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.

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

Behind the Scenes at Spencer Library: Paging and Shelving

August 16th, 2023

Visitors who have used collection materials in person at Spencer are familiar with the process: you create an Aeon account, check in at the reception desk, come into the Reading Room and check in with the librarian, and grab a table. Once that process has been completed, a student assistant (sometimes a staff member) goes into the stacks to retrieve your items and brings them to you.

While this seems like a simple process, many people outside of the library don’t really know what goes on behind the scenes. In fact, there are many internal processes in place to track each item’s every movement in the building and to ensure it is put back in the correct spot.

In today’s blog post we will discuss two related behind-the-scenes processes: paging and shelving. In short, paging refers to retrieving items from the stacks and shelving (sometimes referred to as re-shelving) deals with returning items to their appropriate place in the stacks. A majority of this work is done by our student workers, though staff contribute as well. Why don’t we have researchers page and shelve the materials they use? Well, with materials as distinct as ours, you can never be too careful. Spencer is a closed stacks library, which means that only staff members and student assistants are allowed to access secure collection storage areas known as the stacks. There are five levels of stacks throughout the building to house our materials. Additionally, as you may have seen in Marcella Huggard’s blog post from July 3rd, we use our own unique call number system within the stacks, and items are frequently shelved by size.

Color photograph of a tan door with a small window and a dark wood frame.
The door to a secure stacks, or collection storage, area at Spencer Research Library. Click image to enlarge.
Color photograph of books - different editions of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - lined up horizontally on a shelf.
A representative shelf of books in Spencer’s stacks. Click image to enlarge.
Color photograph of long rows of floor to ceiling shelves filled with books.
A section of Spencer’s stacks. Click image to enlarge.


To begin paging, a call slip must first be printed. Once the call slip is printed and the item is marked as “being paged” in Aeon, the student uses our stacks locator guide to determine what room the item is in. The stacks locator guide is the document we use to indicate where every item in the collection is located. This detailed inventory, which is updated and revised frequently, helps staff keep track of where items are and when they have moved.

Color photograph of a binder standing vertically on a table, cover facing forward.
A copy of Spencer’s stacks locator guide. Click image to enlarge.

Once in the stacks, the student grabs a book truck and a charge-out flag. The student then goes through the stacks to the location of the item for retrieval. As the item is pulled off of the shelf, the charge-out flag containing one half of the call slip goes in its place on the shelf. You will notice in the photo below that the most essential parts of the call slip are the item name (title) and the call number. The other half of the call slip stays with the item. The item is then brought back to the Reading Room, marked as “checked out” in Aeon, and given to the patron.

Color photograph of a strip of white paper with text, sitting in a cardboard holder that hangs off a bookshelf.
A charge-out flag containing one half of a call slip. Click image to enlarge.

Spencer staff members do not monitor Aeon requests as they come in; all paging is done when the patron arrives. Depending on the location and quantity of requests, paging can take anywhere from five to ten minutes.


When a patron is done with an item, it is marked as “to be re-shelved” in Aeon and taken back to the stacks. Shelving is not done immediately. We have an area in the third-floor stacks where we place items to be re-shelved, and students work on it as they have down time.

Color photograph of cardboard boxes sitting on book trucks beneath and next to a staircase.
The re-shelving area at Spencer Research Library. Click image to enlarge.

When a student goes to shelve an item, they hope the student who paged it wrote the item location on that half of the call slip. If not, the student who is shelving must also use the stacks locator guide to determine where the item belongs. Once the location is determined, the student takes the item back to that spot. Before placing the item in the proper location, the student confirms that the two halves of the call slip – the one that remained on the shelf and the other that traveled with the item – match identically. If this is the case, the student puts the item back on the shelf and adds the second half of the call slip to the charge-out flag along with the student’s re-shelving flag. Each student’s re-shelving flag is a different color so staff can determine who shelved an item if something is done incorrectly.

Color photograph of a strip of white paper with text, sitting with a pink slip of paper in a cardboard holder that hangs off a bookshelf.
A Spencer Research Library stacks area with re-shelving flags. Click image to enlarge.

After items are shelved, Spencer Operations Manager Meredith Phares goes through the aisles of the stacks and “revises” to double check that items are in the correct space. This is a whole other process that could use its own blog post.

Hopefully, this post helps patrons better understand the processes that happen behind the scenes when using the library. Everything that happens in the library has its own process that goes with it.

Tiffany McIntosh
Public Services

New Finding Aids, January-June 2023

July 3rd, 2023

Have you figured out how call numbers at the Spencer Research Library work yet?

Here are a couple of clues for manuscript collections; see if you can apply them when you review this listing of the front half of 2023’s new finding aids!

  • PP = Personal Papers, which are typically collected by the University Archives
  • RH = Regional History (the Kansas Collection’s name has gone back and forth over the years)
  • MS = manuscript (can be found in call numbers for textual materials in both the Kansas Collection and Special Collections)
  • PH = photograph (you will only see this call number designation in the Kansas Collection)
  • WL = Wilcox (historically, the Wilcox Collection has been associated with the Kansas Collection, so you’ll typically see “RH WL” together)

It’s a bit like a mathematical formula, if you combine parts of these call numbers. For example, “RH WL MS” means it’s a Wilcox manuscript collection.

Spencer Research Library also typically houses material by size, most often by height for volume call numbers. “A” volumes will be some of the smallest (typically measuring between ten and 15 cm tall), while “H” volumes are frequently stored flat because they are so large (usually over 45 cm tall).

Spencer also uses letters to designate other sizes of materials. A “P” in a call number means that it’s so thin and/or such a small amount of material it’s stored in a single folder or small number of folders, not enough to fill a box or stand upright on a shelf by itself.

So, for another call number formula example: “MS P” means it’s a Special Collections manuscript collection in a single or small number of folders.

Armed with this information, do you think you can figure out which collections belong to which collecting areas and what kind of housing they might have from our listing of newly processed collections?

Oak Ridge Birthday Club collection, 1923-2006 (RH MS 1577)

Winfield Lodge No. 101 of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows record book, June 11, 1891-March 31, 1898 (RH MS G89)

“The Kansas Primer,” 1889 (RH MS B79)

George W. Johnson letter, May 3, 1891; postmarked May 24, 1891 (RH MS P999)

Henry Schilb land grant, February 1, 1848 (RH MS Q499)

Kansas glass plate negatives, approximately 1890-1932 (RH PH 568)

Mike Rundle papers, 1981-2010 (RH MS 1571, RH MS Q496, RH MS R512, RH MS R514, RH MS S79, KC AV 127)

Pinckney School scrapbooks, 1947-2014 (bulk 1990-2014) (RH MS Q500)

Wooden red apple on top of and affixed to a black scrapbook cover.
Black pages in the shape of an apple. On the left is white handwritten text detailing highlights from the school year. On the right are clippings.
The cover of (above) and two pages in (below) a Pinckney School Parent Teacher Association (PTA) scrapbook, 1947-1948. School librarian Janet Reeder re-compiled the scrapbook at a later point, adding to it with reminiscences and other documents sent in from students who had attended Pinckney that year. Pinckney School Scrapbooks. Call Number: RH MS Q500. Click images to enlarge.

Elizabeth Szabronski-Carrie A. Hall quilt block research, approximately 1920s-1974 (RH MS 1578)

Personal papers of Mary K. Zimmerman, October 1976-April 2021 (PP 641)

Larry K. Laird papers, 1935-2006 (bulk 1980s-2000s) (RH MS 1579, RH MS Q502, RH MS R517)

Judge Earl E. O’Connor papers, 1941-1998 (RH MS 1581, RH MS Q504, RH MS R519, KC AV 128)

Penny L. Clark papers, 1971-2022 (RH MS 1553, RH MS Q487, KC AV 116)

Personal papers of Don and Del Fambrough, July 4, 1933-September 4, 2011 (PP 644)

Personal papers of Charles Himmelberg, 1895-2005 (bulk 1965-2005) (PP 643)

Personal papers of Harry Nicholas Rice, January 22, 1970-March 4, 2009 (bulk July 1970) (PP 647)

Green Thumb Garden Club records, 1961-2009 (RH MS 1585, RH MS Q506, RH MS R523)

Spencer Chemical Company photographs, 1940s-1950s; 2012 (RH PH 570)

S.D. Jeffers letter, approximately 1860s (RH MS P1000)

William L. Scheirman papers, approximately 1880s-1930s; 1991 (RH MS P1001)

Rolling Prairie Grange No. 1628 photographs, approximately 1916-1919; 2020 (RH PH P2948)

Arthur Moore collection, 1503-1857 not inclusive (bulk 1680s-1730s) (MS 143, MS Q32, MS Q96, MS C245, MS Qa39, MS R30)

Manuscript fragments removed from book bindings, approximately 12th-16th, 19th centuries (MS 20, MS Q103)

Page with lettering and figures in red, purple, and (mostly) black ink. The corners of the page have been cut out, and there are noticeable lines where it was folded.
One of several binding fragments removed from some of Spencer’s earliest published volumes, in this case Giovanni Sfortunati’s sixteenth-century Nuovo lume libro de arithmetica at Summerfield C990. Call Number: MS Q103. Click image to enlarge.

Personal papers of Stuart Levine, 1932-2016 (bulk 1958-1986) (PP 646)

Personal papers of Mary Evelyn Nichols Lee, 1949-July 29, 1967 (PP 645)

Watercolor illustration of a boy sitting under a tree with a gingerbread man.
One of a small number of illustrations signed “Nicky Nichols.” They were presumably sketched and painted by Mary Evelyn Nichols Lee, a former University of Kansas student who later operated the Savoy Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri. Personal Papers of Mary Evelyn Nichols Lee. Call Number: PP 645. Click image to enlarge.

Eustace Mullins, 1962-1990 (RH WL MS P2)

Robinson-Cofield Commission Company letter, May 9, 1911 (RH MS P1002)

Kansas historical clippings, 1946-1950 (RH MS Q507)

Historical Geography of Lawrence Area tour records, fall 1998 (RH MS P1003)

Charles A. Smith glass plate negatives, approximately 1888-1904 (RH PH 569)

Evan Wright family, 1875-2003, 2022 (bulk 1940-1999) (RH MS 1587, RH MS Q508, RH MS R524, RH MS S82)

Melvin and Maxine Patterson family, March 21, 1952-January 31, 2016 (bulk 1985-2008) (RH MS 1588, RH MS R526, RH MS S82)

Ernst Moritz Arndt collection, 1843-1913; 1948-1961; 2002-2005 (MS 378, MS Q102)

Leslie Carson Wolfe collection, 1937-2023 (RH MS 1590, RH MS R527)

Kansas postcards collection, 1903-2001 not inclusive, mostly undated (RH PH 571)

Judge Julie A. Robinson papers, 1992-2014 (RH MS 1557)

“The Migrations of John B. Kelso,” September 1853-October 1877 (transcribed 2003) (RH MS P1004)

Leslie W. Nesmith scrapbook, 1957-1999 (RH MS 1589)

Kay Jay Laessig photographs, 1941-1945 (RH PH P2849)

A.C. Edwards’ Irish literary correspondence, 1928-1936, 1959-1972 (MS 379, MS Qa48)

Tom Clarke biographies by Seán McGarry, approximately 1943 and 1950 (MS P764)

James A. Healy collection of Irish-related printed materials, approximately 1895-1960s (bulk 1960s) 9MS 380, MS Qa49, MS R31)

George Watters papers, 1922-1924 (MS P765, MS A64)

Personal papers of William (Bill) Mitchell, 1919-2013 (PP 649)

Personal papers of Sandy Mason, 1931-2007 (PP 640)

Marcella Huggard
Manuscripts Processing Coordinator

Meet the KSRL Staff: Phil Cunningham

April 18th, 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 Phil Cunningham, who joined Spencer Research Library in February 2023 as Assistant Librarian and Kansas Collection Curator.

Headshot of a smiling young man.
Kansas Collection Curator Phil Cunningham. Click image to enlarge.

Where are you from?

I was born in Tacoma, Washington, and as a child have lived in Los Angeles; Fort Polk, Louisiana; and Fort Riley and Manhattan, Kansas. Before coming to Lawrence and KU, I lived in New Orleans.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

I recently joined the Kenneth Spencer Research Library as the Kansas Collection Curator. The Kansas Collection documents the history and culture of Kansas and its peoples; it is one of the largest regional history collections in the Great Plains. In my role as curator, I lead collection development, instruction, and outreach efforts for that collection. That means I work to support preservation and access to the collections held at the Spencer, team up with instructors to connect students to the multitude of resources available here, and work with donors to help the Kansas Collection grow.

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

While working towards my B.A. in history, I began to learn more about the unique history of Kansas and how it came to be what it is today. After graduating, I was eager to continue my studies in history but hesitant to jump into graduate school. I came to see academic librarianship as a desirable route to stay in academia, so I pursued my masters in library and information sciences (MLIS) at Pratt Institute in New York. I was fortunate to intern at the Schomburg Center, a research library part of the New York Public Library system, and the Gilder-Lehrman Archive at the New-York Historical Society. Those experiences helped shape my interests in special collections libraries and archival work.

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

I am still quite new to the Spencer Library, however, I have already started to come across fun and interesting collections in the Kansas Collection! One fun collection is the Agnes T. Frog collection, which documents efforts in Lawrence in 1986 to symbolically elect an amphibian as Douglas County Commissioner. The campaign was a protest against the then-proposed southern Lawrence bypass and its environmental effects on the Baker Wetlands to the south of the city. Another fun item I have come across is a high school diploma awarded to a pony named in Pansy in 1931. Pansy was the primary means of transport to school for a family in Brown County, Kansas. After “attending” school for 22 years, she graduated in 1931 and was given her own diploma!

A Kansas public school diploma awarded to Pansy, 1931. For twenty-two years, the piebald pony carried the children of Tom and Flora Hart to school in the Padonia Township of Brown County, Kansas. Call Number: RH MS P782. Click image to enlarge.

What part of your job do you like best?

As I settle into my new role at the Spencer Library, the list of things I enjoy about my job continues to grow. In no particular order, some of the things I enjoy about working here are: having an office with a window, the welcome that I received from my colleagues and in general how friendly everyone is, exploring the collections at the Spencer, and the joy of learning something new every day. I am also excited to work with classes and students to introduce them to archival research and the archives profession.

What are some of your favorite pastimes outside of work?

Outside of being a curator, you’re likely to find me on cycling around town or at a concert. Some of the bands I have seen are Kansas (of course!), Lamb of God, 3OH!3, Metallica, George Clinton & The P-Funk Allstars, Mastodon, Tool, Tech N9ne, and Gogol Bordello to name a few… don’t ever trust me with the aux cord!

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

I think research libraries and archival research can be daunting for the uninitiated as it requires prior preparation before one even steps foot into the library. But in fact, the opposite is true. If anyone wants to drop in, they are more than welcome to do so. The permanent displays in the library’s North Gallery are fun and interactive, and they give an idea of the variety of collections here. The rotating exhibitions mean there’s always something new to see and learn about with each visit.

Phil Cunningham
Kansas Collection Curator

Student Spotlight: Jenna Bellemere

March 28th, 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 student assistant Jenna Bellemere, who is the Cataloging and Archival Processing Department’s G. Baley Price Fellow this year. This is a student assistant position for undergraduate or graduate students interested in pursuing a career in archives and special collections or a career in which research in archives and special collections will play a prominent role. The fellowship is designed to give students hands-on experience organizing, cataloging, and preserving Kenneth Spencer Research Library’s materials and making them accessible to others. Jenna answered a few questions about the projects she works on at Spencer. Some editorial or clarifying comments from Spencer staff are [in brackets].

Young woman standing next to a map case and behind an open drawer, revealing a large beige folder.
Jenna Bellemere inspects some of the many architectural drawings in University Archives for buildings that have been and still are on campus. These drawings will be added to the General record group (RG 0) finding aid soon; check back later to find out more! Click image to enlarge.

Please provide some brief biographical information about yourself.

I’m a junior at KU, majoring in Anthropology and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. I started working at Spencer in February 2022.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

I’m working on updating our inventory of the University Archives, which means I spend a lot of time going through the documents we have in storage here and making sure that they’re all accounted for in our database [ArchivesSpace, our collection management system]. It’s been several years since the last update, which means there are a lot of new records in the archives that haven’t been fully catalogued yet. It’s my job to go through those records and write down all the important information about them so that researchers and the public can come to the Spencer and access them. I also write parts of the historical notes and finding aids summarizing our collections’ history and their contents.

Why did you want to work at Spencer Research Library?

In fall of 2021, I knew I wanted to get a job somewhere on campus, but I wasn’t sure where. I was looking for a job in one of the libraries on campus because I love to read and I wanted to work around books, and I stumbled across the posting from the Spencer. It wasn’t exactly what I had started out looking for, but I thought it looked interesting, so I applied. I’m interested in history, and the idea of getting to work directly with primary sources was interesting to me, so I felt confident it would be a good fit if I got the job.

What has been most interesting to you about your work?

When I have to explain to my friends why I think my job is so interesting, there’s one story I always tell them. It might be a little morbid, but it’s also a great demonstration of why I find archival work rewarding.

I was sorting through a fairly big series of faculty records [probably a series in the Faculty and Staff record group] and looking at some of the documents in more detail to get a better idea of what types of records researchers might expect to find there. Because I hadn’t been working at the archives for very long at that point, I was taking it pretty slow, and I remember pulling out one folder of records that had been kept by a professor during her time at KU. The first document was a typewritten rough draft of a speech she was planning to give, with revisions in notes scribbled in the margins in pencil. The second document was a handwritten note from her friends thanking her for helping them move into their new house. The third document was her obituary. Each paper was presented the same way: loose in the folder, with no extraneous labels or documentation. Completely matter of fact.

I think this memory epitomizes why I love places like the Spencer. The documents I found that day originated years apart from each other – decades of someone’s life, captured in the notes and paper scraps that she may have completely forgotten she had. We tend to talk about history on the biggest scale possible, focusing on the rousing speeches and the achievements of great leaders, but getting to see those stories in such a personal way, through the insignificant, interstitial moments of a subject’s life – worrying over their word choice in a speech, helping friends move into their new home – is a much rarer and more special experience. It may seem banal, but I don’t think I have ever experienced history in a way more unadulteratedly human than that moment.

What part of your job do you like best?

See my answer to the above question. Also, sometimes they have free snacks in the break room.

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

Go for it! I wasn’t really thinking about the Spencer when I started applying for jobs at KU, but I’m so glad I applied here. I really only work in one small part of the archives – there’s so much more here, like the Kansas Collection [as well as Special Collections and the Wilcox Collection], that I haven’t even touched on. If you’re at all interested in history or museum studies – or if anything you’ve seen here just seems cool to you – I definitely recommend looking for a chance to work here.

Jenna Bellemere
Cataloging and Archival Processing student assistant and G. Baley Price Fellow