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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.

That’s Distinctive!: Roald Dahl’s “Boy: Tales of Childhood”

May 31st, 2024

Check the blog each Friday for a new “That’s Distinctive!” post. I created this series to provide a lighthearted glimpse into the diverse and unique items at Spencer. “That’s Distinctive!” is meant to show that the library has something for everyone regardless of interest. If you have suggested topics for a future item feature or questions about the collections, you can leave a comment at the bottom of this page. All collections, including those highlighted on the blog, are available for members of the public to explore in the Reading Room during regular hours.

This week on That’s Distinctive! I am sharing a book from Special Collections. Special Collections holds a wide array of rare books and manuscripts from throughout time. The collection “presently holds about 250,000 volumes printed since the mid-fifteenth century and about 250,000 manuscripts dating from antiquity to the present.”

The book, titled Boy: Tales of Childhood, is an autobiography written by Roald Dahl and published in 1984.  According to Wikipedia, the book “describes [Dahl’s] life from early childhood until leaving school, focusing on living conditions in Britain in the 1920s and 1930s, the public school system at the time, and how his childhood experiences led him to writing children’s books as a career.” Throughout the book are photos from Dahl’s life. The book was followed up by a second autobiography titled Going Solo.

In one chapter of the book, “The Bicycle and the Sweet-shop,” Dahl remarks on his time at a private school. Though he does not remember much about the Llandaff Cathedral School, Dahl has two distinct memories from his two years there. The first memory he mentions is that of a boy riding a bicycle when he suddenly zooms by pedaling backward and not holding the handlebars. He then wishes to himself that someday he could do the same. The second memory is that of walking home from school with his friends and stopping at a candy shop any time they had the funds. One of his friends would frequently tell tales of how the sweets were made.

Roald Dahl (1916-1990) was a British author who is well known for many popular children’s books including Fantastic Mr. Fox, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Matilda. Many of Dahl’s books have been adapted into popular films.

I chose to highlight this book because it gives a glimpse into the author’s life in ways that regular children’s stories might not. I had not heard of the book before finding it in the library. I was simply looking for books by Roald Dahl and this title popped up. Many of Dahl’s children’s books bring back memories from my own childhood, whether it was wishing I had magic powers like Matilda or hoping Wonka’s chocolate factory could be real. Interestingly enough, Fantastic Mr. Fox is one of my favorite movies as an adult. I even have it on DVD, so it is readily available at all times.

Black-and-white headshot sketch of a boy, with the book's title and author.
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Collage of black-and-white photographs of a young Roald Dahl and his family.
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Black-and-white photograph of an adult Roald Dahl standing and leaning against a decorated wagon.
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The text of the first page of the table of contents.
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The text of the first page of the chapter "Papa and Mama," accompanied by black-and-white photos.
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This image has the text of the first page of the chapter "The Bicycle and the Sweet-shop," accompanied by black-and-white photos.
The front cover, inside front cover, back cover, table of contents of – and selected pages from – Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl, 1984. Call Number: C25376. Click images to enlarge.

Tiffany McIntosh
Public Services

That’s Distinctive: Tales of the Fairies

May 24th, 2024

Check the blog each Friday for a new “That’s Distinctive!” post. I created this series to provide a lighthearted glimpse into the diverse and unique items at Spencer. “That’s Distinctive!” is meant to show that the library has something for everyone regardless of interest. If you have suggested topics for a future item feature or questions about the collections, you can leave a comment at the bottom of this page. All collections, including those highlighted on the blog, are available for members of the public to explore in the Reading Room during regular hours.

This week on That’s Distinctive! I am sharing a book from our children’s book collection. The children’s book collection was founded in 1953 and has been built largely through gifts to the library. The collection consists of over seven thousand children’s books from the late 18th to the early 20th centuries.

The book shared today, titled Tales of the Fairies, was written by Lewis Marsh and illustrated by Lilian A. Govey. Probably published in 1912, the book highlights fairy tales from various countries. Little can be found about the book online, but I stumbled upon it by searching terms for mythical creatures in the KU Libraries catalog. I chose to highlight this book over others for a couple of reasons. First, given the book’s condition, it is clear that it is quite old. Older books tend to grab my attention more because of the histories and stories they hold, both physically and metaphorically. My second reason was that the illustrations in the book are quite intriguing. The artistic style shifts from illustration to illustration, which adds variety to the book. Additionally, some illustrations are in color while others are grey and white.

Illustration of a red-haired fairy in a red dress sitting on a rock surrounded by flowers.
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This image has text. Facing the title page is a color illustration of a red-haired fairy in a long white dress, calling to her three maids.
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This image has the text of the table of contents.
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This image has the text of the poem "Queen Mab's Song." The text is surrounded by a black-and-white sketch of small fairies dancing in groups.
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This image has the text of the first page of the story "The Fairy Palace." The facing page is a color illustration of two children watching small green "fairy huntsmen" riding white horses.
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Black-and-white sketch of a child opening a door to Jack Frost, a man covered in icicles.
The front cover of – and selected pages from – Tales of the Fairies, circa 1912. Call Number: Children B2740. Click image to enlarge.

Tiffany McIntosh
Public Services

That’s Distinctive!: Recipes from Lawrence Public Schools

May 17th, 2024

Check the blog each Friday for a new “That’s Distinctive!” post. I created this series to provide a lighthearted glimpse into the diverse and unique items at Spencer. “That’s Distinctive!” is meant to show that the library has something for everyone regardless of interest. If you have suggested topics for a future item feature or questions about the collections, you can leave a comment at the bottom of this page. All collections, including those highlighted on the blog, are available for members of the public to explore in the Reading Room during regular hours.

This week on That’s Distinctive! I am sharing an item from our collection of Lawrence Public Schools (USD 497) records. The collection spans 1858 to 2022 and contains a myriad of items including records, reports, newsletters, yearbooks, and photographs. The collection consists of 144 boxes, 33 oversize boxes, 24 oversize folders, 143 video tapes, 18 audio tapes, and seven CDs. According to the collection’s finding aid, “the State of Kansas unified Lawrence schools in 1965, creating Lawrence Unified School District #497, or the Lawrence Public Schools. This was during an era when schools were consolidating across the state in part due to better transportation options.”  

The pages shared below are from “Charlsia’s Cordley [Elementary School] Recipe Book.” The document is undated, although other items in the box range from 1962 to 2012. The recipe book contains various recipe entries for date cake, applesauce salad, refrigerator rolls, and more. I assume the recipes were submitted by students.

Before finding this item, I did not know that the USD 497 collection existed. I was digging through the finding aids looking for old recipes when I found this folder. I thought it would be fun to share given the school district is here in Lawrence.

This image has the text of recipes for apple sauce salad, burnt sugar cake, date cake, and "my favorite recipe."
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This image has the text of recipes for ice cream pie, yellow angel food cake, cheese cake, and refrigerator rolls.
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This image has the text of recipes for Russian tea loaf dressing, ginger ale salad, savory meat balls, "Eri's favorite barbecued spareribs," and uncooked cookies.
Selected pages from “Charlsia’s Cordley Recipe Book,” undated. Unified School District 497 Records. Call Number: RH MS 1255. Click images to enlarge.

Tiffany McIntosh
Public Services

That’s Distinctive!: John Brown Portrait

May 10th, 2024

Check the blog each Friday for a new “That’s Distinctive!” post. I created this series to provide a lighthearted glimpse into the diverse and unique items at Spencer. “That’s Distinctive!” is meant to show that the library has something for everyone regardless of interest. If you have suggested topics for a future item feature or questions about the collections, you can leave a comment at the bottom of this page. All collections, including those highlighted on the blog, are available for members of the public to explore in the Reading Room during regular hours.

This week on That’s Distinctive! I am sharing an item from our artificial portraits collection. Artificial collections contain smaller collections that have been grouped and stored together based on some similarity. Oftentimes, items in artificial collections do not come to the library together. Per the finding aid for the portraits collection, “many of the purchases were selected by Spencer Research Library’s Kansas Collection photo archivist during the 1980s and 1990s. The collection consists of real photographic postcards, lithographic print postcards, cabinet cards, cartes de visite, mounted and unmounted prints, glass plate negatives, and other visually-based formats of individuals, couples, and groups posed formally, often in photographic studios.” The items date from approximately 1868 to 1986.

The portrait shared today is of John Brown (May 9, 1800-December 2, 1859). Brown was an American abolitionist who, according to PBS, “could not be deterred from his mission of abolishing slavery.” Throughout his life, Brown settled in many various states, held numerous jobs, and fathered twenty children. He “first reach[ed] national prominence in the 1850s for his radical abolitionism and fighting in Bleeding Kansas,” notes Wikipedia. For example, “in May 1856, Brown and his sons killed five supporters of slavery in the Pottawatomie massacre, a response to the sacking of Lawrence by pro-slavery forces.” In 1859, Brown was “captured, tried, and executed by the Commonwealth of Virginia for a raid and incitement of a slave rebellion at Harpers Ferry.”

Black-and-white portrait of a white man. There is text at the bottom.
Portrait of John Brown, 1884. This is an artist’s proof of a copperplate gravure of a painting by Selden J. Woodman of John Brown, signed by Woodman. Artificial Portraits Collection. Call Number: RH PH-540(f). Click image to enlarge.

Tiffany McIntosh
Public Services

That’s Distinctive!: Random Rhymes

May 3rd, 2024

Check the blog each Friday for a new “That’s Distinctive!” post. I created this series to provide a lighthearted glimpse into the diverse and unique items at Spencer. “That’s Distinctive!” is meant to show that the library has something for everyone regardless of interest. If you have suggested topics for a future item feature or questions about the collections, you can leave a comment at the bottom of this page. All collections, including those highlighted on the blog, are available for members of the public to explore in the Reading Room during regular hours.

This week on That’s Distinctive! I am sharing a book titled Random Rhymes by Ed Blair. The book was published in Spring Hill, Kansas, in 1939. It contains 213 pages of poems.

Not much about Random Rhymes can be found on the internet. It is another item that I stumbled upon while walking through the stacks. Sometimes I go wander around to see what titles pop out at me. I had no background knowledge on what the book held until I had it paged to the Reading Room. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I was delighted to find the poems. A couple of poems from the book are included below.

This image has text: the title and author's name in black lettering against a blue background.
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This image has text: the first part of the table of contents.
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This image has the text of the poem "Dreaming of My Kansas Home."
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This image has the text of the poems "The Little Old Town Where I Live" and "What Makes June."
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This image has the text of the poem "Kansas Invites You."
The front cover, the first page of the table of contents, and selected poems from Random Rhymes by Ed Blair, 1939. Call Number: RH C6635. Click image to enlarge.

Tiffany McIntosh
Public Services