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.

Behind the Scenes at Spencer Library: Paging and Shelving

August 16th, 2023

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Tiffany McIntosh
Public Services

Meet the KSRL Staff: Meredith Huff

May 3rd, 2013

This is the first in what will be a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Meredith Huff is Spencer’s Building Operations and Stacks Manager.

Photograph of Meredith Huff in Spencer Research Library Reading Room.

Meredith Huff in Spencer’s Marilyn Stokstad Reading Room.

Where are you from?
Battle Creek, Michigan

What does your job at Spencer entail?
I’m the Building Operations Manager, Stacks Manager and Public Services Student Supervisor.  I manage the closed stacks and building space, keep track of the collections as they are used, find space for new collections, schedule and find projects for our Public Services Student Assistants.

How did you come to work in special collections and archives?
My first job was shelving books at Willard Public Library in Battle Creek, Michigan.  I can still give you Dewey call numbers for some subjects that I shelved regularly. I worked there through high school and community college.  When I transferred to Michigan State, where I earned a degree in Horticulture, I worked in the greenhouses as well as at the main library (in the copy center and at the reserve reading desk).

In 2007, I found myself looking for a full-time job that I would enjoy.  I had tried out a few jobs since college, but never really found a job with the daily variety and challenge that I enjoyed. I wasn’t ready to jump into entrepreneurship just yet.  I had always enjoyed my work in libraries and bookstores. Books aren’t too different from plants; in fact, books are made of plants. Care and handling of delicate plants can’t be too different from care and handling of rare books and manuscripts, I thought.  So I redesigned my resume to highlight my library experience and skills, and began applying for library work.  My husband and I had lived in Kansas for a short-time in 2006, and we knew we liked the area.

I found my current position advertised on the KU jobs site and applied.  Early in August 2007, I was called for a phone interview.  I had done some research on Kenneth Spencer Research Library, and knew it would be unlike any other library where I’d worked, so I knew I would be challenged in my work. I began working at KSRL on October 1, 2007.  Each day since has been different.

What is the strangest item you’ve come across in Spencer’s collections?
I don’t spend much time looking at our collection items specifically.  I’m always focused on the call numbers.  Occasionally, I’ll hear about interesting items from my students or curators.  Someone was in recently researching chocolate.  A student paged something from our Special Collections stacks which turned out to be two pieces of Brach’s Huck Finn Chocolate Candy [editor’s note: safely encapsulated in an air-tight housing to prevent pests!]. I’m not sure how old the chocolates were.   Another student, working on a project, found a few books in Special Collections which had hair inside, something that people rarely collect nowadays.  We’ve got some other really cool things from a moon rock (RH MS 167 VLT) to uranium from the Manhattan Project (RG 17/22) to ancient manuscripts and cuneiform tablets (MS Q4). 

As Stacks Manager, you are the expert at locating anything that isn’t where it should be in Spencer’s stacks.  What’s the secret to tracking down such items?
I’ve always been good at finding things.  When I was younger, if my family couldn’t find something, they’d offer me five bucks to find it and I usually could.  Once my dad had hidden all his credit cards before my parents left for an anniversary trip.  I was offered five bucks, my going rate, to find them while they were in Chicago for the weekend.  I spent the weekend searching.  While doing so, I tried to think about what my dad would  have thought would be a ‘good hiding spot.’  I spent hours searching the kitchen, then upstairs to their bedroom, back down to check the dining room, back upstairs to check clothes pockets in their closet, then back down to check the coat closets, my Dad’s desk drawers and cubby hole. I even checked odd places in the basement.

Determined to find them, I began going through my dad’s books–book by book, bookcase by bookcase. I can still remember which book I finally found them in.  After exhausting every nook and cranny of the house, I decided to have my dad follow my search to find the cards himself.  So I sent him on a scavenger hunt throughout the house, leaving clues leading him to each place I had searched.  Finally the last clue used a riddle to lead him to the book where he had hidden the credit cards. They had been in Sombrero Fallout: A Japanese Novel by Richard Brautigan.  I must say, I earned those five bucks.

I enjoy puzzles, solving mysteries, so tracking down something that is misplaced or that others can’t find is fun to me.  I’ve got my own mental checklist of areas to search, starting with where the item should be located and “Meredith’s Mystery Shelving” (a book truck the student assistants put items they don’t know where to reshelve).  Then I move onto other possible places.  With shelving dyslexia (which can occur when a student has been shelving numerous items or is very tired) the call numbers start to get jumbled, so I try to think of various combinations of the call number.  Was it shelved as a manuscript and not a printed book?  Did it get shelved with the photographs instead of the manuscript boxes?  Once, I’ve exhausted my simple searches, I go back to my office to search our wonderful new program, Aeon, which manages paging requests and circulation.  Who was the last person to ask for this item? What else was paged for that person? Could the item be misshelved with those items?  Are there notes in Aeon indicating the item was sent to preservation or processing?

Usually by answering the above questions, I can place my hands on the item or identify its current whereabouts.  Having the new Aeon program has really helped me locate items much faster.

Photograph of Meredith by the Mystery Shelving Truck

Shelving Sleuth:  Meredith tracking down incorrectly shelved items at her Mystery Shelving book truck

What part of your job do you like best?
The thing about my job that I like best is that each day is different.  I have a variety of tasks and projects to accomplish, and I’m able to approach them as best I can given the daily priorities. 

You supervise Spencer’s public services student assistants.  What have you learned from working with them?
Working with students, I’ve learned that kids nowadays are much more advanced electronically than those of us who were born in the 70s and grew up in the 80s. They have always had electronics and computers. Most of the time, I don’t really feel much older than the students, but when it comes to the learning curve of new programs or electronics, I begin to feel old, especially when I realize most of the kids weren’t even alive in the 80s.

What are your favorite pastimes outside of work?
I enjoy spending time outdoors.  Growing up in Michigan, I’ve canoed, hiked, or backpacked along many of the major rivers.  The Manistee area is one of my favorites.

My college degree is in Horticulture, so I love gardening and have worked at an Herb and Flower Farm, a retail greenhouse, and at a landscape maintenance company.  Someday I’d like to have my own farm business.Working at the Herb and Flower Farm, I was able to experiment with floral designs and cultivate skills such as bow making.

If I’m not outside with my dogs getting dirty, I’m inside experimenting in the kitchen.  I’ve been working on various canning recipes, trying to broaden my skills at preserving my harvest or farmer’s market finds.  I enjoy baking homemade bread too.  I dabble with sewing and knitting, usually my wintertime pastime. I enjoy reading, mostly, non-fiction (on the history of food, plants, or other aspects of society), biographies, and novels every so often.

What piece of advice would you offer a researcher walking into Spencer Research Library for the first time?
Don’t be afraid to come in and ask for assistance.  Let us know it’s your first time; we’re happy to explain why we are a closed stacks library.  We’ve got so much cool stuff!!  You’ll have an opportunity to work one-on-one with a librarian, and librarians are wonderful founts of knowledge. 

Meredith Huff
Building Operations and Stacks Manager, Public Services Student Assistant Supervisor