Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Meet the KSRL Staff: Shelby Schellenger

January 7th, 2020

Today’s profile features Shelby Schellenger, who joined Spencer Research Library 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

Meet the KSRL Staff: N. Kıvılcım Yavuz

October 22nd, 2019

Today’s profile features N. Kıvılcım Yavuz, who joined the Spencer Research Library in September as Ann Hyde Postdoctoral Researcher.

Photograph of N. Kivilcim Yavuz in the Kenneth Spencer Research Library's Reading Room with MS E71 (a manuscript copy of Vergil's Aeneid, Italy, circa the early 1400s)

N. Kıvılcım Yavuz in Spencer Research Library’s Reading Room with MS E71.

Where are you from?

I was born in Turkey and grew up there, but I spent the past eight years in the United Kingdom and Denmark, doing a PhD in Medieval Studies and working at the Universities of Leeds and Copenhagen before moving to Lawrence, KS and starting work at the Spencer Research Library this past September.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

I am the first Ann Hyde Postdoctoral Researcher of the Spencer Research Library. The position was created thanks to an endowment by Alexandra Mason, former Spencer Librarian, in honor of Ann Hyde, former Manuscripts Librarian at Spencer who specialized in medieval manuscripts. I work with the two Special Collections librarians Elspeth Healey and Karen Cook and my job entails making medieval and early modern manuscripts more accessible to the wider scholarly community and the public by conducting research and creating detailed catalog records as well as enhancing the visibility of the excellent special collections we have here, especially through digital means, social media and other outreach activities.

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

My background is in Comparative Literature and I have always been interested in the concept of rewriting and repurposing of old stories in new contexts. I discovered the world of manuscripts during my master’s in Medieval Studies at the University of Leeds and did my thesis on two fifteenth-century historical roll manuscripts. It was an amazing experience to work on manuscripts that hardly anyone had looked at in the last century. My work with manuscripts continued with my PhD studies, also at Leeds. It was then that I came to understand even more fully the central importance of the material context of the text, and that every time a text is copied it became a new work. It was impressed on me that when looking at handwritten materials we need to change our modern expectations about a text being fixed and having a fixed meaning. Only in this way can we appreciate the scribal practices and the mindset of the medieval and early modern scribes and compilers. During visits to manuscript archives such as the National Library of France and the Vatican Library, I developed a deep appreciation not only about manuscripts themselves but also about collection development and conservation practices. I became more and more interested in how manuscripts were put together and used over time and how they travelled from one place to the other, changing hands across centuries. I also noticed how difficult it is to access information about manuscripts, because catalog information was incomplete or inaccurate, was stored in different places, or had not been recorded at all. Since I completed my doctoral studies, I have been conducting research exclusively on manuscripts in special collections and archives in Europe and most of this work is geared towards making these manuscripts better known and more accessible. I am so happy now that I have the opportunity to work at a US institution, because the ways in which European manuscripts travelled across the ocean and the people involved in their travels are an interesting research area in itself and we do not know enough about it.

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

The medieval and early modern manuscripts at Spencer as a whole are exceptionally interesting as they reflect the collection building efforts by the former librarians of the University of Kansas, especially during the middle decades of the last century. My specialty is in the reception of the Trojan War in the Middle Ages and I am especially interested in the history of the book, so if I had to pick one item, I would have to go with MS E71, which contains an incomplete copy of Vergil’s Aeneid.

A poem about the story of Aeneas, a Trojan who travelled to Italy after the fall of Troy and who is considered to be the ancestor of the Romans, Vergil’s Aeneid was probably the most read and most consulted classical work throughout the Middle Ages and beyond. This means that we still have surviving copies of this work by the hundreds if not the thousands. Until recently, most scholarly research was focused on early copies of texts, so this manuscript, which contains a copy from the beginning of the fifteenth century of a text that was written in the first century BCE, would not have been considered significant. What is more is that it is defective so it does not even contain the entirety of the text! But the state of the manuscript as we have it reflects a rich history of reading, writing and ownership in the past five hundred years. Its pages are full of annotations by different hands which reflect the interests of the readers and users of this handwritten book at particular points in time.

The history of the manuscript, which probably originates from Italy, is also significant. MS E71 is part of a larger gift from Robert T. Aitchison (1887-1964), along with 42 printed editions of Vergil’s works. A native Kansan, Aitchison was an artist and a book collector, and served as the president and director of the Kansas Historical Society among other things. Formerly, the manuscript belonged to Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792–1872), who owned the largest collection of handwritten material in the nineteenth century and who is recorded to have said that he wanted to own one of every book in the world. This is all to say that there are great things to discover and sometimes, the real gems are not the shiniest ones.

Bookplate of Robert T. Aitchison in the middle of the front pastedown of MS E71 (a manuscript copy of Vergil's Aeneid). The ticket of the binder, George Bretherton, is also visible on the top left corner indicating that the current binding had been done for Sir Thomas Phillipps in 1847. Sir Thomas Phillipps’s handwritten note on the recto of the first leaf of this manuscript copy of Vergil's Aeneid,MS E71 (“Phillipps MS 12281”) along with other annotations on the text by different previous hands.

Image 1 Bookplate of Robert T. Aitchison in the middle of the front pastedown of MS E71 (a manuscript copy of Vergil’s Aeneid. Italy, early 1400s). The ticket of the binder, George Bretherton, is also visible on the top left corner indicating that the current binding had been done for Sir Thomas Phillipps in 1847. Click image to enlarge.

Image 2 Sir Thomas Phillipps’s handwritten note on the recto of the first leaf of MS E71 (“Phillipps MS 12281”) along with other annotations on the text by different previous hands. Click image to enlarge.

What part of your job do you like best?

I enjoy discovering new, previously unnoticed things in manuscripts. In the past decades the interest in manuscripts solely as carrier of texts has shifted. We now know that there is more to discover when looking at handwritten artifacts: what is it made of, how was it made, what kind of processes it went through, what kind of materials was used, where did the materials come from, who was involved in the making, who was it made for, how much did it cost, what was the purpose of it, who read it over the years, who owned it until it became part of its current collection and so on. So much to discover that makes manuscripts into living creatures and not merely the carriers of texts!

What are some of your favorite pastimes outside of work?

I love cooking and gardening. I also like visiting new places and meeting new people, even though I find the airline travel tedious. Every year, I try to go to a place I have never been before; often this involves a visit to a new library. For example, last year I taught at a summer school in Reykjavik (Iceland) and consulted manuscripts in Milan (Italy) and Stuttgart (Germany) and earlier this year I vacationed in Marrakesh (Morocco) and taught a class and looked at manuscripts at the University Library in Leipzig (Germany).

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

Just remember that we are here to help. Do not hesitate to ask questions. If you are working on primary sources, let the manuscripts guide your research. Keep an open mind and you never know what unexpected thing you will find!

N. Kıvılcım Yavuz
Ann Hyde Postdoctoral Researcher

Meet the KSRL Staff: Elspeth Healey

July 23rd, 2019

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 Elspeth Healey, who joined the Spencer Research Library in 2011 as a special collections librarian. 

Where are you from?
I was born in the U.S., but I grew up in Toronto, Canada. From time to time, I’ll have a student come up to me after a class session and say “where are you from?” I have lived in the U. S. since college–so more than half of my life–but sometimes that Canadian accent still shines through!

Elspeth Healey in Spencer Library's North Gallery

Elspeth Healey, Special Collections Librarian, in Spencer Research Library’s North Gallery. Click image to enlarge.

What does your job at Spencer entail?
With my colleague Karen Cook, I am one of two special collections librarians. My curatorial responsibilities include materials for the Americas, including Latin America, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. In addition to building Spencer’s collections by working with donors and booksellers, I collaborate with cataloging and conservation to make the library’s collections accessible, lead instruction sessions, engage in outreach (through events, blog posts, exhibitions, etc.), answer reference queries for researchers on and off site, and contribute to digital projects.

How did you come to work in special collections and archives?
As an undergraduate, I had worked in the preservation department of my university’s special collections library, making mylar wrappers, drop-spine boxes, and other protective enclosures. I was fascinated by the variety of books that would come across my work bench, from 20th century poetry and plays to 18th century mathematical treatises. Later, as I was researching my dissertation in English literature, I came to realize that the moments that excited me most were those spent conducting archival research. I was energized not only by the materials I examined that related to my specific project, but I also enjoyed encountering materials that related to the projects of friends and colleagues and would alert them to those materials. That is what this job is at its heart: helping to connect researchers (of all types) with the materials that have the potential to advance and transform their understanding of a particular question or subject. I applied to library school as I was finishing my dissertation, and attended a program where I had the opportunity to work 20-hours a week in a special collections library while taking the coursework for my MSIS (Master of Science in Information Studies) degree. I always advise those who want to enter the field that gaining hands-on experience working in a special collections library and archives is one of the most important things you can do in library school: it is what will help you secure a job following graduation, and it is what will enable you to determine if this is really what you want to do as a profession.

What is the strangest item you’ve come across in Spencer’s Collections?
There are so many strange and interesting things in Spencer’s collections. We have a three volume scrapbook containing rare ephemera for Astley’s Amphitheatre, which opened in London in the late 18th-century and was originally known for its equestrian spectacles and show riding. As it developed, it incorporated circus-type features alongside other types of performance, so it is often recognized as London’s first circus. The posters, flyers, clippings, and ephemera in the scrapbooks offer a fascinating record of its history, and we hope to feature them at greater length in a future blog post. Other unusual items that pop to mind include 1930s form rejection letters from a science fiction pulp magazine, early Don Quixote fan fiction, and locks of hair (a favorite 19th century keepsake). I love that each day I might come across some new intriguing item that I can then share with others.

Scrapbook page containing flyer for "The Amazing Exhibition of the little Conjuring Horse," Astley's New Entertainments.   Scrapbook page containing "Ducrow's First Appearance this Season" with picture of a man with one foot on the back of each of two horses, April 1831. Astley's Royal Amphitheatre

Image of scrapbook page containing a poster for Astley's Royal Amphitheatre, advertising a Grand Equestrian evening and events featuring Pablo Fanque, Young Hernandez, etc.  Poster for "Astley's on Thursday, November 6, 1845 ...Gala Night," with pictures of show riding along the exterior of the poster in Astley's Amphitheatre scrapbook, volume 3, p. 237

Posterbills for Astley’s performances and Astley’s Amphitheatre in Astley’s Amphitheatre scrapbooks. Posters shown are circa 1775-1847. Call Number: G126, volumes 1-3. Click on images to enlarge (it’s worth it!)

What part of your job do you like best?
See above! I relish connecting researchers–whether students, scholars, or members of the public–with materials that will open up new perspectives and avenues of inquiry.

What are your favorite pastimes outside of work?
The usual things like reading, walking, movies, and travel, but I also love tracking down some of my favorite Canadian delicacies whenever I can: Nanaimo bars, butter tarts, poutine, and candy bars like Eat-more and Coffee Crisp. I’m still waiting for the day when they open a Tim Horton’s in Kansas… Lawrence certainly has much better (and less corporate) coffee and pastries, but some things just remind you of your youth…

What piece of advice would you offer a researcher walking into Spencer Research Library for the first time?
Not everything is in the online catalog. We aspire to get it all there one day, but every special collections library holds materials that haven’t quite made it into the catalog yet for one reason or another. Accordingly it’s always worth speaking to the librarian who oversees the subject area in which you are conducting research to see if there might be materials you that have missed.

The other piece of advice is to enjoy the research process. Sometimes the thing that you came to the library to examine won’t end up being the thing that really captures your intellect and imagination. Instead, it will be a folder of letters you might come across in the box next to the manuscript you were seeking to examine. This unanticipated discovery may lead your project in a new direction. Embrace the serendipity that archival research permits!

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

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