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.

Student Spotlight: Kaitlynn McIntosh

February 28th, 2024

This is the latest 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 Public Services student assistant Kaitlynn McIntosh, who answered a few questions about her work at Spencer.

Photograph of a young woman with a green field behind her.
Public Services student assistant Kaitlynn McIntosh. Click image to enlarge.

Please provide some brief biographical information about yourself.

My name is Kaitlynn and I am a second-year undergraduate art history major and education minor. I am on the track to be a part of the Accelerated Masters Program in hopes of graduating with my Bachelors in 2026 and my Masters in 2027. After completing my program I hope to work in a museum – possibly as a curator – or go on to be a college art history professor.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

I am a student assistant in the Public Services area, meaning I interact with most of the people that come into the library. I check people into our Reading Room and gather materials for patrons that come in. I also gather materials for professors who would like to hold class inside the library. In my job I handle a lot of old materials and I find myself very lucky to do so. Whenever I am paging items I always find new things that I am interested in or would have never thought I would come across. That is my favorite part of my job at Spencer.

Why did you want to work at Spencer Research Library?

I wanted to work at Spencer because I believed it would give me some good practice for working in a museum one day. Though we are a library, we do have a gallery and exhibition space. I am also handling a lot of old and fragile materials, so this job has given me good practice in how certain items need to be handled and cared for.

What are you studying, and what do you hope to do in your future career? Has your work at Spencer changed how you look at your studies or your future career plans in any way?

I am studying art history in hopes of working in a museum setting. Since starting at Spencer I have opened up to more possible careers after graduating. I have my mind on the possibility of working in a library as a curator like some of the staff here at Spencer. I am intrigued by a lot of the work that they do, mainly that they are able to work with professors who hold class sessions here. Working at a library or museum on a college campus has never crossed my mind but by working here that new possibility has opened up to me. I love working with the public and I would love to continue that into my future career plans.

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

If you are wanting to work at Spencer I would say apply. There are other positions for student employees that aren’t just in Public Services. This includes University Archives and Conservation Services. It is a very fun environment and is a great job to have as a student because they are very flexible with your class schedule and are very willing to help you with anything at all.

Kaitlynn McIntosh
Public Services student assistant

New Finding Aids: July-December 2023

January 9th, 2024

Henceforth, it’s 2024, and we’re back at it again! Over the past year, the manuscripts processing team has been hard at work describing and housing one-of-a-kind collections. As a processor, you never quite know what you’ll find when you first open a box of dusty old records, but it’s always sure to delight! (most of the time…) Last year, the processing team worked through collections across Kenneth Spencer Research Library’s four collecting areas: the Kansas Collection, the Wilcox Collection, University Archives, and Special Collections. We even had an opportunity to further showcase a few of our favorite collections, including a Reuter Organ Company exhibit, a remembrance of a former colleague, and an in-depth look at the 1970 police shooting of KU student Nick Rice. This year we’re all excited to continue the process of processing new collections and additions, but first, here’s a list of new finding aids the manuscripts processing team published in the last six months of 2023:

Peggy Harrison papers, 1991-2002 (RH MS 1591)

Wilburn family collection, 1960-2023 (RH MS 1592)

Kij Johnson papers, 1975-2021 (MS 377)

Personal papers of Karen Severud (Pearson) Cook, September 1972-September 2021 (PP 648)

Personal papers of Amy Devitt, 1980-2013 (PP 653)

Personal papers of Dean “Deaner” Nesmith, 1935-1979 (PP 655)

Lorraine Co-Operative Oil Company records, 1930-1948 (RH MS D307)

U.S.-China Peoples Friendship Association ledger, 1975-1977 (RH WL MS P3)

Take Ten, Inc. records, 1976-2013 (RH MS 1596)

This image has text. Black-and-white illustration of a stick-figure person standing at a large chalkboard covered in math equations.
Production notes for a Reading Rainbow episode featuring Math Curse, a children’s book written by Joe Scieszka and illustrated by Lane Smith. The book was featured in the first episode of season 17 and originally aired on October 5, 1998. Take Ten, Inc. Records, Call Number: RH MS Q512. Click image to enlarge.

Schubert, Funk, Cooper-Warren Mortuaries records, 1904-1966 (RH MS 1597)

Alvin Forrest “Fritz” Grauerholz papers, 1925-2009 (RH MS 1593)

Creed Shepard collection, 1992-2002 (RH MS 1598)

Marvin Voth collection, 1975-2009 (RH MS 1595)

Pamela Johnson Betts collection, 1969-2021 (RH MS 1594)

Courtship of the Ruff watercolor, 1923 (MS Q107)

Illustration of birds in shades of white, black, and brown.
A 1923 watercolor painting created by M.H.A. Staring (1897-1929), a Dutch artist and ornithologist. The painting depicts the courtship display of three male ruffs, or calidris pugnax, towards one female ruff. Call Number: MS Q107. Click image to enlarge.

Wagner family collection (MS P766)

Personal papers of Tom Skrtic, 1972-2020 (PP 651)

Personal papers of Tom Hedrick, 1947-2021 (PP 654)

Personal papers of Ellsworth S. Gray, circa 1930-1955 (PP 656)

Yusuf and Zoleikha = یوسف و زلیخا, Poem originally written 888 A.H. / 1483 CE; this manuscript copy inscribed 17th century CE (MS A9)

Barteldes family tree, [after 1963 and before 2021] (RH MS R542)

Alice Walker photograph, February 1, 2002 (RH PH P2851)

Kaw Valley Living Wage Alliance collection, September 25, 2000-January 17, 2006 (RH MS 1602)

Personal papers of Andrew Tsubaki, 1954-2001 (PP 650)

Color photograph of actors kneeling around a man who is standing with his arms raised in the air.
A photograph of a 1973 production of the popular kabuki play Kanjinchō by Namiki Gohei III. Kanjinchō was adapted from Ataka, a play in the noh theater style, and would later serve as the inspiration for Akira Kurosawa’s film The Men who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail. Personal Papers of Andrew Tsubaki. Call Number: PP 650. Click image to enlarge.

Records of the Kansas State Geological Survey, 1865-2022 (bulk 1950s-2010s) (RG 37)

Jane van Meter collection, 1923-2020 (MS 383)

Paul Schaefer poster collection, 1970-1985 (RH WL MS R19)

Black-and-white illustration of a woman lying in a field of grass, looking at two nuclear reactors in the distance.
A print of the We All Live in Harrisburg collage created by R. Cenedella in 1979 as a response to the Three Mile Island accident that happened outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on March 28, 1979. The collage used Andrew Wyeth’s painting Christina’s World with permission from the artist. Paul Schaefer Poster Collection. Call Number: RH WL MS R19. Click image to enlarge.

General records from the University of Kansas – Architectural drawings, approximately 1890s-2000s (RG 0 – AD)

Archery: Two Treatises, 1150 A.H. / 1737 C.E. (MS C33)

This image contains handwritten text.
Folios from a 1150 A.H./1737 C.E. treatise containing two texts teaching and promoting the sport of archery. The texts are written in Persian in the Nasta’liq script, and the above folios feature a hand-drawn illustration of two bows with the names of various parts of the bows listed off to the side. Call Number: MS C33. Click image to enlarge.

Marcella Huggard
Manuscripts Processing Coordinator

Charissa Pincock
Manuscripts Processor

Meet the KSRL Staff: Kaitlin McGrath

December 1st, 2023

This is the latest installment in a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Today’s post features Kaitlin McGrath, KU Libraries’ new General Collections Conservator/Preservation Coordinator. Welcome, Kaitlin!

General Collections Conservator/Preservation Coordinator Kaitlin McGrath sits at her workbench in the conservation lab.
KU Libraries’ new General Collections Conservator/Preservation Coordinator Kaitlin McGrath.

Where are you from?

I’m from Michigan and I grew up just outside Detroit. I went to school at Western Michigan University and here at the University of Kansas. Before I started this job in August, I was living in western Massachusetts.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

I am the new General Collections Conservator/Preservation Coordinator for Conservation Services. I have a lot of different roles. If any book from one of the circulating libraries on campus is damaged, it comes to me, and I assess what treatment it needs. Some things will be sent out to a commercial bindery to be rebound, but many things will be treated in-house in our conservation lab. Some of the common treatments we do include tipping in loose pages, repairing torn paper, adding protective covers, and building new cases and boxes for books. I supervise the student workers who complete most of the treatments on general collections materials. I also order the archival supplies needed for Conservation Services and Spencer Research Library. As Preservation Coordinator, I work on preservation projects in Spencer such as object housings and long-term storage improvements.

How did you come to work at Spencer Research Library?

I was a student worker in the conservation lab from 2018-2020 while I was attending KU for my master’s in museum studies. I worked under Roberta Woodrick and learned the different treatments that are done in the lab. I really enjoyed working in the lab and the problem solving that came with determining different treatments and creating custom housings for objects. After I graduated, I moved away and worked in a couple of museums. I was just finishing up a two and a half year cataloging project at the Emily Dickinson Museum in Massachusetts when I heard that Roberta was retiring. I thought this was a great opportunity to come back to KU and work in the conservation lab in a new role.

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

KU’s collection of class banners from every graduating year are some of my favorites! I was able to work on a housing project for them when I was a student, and it was so interesting to see all of the different designs. Many of them were hand-made which gave them a creative and unique quality.

What part of your job do you like best?

I like the variety of what I do here. I don’t know what will come through the lab next. It makes work interesting!

What are some of your favorite pastimes outside of work?

I like to play tennis, bake, and knit. I also enjoy trivia and board game nights.

That’s Distinctive!: Behind the Scenes

October 13th, 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 are mixing it up a little. Having posted every Friday (except for one) since January 20th (or 38 weeks), I thought it might be fun to share a little about me and how That’s Distinctive! works.

Headshot of a young woman.
Tiffany McIntosh. Click image to enlarge.

Some background about me.

I grew up in Lawrence and went to KU for my undergraduate studies in anthropology and religious studies. I am currently pursuing my master’s in museum studies online via the University of Oklahoma in hopes of some day working at the KU Natural History Museum. When I’m not at work at Spencer, I am likely at home in Meriden cuddling with my five cats or hanging out with family. We moved away from Lawrence in 2022 to an old farmhouse in Meriden, which is about a 40-minute drive from Lawrence. You can also find out more about my position in my Meet the Staff post from 2022.

How did you come up with the idea for That’s Distinctive!?

I came up with the idea for the blog not too long after I first started working at the library. I had started sharing cool items I found with my family on Facebook under the name “fun find Fridays.” After some thought, I felt it would be better to share these materials more broadly. It seems a large portion of the public, or even the student body, does not know that the library is here and open to everyone so I thought the blog posts would help raise awareness. I didn’t know the library was here when I was studying at KU, and it is really a unique resource with something for everyone. While the library’s primary use is for research (as noted in the name), its collections are vast and cover a wide range of topic areas. I have yet to meet someone that I wasn’t able to find an item of interest for.

What does your process for picking items look like?

I honestly do not have a very rigid process. For most of this year I chose holidays or anniversaries of things for the weeks I wasn’t sure what to share. Other weeks I just chose whatever topic came to mind and did some quick researching. Once I have a topic in mind I go through our online catalog and finding aids to find collections and materials I think might fit. I then pull everything I found to view in the Reading Room and narrow down to a single item or collection. Sometimes items are not at all what I was expecting; other times I find multiple things I like, which can make it hard to choose. Then with other topics I walk away empty-handed and start all over. Once I have an item chosen, I scan it on our Bookeye and then I sit to write the post. Some posts come more easily than others as you can see by the varying length of posts (some are really long, while others are super short).

I try to keep a hefty backlog of posts, so I’m not writing them every week. I will stock up five or six weeks’ worth then when that runs down, I’ll start writing again. Sometimes when I sit to write a post, and nothing comes to mind, I simply start my process all over. Quite a few topics have been pushed aside due to lack of inspiration. Fear not, though; I keep a running list of items I like but don’t write about to be visited later.

I should also add that finding items does not always require such an in-depth process. As I spend more time in the stacks, I frequently find items of interest just by walking around. I have also highlighted items that I have shared with classes and family members on special visits.

What does the future of That’s Distinctive! look like?

I am hoping to continue That’s Distinctive! into 2024. I intend to switch it up a little and attempt to avoid holidays and anniversaries and instead just focus on random topics and finds. I also hope to collaborate with staff and students around the building to highlight some items they have interest in as well.

What are some of your favorite finds for That’s Distinctive!?

Honestly, everything on the blog is of some interest to me. Obviously, some items intrigue me more than others but I wouldn’t highlight something I didn’t think people would like. I have a hard time picking a favorite, but I have narrowed it down to three posts that I really enjoyed writing.

Kansas farmer’s diary: I found this post super fun to write because you can’t go anywhere in Kansas without driving past a field of corn, seeing cows, or running into a tractor driving down the highway. Being able to look back and see what farming was like in the 1890s is just fun. It might seem mundane and redundant but what would Kansas be without farmers?

This image has handwritten text.
Two pages from the diary, September and October 1896. Call Number: RH MS P885. Click image to enlarge.

Flood of 1951: This post was interesting to me because the flood of 1951 was something I had heard about but didn’t really grasp the severity of until I saw the photographs. The process of writing this post also sent me on a little side quest. I shared one of the photos with some friends and my friend Chris recognized a grocery store in the photo that used to belong to his family. This led me to search to see what else we had related to his family, and we actually had a collection with old family photos from when his dad was a child. I thought that was super neat.

Black-and-white photograph of a row of buildings along a street flooded with several inches of water.
Locust Street in North Lawrence, 1951. 1951 Flood – Lawrence and Kansas City, Kansas, Photographs. Call Number: RH PH 172. Click image to enlarge.

Mexican recipes: Other than looking at all the old diaries we have in our holdings, this collection is probably my all-time favorite. Handwritten in the early nineteenth century, the recipes in the collection give a peek into what life was like back then. The process of having them translated was fun too because it was a collaboration of staff in the libraries. I think it would be neat to have the whole collection translated to be able to make the dishes in the present.

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

Tiffany McIntosh
Public Services

Student Spotlight: Claire Cox

October 9th, 2023

This is the latest 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 Public Services student assistant Claire Cox, who answered a few questions about the projects she works on at Spencer.

Headshot of a young woman.
Public Services student assistant Claire Cox. Click image to enlarge.

Please provide some brief biographical information about yourself.

I am an Accelerated M.A. student in the history department. This is my third year at KU, but my first year as a graduate student. As an undergraduate, I spent my first two years at Johnson County Community College before transferring to KU and earning my B.A. in May 2023. I majored in history with a minor in global and international studies. I started working at Spencer Research Library in August 2022.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

I am a public services employee. My job tasks include retrieving and re-shelving materials from the stacks, sitting at the reception and reference desks, and assisting researchers in the Reading Room. Occasionally I work on a shifting project in the stacks. I also get the opportunity to curate temporary exhibits located in our North Gallery.

What part of your job do you like best?

I really enjoy working in the stacks. Whether retrieving or re-shelving materials, I am usually handling new items that I have never seen before. Not only does this help me get to know the collections better, but it is also really fun and interesting. The Kansas Collection is my favorite part of Spencer. I am constantly looking at old books related to the Kansas environment from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I also like working with the patrons that come into the Reading Room, and I love hearing about their research interests/projects.

What are you studying, and what do you hope to do in your future career? Has your work in at Spencer changed how you look at your studies or your future career plans in any way?

I study environmental history of the Great Plains in the twentieth century. I look forward to continuing my research on the relationship between Indigenous peoples, rural communities, and the environment by further examining the process of artificial lake-building in the region. As an undergraduate, I studied the construction of Clinton Lake near Lawrence. I plan to build upon this research throughout the upcoming year. As an employee at Spencer Research Library, I have learned a lot about how a special collections library works from behind the scenes. This knowledge informs how I conduct my own research, and I feel more confident when visiting other research institutions or archives. I have also found a lot of very useful material in the Kansas Collection about Clinton Lake, which I used for my undergraduate thesis project.

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

I highly recommend working at Spencer. There are so many different opportunities for students to find a position that suits their own interests. Contrary to the stereotypical library job, working at Spencer never gets boring! Every day comes with new and exciting challenges.

Claire Cox
Public Services student assistant