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: Adrienne Sanders

May 21st, 2024

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 Adrienne Sanders, who joined Spencer Research Library in September 2023 as a Rare Materials Cataloging Librarian.

Photograph of a woman standing in front of a wooden bookshelf. She is holding a book about Robert Burns.
Rare Materials Cataloging Librarian Adrienne Sanders. Click image to enlarge.

Where are you from?

I’ve lived in Lawrence for over 25 years, so I think I’m from here now. I grew up in various places around the greater Kansas City area and went to college in Southern California, then came to Lawrence after getting my undergraduate degree in linguistics. I like it here so I stayed.

How did you come to work at Spencer Research Library?

I didn’t set out to specifically work with rare materials. I worked in Watson Library at KU as a cataloging staff member for many years, and then at Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library for several years. Both positions had me working with rare materials some of the time. I worked with Latin American materials from Spencer’s Griffith collection at KU and with local history materials in Topeka. This position combines my cataloging and rare materials experience, although I’m still learning more all the time.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

Cataloging, in a nutshell, is creating the description of library materials that goes into an online catalog or database, so users can find out what we have. I describe the item physically, and I also assign subject headings that say what the work is about and call numbers that tell where the item is located in the stacks. There are multiple sets of rules that tell me how to compose and structure a bibliographic record, as well as conservation guidelines we follow to physically protect the materials. All of this is so when people search our catalog, they get results that (hopefully) show them what they want and how to access it through the library.

What part of your job do you like best?

I love learning a little bit about lots of things, and this job is perfect for that. Most materials come to me in batches of similar things that were donated or purchased together and are similar in topic or genre. I have to quickly learn what they’re about in order to describe them. It could be anything from 100 books about flying saucers to a dozen zines about political protests in Hong Kong. It keeps me from ever getting bored!

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

One of the most interesting items I’ve worked with is also one of the oldest items. It’s a document created in Spain in 1570, called a carta executiva de hidalguía (or ejecutiva in modern spelling). These cartas were created to commemorate successfully petitioning the king to become nobility. (One of the benefits of being nobility was not having to pay taxes.) It’s written in gothic script and has a couple of pages of fantastic painted illustration. It turned out to be harder to read than I’d predicted, as I quickly learned that particular type of gothic script didn’t use punctuation marks or spaces between the words. The majority of materials I work with are from the 20th century, so this was both a challenge and a treat to catalog.

Colorful illuminated manuscript page with a block of text in the middle, and illustration of Mary and baby Jesus in the upper left corner, and a large family crest at the bottom.
A page from the Carta executoria de hidalguía de Lazaro de Adarve, 1570. Call Number: MS E289. Click image to enlarge.

What are some of your favorite pastimes outside of work?

I’ve been knitting for many years, and it’s my favorite, but I will dabble in just about any craft involving yarn, fiber, or fabric. I’ve done a little crochet, embroidery, cross stitch, spinning (making yarn on a spindle), yarn dyeing, quilting, sewing, macrame, and probably more I’m forgetting. In stereotypical librarian fashion, I read a lot/listen to audiobooks, mostly literary fiction and science fiction. I also enjoy going to museums and historical sites, especially when traveling to places that are new to me.

Adrienne Sanders
Rare Materials Cataloging Librarian

The Seven Year Itch; or, A Sabbatical in Search of a Bibliographer

August 2nd, 2023

A séance with L.E. James (Jim) Helyar, our late fellow librarian, and bibliographer of KU’s foundational Ralph N. Ellis collection of ornithology, is in order.

In our recent attempts to catalog mysterious heretofore unidentified bibliographical puzzlements in our Ellis collection backlog, we nailed the identity of a royal folio without a title page that had stymied Jim: he knew it was related to Alexander Wilson’s American Ornithology, but not how. Even though Jim was closer to solving this who-done-it than he knew, he wrote in notes left behind that “I don’t immediately see anything under Wilson or Bonaparte which corresponds.” “I suspect it’s something that ‘every [ornithological bibliographical] schoolboy knows’, but not me.”

Apparently, Jim was thrown off by the “Wilson/Bonaparte, American Ornithology” notes written at the bottom of the vulture plate shown below, so in fact who-done-it was not exactly who Jim thunk done-it. This messy (both physically and bibliographically) volume turned out to be an imperfect variant of one of our exceedingly rare ornithological tomes: the royal folio edition of Scottish naturalist Captain Thomas Brown’s Illustrations of the American Ornithology of Alexander Wilson and Charles Lucien Bonaparte, published in Edinburgh in 1835 (Call Number: Ellis Aves H76). This volume was created as an atlas to accompany a much earlier text, Alexander Wilson’s American Ornithology, first issued in Philadelphia between 1808 and 1814. In his notes Jim mentions Thomas Brown only as one of the artists credited for the “Wilson derived illustrations.”

Color illustration of a vulture standing on grass with mountains in the background.
A plate in Thomas Brown’s Illustrations of the American Ornithology of Alexander Wilson and Charles Lucien Bonaparte, Prince of Musignano. With the addition of numerous recently discovered species, and representations of the whole sylva of North America superbly illustrated with 124 large copper plates engraved by Lizars, Scott, Mitchell and others all beautifully colored by hand. Edinburgh: Frazer & Co., 1835. Call Number: Ellis Aves H161. Click image to enlarge.
This image has handwritten text.
Close-up view of the handwritten note at the bottom of the vulture plate in Thomas Brown’s Illustrations. It reads “Wilson, A, & C. L. Bonaparte. American Ornithology. 4 vols. See VIII 90.” Call Number: Ellis Aves H161. Click image to enlarge.

I have created a small exhibition of the two copies, plus my start on what could be an arduous time-taking continent- and/or world-crossing project, to complete a census, not altogether do-able, ideally, entirely on-line or by phone. I was tempted at first to try the on-line and phone route, but same as with Jim perhaps … oh, the press of time …

The exhibit is free and open to the public in the North Gallery through September 16.

Sally Haines
Special Collections Cataloger