Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Meet the KSRL Staff: Elspeth Healey

July 23rd, 2019

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 Elspeth Healey, who joined the Spencer Research Library in 2011 as a special collections librarian. 

Where are you from?
I was born in the U.S., but I grew up in Toronto, Canada. From time to time, I’ll have a student come up to me after a class session and say “where are you from?” I have lived in the U. S. since college–so more than half of my life–but sometimes that Canadian accent still shines through!

Elspeth Healey in Spencer Library's North Gallery

Elspeth Healey, Special Collections Librarian, in Spencer Research Library’s North Gallery. Click image to enlarge.

What does your job at Spencer entail?
With my colleague Karen Cook, I am one of two special collections librarians. My curatorial responsibilities include materials for the Americas, including Latin America, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. In addition to building Spencer’s collections by working with donors and booksellers, I collaborate with cataloging and conservation to make the library’s collections accessible, lead instruction sessions, engage in outreach (through events, blog posts, exhibitions, etc.), answer reference queries for researchers on and off site, and contribute to digital projects.

How did you come to work in special collections and archives?
As an undergraduate, I had worked in the preservation department of my university’s special collections library, making mylar wrappers, drop-spine boxes, and other protective enclosures. I was fascinated by the variety of books that would come across my work bench, from 20th century poetry and plays to 18th century mathematical treatises. Later, as I was researching my dissertation in English literature, I came to realize that the moments that excited me most were those spent conducting archival research. I was energized not only by the materials I examined that related to my specific project, but I also enjoyed encountering materials that related to the projects of friends and colleagues and would alert them to those materials. That is what this job is at its heart: helping to connect researchers (of all types) with the materials that have the potential to advance and transform their understanding of a particular question or subject. I applied to library school as I was finishing my dissertation, and attended a program where I had the opportunity to work 20-hours a week in a special collections library while taking the coursework for my MSIS (Master of Science in Information Studies) degree. I always advise those who want to enter the field that gaining hands-on experience working in a special collections library and archives is one of the most important things you can do in library school: it is what will help you secure a job following graduation, and it is what will enable you to determine if this is really what you want to do as a profession.

What is the strangest item you’ve come across in Spencer’s Collections?
There are so many strange and interesting things in Spencer’s collections. We have a three volume scrapbook containing rare ephemera for Astley’s Amphitheatre, which opened in London in the late 18th-century and was originally known for its equestrian spectacles and show riding. As it developed, it incorporated circus-type features alongside other types of performance, so it is often recognized as London’s first circus. The posters, flyers, clippings, and ephemera in the scrapbooks offer a fascinating record of its history, and we hope to feature them at greater length in a future blog post. Other unusual items that pop to mind include 1930s form rejection letters from a science fiction pulp magazine, early Don Quixote fan fiction, and locks of hair (a favorite 19th century keepsake). I love that each day I might come across some new intriguing item that I can then share with others.

Scrapbook page containing flyer for "The Amazing Exhibition of the little Conjuring Horse," Astley's New Entertainments.   Scrapbook page containing "Ducrow's First Appearance this Season" with picture of a man with one foot on the back of each of two horses, April 1831. Astley's Royal Amphitheatre

Image of scrapbook page containing a poster for Astley's Royal Amphitheatre, advertising a Grand Equestrian evening and events featuring Pablo Fanque, Young Hernandez, etc.  Poster for "Astley's on Thursday, November 6, 1845 ...Gala Night," with pictures of show riding along the exterior of the poster in Astley's Amphitheatre scrapbook, volume 3, p. 237

Posterbills for Astley’s performances and Astley’s Amphitheatre in Astley’s Amphitheatre scrapbooks. Posters shown are circa 1775-1847. Call Number: G126, volumes 1-3. Click on images to enlarge (it’s worth it!)

What part of your job do you like best?
See above! I relish connecting researchers–whether students, scholars, or members of the public–with materials that will open up new perspectives and avenues of inquiry.

What are your favorite pastimes outside of work?
The usual things like reading, walking, movies, and travel, but I also love tracking down some of my favorite Canadian delicacies whenever I can: Nanaimo bars, butter tarts, poutine, and candy bars like Eat-more and Coffee Crisp. I’m still waiting for the day when they open a Tim Horton’s in Kansas… Lawrence certainly has much better (and less corporate) coffee and pastries, but some things just remind you of your youth…

What piece of advice would you offer a researcher walking into Spencer Research Library for the first time?
Not everything is in the online catalog. We aspire to get it all there one day, but every special collections library holds materials that haven’t quite made it into the catalog yet for one reason or another. Accordingly it’s always worth speaking to the librarian who oversees the subject area in which you are conducting research to see if there might be materials you that have missed.

The other piece of advice is to enjoy the research process. Sometimes the thing that you came to the library to examine won’t end up being the thing that really captures your intellect and imagination. Instead, it will be a folder of letters you might come across in the box next to the manuscript you were seeking to examine. This unanticipated discovery may lead your project in a new direction. Embrace the serendipity that archival research permits!

 

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

Meet the KSRL Staff: Vannis Jones

June 18th, 2019

This is the fifteenth installment in a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Today’s profile features Vannis Jones, who joined Spencer’s processing unit in February as a manuscripts processor. Welcome, Vannis!

Photograph of Vannis Jones
Photograph of Vannis Jones in Spencer Research Library’s North Gallery. Click image to enlarge.

Where are you from?

I grew up in Kansas City, but I have spent my adult life in India, Scotland, and France until returning to the Kansas City area this January after graduating with my Master of Science (MSc) in Information Management and Preservation (a fancy way of saying archives and records management!) from the University of Glasgow this past November.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

I play a crucial role in rendering collections both discoverable and accessible through physical and intellectual arrangement of materials, the identification of materials in need of preservation action, and the creation of finding aids, which are often a researcher’s first interaction with the Spencer and our collections.

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

While every collection has its own unique surprises, three particular – and incredibly different – items in come to mind.

  1. Among architectural drawings, specifications, and contracts in the collection of former state architect Charles Marshall is a series of typescript journals by Marshall that he titled “Quips and Observations.” They contain one- to five-line quips, quotes, and vignettes by Marshall that are generally witty in nature and that are drawn from his everyday activities – a trip to the movies, a visit to the bank, grocery shopping, a concert with his wife, etc. Given the generally serious nature of Marshall’s architectural materials, it was fun to get to know the man behind the drawings through these journals.
  2. We hold a lot of scrapbooks at Spencer. Most scrapbooks are a jumble of largely undated and unlabeled newspaper clippings, photographs, ticket stubs, brief notes, and the like, that offer insight into an individual’s interests, but leave a lot up to a reader’s interpretation. An exceptionally unique scrapbook in a collection that I processed recently is one of KU Professor Emerita of English Elizabeth Schultz’s scrapbooks from her teenage years. Schultz’s scrapbook includes specific annotations for each individual object, including cigarette butts, extremely old flowers, a fake diamond ring, chocolate wrappers, a watch (yes, really, a whole wristwatch, glued to a scrapbook page), and more. Through these unconventional items and witty annotations, readers are able to understand Schultz’s thought process in compiling the scrapbook and gain a greater understanding of her playful and creative personality.
  3. A Rosie O’Donnell Barbie doll, completely without context, among the papers of Kristi Parker, the late founder of The Liberty Press, Kansas’s first LGBTQ+ news magazine.

What part of your job do you like best?

I love the opportunity to collaborate and exchange ideas with people on my team working on other projects and with people in other departments like conservation. We really do get to learn something new every day!

What are some of your favorite pastimes outside of work?

I love traveling, exploring other cultures, eating new foods, cooking, weightlifting, and dancing. I also love a good walk and a snuggle with my two dogs, a cavalier King Charles spaniel and a westie, after a long day.

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

Don’t be shy, tell us about your research! Our reference staff have excellent knowledge of our collections and can likely help you find materials that you may not come across by simply browsing our catalog, and that could greatly enhance your depth of understanding of your subject area. We’re here to help!

Vannis Jones
Manuscripts Processor

Meet the KSRL Staff: Jacinta Johnson

April 23rd, 2019

This is the fourteenth installment in a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Today’s profile features Jacinta Johnson, who joined us in January 2019. Jacinta is the Associate Paper Conservator, Mellon Initiative, and splits her time between the Kenneth Spencer Research Library and the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art. Welcome, Jacinta!

Jacinta Johnson is our new Associate Paper Conservator, Mellon Initiative.
Jacinta Johnson, Associate Conservator, Mellon Initiative.

Where are you from?

I grew up in the Puget Sound area of Washington State, but have lived in many other cities throughout the Pacific Northwest, California, and the East Coast.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

I joined KU Libraries’ Conservation Services Department in late January as the Associate Conservator for a three-year initiative, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, aimed at bridging the conservation efforts of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library and the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art. I specialize in paper conservation and split my time between the library and the museum, working with staff at each site to prioritize conservation projects with common goals.

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

The collection of prints and drawings by Mary Huntoon (1896-1970). Huntoon was born in Topeka, KS and grew up knowing she wanted to be an artist. She studied at The Art Students’ League in New York and lived in Paris for five years. She returned to Kansas in 1930 and later became the state’s first art therapist. Her work, which is mostly portraiture and landscapes, depicts important people in her life and all the different places she lived and the places where she travelled. The collection contains several preparatory drawings for prints and artist’s proofs that illustrate her careful working process.

What part of your job do you like best?

The opportunity to interact closely with collections. I enjoy finding clues about the artistic process, techniques, and materials.

What are some of your favorite pastimes outside of work?

I enjoy exploring cities by bike, fumbling through knitting projects, and trying out new recipes.

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

Be sure to utilize all the great help and guidance the staff can offer, and don’t forget to visit the current exhibition!

Jacinta Johnson
Associate Paper Conservator, Mellon Initiative

Spring 2019 Exhibit: “Meet the Spencers: A Marriage of Arts and Sciences”

February 5th, 2019

Who was Kenneth Spencer, the namesake of Spencer Research Library? Why is the library named after him? If you’ve ever asked yourself these questions and wondered about the library’s origins, be sure to visit and explore its current exhibit, “Meet the Spencers: A Marriage of Arts and Sciences.”

Kenneth and Helen Spencer in their garden, 1959

Kenneth and Helen Spencer with their dog Topper in the garden of their home at
2900 Verona Road in Mission Hills, Kansas, spring 1959.
Helen Foresman Spencer Papers. Call Number: RH MS-P 542. Click image to enlarge.

The exhibit provides a personal look at the lives of Kenneth Spencer and his wife Helen, including:

  • their childhoods growing up in southeastern Kansas and southwestern Missouri
  • their relationship and marriage
  • their hobbies and interests
  • Kenneth’s work as an engineer and accomplishments as a business leader in Kansas City
  • the creation of Kenneth Spencer Research Library.

Additionally, the exhibit examines the Spencers’ significant philanthropic work, particularly Helen’s dynamic leadership of the Kenneth A. and Helen F. Spencer Foundation after her husband’s death in 1960. The foundation provided funds for major construction projects at many institutions throughout the Kansas City area, including KU’s Lawrence campus. For example, gifts from the Foundation and from Helen personally ensured the construction of Spencer Research Library as well as the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art.

Photograph of the installation of wall labels for the "Meet the Spencers" exhibit

Installing wall labels can be a messy business. Shown here is a
timeline of the early history of Spencer Research Library
in the context of KU’s history in the 1960s, part of the new
“Meet the Spencers” exhibit. Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of the installation of items for the "Meet the Spencers" exhibit

The installation of items for the “Meet the Spencers” exhibit.
Library staff try not to open the heavy glass case covers too frequently.
In 1968, Helen Spencer selected and purchased the five large German-made
display cases now located in the Exhibit Space. Click image to enlarge.

The opening reception for “Meet the Spencers” will be held this Thursday, February 7, 2019. The exhibition will be installed in the third-floor Exhibit Space through June 2019 as part of ongoing celebrations for Spencer Research Library’s fiftieth anniversary. It is free and open to the public.

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

Marcella Huggard
Archives and Manuscripts Processing Coordinator

University Archives Internship

August 7th, 2018

During the summer of 2018 I’ve had the opportunity to work in the University Archives at Spencer Research Library as part of a Museum Studies student internship. Since my emphasis is in archival work, my projects throughout the summer covered a variety of related archives topics. Since I was initially hired on as a research assistant for a special project on the Jayhawk, I’ve mostly been working with primary source documents concerning the history of the school and the mascot.

Photograph of a Jayhawk artifact in University Archives

A Jayhawk artifact in University Archives. Click image to enlarge.

While that project is ongoing, with still many image files to be organized, my internship projects have acted as a general introduction to the functions of the University Archives. I had the opportunity to learn about processing of new materials by working with some new arrivals from the Pi Beta Phi sorority. These materials ranged in date from the formation of the chapter in 1873 to the mid-1970s — over a century of history. Processing involved creating new file boxes to hold scrapbooks, club minutes, chapter histories, signature books, and expenditure records. Other unique documents included calendars, songbooks, programs, membership cards, letters, pledge books, sorority newsletters, and photographs. The much-anticipated opportunity to handle the photographs also introduced me to the process of inter-filing.

Photograph of Pi Beta Phi records in University Archives

Pi Beta Phi records in University Archives. Click image to enlarge.

Photographs of labels for Pi Beta Phi records in University Archives

Labels for Pi Beta Phi records in University Archives.
Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of Pi Beta Phi photographs being processed in University Archives

Processing Pi Beta Phi photographs in University Archives.
Click image to enlarge.

The other major project that I was assigned this summer was to create an exhibit to be displayed at Spencer during the month of August. The exhibit would incorporate materials from the Archives and would discuss an aspect of KU history. The topic that I finally decided to use was enrollment — specifically, enrollment before the time of computers. It was a fascinating subject to research, personally having only known a time of computerized college enrollment. It’s easy to forget that the process once had to be done in person, utilizing multiple buildings and a complicated system of codes, cards, and queues. The exhibit will feature various documents related to the enrollment process, covering five decades. My intention is to inform visitors on the evolution of enrollment and registration up to the obsolescence of the punch-card method. I think most of the intrigue will come from that element of obsolescence and the campus-wide chaos that would often ensue every semester.

Photograph of a temporary exhibit being developed for University Archives

Developing a temporary exhibit for University Archives.
Click images to enlarge.

Additionally, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to interview and work alongside many wonderful staff members at Spencer Research Library. I want to thank Becky Schulte, Letha Johnson, Whitney Baker, Caitlin Klepper, Meredith Huff, and Marcella Huggard for allowing me speak to them about their positions, responsibilities, and functions within the library.

Mallory Harrell
KU Museum Studies graduate student and University Archives intern