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: 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

Meet the KSRL Staff: Erika Earles

January 11th, 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 Erika Earles, who joined Spencer Research Library in June 2022 as a Manuscripts Processor.

Headshot of a woman standing in a field.
Manuscripts Processor Erika Earles. Click image to enlarge.

Where are you from?

I grew up on a farm in Baldwin, about fifteen miles southeast of Lawrence. My mom taught at Lawrence High, and I was glad to attend high school there as a result. We were the last class to graduate before Free State High opened. With about 800 graduates, the lengthy graduation ceremony was held at Memorial Stadium. Then I went to school in Upstate New York, worked trails across the West and in Yellowstone National Park, and settled in Teton Valley, Idaho, where I worked at the local library.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

My job is to look through the items that have been accepted into the library collection, put them in acid-free containers, and describe them in the KU Libraries online catalog so researchers can find them. I’m a manuscripts processor, so most of the items I deal with are papers and unpublished writing, but occasionally there are audiovisual materials, photographs, slides, or objects like scarves, flags, and toys. You never can tell what you’ll find.

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

In my first weeks at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library, I processed the collection of Martha “Matt” Mueller, a KU graduate, librarian, and newspaper columnist. In addition to some of her writing, the items included several autograph collections. One of the pieces was a 5-pound check written out to cash, signed and underlined three times by Charles Dickens! He is one of my favorite authors. He’s still funny after 150 years! I was star-struck and astounded that I was touching the same piece of paper that he touched so many years before. My supervisor was unfazed – just a regular day at work for her – but I still get excited when I think about it.

That was the most exciting thing for me personally, but one of the most interesting things I’ve processed is the Pamphlets on Cherokee Neutral Lands. This was a bound volume, separated for preservation and ease of use, that included writing from people on many sides of a contested land issue in southeast Kansas. In 1866, the Secretary of the Interior sold the land to his brother-in-law, who represented a railroad company.

This collection includes the federal court papers detailing the two suits filed by the railroad to establish title to the land; pamphlets circulated by white farmers who asserted their right to the land as homesteaders and criticized the government support of corporate interests over the working man; and a statement from the chief of the Cherokee tribe stating that the tribe had paid for and continuously occupied the land, nullifying the right of the government to sell or the settlers to occupy it. It also includes an Indiana Representative’s report to the Indian Affairs Committee decrying a government that breaks its own treaties with various tribal nations despite their peaceful negotiation and warning that the recent Civil War had shown the United States what comes of denying legal rights to an entire group of people.

These documents are a reminder that racial and economic issues that we may think of as modern are not. People have fought for and against equity and fair distribution of resources since the founding of the country. The struggle for tribal sovereignty, full rights of citizenship, and racial equity – and the relationship between the federal government, corporations, and workers – are still being negotiated in our culture and our legal system 150 years later. Reading how people talked about these issues in their own words and how decisions were made helps you understand how we got to where we are today.

What part of your job do you like best?

Learning about local history is always interesting to me. I recently learned that the fire department in Lawrence used to be alerted by bells that would ring a certain number of times for each fire district. According to a local woman who gave a talk at Pinckney Elementary School in the 1970s, they rang those bells when World War I ended. When people called the local telephone operator to find out what was going on, they were told the good news. She said when World War II ended it was announced on the radio.

These kinds of details give you a real glimpse into the past. I enjoy learning about people and places this way and helping to ensure that their legacy will be available for future generations.

What are some of your favorite pastimes outside of work?

Walking in the woods with my dad under the Kansas sky is one of my favorite things ever. I also enjoy going to art museums, painting, drawing, reading, dancing, and hanging out with my stylish cat, Iyla View, a.k.a. Miss Pants. (The unusual spelling of Iyla’s name is a nod to her home state of Idaho, where people spell names however they choose.)

Gray tabby cat with white stomach, nestled in pink tulle.
Pants loves dresses. Click image to enlarge.

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

Search the catalog for something that interests you and let the friendly staff in the Reading Room help you find it. Don’t leave without getting something in your hands. There is nothing like looking at original materials.

Erika Earles
Manuscripts Processor

Meet the KSRL Staff: Tiffany McIntosh

December 16th, 2022

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 Tiffany McIntosh, who joined Spencer Research Library in August 2022 as an Administrative Associate.

Headshot of a smiling woman.
Administrative Associate Tiffany McIntosh. Click image to enlarge.

Where are you from?

I’ve lived most of my life in Lawrence but just recently moved to Meriden, which is a small town just north of Topeka.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

I primarily serve as the student supervisor and run the reception desk. I am also responsible for scheduling, supply orders, and other day-to-day administrative tasks throughout the building. Starting in Spring 2023 I will also be working at the reference desk.  

How did you come to work in Public Services?

My answer is a little less straightforward than others’ are. I graduated from KU with a Bachelor of General Studies (BGS) in anthropology and religious studies in May 2021. Since graduation I missed life on campus and had been searching for a position within KU. I browsed KU’s website for months waiting for something that seemed fitting.  When I saw the posting for the Administrative Associate position at Spencer, I knew I would be able to use past job skills to excel given my strong background in customer service. I also knew the position would be a step in the right direction considering I plan to attend a master’s program in museum studies. 

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

Currently the thing I find most interesting is a book we have by Joseph LeConte that was printed in 1895: Evolution and Its Relation to Religious Thought (Call Number: B17361). We also have a first edition of The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (Call Number: Ellis Aves B108). It’s very worn and well-loved but super cool to look at. Along with the first edition, we have a copy from 1909 (Call Number: B17375) that is, interestingly enough, Volume 11 in The Harvard Classics. Per Wikipedia, the collection “is a 50-volume series of classic works of world literature, important speeches, and historical documents compiled and edited by Harvard University President Charles W. Eliot.” There are a lot of other really cool books in Special Collections that relate back to my undergraduate classes (including works by Darwin, LeConte, and Charles Lyell) that I’m super excited to work with.

I also find the children’s book collection quite interesting. Older book covers are very unique and colorful. They’re fun to look at without even opening the books. I love browsing the stacks and reading the different titles of the books and seeing the illustrations. The content of children’s books has definitely changed quite a bit over time.

I’m convinced there’s something for everyone in our collections.

What part of your job do you like best?

I would say one of my favorite things about my job is listening to the curators and librarians talk to patrons about things they’re passionate about. You can really hear the joy and excitement in their voices when they get to talk about their work. I would also say I enjoy working with the students and giving them opportunities to grow both professionally and individually. Most importantly, I love how the collection is seemingly never-ending. Every time I go into the stacks, I find new things that interest me.

What are some of your favorite pastimes outside of work?

I enjoy being outside (I go birding with my younger brother), spending time with my cats, and quilting. I also try to spend time with family since I don’t see them as much since moving. I start graduate school in January 2023, so I’m sure most of my time will be spent on homework (which I really don’t mind).

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

Similar to what others have said in their “Meet the KSRL Staff” profiles, use your resources. The collections are massive, and talking to the people who work here can really improve your findings and experience. The library alone is a great resource, but the people who help build and maintain the collections have a wealth of knowledge that can really take your research to the next level.

Tiffany McIntosh
Administrative Associate

Meet the KSRL Staff: Molly James

October 27th, 2022

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 James, who joined Spencer Research Library in 2022 as a Manuscripts Processor.

Headshot of a young woman in front of green foliage.
Manuscripts Processor Molly James. Click image to enlarge.

Where are you from?

I’m from Kansas! I was born in Wichita, then lived for a brief time in Salina before my family moved to Eudora, a small town just outside of Lawrence. After graduating high school, I moved to Manhattan, obtaining both my bachelor’s and Master of Arts in English before returning to the Eudora-Lawrence area.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

I process incoming collections for Spencer’s various collecting areas. This includes maintaining the original order that the materials’ donor or creator had them in, or creating an order that makes sense if there wasn’t one before, and then creating a finding aid to make these collections easily searchable online. Sometimes it also means identifying and sending a damaged item to Conservation and Preservation to stop something from deteriorating so it can be referenced in the future.

How did you come to work at Spencer Research Library?

Before working at Spencer, I spent six years with the Eudora Community Library, first as a volunteer then as a circulation assistant. Then, while I was working on completing my undergraduate degree, I was briefly introduced to Library Science by a K-Stater who was going to Simmons University to complete their Master of Library Science degree. Before this, I hadn’t known there was an entire field dedicated to library science and spent some time researching it. This exploration led me to learn about archives and libraries in a broader sense, so when I graduated with my master’s, I knew I wanted to return to a library to keep learning about how libraries and archives operate. I’m incredibly lucky to be here with the Spencer Research Library!

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

While I haven’t interacted with a terribly large number of collections, the most interesting thing I’ve come across so far is a lock of hair in a baby book from 1919. I wasn’t expecting it! Otherwise, the most interesting thing that I’ve seen (but didn’t process) is the Hugo Award currently on display in the North Gallery.

What part of your job do you like best?

I feel like I learn something new every day – either about how libraries and archives work or history! I consider myself a lifelong learner, so having constant interactions with a continuously growing knowledge resource is fantastic.

What do you have on your desk?

I’ve got a small assortment of companions to help with processing – notably Gander the Magnetic Goose who holds on to the paperclips I find. Additionally, I’ve got both Calcifer the Fire Demon and Howl’s Heart from Howl’s Moving Castle, a magnetic Totoro, and a good luck tribble, if tribbles can be good luck signs.

Five small items in front of a sign that reads "Inking Station; No Original Materials on This Surface!"
Items on Molly’s desk. From left to right: Gander the Magnetic Goose, Howl’s Heart, a tribble, Calcifer the Fire Demon, and Totoro. Click image to enlarge.

What are some of your favorite pastimes outside of work?

I enjoy reading – primarily science fiction and fantasy – when I’m not at work. I’m currently trying to work my way through a rather large to-be-read pile that I had started before pursuing my undergraduate degree. Besides reading, I enjoy spending time with my dogs, writing, and playing board and card games.

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

Sometimes unexpected connections between collections appear, and when they do, don’t be afraid to explore those opportunities! They might be the key to expanding your research horizons or unlocking something previously unknown.

Molly James
Manuscripts Processor