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Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

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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.

Collection Campaign Highlights 2022

November 8th, 2022

Another election day is here! This Tuesday, November 8th, 2022, we’ll be voting in a midterm election for all sorts of positions in local and state service with a national potential impact. So, with all of us in a somewhat political frame of mind, we wanted to share a few collection highlights related to campaigns and elections of the past.

Election ticket for Union Party listing Lincoln, Johnson, and slate of electors as well as candidate for First District of San Francisco congressional seat.
Union ticket for President Abraham Lincoln of Illinois and Vice-President Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, 1864. Call Number: RH VLT Misc. 2. Click image to enlarge.

Election ticket for the slate of candidates representing the National Union Party (as a temporary name used for a conglomeration of the Republican Party and some smaller factions of other parties) in the 1864 election.

Button with drawing of a frog wearing a "No Bypass" shirt and holding sign saying "Write in Agnes T. Frog".
Agnes T. Frog, campaign button, 1986. Agnes T. Frog political campaign materials. Call Number: RH MS 472. Click image to enlarge.

An artifact of a very local campaign, this button was part of a write-in campaign in 1986 for Agnes T. Frog for Douglas County Commissioner to protest the environmental impacts of the southern Lawrence bypass.

Blue text on white paper. "Elect D. Jenilee Miller" with small photo and pledge/issue information.
Flyer for D. Jenilee Miller campaign, 1970. 1970 political campaigns collection. Call Number: RH MS 1453. Click image to enlarge.

And something in between. In 1970 D. Jenilee Miller lost her campaign for Secretary of State for Kansas with 41.13% of the popular vote, campaigning on modernizing Kansas Government and election issues which still hold public interest today.

Rear of Union ticket depicting sinking of C.S.S. Alabama.
Union ticket for President Abraham Lincoln of Illinois and Vice-President Andrew Johnson of Tennessee (rear), 1864. Call Number: RH VLT Misc. 2. Click image to enlarge.

Shelby Schellenger

Reference Coordinator

Context Matters

October 24th, 2022

Like many institutions, KU Libraries (KUL) has come a long way in recognizing that we are not neutral and that our collecting practices, descriptive traditions, and operations are often not nearly as inclusive as we would like them to be. We have much, much further to go, but we are taking steps where we can. Libraries do not move quickly or easily when large-scale systems are on the line.

Color photograph of a woman sitting, with her back to the camera, facing a desktop computer. She is writing with a pencil, and there are library materials on her desk.
University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 32/13: KU Libraries: Cataloging Department (Photos). Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Realizing we should communicate transparently about our collections and practices, Spencer Research Library colleagues agreed we didn’t want to “disclaim” anything; we do not want to deny our responsibility to cover perceived liability or avoid a lawsuit. In fact, we are proud of our collections and the hard work that has gone into building them for decades. But in the world today, where images can be shared immediately, without context, and where intention is rarely assumed to be good, it was important to try to explain our work to those who might encounter our materials virtually.

Our reasons for collecting disturbing or offensive materials and making them available to users are grounded in library and archival best practices, our mission, and the mission of the larger university. In fact, sharing these materials with researchers, students, and the public around the world is our actual purpose for existing. If we don’t collect these materials, many of the perspectives they capture may not be represented elsewhere. Ignorance and secrecy rarely advance the best of our humanity.

But these reasons might not always be clear to folks outside the library, so we wanted to strike a balance between 1) providing information about why objectionable or even harmful material can be found in our library and 2) acknowledging that, even if we have good reasons to collect and share these materials, they have the potential to cause harm to users. Like libraries everywhere, we began by looking at what other institutions were doing.

We decided to call this work “contextual statements,” to make clear that we want to provide the context of our collections. We wanted to articulate our mission in a way that acknowledges that libraries are doing hard work in trying to capture voices and tell stories, even though we struggle to do enough with limited resources.

The first step was to add a phrase to all images from our collections in KU’s digital repository, where digitized versions of our collection materials are increasingly being made available to the world. This language was drafted by a small group and went through many revisions by the Spencer collections group, and was implemented by our colleagues in KUL Digital Initiatives:

“Users of this collection should be aware that these items reflect the attitudes of the people, period, or context in which they were created. Certain images, words, terms, or descriptions may be offensive, culturally insensitive, or considered inappropriate today. These items do not represent the views of the libraries or the university.”

Screenshot of a black-and-white photograph with textual description.
An example of an image in the University Archives Photographs digital collection with the contextual statement about problematic language. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

We also decided we needed a longer statement about our collections, and added more information to our previously published collection development statements, also freely available. Initial work came from Head of Public Services Caitlin Klepper and Head of Manuscripts Processing Marcella Huggard with input from a group from across Spencer.

Finally, we saw an opportunity, as have many of our peer institutions, to expose the work of description, a professional specialty that has long been hidden behind card catalogs and filing cabinets, frequently in the basements of buildings and at the end of a long series of tasks that take collections from the donor’s attic to the loading dock and to the shelves (or laptops). We published a statement about that as well, initially drafted by Caitlin Klepper and Marcella Huggard, based on the work of other institutions.

Photograph of a large open room. Large tables in the foreground are full of boxes and other library materials.
A view of the Processing and Cataloging workspace at Spencer Research Library. Click image to enlarge.

In all of this, we relied heavily on the good judgement and best efforts of colleagues at peer institutions. We realize that every environment is unique, so we tailored it to the KU world, talking with colleagues and, where we could, members of our communities. We hope to get feedback as we go, as we begin a larger conversation with those who use our collections in various ways—about what we collect and why, how we describe it, and how we use the impact of our collections to make a better, more just world.

Beth M. Whittaker
Interim Co-Dean, University of Kansas Libraries
Associate Dean for Distinctive Collections
Director of Spencer Research Library

Pride Month, 2022: Highlights from the Bruce McKinney Papers

June 27th, 2022

Hello and happy Pride Month!

The Bruce McKinney collection at Kenneth Spencer Research Library holds many pieces of LGBTQIA+ materials and memorabilia. McKinney was a Kansas activist for gender and gay rights. His collection of papers ranges from pamphlets for rallies and centers for queer individuals all over the country to stickers and pins.

For example, McKinney’s papers document the work of the Wichita, Kansas, LesBiGayTrans Center, an organization with which he worked closely.

Text that reads "Welcome to The Center, Wichita's Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and HIV/AIDS Affected People's Community Center, Operated by Kansans for Human Dignity. Look for a Volunteer wearing a KFHD volunteer staff badge."
A flier for The LesBiGayTrans Community Center of Wichita, Kansas, undated. Papers of Bruce McKinney. Call Number: RH MS 1164, Box 15, Folder 29. Click image to enlarge.
Black text on a white background describing the event.
Flier for Lesbian/Gay History Month at The LesBiGayTrans Community Center of Wichita, Kansas, October 1994. Papers of Bruce McKinney. Call Number: RH MS 1164, Box 15, Folder 29. Click image to enlarge.
Black text on white and pink backgrounds. The main text reads "Your Next Step" and "This is Who I Am."
An undated National Coming Out Day pamphlet in Bruce McKinney’s files of The LesBiGayTrans Community Center. Papers of Bruce McKinney. Call Number: RH MS 1164, Box 15, Folder 29. Click image to enlarge.
Blue text that says "Safe Zone" on white paper. There is also a pink triangle centered in a blue circle.
An undated Safe Zone flier in Bruce McKinney’s files of The LesBiGayTrans Community Center. This jumped out to me because I recently learned that Nazis used pink triangle badges to distinguish gay men in concentration camps. The triangle was later reclaimed as a protest symbol against homophobia. Papers of Bruce McKinney. Call Number: RH MS 1164, Box 15, Folder 29. Click image to enlarge.

Some items in the McKinney collection highlight the history of the LGBTQIA+ community at the University of Kansas. The documents below focus on LesBiGay Awareness Week events held in 1995.

Black text on white paper. There is a black-and-white American flag in the background.
Flier for the “Pride March on Lawrence,” April 1995. Papers of Bruce McKinney. Call Number: RH MS 1164, Box 31, Folder 39. Click image to enlarge.
Black text on white paper.
KU Queer Prom flier, April 1995. Papers of Bruce McKinney. Call Number: RH MS 1164, Box 31, Folder 39. Click image to enlarge.

Additionally, McKinney’s papers includes information to help learn more about the queer community. I was particularly interested in the information written on bisexuality and even a paper about how to defend homosexuality in instances where individuals use the Bible against them.

Black text on yellowish/orange paper. The document lists four biphobic (negative) attitude levels and four bifriendly (positive) attitude levels.
“The Biphobia Scale,” undated. Papers of Bruce McKinney. Call Number: RH MS 1164, Box 14, Folder 49. Click image to enlarge.
Black text on white paper. The document is a resource order form for workshop and teaching materials.
“Campaign to End Homophobia” flier, undated. Papers of Bruce McKinney. Call Number: RH MS 1164, Box 14, Folder 48. Click image to enlarge.
Black text on white paper. The document examines Bible verses Genesis 18-19 and Judges 19, arguing that they "were not written as tools for condemnation toward homosexuals."
“Homosexuality and the Scriptures” document, undated. Papers of Bruce McKinney. Call Number: RH MS 1164, Box 14, Folder 49. Click image to enlarge.

Some of the more fun things to look at were the many different bumper stickers that McKinney saved!

Two circular stickers with primarily white text against a red background.
Hot pink text against a black background.
Pink text with a row of people in black silhouette against a white background.
Blue text with a globe, a compass, and a pink triangle on a white background.
A selection of bumper stickers from Bruce McKinney’s collection. Papers of Bruce McKinney. Call Number: RH MS 1164, Box 15, Folder 5. Click images to enlarge.

Have a happy and safe Pride!

Black-and-white newspaper clipping of a man leaning up against a wall. He is wearing a black cowboy hat and a white t-shirt that says "Queer Cowboy."
Advertisement for a “Queer Cowboy” t-shirt in the Over the Rainbow catalogue, undated. Papers of Bruce McKinney. Call Number: RH MS Q306, Box 124, Folder 10. Click image to enlarge.

Alex Williams
Public Services Student Assistant

Flag Day, 2022

June 14th, 2022
Bandstand decorated by the Eagle Flag Co. in Sedan, Kansas, 1913. Kansas Collection Photos. Call Number: RH MS P2178. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Not a federal holiday, but a celebration and a remembrance. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed June 14th as Flag Day, celebrating the adoption of the flag of the United States on June 14, 1777. Flags are a particular manifestation of symbols. A flag can indicate an idea, a group, a place, or an area. With the adoption of an official flag for the United States of America, there was a unified way to signal the influence of the USA. With that noted, maybe we can look at how it and a few other flags have been used through the years!

Here we have one of several KU flags, this one a 1928 design. Used in this manner, it is very similar to a national flag, showing identification and support for the University of Kansas.

University of Kansas flag designed in 1928; photo taken in 1933. University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 0/49: General Records: Flags and Banners (Photos). Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Flags sometimes come with the hint of violence. Here we have a photo of students around their flag to fight for on May Day in 1895. Having your flag captured was quite the sign of disgrace!

May Day Scrap, 1895. University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 71/10: Student Activities: May Day (Photos). Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

While flags can be used as positive symbols – representing enthusiasm, identification, etc. – flags can also be used as negative symbols. Here at a KU an anti-Vietnam war Student protest in May 1970, black flags are displayed along with a U.S. flag on a coffin near a U.S. flag at half-mast. The same flags used for celebration here demonstrate shame and loss.

KU anti-Vietnam student protests on May 3-9, 1970. University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 71/18: Student Protests (Photos). Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

And while a flag can be used to isolate and claim dominion, flags can be used to show hope, alliance, and gathering together as in the dedication ceremony for Allen Fieldhouse in 1955.

The Allen Fieldhouse dedication ceremony, 1955. University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 0/22/1: Campus: Buildings: Allen Fieldhouse (Photos). Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Flags have been and are used in many different ways in many different circumstances: in humor, in celebration, in victory, in defeat, in shame, and in pride. Flag Day may specifically celebrate the adoption of a United States flag, but isn’t a bad day to think of all the flags we fly!

Shelby Schellenger
Reference Coordinator

KU ScholarWorks and Spencer Research Library Resources: An Introduction

April 20th, 2022

On the Find Collections page of the Spencer Research Library website, you will find a variety of resources for the collections housed at Spencer. These resources not only provide information about the collections but also suggestions for locating materials. Additionally, the page provides access to the library’s Digital Collections, where researchers have free, public access to digitized items from the collections.

Tucked into the plethora of featured Digital Collections resources is KU ScholarWorks: Archives Online, part of the university’s digital repository. What exactly is this digital repository and what all does it entail? Read on to learn more about this valuable resource!

What is KU ScholarWorks?

KU ScholarWorks is a digital repository of scholarship and other scholarly works all by faculty, staff, and students at the University of Kansas. The repository also includes digitized records and materials from University Archives. KU ScholarWorks is part of the numerous Open Access initiatives at the university. The primary goal of KU ScholarWorks is to provide access to research and historical items while helping with the long-term preservation of the materials for generations to come.

Graphic that says "KU ScholarWorks" in blue letters with the open access symbol.
KU ScholarWorks logo. Click image to enlarge.

What Spencer resources are included in KU ScholarWorks?

To go directly to the items in KU ScholarWorks related to the collections at Spencer, use the link on the Find Collections page mentioned above. On the Archives Online page, the departments and collections – referred to as sub-communities – are listed for browsing. University Archives materials are featured prominently and include resources about different university departments such as the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, collections related to Kansas Athletics, and information about student organizations.

While many of these sub-communities are related to the materials in University Archives, there are also resources available for Special Collections and the Kansas Collection as well! Some examples of what is available are publications related to exhibits such as 50 for 50: Celebrating Fifty Years of Kenneth Spencer Research Library; information about specific collections such as African American Experience Collections by Deborah Dandridge; and resources about certain topics or types of materials such as All That in This Delightfull Gardin Growes by Sally Haines.

Black-and-white document with the title in the middle and woodblock images of plants in the four corners.
The front cover of All That in This Delightfull Gardin Growes, 1983. Click image to enlarge.

What are some ways to find resources in KU ScholarWorks?

Not sure where to find information related to a specific topic? No worries – there are a variety of search features and filters to help locate relevant items in KU ScholarWorks! Researchers can utilize the Search feature to look for items that include keywords related to their topics. It is also possible to browse and search within specific communities such as the Archives Online community. Researchers also have the option to explore available materials by Author, Subject, and Date Issued – all features available on the KU ScholarWorks homepage as well as on individual community pages.

Happy researching!

Emily Beran
Public Services