Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Meet the KSRL Staff: Elspeth Healey

July 23rd, 2019

This is the latest installment in a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Today’s profile features Elspeth Healey, who joined the Spencer Research Library in 2011 as a special collections librarian. 

Where are you from?
I was born in the U.S., but I grew up in Toronto, Canada. From time to time, I’ll have a student come up to me after a class session and say “where are you from?” I have lived in the U. S. since college–so more than half of my life–but sometimes that Canadian accent still shines through!

Elspeth Healey in Spencer Library's North Gallery

Elspeth Healey, Special Collections Librarian, in Spencer Research Library’s North Gallery. Click image to enlarge.

What does your job at Spencer entail?
With my colleague Karen Cook, I am one of two special collections librarians. My curatorial responsibilities include materials for the Americas, including Latin America, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. In addition to building Spencer’s collections by working with donors and booksellers, I collaborate with cataloging and conservation to make the library’s collections accessible, lead instruction sessions, engage in outreach (through events, blog posts, exhibitions, etc.), answer reference queries for researchers on and off site, and contribute to digital projects.

How did you come to work in special collections and archives?
As an undergraduate, I had worked in the preservation department of my university’s special collections library, making mylar wrappers, drop-spine boxes, and other protective enclosures. I was fascinated by the variety of books that would come across my work bench, from 20th century poetry and plays to 18th century mathematical treatises. Later, as I was researching my dissertation in English literature, I came to realize that the moments that excited me most were those spent conducting archival research. I was energized not only by the materials I examined that related to my specific project, but I also enjoyed encountering materials that related to the projects of friends and colleagues and would alert them to those materials. That is what this job is at its heart: helping to connect researchers (of all types) with the materials that have the potential to advance and transform their understanding of a particular question or subject. I applied to library school as I was finishing my dissertation, and attended a program where I had the opportunity to work 20-hours a week in a special collections library while taking the coursework for my MSIS (Master of Science in Information Studies) degree. I always advise those who want to enter the field that gaining hands-on experience working in a special collections library and archives is one of the most important things you can do in library school: it is what will help you secure a job following graduation, and it is what will enable you to determine if this is really what you want to do as a profession.

What is the strangest item you’ve come across in Spencer’s Collections?
There are so many strange and interesting things in Spencer’s collections. We have a three volume scrapbook containing rare ephemera for Astley’s Amphitheatre, which opened in London in the late 18th-century and was originally known for its equestrian spectacles and show riding. As it developed, it incorporated circus-type features alongside other types of performance, so it is often recognized as London’s first circus. The posters, flyers, clippings, and ephemera in the scrapbooks offer a fascinating record of its history, and we hope to feature them at greater length in a future blog post. Other unusual items that pop to mind include 1930s form rejection letters from a science fiction pulp magazine, early Don Quixote fan fiction, and locks of hair (a favorite 19th century keepsake). I love that each day I might come across some new intriguing item that I can then share with others.

Scrapbook page containing flyer for "The Amazing Exhibition of the little Conjuring Horse," Astley's New Entertainments.   Scrapbook page containing "Ducrow's First Appearance this Season" with picture of a man with one foot on the back of each of two horses, April 1831. Astley's Royal Amphitheatre

Image of scrapbook page containing a poster for Astley's Royal Amphitheatre, advertising a Grand Equestrian evening and events featuring Pablo Fanque, Young Hernandez, etc.  Poster for "Astley's on Thursday, November 6, 1845 ...Gala Night," with pictures of show riding along the exterior of the poster in Astley's Amphitheatre scrapbook, volume 3, p. 237

Posterbills for Astley’s performances and Astley’s Amphitheatre in Astley’s Amphitheatre scrapbooks. Posters shown are circa 1775-1847. Call Number: G126, volumes 1-3. Click on images to enlarge (it’s worth it!)

What part of your job do you like best?
See above! I relish connecting researchers–whether students, scholars, or members of the public–with materials that will open up new perspectives and avenues of inquiry.

What are your favorite pastimes outside of work?
The usual things like reading, walking, movies, and travel, but I also love tracking down some of my favorite Canadian delicacies whenever I can: Nanaimo bars, butter tarts, poutine, and candy bars like Eat-more and Coffee Crisp. I’m still waiting for the day when they open a Tim Horton’s in Kansas… Lawrence certainly has much better (and less corporate) coffee and pastries, but some things just remind you of your youth…

What piece of advice would you offer a researcher walking into Spencer Research Library for the first time?
Not everything is in the online catalog. We aspire to get it all there one day, but every special collections library holds materials that haven’t quite made it into the catalog yet for one reason or another. Accordingly it’s always worth speaking to the librarian who oversees the subject area in which you are conducting research to see if there might be materials you that have missed.

The other piece of advice is to enjoy the research process. Sometimes the thing that you came to the library to examine won’t end up being the thing that really captures your intellect and imagination. Instead, it will be a folder of letters you might come across in the box next to the manuscript you were seeking to examine. This unanticipated discovery may lead your project in a new direction. Embrace the serendipity that archival research permits!

 

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

Meet the KSRL Staff: Vannis Jones

June 18th, 2019

This is the fifteenth installment in a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Today’s profile features Vannis Jones, who joined Spencer’s processing unit in February as a manuscripts processor. Welcome, Vannis!

Photograph of Vannis Jones
Photograph of Vannis Jones in Spencer Research Library’s North Gallery. Click image to enlarge.

Where are you from?

I grew up in Kansas City, but I have spent my adult life in India, Scotland, and France until returning to the Kansas City area this January after graduating with my Master of Science (MSc) in Information Management and Preservation (a fancy way of saying archives and records management!) from the University of Glasgow this past November.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

I play a crucial role in rendering collections both discoverable and accessible through physical and intellectual arrangement of materials, the identification of materials in need of preservation action, and the creation of finding aids, which are often a researcher’s first interaction with the Spencer and our collections.

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

While every collection has its own unique surprises, three particular – and incredibly different – items in come to mind.

  1. Among architectural drawings, specifications, and contracts in the collection of former state architect Charles Marshall is a series of typescript journals by Marshall that he titled “Quips and Observations.” They contain one- to five-line quips, quotes, and vignettes by Marshall that are generally witty in nature and that are drawn from his everyday activities – a trip to the movies, a visit to the bank, grocery shopping, a concert with his wife, etc. Given the generally serious nature of Marshall’s architectural materials, it was fun to get to know the man behind the drawings through these journals.
  2. We hold a lot of scrapbooks at Spencer. Most scrapbooks are a jumble of largely undated and unlabeled newspaper clippings, photographs, ticket stubs, brief notes, and the like, that offer insight into an individual’s interests, but leave a lot up to a reader’s interpretation. An exceptionally unique scrapbook in a collection that I processed recently is one of KU Professor Emerita of English Elizabeth Schultz’s scrapbooks from her teenage years. Schultz’s scrapbook includes specific annotations for each individual object, including cigarette butts, extremely old flowers, a fake diamond ring, chocolate wrappers, a watch (yes, really, a whole wristwatch, glued to a scrapbook page), and more. Through these unconventional items and witty annotations, readers are able to understand Schultz’s thought process in compiling the scrapbook and gain a greater understanding of her playful and creative personality.
  3. A Rosie O’Donnell Barbie doll, completely without context, among the papers of Kristi Parker, the late founder of The Liberty Press, Kansas’s first LGBTQ+ news magazine.

What part of your job do you like best?

I love the opportunity to collaborate and exchange ideas with people on my team working on other projects and with people in other departments like conservation. We really do get to learn something new every day!

What are some of your favorite pastimes outside of work?

I love traveling, exploring other cultures, eating new foods, cooking, weightlifting, and dancing. I also love a good walk and a snuggle with my two dogs, a cavalier King Charles spaniel and a westie, after a long day.

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

Don’t be shy, tell us about your research! Our reference staff have excellent knowledge of our collections and can likely help you find materials that you may not come across by simply browsing our catalog, and that could greatly enhance your depth of understanding of your subject area. We’re here to help!

Vannis Jones
Manuscripts Processor

Meet the KSRL 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 Initiative, 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!

Jacinta Johnson
Associate Paper Conservator, Mellon Initiative

Meet the KSRL Staff: Lynn Ward

February 20th, 2018

This is the thirteenth (lucky number thirteen!) installment in a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Today’s profile features Lynn Ward, who joined the Spencer Research Library processing unit in late October as a processing archivist. 

Where are you from?
Since most of my adult life has been spent in Lawrence, I like to say that’s where I’m from. I grew up in Missouri but attended the University of Kansas for my bachelor’s degree (anthropology) and masters (museum studies). I have moved from Lawrence a few times, but I keep coming back!

What does your job at Spencer entail?
How do researchers know what’s on the shelves in the archives? That’s my job. I work on making all the amazing information that is here in the library—in documents, letters, maps, photographs, diaries, drawings, scrapbooks, and records—accessible. I do that by processing donations and collections and then making finding aids for them online. Then the information contained in the donations and collections can be searched, found, and utilized.

Lynn Ward in the Kansas Collection Stacks

Making Spencer’s collections accessible:
Lynn Ward in the Kansas Collection stacks.

How did you come to work at Spencer Research Library?
This isn’t the first time I have worked at Spencer Research Library. When I was a graduate student in the Museum Studies program here at KU, I worked in the University Archives up on the 4th floor. That was my first archives position. Since then, I have had a long career working in a variety of museums, archives, and libraries. At each one, I have learned new skills, experienced many situations, and gained lots of knowledge! I’m happy to bring all this to Spencer Research Library where I can use all these skills and knowledge, plus learn even more from the excellent staff here. In a way, I’ve come full circle and now I’m back home.

What is one of the most interesting items you’ve come across in Spencer’s collections?
It’s hard to narrow down one, because I find it all so interesting! I have worked on some great collections since starting here in late October. But, I would have to say that I am most interested in the territorial Kansas and also the early KU history material. In the lobby of the Spencer Research Library there is a map of Lawrence from 1854 that I love to look at—especially since “Kansas” is spelled with a “z”—“Kanzas.” I also like to walk in the North Gallery and see a cross-section of all the fascinating collections that are in the library. I love looking at all of the books and exhibits in that beautiful space.

Picture of the 1854 SearleMap of Lawrence housed in the Spencer Research Library Lobby

Map of “Lawrence City, Kanzas Territory, Surveyed Oct. 1854 by A. D. Searl.”
This map hangs in the Spencer Research Library lobby. Click image to enlarge.

What part of your job do you like best?
I like the feeling of being part of a team. We are all working to make the collections accessible so that everyone—the public, historians, students, genealogists—can benefit from them.

What are some of your favorite pastimes outside of work?
I love, love, love to travel and explore. I’m happy going anyplace and doing anything. For example, a few weeks ago, I went with a friend on a fun daytrip exploring territorial history in Big Springs, Kansas. And last summer, my daughter and I found a cool shark’s tooth near Hays, Kansas. (I’m a huge dinosaur and prehistoric life fan.) I enjoy little adventures like that! I’ve got two teenage kids, so my husband and I spend a lot of our time involved in their activities. I also read a lot—mostly books about Kansas history—but I do enjoy a good historical fiction or a Michael Creighton novel, too!

What piece of advice would you offer a researcher walking into Spencer Research Library for the first time?
I would tell them to take the time to talk to the reference room staff. If the staff know about your research project, they can help you think of resources here at Spencer Research Library.

Lynn Ward
Processing Archivist

Meet the KSRL Staff: Stacey Wiens

November 10th, 2017

This is the twelfth installment in what will be a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Joining us in October 2017, Stacey Wiens is Spencer’s newest team member; she’s the Reference Specialist in Public Services.

Photograph of Stacey Wiens

Where are you from?

I moved to Kansas from California (the state where I was born), but I have also lived in Texas, Colorado, and Missouri.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

My job is about helping users of the library to access the materials and find the resources that best meet their needs. I am still in the training phase for my position, but I will eventually assist researchers in person at the Spencer Reading Room and also respond to off-site researchers through email and phone.

How did you come to work at Spencer Research Library?

I am coming to the library field as a second career after having been a teacher for several years.

I graduated with my master’s in library science in May 2017. While I was in the MLS program, I found that I was drawn to the issues related to special collections and archives such as how to provide access but also protect these materials over time. I completed a graduate certificate in archival management along with my master’s degree.

While in graduate school, I was working as a librarian at a public library in California and lived in an area where opportunities to work in archival institutions are limited. When I had the chance to apply for the Reference Specialist position at Spencer Research Library, I saw it as opportunity to apply my past experience as a reference librarian and educator while being exposed to work in a special collections and archives setting.

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

Three recent interactions with materials stand out:

  1. The John Gould materials in the Ellis Ornithology Collection are a treat to view. Products from the entire lithography printing process can be examined, i.e., the beginning pencil sketches, inked and painted masters, rubbed transfer images, stone printing plates, and vibrantly-colored final prints. I highly recommend visiting the exhibit in the North Gallery of Spencer Research Library to learn more about John Gould, the artists who worked with him, and the lithography process. Also, check out a 2014 blog post by Special Collections Librarian Karen Cook.
  2. I saw drawings from the Kansas City Terminal Railway that are plans for building a train trestle (a supportive structure over a low place in the landscape). These drawings were from a time before calculations and schematics could be produced by computers. I was struck by the knowledge and skills that are represented by the intricately-detailed drawings with load-bearing information included for each support.
  3. While looking through some of the early KU yearbooks, I found them to be entertaining and revealing of perspectives from a particular point in time. For example, in 1884, the KU departmental classifications were listed as Science, Literature, and Art; Elementary Instruction; Law; Music; and Normal. In the 1903 yearbook, the member lists for a Bachelor’s Club and an Old Maid’s Club were included. Advertisements in yearbooks also offer insights into daily life of a particular time. In 1884, ads revealed that pianos, organs, and sewing machines were often sold in the same store. An ad from 1903 purported that purchasing granulated opium is the best choice for making tinctures.

What part of your job do you like best?

I enjoy helping researchers discover and use the tools they need to feel confident in their search processes. I like the problem-solving aspects of maintaining awareness of our resources and how best to match our resources to a research question. Watching classes of students interact with Spencer materials, especially when they can’t help but show their excitement, is another fun part of my job.

What are some of your favorite pastimes outside of work?

Being out in beautiful natural settings, exploring places that are new to me, creating art, playing tennis, and watching sports with my husband are some of my favorite activities when not working.

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

Don’t be intimidated by the process at Spencer. Although it is a different research experience in that you don’t have access to browse the shelves of materials, the request process is fairly straightforward, and the staff is eager to assist you as needed. Allow yourself plenty of time to interact with Spencer’s rich and intriguing materials. Sometimes, using primary source documents, for example, can require some extra time to determine if the items contain what you need.

It’s a great idea to acquaint yourself with the Spencer Research Library website before visiting. The Aeon system for requesting materials, the KU Libraries catalog, and Spencer finding aids are available online. Feel free to contact the Spencer Public Services staff if you have questions before you visit. We look forward to seeing you at Spencer!

Stacey Wiens
Reference Specialist
Public Services