The University of Kansas

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.

Spencer’s Fang-tastic September-October Exhibit

October 11th, 2023

Stoker-ed about Halloween? Count get enough spooky stories? Excited to sink your teeth into this year’s Booktoberfest Community Read at Lawrence Public Library?

But of corpse!

Stop by and check out Spencer’s current short-term exhibit (ahem, exhi-bite) featuring a selection of materials by Bram Stoker, special editions of his novel Dracula, and copies of other early vampire stories. Highlights include:

  • the first installment of The Primrose Path, Stoker’s first novel that was initially published as a serial in 1875;
  • a handwritten draft of an unpublished article written and signed by Bram Stoker in 1887;
  • an early edition of the first fully realized vampire story in English; and
  • a copy of Dracula printed for servicemembers during World War II.
This image has text. Close-up view of items in an exhibit case.
An Armed Services Edition of Dracula, undated [circa 1945]. Call Number: AK178. Click image to enlarge.
Exhibit case with items and labels.
Bram Stoker materials on display. Click image to enlarge.

We hope to see you if you’re in our neck of the woods! The display is free and open to the public in Spencer’s North Gallery until October 31. Be sure to also download, print, and enjoy Spencer’s Halloween-inspired coloring pages and Frankenstein-themed MadLibs.

Caitlin Klepper
Head of Public Services

Fall Exhibit 2023: To the Great Variety of Readers: Celebrating the 400th Anniversary of Shakespeare’s First Folio

September 28th, 2023

Spencer’s current exhibit is free and open to the public in the Exhibit Space through December 22nd. An online version of the exhibit is also available.

I’ve had the joy of working very closely with David Bergeron, Emeritus Professor of English, for several months as we prepare To the Great Variety of Readers: Celebrating the 400th Anniversary of Shakespeare’s First Folio, the first exhibit piloting the David M. Bergeron and Geraldo Sousa Exhibit initiative.

Two people standing near the Shakespeare First Folio title graphic.
Beth M. Whittaker and David M. Bergeron. Click image to enlarge.

David and I had already been in conversation about exhibits as he and Geraldo developed their generous gift to support faculty research grounded in our collections. This project is very exciting to me, because I believe that exhibits are one of the best ways we can tell the stories of why libraries like this are important for a research university. We had bold ambitions to launch a call for proposals and a timeline, and then, as things happen, we encountered staff departures and a dean departure and all manner of other “reasons” progress was not made.

Luckily for all of us, David is a patient man. He approached me one morning and asked if the library had considered that this fall marked the 400th anniversary of the Shakespeare first folio. To be honest, I was unaware. We were still figuring out when we would have large scale exhibits, coming back from lockdown. The only fixed point on our exhibit schedule at that point was Fall of 2024, when we planned around the exciting centennial of the OTHER gorgeous library on campus, Watson. With David’s inspiration, we had the opportunity not only to work on an exhibit about this important milestone anniversary, but to test-drive collaborative exhibit processes prior to our launch of this program.

A book open to its title page; the facing page shows a black-and-white illustration of a bust framed by an elaborate border.
One of the items in the exhibit: Fifty Comedies and Tragedies by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, 1679. Click image to enlarge.

It has been a long time since I worked on a large-scale exhibit in Spencer’s exhibit space: 2018 to be exact, the magnificently fun 50 for 50. In the meantime, my colleagues have done a tremendous job of improving our exhibit processes. For those who don’t know, exhibit design is not as easy as picking which of our marvelous collections to put in a case. That’s the fun part. But it’s not all glamour, and I’d be happy to talk with anyone who wants to nerd out about digital file naming conventions and permissions to use images from other libraries and the perfect balance between font size for readability and size in the cases.

David and Geraldo’s gift is designed to encourage KU faculty to research in, and create exhibits from, the collections at Spencer Library. David isn’t the typical KU faculty member. For one thing, he’s a prolific author who uses our collections, and those of similar libraries, intensively in his research. For another, he’s continued this level of scholarly productivity into his retirement. So he has a lot of great ideas, and a lot of time on his hands, which is an exciting and terrifying combination. As I laid out the basic timeline of exhibit preparation from our end, he did not bat an eye.

Three exhibit cases interspersed with two cocktail tables, with the exhibit title graphic in the background.
A view of the exhibit To the Great Variety of Readers, with tables set up for the opening reception. Click image to enlarge.

We met roughly every other week to talk about the exhibit. He came up with a list of items very quickly, and not surprisingly, we couldn’t include it all. Spencer holds copies of thousands of significant literary works, but despite what you may hear from student guides on campus, KU Libraries does NOT hold a complete copy of the First Folio. While our friends at the Folger Shakespeare Library were open to lending us one of their many copies, they are closed for renovation.

But David has been gracious about our limitations, and very patient with me as I encouraged him to keep a lay reader in mind. We believe Shakespeare should be accessible to everyone, and so should Spencer Library’s exhibits.

Three people looking down at items in an exhibit case.
Visitors exploring the exhibit during the opening reception. Click image to enlarge.
A man standing and speaking before a large seated audience.
David M. Bergeron providing remarks at the exhibit opening reception in Spencer’s North Gallery. Click image to enlarge.

We also had fun planning an event, complete with the excuse I never knew I wanted to order cardboard Shakespeare standees. And finally, stay tuned as we develop more collaborative exhibits with KU faculty. The lessons we learned working with David on this project will make future exhibits easier for the recipients of David and Geraldo’s generosity.

Two men standing next to a cardboard standee of Shakespeare.
David M. Bergeron (center) and Geraldo Sousa (right) with William Shakespeare (left). Click image to enlarge.
A woman tanding next to a cardboard standee of Shakespeare.
Dean of KU Libraries Carol Smith with Shakespeare. Click image to enlarge.

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

That’s Distinctive!: Mexican Recipes

September 22nd, 2023

Check the blog each Friday for a new “That’s Distinctive!” post. I created the series because I genuinely believe there is something in our collections for everyone, whether you’re writing a paper or just want to have a look. “That’s Distinctive!” will provide a more lighthearted glimpse into the diverse and unique materials at Spencer – including items that many people may not realize the library holds. If you have suggested topics for a future item feature or questions about the collections, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this page.

This week on That’s Distinctive! I am sharing the tastiest collection I have ever found. It houses 62 recipes from central and southern Mexico dating to the early nineteenth century. Most of the recipes are undated, though one is dated 1817. The recipes are written in Spanish and Castilian with no authors indicated, though a few – like the recipe for “marmones” – include a name that appears to be a recipient (in this case Doña Maria Rafaela Vazquez). The recipes (both loose leaf and bound) were housed in a leather wrapper when they arrived at the library. For their preservation, the recipes have been re-housed in folders, and the leather wrapper kept with the collection. Just a little fun fact: the collection was processed by our former Spanish and Portuguese Preservation and Processing student, Indira Garcia Varela, back in 2019.

Dark brown leather book cover, tied together with string or rope.
The original leather wrapper in which Spencer Research Library received the recipes. Call Number: MS 346. Click image to enlarge.
An arrangement of five photographs showing the recipes and leather wrapper from different angles.
A conservation document showing the condition of the recipes before treatment. Call Number: MS 346. Click image to enlarge.

Examples of recipes within the collection include directions for making “enpanadas” (as it is spelled in the manuscript), tamales, tortas, and buñuelos. I am sharing three recipes below with a translation for bodin provided by Whitney Baker, Head of Conversation Services at KU Libraries, and Dr. Milton Machuca-Galvez, Assistant Librarian for Spanish, Portuguese, and Latin American and Caribbean Studies. The recipes shown below are titled Bodin, Reseta de las Enpanadas, and Leche de Piña.

So why this collection? Having Mexican heritage myself, stumbling upon this collection in the finding aid really tugged at my heartstrings. The more I learned about the collection, the more fascinated I became. Sifting through the recipes, there were many items and words I recognized, and it can be interesting to see how the spelling of words has changed with time. The recipes are handwritten, which helps call to mind the person who wrote down the recipe roughly two hundred years ago. I was hesitant to share items in a language other than English given much of our audience is English speaking, but the collection is too fun to not to highlight.

This image has handwritten text in Spanish. This image has handwritten text in Spanish.

The recipe for reseta de las enpanadas. Call Number: MS 346. Click images to enlarge.

This image has handwritten text in Spanish. This image has handwritten text in Spanish.

The recipe for leche de piña, undated. Call Number: MS 346. Click image to enlarge.

This image has handwritten text in Spanish.
The recipe for bodin, undated. Call Number: MS 346. Click image to enlarge.

Bodin = a 1 taza de leche 2/1 de pan frances, 6 huebos, una mantequilla, pasas y almendras. Todo esto se revuelbe muy bien, y se unta el sartén con mantequilla para que no se pegue hasta que esté de punto de Xericaya

Pudding = Add to 1 cup of milk, (half a?) French bread, six eggs, butter, raisins and almonds. Mix all of this well, and rub a frying pan with butter so that it doesn’t stick until it’s at the point of [consistency of] a jericalla [a Mexican custard dessert].

The gist of the last sentence, better worded, might be, “rub a frying pan with butter so it doesn’t stick, and mix all of this well until it’s at the consistency of a jericalla [Mexican custard dessert].”

Tiffany McIntosh
Public Services

That’s Distinctive!: Winnie-the-Pooh Cookbook

September 8th, 2023

Check the blog each Friday for a new “That’s Distinctive!” post. I created the series because I genuinely believe there is something in our collections for everyone, whether you’re writing a paper or just want to have a look. “That’s Distinctive!” will provide a more lighthearted glimpse into the diverse and unique materials at Spencer – including items that many people may not realize the library holds. If you have suggested topics for a future item feature or questions about the collections, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this page.

This week on That’s Distinctive! we share The Pooh Cook Book from Special Collections. Released in 1969, The Pooh Cook Book was written by Virginia H. Ellison after she became inspired by Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne. Offering a variety of recipes, most of which include honey, the book offers a fun interactive activity surrounding Winnie-the-Pooh. After being updated and redesigned, the book was re-released in 2010 as The Winnie-the-Pooh Cookbook.

This image contains the text of the book's title and author. The background is a color illustration of Winnie-the-Pooh in a chef's outfit, flipping a pancake in a pan while Piglet, Eeyore, and other friends gather around him.
The front cover of The Pooh Cook Book by Virginia H Ellison, 1969. Call Number: C8160. Click image to enlarge.

According to Wikipedia, Winnie-the-Pooh “first appeared by name on 24 December 1925, in a Christmas story commissioned and published by the London newspaper Evening News.” In October of 1926, the first collection of Pooh stories appeared in A. A. Milne’s book titled Winnie-the-Pooh. The book was an immediate success and was followed by The House at Pooh Corner in 1928. Since 1966, Pooh and his friends have appeared in many animated films and a television series produced by Walt Disney Productions along with other adaptations throughout the years. Pooh and his friends have been loved by millions from the moment of their creation, and they continue to be enjoyed today.

A description of the updated The Winnie-the-Pooh Cookbook states that “the famously rotund bear is happiest when in possession of a brimming pot of honey, but when it comes time for meals and smackerels, the residents of the Hundred Acre Wood need something a little more substantial. This delightful collection contains over fifty tried-and-true recipes for readers of all ages to make and enjoy, starting with Poohanpiglet pancakes and ending with a recipe for getting thin-with honey sauces, holiday treats, and dishes for every mealtime in between.”

This image contains text.
A section of the table of contents in The Pooh Cook Book. Call Number: C8160. Click image to enlarge.
This page includes the name of the section, a quotation from the book Winnie-the-Pooh, and a black-and-white sketch of the characters on a picnic.
The first page of the section of “Provisions for Picnics and Expotitions” in The Pooh Cook Book. Call Number: C8160. Click image to enlarge.

The copy of The Pooh Cook Book in Spencer’s collections was a gift of Elizabeth M. Snyder. If her name sounds familiar, it’s because she is the founder of KU Libraries’ long-running Snyder Book Collecting Contest.

This page contains the recipe, a black-and-white sketch of Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet, and a quotation about snow from The House at Pooh Corner.
A recipe for “homemade snow and honey” in The Pooh Cook Book. Call Number: C8160. Click image to enlarge.

Why this book? Well, first, why not? And second, who doesn’t love Winnie-the-Pooh? The cookbook offers a great opportunity to combine (or create) childhood memories with quality time. As author Virginia H. Ellison writes, “The Pooh Cook Book is particularly useful for special occasions, real or invented, and meant to make what might be an ordinary day into a festive one – almost as good as a birthday or a holiday” (14). This volume also shows that the library houses materials for people of all ages. Additionally, the library doesn’t just offer informational materials; it also offers things that are just fun to look at.

Tiffany McIntosh
Public Services

Meet the KSRL Staff: Eve Wolynes

August 29th, 2023

This is the latest installment in a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Today’s profile features Eve Wolynes, who joined Spencer Research Library in June 2023 as an Assistant Librarian and a Special Collections Curator.

Special Collections Curator Eve Wolynes in the reading room of Spencer Research Library with MS E256

Eve Wolynes, Special Collections Curator, in Spencer Research Library’s reading room with MS E256. Click image to enlarge.

Where are you from?

I’ve hopped around a fair amount. I was born in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, and moved to San Diego when I was ten. As an adult, I’ve lived in Berkeley, Houston, South Bend (Indiana), and Dayton (Ohio) before finally making my way here.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

I’m a Special Collections Curator. While other curators and archivists at Spencer tend to have specific subjects, regions or materials they work with, Elspeth Healey and I cover everything in the Special Collections, which includes a huge range of materials — from Roman funerary stones, to medieval manuscripts, to modern poetry, science fiction and artists books, and spans the entire globe, from Guatemala to Italy to Japan. My responsibilities include collection development – helping to build the collection through purchasing new items and coordinating donations – as well as instruction with undergraduates, answering reference questions and supporting use of the items by researchers and users, and engaging with outreach through things like exhibit design and public events.

How did you come to work in libraries/archives/special collections?

As with so many stories, it began with a very sickly dog. While I was in grad school, working on my Ph.D. in medieval history, my dog had a health emergency and needed surgery, but I couldn’t afford to pay the vet bill on my graduate student stipend. To pay off the debt, I took on a job at my university’s library, and eventually moved into their Special Collections department when a position opened. Eventually I paid off the vet bill but realized I still wanted to work at the library; I felt like I had found a sense of community, that the work was a fun series of puzzles, challenges and mysteries, something different to learn every day. I started considering it seriously as a potential career direction. After I defended my dissertation straight into the pandemic, I took the shutdowns as a moment of contemplation to evaluate what I wanted to do; I decided to get my MLIS and to commit to Special Collections – and the minute I got back into a library I knew it was the right choice; I was at home again.

What is one of the most interesting items you’ve come across in Spencer’s collections?

Lately I’ve been enamored with MS E256, Hippiatria by Giordano Ruffo; it’s a veterinary text on medicine, anatomy and training for horses dating to the 13th century. The manuscript gives you a sense of the relationship people had with their animals over seven-hundred years ago, and how our relationships with horses have transformed over time. Plus, it has a very cute little sketch of a pony on the first page. Which is the best part, really.

I also just love all the medieval manuscripts; there’s a special kind of love, work and dedication that goes into producing an entire text by hand, visible in the meticulous (and sometimes not so meticulous) handwriting, in the very pages themselves. They’re so human, from the shape of their letters to the scratches and scribbles in the margins, as every word embodies the person who took pen to page.

A manuscript copy of Giordano Ruffo's Hippiatria (MS E256) open to a leaf containing an illustration of a horse or pony.

A manuscript copy of Giordano Ruffo’s Hippiatria open to a leaf containing
a sketch of a pony. Italy, approximately 1290-1310. Call Number: MS E256. Click image to enlarge.

What part of your job do you like best?

I always love the strange and unique reference questions that lead me to fall down rabbit holes trying to hunt down an answer and make unexpected discoveries about materials in the collection; I love, too, when researchers and patrons can teach me something new in turn, or when I can help or watch them make a connection with the past – with their communities, cultures, experiences and memories, as embodied in the materials from our collections.

What are some of your favorite pastimes outside of work?

When I’m not living up the librarian life in the real world, I dabble in playing as a lore librarian in fantasy settings and video games like Baldur’s Gate 3 and Pathfinder Wrath of the Righteous, along with smaller indie games like Scarlet Hollow, Pentiment (a game practically made for medievalists and librarians), and The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow.

What piece of advice would you offer a researcher walking into Spencer Research Library for the first time?

If you’re worried about looking like you don’t know what you’re doing, or what you’re talking about – we’ve all been there, even the librarians! My first time in a special collections library was terrifying and confusing, too. The only reason librarians make everything look old hat and obvious is because we’ve had years or even decades to learn the often-labyrinthine logic and secrets from behind the scenes. But because we know all the twists and turns of our library and collection, we’re the best people to help guide you through it!

Eve Wolynes
Special Collections Curator