Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

My Life with Lillian: The Year (And Then Some) I Spent Transcribing MS B173

July 14th, 2021

Last July, I mentioned in our ‘Spencer Public Services Working from Home’ blog post that one of my work from home projects was creating transcriptions of some of our handwritten collection materials. Well readers, a year later here is the follow-up on one of those transcriptions – the Lillian North diary – and a bit of the story of how a New York suffragist helped me through the pandemic.

Photograph of the first page of Lillian North’s diary with entries from January 1 and 2, 1915.
The first page of Lillian’s diary with entries from January 1 and 2, 1915. Lillian North Diary. Call Number: MS B173. Click image to enlarge.

Who was Lillian North?

Lillian was born on August 17, 1881, in Stafford, New York, to parents George and Mary Thomas Radley. On September 26, 1906, Lillian married Frank North, a farmer. They were married for fifty-seven years before Frank’s death in October 1963.

Lillian’s diary entries span from January 1, 1915, to May 14, 1917, and detail her day-to-day life as a homemaker and farm wife. Her days were full of activity: cleaning and improving the house, washing and mending clothes, baking bread and pies, canning pickles and strawberries, and churning her prize-winning butter. I can confirm that I was motivated to clean on more than one occasion after working on this transcription; you would be, too, after reading about Lillian cleaning daily while your dishes stared at you from the kitchen sink.

Photograph of the entries in Lillian North's diary from September 21 and 22, 1916.
Entries in Lillian’s diary from September 21 and 22, 1916. She mentions spending the day at the suffrage tent at the fair and her butter being named first premium. Lillian North Diary. Call Number: MS B173. Click image to enlarge.

Outside of her work managing the home and helping on the farm, Lillian attended social engagements and community events almost every week. In her diary she recounts automobile rides and dinners with friends, visiting with her mother and sisters, weekly church, and listening to various speakers and concerts in the area. She frequently attended meetings for the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the Ladies Aid Society, and The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry. She was involved in the women’s suffrage movement as well – attending meetings and talks and even campaigning for the cause. It was her work as a suffragist that initially introduced me to her diary while I was conducting research for other projects related to the centennial anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment.

Photograph of Lillian North's diary entry from October 13, 1915.
Photograph of Lillian North's diary entry from October 13, 1915.
Lillian’s entry from October 13, 1915, highlights a suffrage lecture given by Mrs. Phillip Snowden of London and Mrs. Keating from Colorado. Lillian North Diary. Call Number: MS B173. Click images to enlarge.

Where did this project take me?

Working on this transcription took me on a bit of a journey; I found myself embroiled in some side research projects I was not expecting to do when I started. While the diary provides extensive details about Lillian’s day-to-day life for over two years, there was so much more I wanted to know about her and her family beyond 1917 when the diary ends. I began researching, trying to find whatever I could find based on the information in the diary, our published finding aid, and our records from when the diary was acquired. Eventually, I tracked down obituaries for Lillian, Frank, and Lillian’s mother Mary Radley via Newspapers.com.

In addition to wanting to know more about Lillian, my curiosity was piqued about some of the acronyms and abbreviations in the diary. What did all of them mean? Several of them I deciphered fairly quickly with the help of some online resources. Others were not so easy to interpret or did not seem to be related to any organizations I could find. By taking clues from the context in which these acronyms appeared and some additional research, I was able to make some guesses about possible meanings, but questions still abound.

All of these side projects did lead somewhere beyond satisfying my own curiosity: The additional information gleaned from the obituaries allowed us to update the biographical information in our online finding aid – providing a more accurate picture of Lillian’s life and family. We also added the list of possible meanings for the acronyms and abbreviations in hopes that this would help future researchers who are interested in the diary and Lillian’s many activities and organizations.

Photograph of Lillian North’s obituary in the Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), December 19, 1963.
Lillian North’s obituary in the Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), December 19, 1963. Courtesy Newspapers.com. Click image to enlarge.

Why did it take over a year to transcribe one item?

Now, I know many of you are probably wondering how I am just now finishing the transcription of Lillian’s diary – a full year after that initial blog post. After all, this is not the first item I have transcribed so this should be a faster process, right? Well, here are a few details to consider:

It’s a long story: Lillian’s diary is not quite like the other items the staff at Spencer have transcribed. We typically focus on transcribing shorter documents, primarily letters. Lillian wrote daily in her diary for over two years; there are over 700 entries and roughly 200 pages to transcribe. It was only because of the pandemic and working from home that I even had time to take on a transcription project of this scope. No matter how fast I worked, this was going to be a long project.

Handwritten = hard: Reading someone’s handwriting can be a challenge (how many of us frequently wonder if our doctors are writing actual words on those prescription pads?). Add in factors like age, access, and series of acronyms and abbreviations and, suddenly, handwriting can become practically indecipherable. You have to learn to look for patterns in how someone shapes their letters and rely on context clues frequently – a process that takes time to do.

Photograph of entries in Lillian North's diary from June 23, 25, and 27, 1916.
Entries in Lillian’s diary from June 23, 25, and 27, 1916. These more crowded pages show some of the reading difficulties associated with this transcription, including Lillian’s use of abbreviations. Lillian North Diary. Call Number: MS B173. Click image to enlarge.

There is only one of me: Working on transcriptions was only one of my work from home projects during the pandemic. I was also revising training documents, updating instruction plans, participating in professional development opportunities, and conducting research and creating content for other projects, most notably other blog posts and an online exhibit – to name a few things. Some of these activities had scheduled times and due dates; creating a transcription for general use did not so it was the project to fill hours and provide breaks instead of the top priority.

Opening up: Spencer Research Library re-opened at the beginning of the school year in August! With the re-opening came an end to my full-time work from home status. I was back in the building several days a week and helping with paging, shelving, reference, and instruction. Even though I was still working from home some days, my focus shifted to other projects that supported what was happening onsite. Again, a transcription without any specific deadline was moved to the back burner more often than not.

Saying good-bye: The world turned upside down in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic brought unimaginable stress, trauma, and heartbreak to so many. In the last year and half many lost their lives, their livelihood, and their loved ones. I recognize that I am incredibly fortunate that I was able to continue working and that my family and friends were largely spared from any serious health issues related to COVID-19. However, that does not mean 2020 was without difficulties for me – particularly related to mental and emotional health.

I live by myself in a one-bedroom apartment. Honestly, I am quite the homebody and pretty introverted so prolonged periods of time in my own space and on my own are welcome. But despite my introverted tendencies, I also have people I enjoy seeing and spending time with regularly – family, friends, colleagues. And then poof! I really could not see anyone, especially not frequently, for quite some time. That gets lonely after a while and I could feel the effects. All of this was on top of the anxiety I was feeling about work and school and life in general during the pandemic.

During that time Lillian’s diary became a distraction from the uncertainty and isolation I was experiencing. After reading increasingly grim outlooks on public health, I could turn to this diary and read about Lillian taking the family horse to get re-shoed or working on a sewing project with a friend. Reading and transcribing Lillian’s diary was like talking with one of my friends about their week when our lives were not consumed by COVID-19; it was a welcome break. As time went on and I became more invested in Lillian’s life, I began to procrastinate on this project – prolonging the point when I would finish the transcription and lose this source of comfort at a time when I really needed it.

Photograph of the last page of Lillian North’s diary, 1917.
The last page of Lillian’s diary, written on the inside of the back cover. Lillian North Diary. Call Number: MS B173. Click image to enlarge.

At the end of Lillian’s diary, she ran out of pages and began writing on the inside of the cover. Why? The reason is likely pretty practical – to save money, to use up all the available space, etc. – but the appearance gives the sense that she was trying to put off saying good-bye to this little book for as long as possible. It is a feeling I am all too familiar with as I reach the end of this project and, more importantly, my life with Lillian.

Emily Beran
Public Services

Meet the KSRL Staff: Charissa Pincock

June 1st, 2021

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 Charissa Pincock, who joined the Spencer Research Library processing unit in February as a Processing Archivist.

A woman in front of a row of shelves storing books and gray boxes.
Processing Archivist Charissa Pincock. Click image to enlarge.

Where are you from?

I grew up in the Peoria, Illinois, area aka the corn parts of Illinois. I have also lived in states such as Texas, Nevada, Utah, and most recently Massachusetts before coming here to Lawrence, Kansas.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

I help researchers find and access collections! As collections come to the Spencer, I make sure collections are arranged in a way that follows the collection creator’s intended arrangement, or if there is no original intended order, arrange the collection in a way that is accessible for researchers and patrons. I then describe collections through creating metadata and finding aids. Researchers can then more easily discover exactly what they are looking for by searching through and using these finding aids and collection descriptions.

How did you come to work at Spencer Research Library?

I pursued a history degree for my undergrad, and while talking about career possibilities with a professor, she talked about her experiences working at a special collections early in her career. It was not for her, but many of the reasons she listed out for not personally wanting to work at a special collections/archives appealed to me, and so, my career in archives begun! I processed archival collections at a few different institutions before pursuing a Master’s in Library and Information Science at Simmons University with an Archives Management concentration. I officially finished my program this past May, and I am ready to have free time again. I have always enjoyed working in academic special libraries and archives, and I am happy to be here at Spencer!

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

Even though I am fairly new, I have already come across so many interesting collections! It is hard to narrow it down to just one! I will say that there are some great collections created by speculative fiction writers at Spencer and seeing their drafts and writing notes and correspondence with other writers in the field has been a fascinating look into the more behind-the-scenes work that goes into creating these creative works.

What part of your job do you like best?

Every day is different! I get to see and read about the stories and experiences of people from many different communities and times. No collection is exactly the same. And with discovering these collections, I love being part of a team that helps the broader public discover these collections as well.

What are some of your favorite pastimes outside of work?

I always love getting outside, but while stuck inside during quarantine, I have cycled through a few hobbies. My new current pastime is trying to follow along with Bob Ross painting tutorials. You also can never go wrong with a good board game!

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

Ask questions! The Spencer Research Library has many amazing collections, and we want to let everyone know about them. Researching in a special collections or archive can be intimidating, but we have a great Public Services team that is happy to help. We have seen and heard it all, and no genuine request or question will be turned away!

Charissa Pincock
Processing Archivist

Working from Home Without Manuscripts or Rare Books

June 24th, 2020

During Covid-19 isolation, our team in the cataloging and processing department at Kenneth Spencer Research Library has been busy working from home. Instead of working hands-on with the rare books and manuscripts, like we normally do, we have been working on our databases and other online sources to ensure that our all of our material is easily searchable and discoverable for researchers and scholars, not only here in Kansas, but worldwide. This work is important to the mission of the library.

Five professionals from the cataloging and processing department share their working-from-home experience.

Marcella Huggard, Manuscripts Coordinator

What are you working on?

I am continuing to coordinate my team’s projects of data cleanup or data creation for legacy collections that never had online finding aids; I’m also coordinating other folks’ work on legacy data projects. One of my own cleanup projects—consolidating finding aids that had been separated when they were first put online, due to descriptive decisions made at the time that no longer hold true—is something I’ve been wanting to focus on for a couple years now. I have also been working on a research project to document the history of the Menninger Foundation’s archives.

Why is this work important to the library?

The projects that I’m coordinating and working on myself continue to enhance access to our manuscript collections, so that when researchers request materials they’ll have a better sense of what we have available, and they’ll be able to find that information that much more easily in an era where expectations are that information will be discoverable online.

What will you miss from home when we go back to work in the Spencer building?

Sleeping in an extra hour! I will also miss the scheduling flexibility.

Photograph of Marcella and Salty Bear
Marcella’s new co-worker, Salty (short for Salted Caramel) Bear. “My spouse, a teddy bear himself, likes to buy me teddy bears; he got me this one soon after I started working from home.” Click image to enlarge.

Mike Readinger, Special Collections and Manuscript Cataloger

What are you working on?

I am working on ArchivesSpace database clean-up and creating bibliographic records for the legacy finding aids. In the early 2000s, we switched from using card files. Thousands of records in Voyager (the old, though still in use, KU Libraries online catalog) were created using these bibliographic cards. Those records were brief, so now I am using this time to create more complete records.

Why is this work important to the library?

These completed records will be put on OCLC WorldCat. The work done in cataloging and processing is the first step in letting the whole world know what we have. We make the information known, then our great reference staff can serve the scholars and researchers.

What will you miss from home when we go back to work in the Spencer building?

Right now, I have my home office set up in our basement. I can run upstairs to get dinner started, then come back down and keep working. I like the ease of doing those kinds of things.

Photograph of Mike and his supervisor
Mike and his supervisor look out the window in Mike’s home office. Click image to enlarge.

Jennifer Johnson, Manager of the Non-Manuscript and Inventory Unit

What are you working on?

I am editing and creating personal name authorities and name/subject headings for the library catalog. Plus, I have been removing duplicate records from the catalog.

Why is this important to the library?

Authority control is important because it creates organization and structure of information resources, making the materials more accessible, allowing better researching for the users.

What will you miss from home when we go back to work in the Spencer building?

I love working from home! I really enjoy being able to go grab something to eat or drink. I work by a window that I can open. I’ll also miss being able to switch tasks, for example, I can do the dishes at lunchtime. And I love getting to see my son more often!

Photograph of Jennifer and her dog

Jennifer’s loyal co-worker. Click image to enlarge.

Mary Ann Baker, Special Collections and Manuscript Processor

What are you working on?

I have been working on the Access database listing of The Miscellany part of the English Historical Documents Collection. Almost all the manuscripts in this collection were acquired in the late 1960s. Over all the decades that these collections have been worked on, data transference from one program to another has resulted in some data corruption. For example, the pound symbol (£) turned into an umlauted u (ü). So, I have been cleaning up the errors and expanding abbreviations to prepare the database for publication as part of the finding aid for the Miscellany Collection. 

Why is this important to the library?

Working on this collection contributes to making Spencer Library’s holdings known globally and accessible to all, one of the goals of the KU Libraries.

What will you miss from home when we go back to work in the Spencer building?  

Naps at their will. I will not miss Zoom meetings.

 

Lynn Ward, Manuscripts Processing

What are you working on?

I have been working on projects to clean-up and refine the information in our archives database, ArchivesSpace. I added “containers” to hundreds of the earlier resources that lacked box or volume information. I also have been adding collection inventory information directly to the ArchivesSpace resource; this information had previously only been available via a link to a separate scanned PDF document.

Why is this important to the library?

Adding “containers” makes it possible for researchers to request the material, which helps our reference staff to connect researchers with what they need. Adding the inventory information from the PDF to the resource makes the information more discoverable for researchers and scholars when they search online.

What will you miss from home when we go back to work in the Spencer building?

I have really been enjoying the extra time with my family, so I will miss that when I go back to working in the building.

Photograph of Lynn and her dog

Lynn’s co-worker requires daily walks. Click image to enlarge.

The work described above is important to the library’s mission.

All of the faculty and staff working at the Spencer Research Library share one mission: to connect scholars in varied disciplines with the information that is critical to their research, while providing excellent services in a welcoming and comfortable environment.

The work in the cataloging and processing department is an important step to that mission. Even while we are enjoying different aspects about working from home during Covid-19, we are continuing to work hard to make sure scholars and researchers can search, find, and connect with the information contained in Spencer Research Library’s collections.

Lynn Ward
Processing Archivist

Meet the KSRL Staff: Molly Herring

June 3rd, 2020

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 Molly Herring, who joined Spencer in February as the Associate Archivist in University Archives.

Photograph of Associate Archivist Molly Herring
Associate Archivist Molly Herring. Click image to enlarge.

Where are you from?

I was born in the Kansas City area, but I moved around a lot growing up. My father was a Chaplin in the Army, and over the past twenty-five years I’ve lived in eleven states and fifteen cities, and I even spent three years living in Germany. However, I spent my senior year of high school in Kansas and went to college at KU, so Kansas really feels like my home state.

How did you come to work in archives?

I had always planned on going to library school after teaching for a few years (I got my bachelor’s degree in Secondary English education), although at that point I was thinking more along the lines of working in a public library. While researching programs, I began to learn more about the field of archives and decided it was the place for me! I decided to go to graduate school immediately after college, got my Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree with a specialization in Archives and Information Science from the University of Pittsburgh in 2017, and then spent a couple of years working at the Indiana State Archives. I jumped at the opportunity to work in the University Archives, being a KU graduate myself as well as a fifth-generation Jayhawk.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

As the Associate Archivist, I appraise, accession, process, and manage records in all formats transferred to the custody of the University Archives. I answer research questions submitted by both on- and off-site patrons, participate in outreach services (such as exhibits, blog posts, etc.), work with donors who wish to give materials to the Archives, and collaborate with Digital Initiatives and Processing on digital collections management. Over the past couple months, as I’ve worked from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, I have devoted much time to working with Digital Initiatives and other Spencer Library staff on the University’s web archives.

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

There are so many interesting items in the Archives its hard to pick one! One of my favorite things to tell people we have is a vial of uranium from the Manhattan Project. Another object I love is a wooden Jayhawk that was carved by a German POW who was sent to Kansas during World War II. On a more personal note I found some wonderful information on my great-great grandmother. She was the Women’s Student Government President in 1913 and, as an alumna, helped start KU’s chapter of the Alpha Chi Omega sorority, which I was a member of while at KU.

What part of your job do you like best?

My job entails a lot of different parts, which is something I really enjoy! I learn something new every day, and one day is never like the other. Also, although it’s a small part of my job, I really enjoy working on exhibits. It’s a wonderful way to get to know the collections and learn more about KU’s history.

What are some of your favorite pastimes outside of work?

I enjoy working on embroidery projects, baking, being outdoors, spending time with friends and family, and of course reading (sci-fi and fantasy in particular).

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

Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and as many as you need to! Researching in special collections and archives can feel daunting, but we’re here to help!

Molly Herring
Associate Archivist, University Archives

Meet the KSRL Staff: Shelby Schellenger

January 7th, 2020

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 Shelby Schellenger, who joined Spencer in October as the Reference Coordinator.

Photograph of Shelby Schellenger at Spencer's reference desk
Spencer’s new Reference Coordinator Shelby Schellenger where you’ll most frequently find him – at the reference desk. Click image to enlarge.

Where are you from?

I was born and grew up in a little town southeast of Wichita called Rose Hill. I’ve visited a number of places throughout the U.S., but have always lived in Kansas. I spent about ten years in Manhattan and five years in Topeka; I’m now working on a couple of years here in Lawrence.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

My job at Spencer is the Reference Coordinator. In the main, this involves spending my day helping patrons at the reference desk or digitally to locate and use materials from Spencer. I need to develop a good overall knowledge of the collections (I can’t know everything in detail), use good research strategies, and communicate well with patrons and the staff and curators who have expert knowledge in the particular subjects they oversee.

How did you come to work in Public Services?

In kind of a strange and convoluted way. I started my undergraduate studies in Computer Science, switched to Business Administration, managed a comic book store, worked in retail, worked in customer service, got laid off, and realized that libraries are and have always been an important part of my life. I went on to get my Master of Library Science degree and worked my way up at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library. When I saw this position at Kenneth Spencer Research Library I realized it would be focused on exactly the parts of librarianship I most enjoy and had to give it a shot.

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

One of the most interesting things I’ve come across in Spencer’s collections are the various literary awards. I read primarily in science fiction and fantasy and it was exciting to find out we have Theodore Sturgeon’s Hugo Award, World Fantasy Award, International Fantasy Award, Nebula Award, Spectrum Award, and more! These awards mark stories I often add to my long, long to-be-read list. These are also the awards that inspire that “maybe one day” sort of feeling in me when I think about doing a little writing. It really brings home that Spencer’s collections contain more items and types of items than can be easily shared and explained. It is always worth checking if you think a little research is in order!

Photograph of a selection of science fiction awards in Spencer's collections
A selection of science fiction awards in Spencer’s collections. Click image to enlarge.

What part of your job do you like best?

I like being part of that moment when someone finds something that amazes them. Maybe it is a photograph from the 1800s that really connects someone to an unknown relative. Maybe it is a handwritten letter talking about not very much that brings home that people are much the same as they have always been. Maybe it is finding a copy of a student publication they helped with years ago and never expected to see again. That moment amazes me.

What are some of your favorite pastimes outside of work?

I am big into board games. I try and make it to a couple of events (or more) a month and have a collection that threatens my bookshelves and closet space. I tend to prefer strategy games at a medium to heavy complexity with some favorites ranging from space exploration to running a vineyard. I also have two dogs and am getting back into anime, something I have fallen a bit behind on.

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

If at all possible, take it slowly. Give yourself the time to absorb things and explore related items. The stories you will find may be worth it!

Shelby Schellenger
Reference Coordinator