Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Celebrating Fifty Years of Spencer Research Library

November 28th, 2018

This week’s post is a slightly revised version of remarks given by Beth M. Whittaker, Associate Dean for Distinctive Collections and Director of Spencer Research Library, at the library’s fiftieth anniversary celebration on November 8th.

Photograph of event programs at Spencer Research Library's fiftieth anniversary celebration, 2018

Event programs at Spencer Research Library’s fiftieth anniversary celebration,
November 8, 2018. Photograph by LeAnn Meyer. Click image to enlarge.

It was not long after I returned to Kansas that I realized that the 50th anniversary of Spencer Research Library was impending; it seemed a long way off and we spent a lot of time thinking about how we would mark this occasion. Looking back at the many celebrations Spencer has commemorated, there were so many possible ways to go. The dedication of the building in 1968 was an august affair. Lord C. P. Snow spoke on the topic of “Kinds of Excellence” and if you’re interested you can read the remarks recently added to KU’s Scholar Works repository.

The 25th anniversary included a signature exhibit and catalog that we still reference today; other anniversaries have come and gone more quietly, many of them witnessed by people still here with us.

Photograph of a guest exploring the "50 for 50" exhibit at Spencer Research Library's fiftieth anniversary celebration, 2018

A guest exploring the “50 for 50” exhibit at the
fiftieth anniversary celebration, November 8, 2018.
Photograph by LeAnn Meyer. Click image to enlarge.

But what we really wanted to do for an exhibit was not to talk about the collections ourselves, as we so often do, but to get the stories from people who had used them for study or research. That, after all, is why we are here, and why this building has stood for fifty years and will stand for the future. Many of our friends and supporters answered our call, and the exhibit currently on display is the result. Although the word has become watered down by trendiness, this exhibit is actually “curated” by everyone who submitted a suggestion, took a walk down memory lane, or sent an email, and it is a reflection of the value of these items and these collections. It will live on in the gorgeous exhibit book we produced which is also available electronically. It is my hope that this exhibit stands the test of time for another fifty years.

Of course, this exhibit is not the whole story of the golden anniversary of the library. On February 7, 2019 we will celebrate our next exhibit “Meet the Spencers: A Marriage of Arts and Sciences,” which will focus on this extraordinary couple and their philanthropy across the region. Please mark your calendars and plan to join us. For a sneak peek at the kind photographs and correspondence that will help shape this exhibit, make sure to check out the small exhibit cases on either entrance of the North Gallery on your next visit.

Photograph of Beth M. Whittaker speaking at Spencer Research Library's fiftieth anniversary celebration, 2018

Beth M. Whittaker speaking at the fiftieth anniversary celebration,
November 8, 2018. Photograph by LeAnn Meyer. Click image to enlarge.

It is traditional in these situations to talk about how much has changed, but I want to lead with what is the same. Every day, we welcome students (from KU to preschool and everything in between), researchers and the community into our beautiful spaces; we lead tours and classes; we support researchers both here and remotely; and we share the joy and wonder of original documents with everyone. As Associate Professor of English and stalwart friend of Spencer Library Laura Mielke said in her submission for the exhibit:

Every time my students and I come to the Spencer Research Library, we have a transformative moment. Eyes light up, hands reach out gently, smiles spread across faces.

This has been happening for fifty years, and will continue.

Photograph of attendees at Spencer Research Library's fiftieth anniversary celebration, 2018

Attendees listening to remarks at the fiftieth anniversary celebration,
November 8, 2018. Photograph by LeAnn Meyer. Click image to enlarge.

However, some things HAVE changed. New collections have sprung up and grown; new formats have emerged to convey information; researchers have asked new questions of our materials; and new classes have come through our doors. If we had asked the attendees of the dedication in 1968 what the research library would look like in 2018, I doubt any of them would have come close to predicting this future.

The building itself, of course, has also changed. Those of you who have been here before know that my passion for this building includes always looking for ways to make it better, so we looked at the 50th anniversary as a chance to do some “touch-ups” after years of significant renovation projects. After the creation of the Stokstad Reading room and the exhibit space that currently houses “50 for 50”; renovation to work spaces that make cataloging, digitization, and conservation easier and more efficient; and most significantly and gloriously, the renovation of the North Gallery, the 50th gave us an excuse to do things like freshen the classrooms, install new technology, and reupholster Mrs. Spencer’s specially selected furniture. Through it all, we have tried to honor the style and inspiration that Helen Spencer brought to the building. She did not want a “museum or a mausoleum.” She wanted this library it to be a useful and workable addition to academic life, and as that academic life has changed, so have we.

We have also used the occasion of the 50th anniversary to tackle some programmatic needs. Thanks to generous donors, our research grant program has been reinvigorated and we offer three grant programs to bring people to Lawrence to use our collections. In time for the 50th we instituted regular drop-in, staff-guided tours. If you haven’t yet come to one of our Friday afternoon tours, please do so and spread the word. We have kept busy.

Photograph of Spencer Research Library's North Gallery in snow during the fiftieth anniversary celebration, 2018

Spencer Research Library’s North Gallery in snow during the fiftieth anniversary celebration,
November 8, 2018. Photograph by LeAnn Meyer. Click image to enlarge.

This exhibit and our celebration on November 8th kept us even busier. I need to give my thanks to the exhibit team, who worked with me to refine my wild idea and shape it into something magical: Sherry Williams, Angela Andres, Meredith Huff, and Mary Ann Baker.

My colleagues in Spencer Public Services: Caitlin Klepper, Kathy Lafferty, Stacey Wiens, and the indomitable Meredith Huff and Emily Beran, who may finally be able to get back to their primary responsibilities without me interrupting them constantly with “50th” ideas and concerns.

Librarians and archivists Sherry Williams, Elspeth Healey, Karen Cook, Becky Schulte, Letha Johnson, and Deborah Dandridge, who helped select and provide context for items from the collections they curate. Catalogers, manuscripts processors, conservators, digitization experts and always changing brigade of student workers–I am especially grateful to the student workers.

Our colleagues in KU Libraries Office of Communication and Advancement: Nikki Pirch, whose beautiful graphics have enriched everything about the 50th, and Bayli Rindels, who supported me throughout the planning for the event, along with LeAnn Meyer, Leah Hallstrom and Courtney Foat, under the leadership of Christy McWard, who arrived at KU Libraries only to learn her new colleague had an ambitious plan already in place; she and her team jumped in with both feet.

Finally, I have to thank those who came before me in this role. Sandy Mason, who set and steered the course for decades; Bill Crowe, whose leadership and vision helped the library manage a time of extraordinary change; and Sherry Williams, who served in the interim and from whom I continue to learn something new every single day. As Jim Gunn, emeritus professor of English — and, dare I say lifetime support of this library — told me, “You walk in big shoes.”

Beth M. Whittaker
Associate Dean for Distinctive Collections
Director of Spencer Research Library

Shirley Tholen, Jubilee Queen

June 27th, 2017

One of the most interesting items in our collection, from my point of view, is the full-length portrait of Shirley Tholen, KU’s Jubilee Queen. Spencer Research Library doesn’t actively collect oil paintings, so the fact that we have this painting is unusual in itself. Its size and its history make it even more so. We’ve been spending a lot of time with this portrait lately, and it’s a great example of how collections, experts, and supporters come together in the work of Spencer Library.

The portrait depicts Shirley Tholen, whose naming as Queen was part of the celebration of KU’s 75th anniversary, in 1940-1941. Painted by Raymond Eastwood, a KU professor of drawing and painting from 1922 to 1968, the portrait depicts Ms. Tholen in a dress inspired from the mid-1800s. The jubilee celebrations referenced the early history of the university, with touches like the installation of hitching posts on campus, a song contest, and many reunions.

Photograph of the Shirley Tholen portrait in the KU Alumni Association office, 1945

The Shirley Tholen portrait in the KU Alumni Association office,
as shown in the June 1945 Jayhawker. University Archives.
Call Number: LD 2697 .J3 1945. Click image to enlarge.

For years, the portrait appears to have hung in the office of the KU Alumni Association, as shown in the above photograph from the 1945 Jayhawker yearbook. It eventually made its way to University Archives, where it was stored in the fourth floor stacks of Spencer, surrounded by boxes of university records. Its size made it difficult to find appropriate storage, and it was obvious, even to those of us more accustomed to working with paper and photographs than canvas, that the painting and its supporting structure were in need of repair.

In 2015, Ms. Tholen’s son Tom Jasper and his wife Alexis planned to visit Kansas and inquired about the painting. To make it possible to view it, our Conservation Services staff hung the portrait in our North Gallery and created a temporary label. During their visit, the Jaspers gave us a copy of Ms. Tholen’s memoirs, which we added to our collections. The Jaspers also offered to help financially support the work needed to restore the painting. Conservation Services staff attempted to locate a professional paintings conservator who could work onsite, since the painting is too large to easily ship or move. In late 2016, we welcomed Kenneth Bé of the Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center to Lawrence.

Photograph of Kenneth Be conservation work on Shirley Tholen portrait Photograph of Kenneth Be conservation work on Shirley Tholen portrait

Kenneth Bé working on the portrait. Click images to enlarge.

Mr. Bé began with a thorough examination of the painting, photographing it in its existing frame and the wooden stretcher to which the canvas was attached. He then removed the painting from the frame, and carefully repaired dented areas, removed the painting from the stretcher, and vacuumed and brushed away decades of residue. Mindful of the need to get just the right amount of tautness, he attached the canvas to the new stretcher. He used cotton batting and an enzymatic cleaning solution to clean the surface, and the background and especially the bottom of the dress appeared noticeably brighter after the cleaning. He performed a second cleaning of the background using a soft brush and a scooping motion to lift away any remaining dust and residue. He then treated areas of color loss on the surface, using just a minimal amount of paint that somehow managed to make the scuffs seem to vanish. The process was documented throughout with notes and photographs, in accordance with best practices for conservation treatment. After his departure, we moved the painting to a secure area where it was stored under a Tyvek sheet awaiting framing.

Then came the task of choosing a frame for the painting. On the recommendation of colleagues, we chose a local framer, again hoping to minimize the need for the portrait to travel any more than necessary. The choices at the frame shop were overwhelming, but the experts advised us to balance the width of the frame with the size of the painting and the height at which we intended to hang it. A decision was made, the portrait was packaged carefully, and loaded into a rented truck for the short trip across town. When the framing was complete, the results were impressive.

Photograph of Roberta Woodrick with the Shirley Tholen portrait

Assistant Conservator Roberta Woodrick
with the portrait. Click image to enlarge.

The portrait of Shirley Tholen is now hanging again in the North Gallery, awaiting new signage that explains who she was and why we have this painting. She will no doubt draw attention as visitors begin to appear in our recently renovated Gallery, and her story helps to tell the history of the University in a different way than the rest of our new permanent exhibits.

Photograph of the Shirley Tholen portrait in the North Gallery

The portrait of Shirley Tholen in the recently-renovated North Gallery.
Click image to enlarge.

This was truly a team effort. Whitney Baker and Roberta Woodrick of Conservation Services, Becky Schulte and Letha Johnson from University Archives, and staff from across KU Libraries researched, planned, and made the work happen. But it would not have happened without the support of the Jaspers as well. Not everyone can be responsible for helping conserve a historic portrait of their mother, but they can assist us to do extraordinary things that would not otherwise be possible with our limited resources.

Please come visit the North Gallery and see Shirley soon.

Beth M. Whittaker
Assistant Dean for Distinctive Collections
Director of Spencer Research Library

Throwback Thursday: Marilyn Stokstad Edition

March 24th, 2016

Each week we’ll be posting a photograph from University Archives that shows a scene from KU’s past. We’ve also scanned more than 25,400 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

We were saddened to learn of the passing of Marilyn Stokstad, KU distinguished professor emerita of art history, who died on March 4th at age eighty-seven. The KU community is remembering Dr. Stokstad for her remarkable career as well as the significant contributions she made to the university.

 

Photograph of a Museum of Art exhibition opening, 1962

Marilyn Stokstad (center) at an exhibition opening at the
Spencer Museum of Art, 1962. University Archives Photos.
Call Number: RG 34 1962 Prints: Museum of Art (Photos).
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Photograph of Marilyn Stokstad, 1979

Marilyn Stokstad, 1979. University Archives Photos.
Call Number: RG 41/ Faculty and Staff: Stokstad, Marilyn (Photos).
Click image to enlarge.

I do not remember when I first met Marilyn Stokstad, but she remembered meeting me. When I interviewed for the position of head of Spencer Research Library, Marilyn recalled a conversation with me years before, where I apparently shared my frustrations with the challenges of graduate school and my fears for what the future held.

Since I returned to Kansas and met Marilyn for the second time, she has been such a presence, such a FORCE, that if I were honest with myself, I would have admitted I thought she might outlive me. I would come to realize that her memory was outstanding, but so was her passion, her scholarship, her enthusiasm, and her generosity.

The Stokstad Reading Room at Spencer Research Library represents not just her generosity, but her understanding that sometimes you have to change amazing things to keep them amazing. She understood the role of librarians and archivists in re-envisioning many of the third floor public spaces, and it’s comforting to know that her support was a vote of confidence in the work we do every day.

The University of Kansas has shared many tributes to the impact Marilyn had as a scholar, a colleague, and a benefactor; she was all those things. But along with that, Marilyn was also an inspiration, a hero, and a friend. We miss her already.

Photograph of Marilyn Stokstad at the Stokstad Reading Room grand opening, 2011

Marilyn Stokstad at the grand opening of the Stokstad Reading Room
at Spencer Research Library, November 2011. She is standing with
lorraine haricombe, former Dean of KU Libraries, and
Kent Miller, Interim C0-Dean of KU Libraries.

Beth M. Whittaker
Assistant Dean for Distinctive Collections
Director of Spencer Research Library

Collection Snapshot: Campront Family Cartulary

July 27th, 2015

When I am asked about my favorite item in the Spencer collection, in addition to praising the glorious Vosper Book of Hours, I always mention a much more humble item, the Campront family cartulary, known by its call number, MS D47. A cartulary is a collection of charters, especially a book holding copies of the charters and title deeds of an estate.

Image of the first page of the Campront (de) family papers, La Manche, 1268-1438

First page of the Campront family papers,
La Manche, 1268-1438. Transcript of legal instruments. France,
copied after 1438. Call Number: MS D47. Click image to enlarge.

This small (23 x 16 cm), rather worn, manuscript contains copies of thirty-nine legal documents related to the Campront family of Normandy, France. Most date from the tumultuous years of the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453), a series of conflicts between the rulers of England and France – with their allies – for control of the latter kingdom, the largest in Western Europe at the time. Land transactions, marriage settlements, and documents detailing contested claims were copied in a clear, functional hand. This was a volume designed not for show, but for its content, or, as we would say now, its “informational value.”

Image of a selected page from the Campront (de) family papers, La Manche, 1268-1438

Selected page from the Campront family cartulary. Call Number: MS D47. Click image to enlarge.

I encountered this document as a student at KU. I was thrilled to be able to work with an original manuscript and, although deciphering the old French was a challenge, I excitedly pored over each page, transcribing nearly the entire volume by hand in the days before laptop computers were widespread. I relied heavily on the preliminary work done by the late Ann Hyde, whose exhaustive description was just one example of the legacy she left behind to the Spencer Library. I learned quickly that while I could discover much about the family from this source, it was never intended to be a comprehensive document about the family’s affairs, and I was left wanting to know more about the generations of people mentioned in its pages.

Flash forward many years: I had deposited an electronic copy of my master’s thesis in the open access repository at The Ohio State University, where I then worked. (It’s also available at KU’s ScholarWorks, as is the preliminary research that formed my senior thesis.) Through the magic of Google, the current owner of the property in Normandy where the Campront family lived for hundreds of years came across my research while searching for information about his home. The historical documentation I had uncovered was personally exciting to him and, like many people, he wondered how the document ended up in Lawrence, Kansas. This gave me a chance to explain Kenneth Spencer Library and its amazing collections of early manuscripts, preserved here and made available to both amateur and professional scholars.

Image of a selected page from the Campront (de) family papers, La Manche, 1268-1438

Selected page from the Campront family cartulary.
Call Number: MS D47. Click image to enlarge.

The estate owner placed a copy of a translation of my work into the official archives of La Manche in Lower Normandy, thereby physically and linguistically extending the reach of my work even further. Finally, he offered to host me at this amazing property, parts of which appear not to have changed much from the sixteenth century, should I ever have the chance to visit.

For me, this one humble, centuries-old document, is not only a major signpost along my journey to becoming a librarian. It also captures so richly the power of the written word and the connections we make as human beings.

Beth M. Whittaker
Assistant Dean for Distinctive Collections
Director of Spencer Research Library

Meet the KSRL Staff: Beth Whittaker

June 8th, 2015

This is the third installment in what will be a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. In this post we posit questions to Beth Whittaker, Assistant Dean for Distinctive Collections and Director of Spencer Research Library.

Beth Whittaker portrait

Beth M. Whittaker

Where are you from?

I grew up in Overland Park, KS, attended KU, and have lived several different places before returning to Lawrence.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

My position description says I “provide leadership, vision, and direction for the distinctive collections programs, services, and resources of the Libraries, enhancing and promoting the unique research, teaching, and learning opportunities these collections offer.”

Essentially I am here to help my colleagues get what they need to make our collections available for students, scholars, and the public. I set priorities and help get exciting initiatives off the ground.

How did you come to work in special collections and archives?

I actually began working in special collections as a student assistant here at the Spencer over twenty years ago. I came in one day to examine a manuscript for my master’s thesis, and I saw a job announcement. Within a year, I decided that special collections libraries were where I wanted to be. I’ve been fortunate enough to work in several different libraries before returning to where it all began, the Kenneth Spencer Research Library!

What part of your job do you like best?

I get to tell the story of the Spencer Library every day, in some way or another. I love talking to people; no one who knows me would argue with that!

What are your favorite pastimes outside of work?

I love being outdoors, and am an enthusiastic do-it-yourselfer around the house. I spend most of my time outside of work with my family. I’m also very excited when I can get somewhere on my new scooter.

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

Probably what I’m sure most of my colleagues have said in previous posts: we are here to help. I remember what it’s like the first time you walk into a research library like this. These are YOUR collections as much as they are ours.

Beth M. Whittaker
Assistant Dean for Distinctive Collections
Director of Spencer Research Library