Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

My Life with Lillian: The Year (And Then Some) I Spent Transcribing MS B173

July 14th, 2021

Last July, I mentioned in our ‘Spencer Public Services Working from Home’ blog post that one of my work from home projects was creating transcriptions of some of our handwritten collection materials. Well readers, a year later here is the follow-up on one of those transcriptions – the Lillian North diary – and a bit of the story of how a New York suffragist helped me through the pandemic.

Photograph of the first page of Lillian North’s diary with entries from January 1 and 2, 1915.
The first page of Lillian’s diary with entries from January 1 and 2, 1915. Lillian North Diary. Call Number: MS B173. Click image to enlarge.

Who was Lillian North?

Lillian was born on August 17, 1881, in Stafford, New York, to parents George and Mary Thomas Radley. On September 26, 1906, Lillian married Frank North, a farmer. They were married for fifty-seven years before Frank’s death in October 1963.

Lillian’s diary entries span from January 1, 1915, to May 14, 1917, and detail her day-to-day life as a homemaker and farm wife. Her days were full of activity: cleaning and improving the house, washing and mending clothes, baking bread and pies, canning pickles and strawberries, and churning her prize-winning butter. I can confirm that I was motivated to clean on more than one occasion after working on this transcription; you would be, too, after reading about Lillian cleaning daily while your dishes stared at you from the kitchen sink.

Photograph of the entries in Lillian North's diary from September 21 and 22, 1916.
Entries in Lillian’s diary from September 21 and 22, 1916. She mentions spending the day at the suffrage tent at the fair and her butter being named first premium. Lillian North Diary. Call Number: MS B173. Click image to enlarge.

Outside of her work managing the home and helping on the farm, Lillian attended social engagements and community events almost every week. In her diary she recounts automobile rides and dinners with friends, visiting with her mother and sisters, weekly church, and listening to various speakers and concerts in the area. She frequently attended meetings for the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the Ladies Aid Society, and The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry. She was involved in the women’s suffrage movement as well – attending meetings and talks and even campaigning for the cause. It was her work as a suffragist that initially introduced me to her diary while I was conducting research for other projects related to the centennial anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment.

Photograph of Lillian North's diary entry from October 13, 1915.
Photograph of Lillian North's diary entry from October 13, 1915.
Lillian’s entry from October 13, 1915, highlights a suffrage lecture given by Mrs. Phillip Snowden of London and Mrs. Keating from Colorado. Lillian North Diary. Call Number: MS B173. Click images to enlarge.

Where did this project take me?

Working on this transcription took me on a bit of a journey; I found myself embroiled in some side research projects I was not expecting to do when I started. While the diary provides extensive details about Lillian’s day-to-day life for over two years, there was so much more I wanted to know about her and her family beyond 1917 when the diary ends. I began researching, trying to find whatever I could find based on the information in the diary, our published finding aid, and our records from when the diary was acquired. Eventually, I tracked down obituaries for Lillian, Frank, and Lillian’s mother Mary Radley via

In addition to wanting to know more about Lillian, my curiosity was piqued about some of the acronyms and abbreviations in the diary. What did all of them mean? Several of them I deciphered fairly quickly with the help of some online resources. Others were not so easy to interpret or did not seem to be related to any organizations I could find. By taking clues from the context in which these acronyms appeared and some additional research, I was able to make some guesses about possible meanings, but questions still abound.

All of these side projects did lead somewhere beyond satisfying my own curiosity: The additional information gleaned from the obituaries allowed us to update the biographical information in our online finding aid – providing a more accurate picture of Lillian’s life and family. We also added the list of possible meanings for the acronyms and abbreviations in hopes that this would help future researchers who are interested in the diary and Lillian’s many activities and organizations.

Photograph of Lillian North’s obituary in the Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), December 19, 1963.
Lillian North’s obituary in the Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), December 19, 1963. Courtesy Click image to enlarge.

Why did it take over a year to transcribe one item?

Now, I know many of you are probably wondering how I am just now finishing the transcription of Lillian’s diary – a full year after that initial blog post. After all, this is not the first item I have transcribed so this should be a faster process, right? Well, here are a few details to consider:

It’s a long story: Lillian’s diary is not quite like the other items the staff at Spencer have transcribed. We typically focus on transcribing shorter documents, primarily letters. Lillian wrote daily in her diary for over two years; there are over 700 entries and roughly 200 pages to transcribe. It was only because of the pandemic and working from home that I even had time to take on a transcription project of this scope. No matter how fast I worked, this was going to be a long project.

Handwritten = hard: Reading someone’s handwriting can be a challenge (how many of us frequently wonder if our doctors are writing actual words on those prescription pads?). Add in factors like age, access, and series of acronyms and abbreviations and, suddenly, handwriting can become practically indecipherable. You have to learn to look for patterns in how someone shapes their letters and rely on context clues frequently – a process that takes time to do.

Photograph of entries in Lillian North's diary from June 23, 25, and 27, 1916.
Entries in Lillian’s diary from June 23, 25, and 27, 1916. These more crowded pages show some of the reading difficulties associated with this transcription, including Lillian’s use of abbreviations. Lillian North Diary. Call Number: MS B173. Click image to enlarge.

There is only one of me: Working on transcriptions was only one of my work from home projects during the pandemic. I was also revising training documents, updating instruction plans, participating in professional development opportunities, and conducting research and creating content for other projects, most notably other blog posts and an online exhibit – to name a few things. Some of these activities had scheduled times and due dates; creating a transcription for general use did not so it was the project to fill hours and provide breaks instead of the top priority.

Opening up: Spencer Research Library re-opened at the beginning of the school year in August! With the re-opening came an end to my full-time work from home status. I was back in the building several days a week and helping with paging, shelving, reference, and instruction. Even though I was still working from home some days, my focus shifted to other projects that supported what was happening onsite. Again, a transcription without any specific deadline was moved to the back burner more often than not.

Saying good-bye: The world turned upside down in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic brought unimaginable stress, trauma, and heartbreak to so many. In the last year and half many lost their lives, their livelihood, and their loved ones. I recognize that I am incredibly fortunate that I was able to continue working and that my family and friends were largely spared from any serious health issues related to COVID-19. However, that does not mean 2020 was without difficulties for me – particularly related to mental and emotional health.

I live by myself in a one-bedroom apartment. Honestly, I am quite the homebody and pretty introverted so prolonged periods of time in my own space and on my own are welcome. But despite my introverted tendencies, I also have people I enjoy seeing and spending time with regularly – family, friends, colleagues. And then poof! I really could not see anyone, especially not frequently, for quite some time. That gets lonely after a while and I could feel the effects. All of this was on top of the anxiety I was feeling about work and school and life in general during the pandemic.

During that time Lillian’s diary became a distraction from the uncertainty and isolation I was experiencing. After reading increasingly grim outlooks on public health, I could turn to this diary and read about Lillian taking the family horse to get re-shoed or working on a sewing project with a friend. Reading and transcribing Lillian’s diary was like talking with one of my friends about their week when our lives were not consumed by COVID-19; it was a welcome break. As time went on and I became more invested in Lillian’s life, I began to procrastinate on this project – prolonging the point when I would finish the transcription and lose this source of comfort at a time when I really needed it.

Photograph of the last page of Lillian North’s diary, 1917.
The last page of Lillian’s diary, written on the inside of the back cover. Lillian North Diary. Call Number: MS B173. Click image to enlarge.

At the end of Lillian’s diary, she ran out of pages and began writing on the inside of the cover. Why? The reason is likely pretty practical – to save money, to use up all the available space, etc. – but the appearance gives the sense that she was trying to put off saying good-bye to this little book for as long as possible. It is a feeling I am all too familiar with as I reach the end of this project and, more importantly, my life with Lillian.

Emily Beran
Public Services

Fields of Gold

June 15th, 2021

Summer has arrived and with it one of the busiest times of the year for Kansas farmers: wheat harvest!

Kansas is the leading state in the nation for winter wheat – wheat planted in the fall and harvested in the summer – with seven to eight million acres planted and hundreds of millions of bushels produced each year.

With the start of harvest fast approaching, please enjoy these photos of the wheat harvests of the past!

Black-and-white photograph of Men and horse-drawn harvesting machinery in a wheat field.
Harvesting wheat in Kansas, 1913. Photograph by L. M. Ulmer, Abbyville, Kansas. Call Number: RH PH P2603. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).
Black-and-white photograph of Men and horse-drawn harvesting machinery in a wheat field.
Harvesting wheat in Kansas, 1914. Photograph by L. M. Ulmer, Abbyville, Kansas. The back of the postcard says this: “Much wheat is harvested in Kansas, with a header cutting 10 or 12 feet. The header is pushed into the grain by six or eight horses, a sickle clipping the heads and a rolling canvas elevating them into a headerbarge drawn alongside, and in it conveyed to stacks in convenient places, to be threshed later.” Call Number: RH PH P2606. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).
Black-and-white photograph of Men and horse-drawn harvesting machinery in a wheat field.
Harvesting wheat in Thomas County, Kansas, 1907-1910. Call Number: RH PH P1130.2. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Emily Beran
Public Services

For the Birds: Color Our Collections – Round 4!

February 2nd, 2021

A little bird told us that the fifth-annual Color Our Collections week has arrived! Started by the New York Academy of Medicine Library in 2016, Color Our Collections is a week of coloring fun where libraries, archives, and other cultural institutions around the world share coloring pages featuring their collection materials.

We are happy as larks to share KU Libraries’ fourth coloring creation – and it is definitely one “for the birds” this year! Featuring artwork from the John Gould Ornithological Collection at the Spencer Research Library, our newest coloring book is full of birds from around the world; the images are all pre-publication illustrations related to three of John Gould’s books: A Monograph of the Trochilidae, Birds of Asia, and The Birds of Great Britain.

You can download and print a PDF copy of the coloring book via the Color Our Collections website. While you are there, be sure to check out the submissions from our birds of a feather at other institutions! As a preview, here are three pages from the book. Click on the images to enlarge them.

Are you a fan of the collections at Spencer? Has your eagle eye ever come across an image in our materials that would make a great coloring page? Tell us about it in the comments or email us at!  

We hope that this coloring fun will help you feel free as a bird even when you cannot fly the coop during the pandemic! Happy coloring, everyone!

Emily Beran
Color Our Collections

“I Cannot and Will Not Recant Anything…”

January 13th, 2021

“ …for to go against conscience is nether right nor safe.”

Martin Luther, Diet of Worms, April 18, 1521

Five hundred years ago, on January 3, 1521, the Catholic Church excommunicated Martin Luther, a German priest and professor of theology, due to the ideas expressed in his Ninety-five Theses (1517) and the content of some of his subsequent writings. While considered an outlaw in many regions of Europe after his excommunication, Luther’s beliefs served as a primary catalyst for the Protestant Reformation.

Original copies of some of Luther’s works can be viewed at Kenneth Spencer Research Library today. Two of the earliest are Von Kauffshandlung und Wucher (On Commerce and Usury) and Warnunge (Warnings), published in 1524 and 1531, respectively.

Image of the title page of Von Kaufshandlung und Wucher by Martin Luther, 1524
Title page of Von Kauffshandlung und Wucher by Martin Luther, 1524. Call Number: Summerfield B1360. Click image to enlarge.
Image of the title page of Warnunge by Martin Luther, 1531
Title page of Warnunge by Martin Luther, 1531. Call Number: Summerfield B1359. Click image to enlarge.

Both items are written in German and feature elaborate title pages with decorative woodcut borders. Warnunge also shows evidence of annotation throughout – including the use of a manicule, or a “little hand” to highlight aspects of the text.

Image of two annotated pages of text in Warnunge by Martin Luther, 1531
Two annotated pages of text in Warnunge by Martin Luther, 1531. Note the use of a manicule – or a “little hand” to highlight aspects of the text – in the upper left-hand corner. Call Number: Summerfield B1359. Click image to enlarge.

Beyond these featured items, Spencer’s collections include a sizable number of materials related to the people and conflicts associated with the Protestant Reformation. While many of the library’s items are not printed in English, the value of these holdings is in their connection to this chaotic time in history and how the Reformation shaped the future of Europe and Christianity. Items include additional published writings by Martin Luther as well as writings and sermons in defense of both Protestantism and Catholicism.

Emily Beran
Public Services

Banned Books Week 2020: Index Librorum Prohibitorum

September 22nd, 2020

Since the 1980s, librarians and readers have marked the last week in September as Banned Books Week – an effort to bring attention to banned or challenged books, celebrate the freedom to read, and promote discussions about the problem of censorship. While Banned Books Week has only been around since the late 20th century, the attitudes and actions that sparked the week’s inception are far from new. For centuries, people have sought to limit access to materials they deemed problematic.

In honor of Banned Books Week (this year September 27-October 3), I wanted to highlight a centuries-old list of banned books: the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (List of Prohibited Books). The Index Librorum Prohibitorum was a list of banned titles and authors published by the Catholic Church, starting in the 16th century. Here at Spencer Research Library, we have several early editions of the Index Librorum Prohibitorum.

The cover of the Index librorum prohibitorum, 1564
The title page of the Index librorum prohibitorum, 1564
The cover (top) and title page (bottom) of the Index librorum prohibitorum, 1564. Call Number: Summerfield B1548. Click images to enlarge.
The cover of the Index librorum prohibitorum, 1596
The title page of the Index librorum prohibitorum, 1596
The cover (top) and title page (bottom) of the Index librorum prohibitorum, 1596. Call Number: Summerfield A793. Click images to enlarge.

Works included on the list were considered heretical or immoral by the Church with additions and changes continually being added throughout the years. The final edition of the Index Librorum Prohibitorum was published in 1948; Pope Paul VI abolished the list entirely in 1966.

The Index included works by a variety of philosophers, scientists, and authors. Some notable people who appeared on the list (and whose work can be found at Spencer Research Library) include:

As times and ideas changed, titles and authors could also be removed from the list as they were no longer considered inappropriate by the Church. This was the case for Dante Alighieri, Nicolaus Copernicus, and Victor Hugo – all of whom were included on the list for a time.

Happy reading, everyone!

Emily Beran
Public Services