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Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Books on a shelf

Welcome to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library blog! As the special collections and archives library at the University of Kansas, Spencer is home to remarkable and diverse collections of rare and unique items. Explore the blog to learn about the work we do and the materials we collect.

Student Spotlight: Alex Williams

July 7th, 2022

This is the second installment in a series of posts introducing readers to student employees who make important contributions to the work of Spencer Research Library. Today’s profile features student assistant Alex Williams, who started working in Spencer’s Public Services unit in Spring 2019. Alex is an undergraduate majoring in creative writing with a minor in women, gender, and sexuality studies; she is graduating from KU in Spring 2023.

Young woman standing in front of floor-to-ceiling shelves of books, gesturing to a booktruck of materials.
Public Services student assistant Alex Williams. Click image to enlarge.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

I am a Public Services student employee, so my job consists of retrieving materials from our stacks to bring to patrons using the Reading Room, manning the reception desk, and returning or shifting materials in the stacks.

Why did you want to work at Spencer Research Library?

A few years ago, my first-year seminar class took a tour of Spencer Research Library. The curator leading our tour, Elspeth Healey, mentioned the library would be hiring soon and I left my name and contact information. I worked as a library aid in high school and was intrigued by the variety of materials held at Spencer. 

What has been most interesting to you about your work?

The variety of patrons that come into the library and hearing about their research projects. We get people who are local to Lawrence looking at regional history and then we’ll have someone from another country looking for Special Collections materials. There is always a chance to learn something new about Spencer when new patrons come in.

What part of your job do you like best?

I love working in the stacks. It’s fun the browse through the stacks and look at the different materials we have. Whether it’s putting back items or moving in newly processed materials, I just find it really fun to see everything. Occasionally, after I have completed all my work, I’ll make a little scavenger hunt game for myself and see how many different editions of Moby Dick or Sherlock Holmes I can find in Special Collections. The science fiction collection is another area I frequently investigate. I may even be doing my own research project with the sci-fi materials in the future.

What piece of advice would you offer other students thinking about working at Spencer Research Library?

This seems like a very basic piece of advice: ASK QUESTIONS. I don’t mean just to the supervisors. Ask the patrons about they’re research projects. Ask the curators about classes, exhibits, or collection areas. Not only does it help you engage with the collections, but it creates community. I think that’s why I enjoy Public Services so much because I get to interact not only with the Spencer’s materials but the individuals who utilize them.

Alex Williams
Public Services Student Assistant

KU ScholarWorks and Spencer Research Library Resources: An Introduction

April 20th, 2022

On the Find Collections page of the Spencer Research Library website, you will find a variety of resources for the collections housed at Spencer. These resources not only provide information about the collections but also suggestions for locating materials. Additionally, the page provides access to the library’s Digital Collections, where researchers have free, public access to digitized items from the collections.

Tucked into the plethora of featured Digital Collections resources is KU ScholarWorks: Archives Online, part of the university’s digital repository. What exactly is this digital repository and what all does it entail? Read on to learn more about this valuable resource!

What is KU ScholarWorks?

KU ScholarWorks is a digital repository of scholarship and other scholarly works all by faculty, staff, and students at the University of Kansas. The repository also includes digitized records and materials from University Archives. KU ScholarWorks is part of the numerous Open Access initiatives at the university. The primary goal of KU ScholarWorks is to provide access to research and historical items while helping with the long-term preservation of the materials for generations to come.

Graphic that says "KU ScholarWorks" in blue letters with the open access symbol.
KU ScholarWorks logo. Click image to enlarge.

What Spencer resources are included in KU ScholarWorks?

To go directly to the items in KU ScholarWorks related to the collections at Spencer, use the link on the Find Collections page mentioned above. On the Archives Online page, the departments and collections – referred to as sub-communities – are listed for browsing. University Archives materials are featured prominently and include resources about different university departments such as the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, collections related to Kansas Athletics, and information about student organizations.

While many of these sub-communities are related to the materials in University Archives, there are also resources available for Special Collections and the Kansas Collection as well! Some examples of what is available are publications related to exhibits such as 50 for 50: Celebrating Fifty Years of Kenneth Spencer Research Library; information about specific collections such as African American Experience Collections by Deborah Dandridge; and resources about certain topics or types of materials such as All That in This Delightfull Gardin Growes by Sally Haines.

Black-and-white document with the title in the middle and woodblock images of plants in the four corners.
The front cover of All That in This Delightfull Gardin Growes, 1983. Click image to enlarge.

What are some ways to find resources in KU ScholarWorks?

Not sure where to find information related to a specific topic? No worries – there are a variety of search features and filters to help locate relevant items in KU ScholarWorks! Researchers can utilize the Search feature to look for items that include keywords related to their topics. It is also possible to browse and search within specific communities such as the Archives Online community. Researchers also have the option to explore available materials by Author, Subject, and Date Issued – all features available on the KU ScholarWorks homepage as well as on individual community pages.

Happy researching!

Emily Beran
Public Services

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