dog Edgar. He has been my companion and entertainment since March. 

Photograph of Meredith with her dog Edgar
Meredith with her dog Edgar. Click image to enlarge.

Emily Beran, Library Assistant

What have you been working on?

While Spencer Research Library has been closed, I have had the opportunity to work on projects that I normally would not have time to do. One of the most notable ones has been creating transcriptions for some materials in our manuscript collections. Transcriptions are typed copies of handwritten documents. Currently, my favorite transcription I am working on is for the diary of New York suffragist Lillian North. The diary covers her daily life from 1915 into 1917; it not only provides great insight into her involvement in the women’s suffrage movement but also gives readers such a fun look at her life and what she considered important.

Why is this work important to the library?

While our manuscript collections are invaluable sources of information, some of them can be hard for researchers to read and work with because the documents are handwritten. Transcriptions provide a more readable version of these handwritten documents, making the information more accessible for researchers. Additionally, by having transcriptions, we can utilize these documents for more activities (classes, tours, etc.) where being able to read something quickly is necessary because time is limited.

What will you miss about working from home when we return to Spencer?

I am not a morning person so the ability to sleep in and start working later in the day has been great for me. Also, the schedule flexibility really has allowed me to work on projects when I can be the most productive and focused – evenings, weekends, when I can’t sleep, etc. So while I am excited to be back in Spencer, I will miss the extra sleep and that scheduling freedom!

A portion of Emily's transcription project
A portion of Emily’s transcription project. Click image to enlarge.

Kathy Lafferty, Copy Services Manager

What have you been working on?

Since Spencer closed in March, I’ve processed fifty-six copy requests submitted by patron and fourteen inter-library loan requests by going in to the library building once, and sometimes twice, each week.

Additionally, I created an online version of “The 1918 Influenza Epidemic at KU,” which began as a temporary exhibit in Spencer’s North Gallery. I was able to add a lot more information because I had more space and time to do extensive online research. I have also written two blog posts, one for Mother’s Day and another for Father’s Day. For the Father’s Day blog, I used photographs from the Joseph Pennell Collection that are available online and did some online research to find out more information about the subjects in the photographs.

Up next is completing a new online version of the Library’s twenty-fifth anniversary exhibit catalog.

Why is this work important to the library?

The Libraries are trying hard to minimize obstructions to research support and provide access to library materials during the pandemic shutdown. By working from home and going in when I can, I am doing my part to contribute to that effort.

What will you miss about working from home when we return to Spencer?

I will miss my cat, Knick, snuggling next to me while I work. I will also miss eating at my desk and setting my own schedule. I will miss working from home, but it will be good to be back in the library full-time.

Photograph of Kathy and her cat Buzz
Kathy and her cat Buzz. Click image to enlarge.

Shelby Schellenger, Reference Coordinator

What have you been working on?

I’ve been working on all sorts of things…which is largely part of my job in any case. I’ve been working with digital reference, reviewing training documents, watching professional development webinars, and more. One of the things I do now that I don’t enjoy is telling people that we’ll be later than usual in getting their research questions answered due to decreased access to the physical collections. 

Why is this work important to the library? 

This work is important to the library because serving the research and reference needs of students, faculty, and the public is an integral part of library operations. What I’m doing from home is that reference or working to improve our ability to do that reference. 

What will you miss about working from home when we return to Spencer?

I think I will miss being able to do my daily work with music playing. I like being able to play music to match my mood/activities and that isn’t practical in the quiet Reading Room environment! 

Photograph of Shelby's at-home coworkers Nikolai and Wallace
Shelby’s at-home coworkers Nikolai and Wallace. Click image to enlarge.

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

Meme K.U.

April 22nd, 2020

In this time of pandemic, we are all facing issues of material access and spending inordinate time in the halls of the internet. And if you’ve spent much time in the halls of the internet, then you are well familiar with memes. These pictures taken out of context and often slightly edited or at least with added text deliver small, precise, and often entertaining snippets of thought in an easily digestible, easily shareable format. 

Let’s do this!

Meme created from a photograph of two soldiers on a Fort Riley porch, 1904
A meme created from a photograph of two soldiers on a Fort Riley porch, 1904. Joseph Judd Pennell Photographs Collection. Call Number: RH PH Pennell, Print 1256, Box 30. Click image to enlarge.

I mean, I suppose there are a few considerations. It is important to be aware of copyright concerns when it comes to both making and sharing memes. Is the work transformational? Is the selected image in the public domain? How do I do this meme thing anyway? 

This post will deal primarily with finding and using University of Kansas digital collections as a source for memes. As such, I will focus on things that are clearly okay to use. This is going to mean things which clearly state use is possible as well as anything from before 1925. Beyond that, use may be possible but pay close attention to any rights statements and be aware of Fair Use doctrine application. The Kenneth Spencer Research Library addresses much of this in our section “Request Reproductions.”

Many use statements are going to include attribution. One of the easiest ways to do this in a meme format image is that once you have your meme generated, but before you share it, open the file properties. In the file properties you should be able to add author/artist and a note/comment including the attribution statement. Once those have been added to the file, then share!

Meme created from a photograph of Ziegler's dog, 1897
A meme created from a photograph of Ziegler’s dog, 1897. Joseph Judd Pennell Photographs Collection. Call Number: RH PH Pennell, Print 212.05, Box 6. Click image to enlarge.

A few collections to search for materials to use: 

From the Ground Up: Collection of landscape art with a few other things. Use statement allows use with attribution. 

Invertebrate Paleontology: Photographs of invertebrate fossils. Use statement allows use with attribution. 

KU Libraries – Digital Collections: Many images prior to 1925, published by a government entity, or otherwise available for use…still important to check the rights information of any image you use! 

Once you have selected an image to use in making your meme, you will want to figure out what service you may want to use. There are several free-to-use options out there as well as using software such as Photoshop or Paint. I have used Adobe Spark, KAPWING, and imgflip in making the memes I’ve put on this page. They were all similar in ease-of-use. KAPWING offered a few features that were easy to find but has a more intrusive watermark. Imgflip was straightforward, but maybe not as many features. Adobe Spark required a registration that the others didn’t. 

A couple of other articles you may find helpful in your meme-making future: “How to Make a Meme” by Gannon Burgett on Digital Trends and “Copyright for Meme-Makers” by Colleen McCroskey at Public Knowledge.

Meme created from a photograph of a woman driving a buggy through the Kansas countryside, 1902
A meme created from a photograph of woman driving a buggy through the Kansas countryside, 1902. Joseph Judd Pennell Photographs Collection. Call Number: RH PH Pennell, Print 939, Box 24. Click image to enlarge.

Shelby Schellenger
Public Services

New Finding Aid Interface, Coming to a Device Near You!

March 13th, 2020

If you’ve done any research at Spencer Research Library in the past several years in our manuscript collections or records from the University Archives, then you’ve probably used our finding aids interface. This search screen might appear familiar:

Screenshot of Kenneth Spencer Research Library’s current finding aid interface
Kenneth Spencer Research Library’s current finding aid interface. Click image to enlarge.

This interface is formed from encoded text documents created by manuscripts processing staff. This coding might also look familiar if you’ve ever worked with HTML:

Screenshot of the hard-coded version of a finding aid in Spencer Research Library’s current finding aid interface
The hard-coded version of a finding aid in Spencer Research Library’s current finding aid interface. Click image to enlarge.

This interface is operating on outdated technology that isn’t being updated. We also find the interface a little dated and a little static; you might find your wrist cramping from having to scroll through a really long finding aid to get to the box and folder you’re looking for. For these and many other reasons, KU Libraries are in the process of moving from our old interface to a new one:

Screenshot of the homepage for the system to which Spencer Research Library is moving
Ta-dah! This is the homepage for the system to which Spencer Research Library is moving. Click image to enlarge.

The data is the same, but the views are very different! This new interface has more refined searching capability (including by dates!), the ability to filter search results – including by subject headings and names of individuals or entities that might be involved in the collection you’re looking for – and different views once you’ve started looking through a specific finding aid for a specific collection.

Screenshot of the search results page in Spencer Research Library's new finding aid interface
The search results page in Spencer Research Library’s new finding aid interface. Notice how users have filtering options down the right-hand side to narrow search results! Click image to enlarge.
Screenshot of three ways to access information about a collection in Spencer Research Library's new interface
The three buttons at the top of this screenshot – Collection Overview, Collection Organization, and Container Inventory – give you three different ways to access information about an individual collection. You also have a sidebar, still on the right-hand side, which allows you to click on individual pieces of a collection, as well as search keywords and dates within that collection. Click image to enlarge.

Another exciting aspect of the new interface is the capability to request collection items directly from this interface and send it to Aeon, the system patrons use to check items out at Spencer. Currently, users have to open a new browser tab or window, log in to Aeon, open a New Reading Room Request form, and type (or copy and paste) the information about the archival collection they want to see.

Screenshot of the Aeon request button in Spencer Research Library's new finding aid interface
Just click on “Aeon Request” to log in to your Aeon account and create a request for the box or manuscript volume you want to view in the Reading Room! Click image to enlarge.

You can also see some of our digital objects in context within our finding aids, or browse and search them separately through this interface:

Screenshot of the digital object icon in Spencer Research Library's new finding aid interface
You can see that this is a digital object, as well as that it’s a digital surrogate for the original paper item located in the Robert B. Riss collection. Click image to enlarge.

Please note that what is included here are only digitized manuscripts from our collections, a subset of what is available at KU’s Digital Collections website.

This new system is available for you to use right now! You can get to it from this link: https://archives.lib.ku.edu/ or, if you’re on the old interface, you’ll see a link to “Visit the preview of our new Finding Aids tool” at the top of the home search screen.

We need your help, in fact. We want people to start testing the system so we know what is working well, what doesn’t function the way it should, if you’re having issues with a particular component of the interface, or if something just doesn’t work the way you expect it to. Here are some questions you can think about to get you started: Are you not getting the search results you expected? Does the collection inventory look incomplete or like some information is missing? Does something just look weird? Let us know! At the bottom of every screen, in the right-hand corner, there is a link to “Send Feedback or Report a Problem.” Click on that and fill out the simple form that opens up with as much information as you can provide. We want to test the new interface as much as possible in the next few months before we transition to it fully and shut down the old finding aids interface.

Screenshot of the "send feedback" button in Spencer Research Library's new finding aid interface
This link is at the bottom of every screen in the new interface. Please let us know if you have any problems using the new system! Click image to enlarge.

Happy searching!

Marcella Huggard
Archives and Manuscripts Processing Coordinator

New Copy Request Process at Spencer Research Library

February 5th, 2020

I am pleased to announce major changes to our policies and procedures at Kenneth Spencer Research Library. We will no longer ask patrons to seek our permission before using copies of our collection materials. Spencer Research Library is doing more than ever to make it possible for people to use our materials with as few barriers as possible.

Screenshot of the new New Reproduction Request form in Aeon
A screenshot of the new New Reproduction Request form in Aeon. Click image to enlarge.

We recently enabled patrons to initiate the copy request process through our Aeon management system, streamlining the process for both staff and users. We decided to use this technological change as the impetus to fundamentally re-imagine our relationship with digital images of items from our collections. This approach is in keeping with KU Libraries’ emphasis on supporting open access and advocating for public accountability for the investments in public higher education.

For many years now, we have allowed users to make copies of much of our collection material themselves, using either an overhead scanner in the Reading Room or their own equipment. We also make copies available when an item’s condition or format requires special handling, for a modest charge. No matter whether patrons use their own equipment or our skilled staff do the copying, patrons will no longer be expected to complete a separate form asking for “permission to publish,” as was previously required when images from our collections were to be used in exhibits, publications, or other works.

Head of Public Services Caitlin Donnelly Klepper assisting a researcher with the overhead scanner in the Reading Room at Spencer Research Library
Head of Public Services Caitlin Donnelly Klepper assisting a researcher with the overhead scanner in the Reading Room at Spencer Research Library. Click image to enlarge.

We continue to inform users of their responsibilities to follow copyright law, and we provide enhanced guidance on how to do so. We also continue to honor restrictions on some specific collections necessitated by the condition of the material, donor restrictions, or other concerns. We are in the midst of revisiting our previously digitized collections to clearly indicate the copyright status (where known) and how the images can be used. Expecting researchers to seek our permission for fair use of materials smacks of what has been termed “copyfraud,” or claiming to possess rights one does not actually hold. We also realize that users have always been free to use images as they like, and that in effect, researchers who chose to follow our rules were punished with additional hurdles.

In the Reading Room, users will now experience a less complex process. If the material they are using for research can be safely copied by them, they simply need to be careful in their scanning and metadata creation. If library staff need to be involved, reference librarians will help them translate their Aeon checkout into a duplication request, and our copy services manager will take it from there.

Remote users will also see a different process. Instead of filling out a paper form and sending it to our copy services manager, they will use the Aeon system to complete their request. Then, the transaction will proceed as in the past, without the need to complete a permission to publish form.

Our website provides more guidance about these steps. We look forward to helping all our users learn our new processes and are happy to assist in any way.

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