Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Meet the Staff: Jacinta Johnson

April 23rd, 2019

This is the fourteenth installment in a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Today’s profile features Jacinta Johnson, who joined us in January 2019. Jacinta is the Associate Paper Conservator, Mellon Initative, and splits her time between the Kenneth Spencer Research Library and the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art. Welcome, Jacinta!

Jacinta Johnson is our new Associate Paper Conservator, Mellon Initiative.
Jacinta Johnson, Associate Conservator, Mellon Initiative.

Where are you from?

I grew up in the Puget Sound area of Washington State, but have lived in many other cities throughout the Pacific Northwest, California, and the East Coast.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

I joined KU Libraries’ Conservation Services Department in late January as the Associate Conservator for a three-year initiative, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, aimed at bridging the conservation efforts of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library and the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art. I specialize in paper conservation and split my time between the library and the museum, working with staff at each site to prioritize conservation projects with common goals.

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

The collection of prints and drawings by Mary Huntoon (1896-1970). Huntoon was born in Topeka, KS and grew up knowing she wanted to be an artist. She studied at The Art Students’ League in New York and lived in Paris for five years. She returned to Kansas in 1930 and later became the state’s first art therapist. Her work, which is mostly portraiture and landscapes, depicts important people in her life and all the different places she lived and the places where she travelled. The collection contains several preparatory drawings for prints and artist’s proofs that illustrate her careful working process.

What part of your job do you like best?

The opportunity to interact closely with collections. I enjoy finding clues about the artistic process, techniques, and materials.

What are some of your favorite pastimes outside of work?

I enjoy exploring cities by bike, fumbling through knitting projects, and trying out new recipes.

What piece of advice would you offer a researcher walking into Spencer Research Library for the first time?

Be sure to utilize all the great help and guidance the staff can offer, and don’t forget to visit the current exhibition!

Expanded and Renovated Audiovisual Preservation Labs at Kenneth Spencer Research Library

March 26th, 2019

Today’s post is by Chris Bañuelos, Audiovisual Preservation Specialist.

2018 was an eventful year at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. In addition to the celebration of the building’s 50th anniversary, the Conservation Services department relocated from Watson Library into a newly constructed lab space on the second floor of Spencer. The dedicated space built for Conservation Services allowed the Audiovisual (AV) branch of the team to expand its operations within Spencer by moving into spaces formerly used by Conservation. By expanding the AV footprint within the building, we would be able to add equipment to create a film inspection/video digitization lab separate from the current audio digitization lab (which previously doubled as the film and video lab). Over the course of approximately three months, beginning in September 2018, several meetings took place between Conservation Services staff, the KU architect and KU Facilities to determine how the rooms needed to be adapted for their new uses, as well as what equipment belonged where.

Audio Preservation Lab in Spencer Research Library, prior to renovation.
The Audio Preservation Lab in Kenneth Spencer Research Library, prior to renovation. (Click image to enlarge.)
Audio Preservation Lab in Spencer Research Library, prior to renovation.

Another view of the Audio Preservation Lab in Kenneth Spencer Research Library, prior to renovation. (Click image to enlarge.)

In the audio digitization lab in particular, several changes occurred that completely changed the look of the work space. The room was painted in the building’s original “Spencer Green” hue, and carpeted with its original 1970’s carpet. Ultimately, we all decided that the carpet and paint job had to go, and that new lighting was necessary. Furthermore, we had to decide where the best locations for power outlets would be, and the land-line telephone connections had to be de-commissioned.

In order to replace the carpet and re-paint the room, every single shelf, table and piece of electronic equipment in the room had to be temporarily disassembled and moved to a storage location. My team of student workers and I devised a strategy of labeling all of the cords and ports on our pieces of equipment so that disassembly and re-assembly would go quickly. Once everything was removed from the Audio Lab, Facilities came in and ripped out the carpet. At this time, the electricians started replacing all of the lighting fixtures in both the Audio and Video Labs. They also installed dimmer switches, allowing us to control the levels of light we need depending on the day’s workflow.

Video Preservation Lab in Spencer Research Library, prior to renovation.

The Film and Video Preservation Lab in Kenneth Spencer Research Library, prior to renovation. (Click image to enlarge.)
Video Preservation Lab in Spencer Research Library, prior to renovation.

Alternate view of the Film and Video Preservation Lab in Kenneth Spencer Research Library, prior to renovation. (Click image to enlarge.)

In the Video Lab, the renovations to the light fixtures included breaking out the light switches to allow for independent control of lights in the front of the room as well as the back. Additionally, several new electrical outlets were installed in the ceiling and along the north wall of the room. Shelving was removed to allow us to bring in a Steenbeck flatbed motion picture film editing machine. My team and I then set up two film inspection stations and have begun to acquire video digitization and playback equipment.

For the Audio Lab, we chose new paint colors, including for an accent wall, which I think is a really nice bit of the renovation. We also installed new tile flooring, which is ideal for an audiovisual lab such as ours. The tile can be kept much cleaner than carpet, reducing the amount of particulate matter in the lab environment which could be harmful to sensitive media collections. Finally, once the shelving was re-attached to the walls, we were able to quickly re-populate the lab thanks to our labeling strategy.

The renovated Audio Preservation Lab at Spencer Research Library.
The renovated Audio Preservation Lab, complete with new tile floor, accent wall, and enhanced lighting. (Click image to enlarge.)
The renovated Video Preservation Lab in Spencer Research Library.

The renovation of the Film and Video Preservation Lab is nearing completion. New features include enhanced lighting and additional electric outlets. (Click image to enlarge.)

At this time, the Audio Lab is completely set up and our digitization efforts have re-commenced, and our film inspection stations, including the Steenbeck, are fully operational. The video component of the Film/Video Lab is still under construction; most of the necessary video elements have been purchased and are being built out. I am grateful for the support from KU and the Libraries for this project, which has allowed us to create updated lab spaces to the specifications I requested, and to purchase the equipment my team needs to perform archival quality work on Spencer Library’s audiovisual collections. The enthusiasm of my student workers should also be noted as I truly would not have been able to envision the working conditions within the new work spaces without them. The renovated lab spaces heavily influence and are heavily influenced by the work that the students do on a day-to-day basis and I cannot stress enough how important they are to the digitization and organization efforts we undertake in the department.

Spring 2019 Exhibit: “Meet the Spencers: A Marriage of Arts and Sciences”

February 5th, 2019

Who was Kenneth Spencer, the namesake of Spencer Research Library? Why is the library named after him? If you’ve ever asked yourself these questions and wondered about the library’s origins, be sure to visit and explore its current exhibit, “Meet the Spencers: A Marriage of Arts and Sciences.”

Kenneth and Helen Spencer in their garden, 1959

Kenneth and Helen Spencer with their dog Topper in the garden of their home at
2900 Verona Road in Mission Hills, Kansas, spring 1959.
Helen Foresman Spencer Papers. Call Number: RH MS-P 542. Click image to enlarge.

The exhibit provides a personal look at the lives of Kenneth Spencer and his wife Helen, including:

  • their childhoods growing up in southeastern Kansas and southwestern Missouri
  • their relationship and marriage
  • their hobbies and interests
  • Kenneth’s work as an engineer and accomplishments as a business leader in Kansas City
  • the creation of Kenneth Spencer Research Library.

Additionally, the exhibit examines the Spencers’ significant philanthropic work, particularly Helen’s dynamic leadership of the Kenneth A. and Helen F. Spencer Foundation after her husband’s death in 1960. The foundation provided funds for major construction projects at many institutions throughout the Kansas City area, including KU’s Lawrence campus. For example, gifts from the Foundation and from Helen personally ensured the construction of Spencer Research Library as well as the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art.

Photograph of the installation of wall labels for the "Meet the Spencers" exhibit

Installing wall labels can be a messy business. Shown here is a
timeline of the early history of Spencer Research Library
in the context of KU’s history in the 1960s, part of the new
“Meet the Spencers” exhibit. Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of the installation of items for the "Meet the Spencers" exhibit

The installation of items for the “Meet the Spencers” exhibit.
Library staff try not to open the heavy glass case covers too frequently.
In 1968, Helen Spencer selected and purchased the five large German-made
display cases now located in the Exhibit Space. Click image to enlarge.

The opening reception for “Meet the Spencers” will be held this Thursday, February 7, 2019. The exhibition will be installed in the third-floor Exhibit Space through June 2019 as part of ongoing celebrations for Spencer Research Library’s fiftieth anniversary. It is free and open to the public.

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

Marcella Huggard
Archives and Manuscripts Processing Coordinator

Throwback Thursday: Reading Room Edition

December 6th, 2018

Each week we’ll be posting a photograph from University Archives that shows a scene from KU’s past. We’ve also scanned more than 34,800 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

Good luck on finals next week, Jayhawks! Spencer’s Reading Room and lounge are great options for quiet places to study.

Photograph of Special Collections Reading Room at Spencer Research Library, 1968

The Special Collections Reading Room at Spencer Research Library, 1968.
University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 32/37 1968: University of Kansas
Libraries: Special Collections (Photos). Click image to enlarge.

Spencer Research Library opened to researchers on December 2, 1968 – a couple of weeks after the dedication ceremony (November 8th) and public opening (November 15th). At the time, the Kansas Collection, Special Collections, and University Archives had separate Reading Rooms on the second, third, and fourth floors, respectively. Today, Spencer has one Reading Room for all researchers, and the above photo was taken from roughly where the reference desk is now located.

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

Celebrating Fifty Years of Spencer Research Library

November 28th, 2018

This week’s post is a slightly revised version of remarks given by Beth M. Whittaker, Associate Dean for Distinctive Collections and Director of Spencer Research Library, at the library’s fiftieth anniversary celebration on November 8th.

Photograph of event programs at Spencer Research Library's fiftieth anniversary celebration, 2018

Event programs at Spencer Research Library’s fiftieth anniversary celebration,
November 8, 2018. Photograph by LeAnn Meyer. Click image to enlarge.

It was not long after I returned to Kansas that I realized that the 50th anniversary of Spencer Research Library was impending; it seemed a long way off and we spent a lot of time thinking about how we would mark this occasion. Looking back at the many celebrations Spencer has commemorated, there were so many possible ways to go. The dedication of the building in 1968 was an august affair. Lord C. P. Snow spoke on the topic of “Kinds of Excellence” and if you’re interested you can read the remarks recently added to KU’s Scholar Works repository.

The 25th anniversary included a signature exhibit and catalog that we still reference today; other anniversaries have come and gone more quietly, many of them witnessed by people still here with us.

Photograph of a guest exploring the "50 for 50" exhibit at Spencer Research Library's fiftieth anniversary celebration, 2018

A guest exploring the “50 for 50” exhibit at the
fiftieth anniversary celebration, November 8, 2018.
Photograph by LeAnn Meyer. Click image to enlarge.

But what we really wanted to do for an exhibit was not to talk about the collections ourselves, as we so often do, but to get the stories from people who had used them for study or research. That, after all, is why we are here, and why this building has stood for fifty years and will stand for the future. Many of our friends and supporters answered our call, and the exhibit currently on display is the result. Although the word has become watered down by trendiness, this exhibit is actually “curated” by everyone who submitted a suggestion, took a walk down memory lane, or sent an email, and it is a reflection of the value of these items and these collections. It will live on in the gorgeous exhibit book we produced which is also available electronically. It is my hope that this exhibit stands the test of time for another fifty years.

Of course, this exhibit is not the whole story of the golden anniversary of the library. On February 7, 2019 we will celebrate our next exhibit “Meet the Spencers: A Marriage of Arts and Sciences,” which will focus on this extraordinary couple and their philanthropy across the region. Please mark your calendars and plan to join us. For a sneak peek at the kind photographs and correspondence that will help shape this exhibit, make sure to check out the small exhibit cases on either entrance of the North Gallery on your next visit.

Photograph of Beth M. Whittaker speaking at Spencer Research Library's fiftieth anniversary celebration, 2018

Beth M. Whittaker speaking at the fiftieth anniversary celebration,
November 8, 2018. Photograph by LeAnn Meyer. Click image to enlarge.

It is traditional in these situations to talk about how much has changed, but I want to lead with what is the same. Every day, we welcome students (from KU to preschool and everything in between), researchers and the community into our beautiful spaces; we lead tours and classes; we support researchers both here and remotely; and we share the joy and wonder of original documents with everyone. As Associate Professor of English and stalwart friend of Spencer Library Laura Mielke said in her submission for the exhibit:

Every time my students and I come to the Spencer Research Library, we have a transformative moment. Eyes light up, hands reach out gently, smiles spread across faces.

This has been happening for fifty years, and will continue.

Photograph of attendees at Spencer Research Library's fiftieth anniversary celebration, 2018

Attendees listening to remarks at the fiftieth anniversary celebration,
November 8, 2018. Photograph by LeAnn Meyer. Click image to enlarge.

However, some things HAVE changed. New collections have sprung up and grown; new formats have emerged to convey information; researchers have asked new questions of our materials; and new classes have come through our doors. If we had asked the attendees of the dedication in 1968 what the research library would look like in 2018, I doubt any of them would have come close to predicting this future.

The building itself, of course, has also changed. Those of you who have been here before know that my passion for this building includes always looking for ways to make it better, so we looked at the 50th anniversary as a chance to do some “touch-ups” after years of significant renovation projects. After the creation of the Stokstad Reading room and the exhibit space that currently houses “50 for 50”; renovation to work spaces that make cataloging, digitization, and conservation easier and more efficient; and most significantly and gloriously, the renovation of the North Gallery, the 50th gave us an excuse to do things like freshen the classrooms, install new technology, and reupholster Mrs. Spencer’s specially selected furniture. Through it all, we have tried to honor the style and inspiration that Helen Spencer brought to the building. She did not want a “museum or a mausoleum.” She wanted this library it to be a useful and workable addition to academic life, and as that academic life has changed, so have we.

We have also used the occasion of the 50th anniversary to tackle some programmatic needs. Thanks to generous donors, our research grant program has been reinvigorated and we offer three grant programs to bring people to Lawrence to use our collections. In time for the 50th we instituted regular drop-in, staff-guided tours. If you haven’t yet come to one of our Friday afternoon tours, please do so and spread the word. We have kept busy.

Photograph of Spencer Research Library's North Gallery in snow during the fiftieth anniversary celebration, 2018

Spencer Research Library’s North Gallery in snow during the fiftieth anniversary celebration,
November 8, 2018. Photograph by LeAnn Meyer. Click image to enlarge.

This exhibit and our celebration on November 8th kept us even busier. I need to give my thanks to the exhibit team, who worked with me to refine my wild idea and shape it into something magical: Sherry Williams, Angela Andres, Meredith Huff, and Mary Ann Baker.

My colleagues in Spencer Public Services: Caitlin Klepper, Kathy Lafferty, Stacey Wiens, and the indomitable Meredith Huff and Emily Beran, who may finally be able to get back to their primary responsibilities without me interrupting them constantly with “50th” ideas and concerns.

Librarians and archivists Sherry Williams, Elspeth Healey, Karen Cook, Becky Schulte, Letha Johnson, and Deborah Dandridge, who helped select and provide context for items from the collections they curate. Catalogers, manuscripts processors, conservators, digitization experts and always changing brigade of student workers–I am especially grateful to the student workers.

Our colleagues in KU Libraries Office of Communication and Advancement: Nikki Pirch, whose beautiful graphics have enriched everything about the 50th, and Bayli Rindels, who supported me throughout the planning for the event, along with LeAnn Meyer, Leah Hallstrom and Courtney Foat, under the leadership of Christy McWard, who arrived at KU Libraries only to learn her new colleague had an ambitious plan already in place; she and her team jumped in with both feet.

Finally, I have to thank those who came before me in this role. Sandy Mason, who set and steered the course for decades; Bill Crowe, whose leadership and vision helped the library manage a time of extraordinary change; and Sherry Williams, who served in the interim and from whom I continue to learn something new every single day. As Jim Gunn, emeritus professor of English — and, dare I say lifetime support of this library — told me, “You walk in big shoes.”

Beth M. Whittaker
Associate Dean for Distinctive Collections
Director of Spencer Research Library