Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Meet the KSRL Staff: Vannis Jones

June 18th, 2019

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

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

Where are you from?

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

What does your job at Spencer entail?

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

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

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

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

What part of your job do you like best?

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

What are some of your favorite pastimes outside of work?

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

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

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

Vannis Jones
Manuscripts Processor

Meet the KSRL Staff: Jacinta Johnson

April 23rd, 2019

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

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

Where are you from?

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

What does your job at Spencer entail?

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

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

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

What part of your job do you like best?

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

What are some of your favorite pastimes outside of work?

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

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

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

Jacinta Johnson
Associate Paper Conservator, Mellon Initiative

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

February 5th, 2019

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

Kenneth and Helen Spencer in their garden, 1959

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

Marcella Huggard
Archives and Manuscripts Processing Coordinator

University Archives Internship

August 7th, 2018

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

Photograph of a Jayhawk artifact in University Archives

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

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

Photograph of Pi Beta Phi records in University Archives

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

Photographs of labels for Pi Beta Phi records in University Archives

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

Photograph of Pi Beta Phi photographs being processed in University Archives

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

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

Photograph of a temporary exhibit being developed for University Archives

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

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

Mallory Harrell
KU Museum Studies graduate student and University Archives intern

Meet the KSRL Staff: Lynn Ward

February 20th, 2018

This is the thirteenth (lucky number thirteen!) installment in a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Today’s profile features Lynn Ward, who joined the Spencer Research Library processing unit in late October as a processing archivist. 

Where are you from?
Since most of my adult life has been spent in Lawrence, I like to say that’s where I’m from. I grew up in Missouri but attended the University of Kansas for my bachelor’s degree (anthropology) and masters (museum studies). I have moved from Lawrence a few times, but I keep coming back!

What does your job at Spencer entail?
How do researchers know what’s on the shelves in the archives? That’s my job. I work on making all the amazing information that is here in the library—in documents, letters, maps, photographs, diaries, drawings, scrapbooks, and records—accessible. I do that by processing donations and collections and then making finding aids for them online. Then the information contained in the donations and collections can be searched, found, and utilized.

Lynn Ward in the Kansas Collection Stacks

Making Spencer’s collections accessible:
Lynn Ward in the Kansas Collection stacks.

How did you come to work at Spencer Research Library?
This isn’t the first time I have worked at Spencer Research Library. When I was a graduate student in the Museum Studies program here at KU, I worked in the University Archives up on the 4th floor. That was my first archives position. Since then, I have had a long career working in a variety of museums, archives, and libraries. At each one, I have learned new skills, experienced many situations, and gained lots of knowledge! I’m happy to bring all this to Spencer Research Library where I can use all these skills and knowledge, plus learn even more from the excellent staff here. In a way, I’ve come full circle and now I’m back home.

What is one of the most interesting items you’ve come across in Spencer’s collections?
It’s hard to narrow down one, because I find it all so interesting! I have worked on some great collections since starting here in late October. But, I would have to say that I am most interested in the territorial Kansas and also the early KU history material. In the lobby of the Spencer Research Library there is a map of Lawrence from 1854 that I love to look at—especially since “Kansas” is spelled with a “z”—“Kanzas.” I also like to walk in the North Gallery and see a cross-section of all the fascinating collections that are in the library. I love looking at all of the books and exhibits in that beautiful space.

Picture of the 1854 SearleMap of Lawrence housed in the Spencer Research Library Lobby

Map of “Lawrence City, Kanzas Territory, Surveyed Oct. 1854 by A. D. Searl.”
This map hangs in the Spencer Research Library lobby. Click image to enlarge.

What part of your job do you like best?
I like the feeling of being part of a team. We are all working to make the collections accessible so that everyone—the public, historians, students, genealogists—can benefit from them.

What are some of your favorite pastimes outside of work?
I love, love, love to travel and explore. I’m happy going anyplace and doing anything. For example, a few weeks ago, I went with a friend on a fun daytrip exploring territorial history in Big Springs, Kansas. And last summer, my daughter and I found a cool shark’s tooth near Hays, Kansas. (I’m a huge dinosaur and prehistoric life fan.) I enjoy little adventures like that! I’ve got two teenage kids, so my husband and I spend a lot of our time involved in their activities. I also read a lot—mostly books about Kansas history—but I do enjoy a good historical fiction or a Michael Creighton novel, too!

What piece of advice would you offer a researcher walking into Spencer Research Library for the first time?
I would tell them to take the time to talk to the reference room staff. If the staff know about your research project, they can help you think of resources here at Spencer Research Library.

Lynn Ward
Processing Archivist