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.

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

Women’s Suffrage: The Lighter Side

September 2nd, 2020

When we talk about the history of the women’s suffrage movement, the narrative is often quite serious in terms of focus and tone. We read the rhetoric and arguments for and against suffrage; we learn about the struggles faced – mockery, ostracism, even imprisonment. But in the midst of all this seriousness existed publications and ephemera full of sass, humor, and wit! 

Featured in our new online exhibit, Women’s Suffrage: The Lighter Side, is a selection of items from our collections that show the lighter side of the women’s suffrage movement. Published several years before the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, these items include satirical essays and poems, popular song parodies, and nursery rhyme re-imaginings.

The cover of the book Are Women People? A Book of Rhymes for Suffrage Times, 1915
The cover of Are Women People? A Book of Rhymes for Suffrage Times by Alice Duer Miller (1915). Call Number: Howey C6148. Click image to enlarge.

Published in 1915, Are Women People? A Book of Rhymes for Suffrage Times features satirical poems and other humorous writings by Alice Duer Miller to promote the women’s suffrage movement. Many of the poems were originally published individually in The New York Tribune before their publication together in this book. The material in the book is divided into five categories: Treacherous Texts, Campaign Material (For Both Sides), Women’s Sphere, A Masque of Teachers: The Ideal Candidates, and The Unconscious Suffragists.

The cover of the book The Suffrage Song Book: Original Songs, Parodies and Paraphrases, Adapted to Popular Melodies, 1909
The cover of The Suffrage Song Book: Original Songs, Parodies and Paraphrases, Adapted to Popular Melodies by Henry W. Roby (1909). Call Number: KAC B29. Click image to enlarge.

A publication from Topeka, Kansas, The Suffrage Song Book: Original Songs, Parodies and Paraphrases, Adapted to Popular Melodies was created by Henry W. Roby and published in 1909. By taking the ideals of the women’s suffrage movement and setting them to the music of a variety of popular songs, Roby’s parodies are not only informative but catchy examples of some of the messaging used in the fight for women’s rights.

The cover of the book The Gee-Gee’s Mother Goose, 1912
The cover of The Gee-Gee’s Mother Goose by Lilla Day Monroe (1912). Call Number: KAC C2. Click image to enlarge.

Another Kansas publication, The Gee-Gee’s Mother Goose by Lilla Day Monroe, is a collection of common nursery rhymes but re-written to incorporate pro-suffrage messages and ideas. For added interest in this 1912 publication, the rhymes are accompanied by related illustrations including scenes from “Three Blind Mice” and “Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater.”

Emily Beran
Public Services

Spencer Public Services Working from Home

July 14th, 2020

Spencer Research Library has been closed since March due to the coronavirus, with in-person services unavailable and staff members working from home with little or no access to physical collection materials. So, what do librarians in a unit with “public” in it’s title do when the building is closed to the public? The answer is to continue serving patrons remotely as best as we can while working on myriad behind-the-scenes projects that will hopefully benefit users long after the current pandemic.

Even though we have not been able to interact with our library patrons face-to-face for several months, our underlying purpose remains the same: providing high-quality services that encourage and welcome users to engage with Spencer librarians and collections in ways they find interesting, exciting, thought-provoking, and meaningful.

Read on to see what each member of the Public Services team has been working on from home.

Caitlin Donnelly Klepper, Head of Public Services

What have you been working on?

Since March, I have taken over the daily monitoring of Spencer’s reference email account (, answering some research queries and forwarding others to colleagues. Like my coworkers, I’ve also attended a good number of KU, KU Libraries, and Spencer Research Library meetings, town halls, and virtual updates. While some are new since covid-19, most others are Zoom and phone versions of the in-person meetings I would normally attend.

My other projects have included cleaning up statistics and corresponding reports, updating the Spencer website, catching up on a backlog of professional reading, and clearing out my email inbox. I’ve also attended many webinars and other online professional development opportunities. This month, much of my focus has shifted toward working with colleagues to develop plans for reopening Spencer’s Reading Room and providing instruction this fall.

Why is this work important to the library?

Much of my work at home has directly or indirectly helped maintain some of Spencer’s core operations; other projects have contributed to new initiatives at the Libraries and improved my personal ability to better serve our users.

What will you miss about working from home when we return to Spencer?

My husband and I purchased our first home in early March, and despite the current circumstances I’ve appreciated getting to spend so much time enjoying our new space. I’ll miss things being able to do things like eating at my desk and taking periodic breaks throughout the day to tackle some housework or walk on the treadmill.

Photograph of the view from Caitlin's home workspace
The view from Caitlin’s home workspace. Click image to enlarge.

Meredith Phares, Spencer Research Library Operations Manager

What have you been working on?

I have been working on a legacy project of our individual photo collections in the Kansas Collection. There are roughly 2,500 images that do not have a finding aid or catalog record. Patrons can only access these photos by reviewing a three-inch three-ring binder full of dividers and charts that is located in our Reading Room. I’ve been entering the details about these images into our ArchivesSpace database; from there, Manuscripts Coordinator Marcella Huggard and her team can take the information and create finding aids and catalog records. 

When I have had enough of data entry, I have been working on a training manual for our Public Services student assistants, along with data cleanup in our Aeon system, which tracks the circulation of Spencer materials. 

Since late April, I have been able to work in Spencer a couple of hours each week. I have kept up on my temperature and relative humidity monitoring of the stacks and have been able to get some stacks projects accomplished.

Why is this work important to the library?

Entering our individual photo collections into ArchivesSpace gets us a step closer to having our photograph collections more accessible. Data cleanup in Aeon allows me to be sure everything has been re-shelved correctly after it’s been used by researchers and staff members. Regular monitoring of our stacks environment is essential for the safety and preservation of our collections.

What will you miss about working from home when we return to Spencer?

I commute from Topeka, so I will miss the quick commute to my living room, the flexible work schedule, and spending time with my newly-adopted dog Edgar. He has been my companion and entertainment since March. 

Photograph of Meredith with her dog Edgar
Meredith with her dog Edgar. Click image to enlarge.

Emily Beran, Library Assistant

What have you been working on?

While Spencer Research Library has been closed, I have had the opportunity to work on projects that I normally would not have time to do. One of the most notable ones has been creating transcriptions for some materials in our manuscript collections. Transcriptions are typed copies of handwritten documents. Currently, my favorite transcription I am working on is for the diary of New York suffragist Lillian North. The diary covers her daily life from 1915 into 1917; it not only provides great insight into her involvement in the women’s suffrage movement but also gives readers such a fun look at her life and what she considered important.

Why is this work important to the library?

While our manuscript collections are invaluable sources of information, some of them can be hard for researchers to read and work with because the documents are handwritten. Transcriptions provide a more readable version of these handwritten documents, making the information more accessible for researchers. Additionally, by having transcriptions, we can utilize these documents for more activities (classes, tours, etc.) where being able to read something quickly is necessary because time is limited.

What will you miss about working from home when we return to Spencer?

I am not a morning person so the ability to sleep in and start working later in the day has been great for me. Also, the schedule flexibility really has allowed me to work on projects when I can be the most productive and focused – evenings, weekends, when I can’t sleep, etc. So while I am excited to be back in Spencer, I will miss the extra sleep and that scheduling freedom!

A portion of Emily's transcription project
A portion of Emily’s transcription project. Click image to enlarge.

Kathy Lafferty, Copy Services Manager

What have you been working on?

Since Spencer closed in March, I’ve processed fifty-six copy requests submitted by patron and fourteen inter-library loan requests by going in to the library building once, and sometimes twice, each week.

Additionally, I created an online version of “The 1918 Influenza Epidemic at KU,” which began as a temporary exhibit in Spencer’s North Gallery. I was able to add a lot more information because I had more space and time to do extensive online research. I have also written two blog posts, one for Mother’s Day and another for Father’s Day. For the Father’s Day blog, I used photographs from the Joseph Pennell Collection that are available online and did some online research to find out more information about the subjects in the photographs.

Up next is completing a new online version of the Library’s twenty-fifth anniversary exhibit catalog.

Why is this work important to the library?

The Libraries are trying hard to minimize obstructions to research support and provide access to library materials during the pandemic shutdown. By working from home and going in when I can, I am doing my part to contribute to that effort.

What will you miss about working from home when we return to Spencer?

I will miss my cat, Knick, snuggling next to me while I work. I will also miss eating at my desk and setting my own schedule. I will miss working from home, but it will be good to be back in the library full-time.

Photograph of Kathy and her cat Buzz
Kathy and her cat Buzz. Click image to enlarge.

Shelby Schellenger, Reference Coordinator

What have you been working on?

I’ve been working on all sorts of things…which is largely part of my job in any case. I’ve been working with digital reference, reviewing training documents, watching professional development webinars, and more. One of the things I do now that I don’t enjoy is telling people that we’ll be later than usual in getting their research questions answered due to decreased access to the physical collections. 

Why is this work important to the library? 

This work is important to the library because serving the research and reference needs of students, faculty, and the public is an integral part of library operations. What I’m doing from home is that reference or working to improve our ability to do that reference. 

What will you miss about working from home when we return to Spencer?

I think I will miss being able to do my daily work with music playing. I like being able to play music to match my mood/activities and that isn’t practical in the quiet Reading Room environment! 

Photograph of Shelby's at-home coworkers Nikolai and Wallace
Shelby’s at-home coworkers Nikolai and Wallace. Click image to enlarge.

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services