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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.

Architecture and the (Digital) Archives

September 25th, 2023

I was first introduced to Kenneth Spencer Research Library through my First-Year Seminar. While I thought it was a cool place, and certainly had a unique variety of materials that could keep me entertained for days, I didn’t think I would ever use it.

I started working at the library a little less than a year later, and I began to see even more of the vast selection of intriguing materials that the library hosts. One day I was working on boxing up some recycling when I came across a little souvenir booklet that had illustrations of various buildings on campus. Since it was in the recycling pile, I was allowed to keep it, and the pictures fascinated me. [Spencer librarians sometimes weed duplicates from the collection. That was the case here; the library’s copy of Miniatures of Lawrence, Kan. can be found in University Archives. The call number is RG 0/24/G 1904 photographs.]

Title and embellishments in gold against a black background.
The front cover of Miniatures of Lawrence, Kan., 1904. Photo by Corrie Bolton. Click image to enlarge.
This image has text. Publication information in gold against a black background.
The back cover of Miniatures of Lawrence, Kan., 1904. Photo by Corrie Bolton. Click image to enlarge.

Fast forward four months when my Theory of Urban Design class assigned a project titled “Now and Then.” As you might expect, the project wanted us to look at how one place had changed over the past 20 years. It was relatively simple; we just had to find an old photograph of a building/urbanized area of Lawrence, recreate it, and write a description of the differences between the photographs.

A few days before this had been assigned, I was walking behind Spooner Hall and found the remains of an old fountain. Thinking it looked cool, I snapped a photo. That fountain got me wondering about the history of the building, and this project gave me the perfect opportunity to explore it.

A fountainhead of an animal on a brick wall covered in ivy.
The fountain behind Weaver Courtyard, on the South side of Spooner Hall. Photo by Corrie Bolton. Click image to enlarge.
Color photograph of Spooner Hall.
Spooner Hall from Jayhawk Boulevard. Photo by Corrie Bolton. Click image to enlarge.

In my little book of miniatures there were two images depicting Spooner Hall.

Black-and-white oval photograph of Spooner Hall.
“Library No. 1” (Spooner Hall) in Miniatures of Lawrence, Kan., 1904. Photo by Corrie Bolton. Click image to enlarge.
Black-and-white oval photograph of Old Blake and Old Fraser halls.
View of the KU campus from the library in Miniatures of Lawrence, Kan., 1904. This photo was taken from Spooner Hall’s front porch, looking slightly to the left. On the right is Old Fraser Hall, which was located where the modern Fraser currently stands. Old Blake Hall is on the left. Photo by Corrie Bolton. Click image to enlarge.

Originally, I was just going to recreate one of those, but just in case I went online to see what other old pictures I could find. One of the first images I came across was from a Spencer blog post that depicted children sledding down the hill behind Spooner. From there I discovered dozens of other images in the University Archives Photographs digital archives that I wanted to incorporate into my project. It quickly turned from a two-page assignment into a ten-page booklet about the history of Spooner Hall.

Black-and-white photograph of children sledding down a tree-lined sidewalk behind two buildings.
A snow scene with Spooner Library, the old chancellor’s residence, and children on a sled, 1900s. University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 0/24/1 Snow 1900s Prints: Campus: Areas and Objects (Photos). Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).
Colored sketch of the front of Spooner Hall.
A sketch of Spooner Hall by Corrie Bolton. Click image to enlarge.

This project gave me a unique opportunity to explore campus’s past through what I now consider one of the coolest places on campus. If you ever find yourself feeling stuck on a project, come to the library; there is a lot to explore!

Corrie Bolton
Public Services student assistant