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.

Student Spotlight: Kaitlynn McIntosh

February 28th, 2024

This is the latest installment in a series of posts introducing readers to student employees who make important contributions to the work of Spencer Research Library. Today’s profile features Public Services student assistant Kaitlynn McIntosh, who answered a few questions about her work at Spencer.

Photograph of a young woman with a green field behind her.
Public Services student assistant Kaitlynn McIntosh. Click image to enlarge.

Please provide some brief biographical information about yourself.

My name is Kaitlynn and I am a second-year undergraduate art history major and education minor. I am on the track to be a part of the Accelerated Masters Program in hopes of graduating with my Bachelors in 2026 and my Masters in 2027. After completing my program I hope to work in a museum – possibly as a curator – or go on to be a college art history professor.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

I am a student assistant in the Public Services area, meaning I interact with most of the people that come into the library. I check people into our Reading Room and gather materials for patrons that come in. I also gather materials for professors who would like to hold class inside the library. In my job I handle a lot of old materials and I find myself very lucky to do so. Whenever I am paging items I always find new things that I am interested in or would have never thought I would come across. That is my favorite part of my job at Spencer.

Why did you want to work at Spencer Research Library?

I wanted to work at Spencer because I believed it would give me some good practice for working in a museum one day. Though we are a library, we do have a gallery and exhibition space. I am also handling a lot of old and fragile materials, so this job has given me good practice in how certain items need to be handled and cared for.

What are you studying, and what do you hope to do in your future career? Has your work at Spencer changed how you look at your studies or your future career plans in any way?

I am studying art history in hopes of working in a museum setting. Since starting at Spencer I have opened up to more possible careers after graduating. I have my mind on the possibility of working in a library as a curator like some of the staff here at Spencer. I am intrigued by a lot of the work that they do, mainly that they are able to work with professors who hold class sessions here. Working at a library or museum on a college campus has never crossed my mind but by working here that new possibility has opened up to me. I love working with the public and I would love to continue that into my future career plans.

What piece of advice would you offer other students thinking about working at Spencer Research Library?

If you are wanting to work at Spencer I would say apply. There are other positions for student employees that aren’t just in Public Services. This includes University Archives and Conservation Services. It is a very fun environment and is a great job to have as a student because they are very flexible with your class schedule and are very willing to help you with anything at all.

Kaitlynn McIntosh
Public Services student assistant

Meet the KSRL Staff: Kaitlin McGrath

December 1st, 2023

This is the latest installment in a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Today’s post features Kaitlin McGrath, KU Libraries’ new General Collections Conservator/Preservation Coordinator. Welcome, Kaitlin!

General Collections Conservator/Preservation Coordinator Kaitlin McGrath sits at her workbench in the conservation lab.
KU Libraries’ new General Collections Conservator/Preservation Coordinator Kaitlin McGrath.

Where are you from?

I’m from Michigan and I grew up just outside Detroit. I went to school at Western Michigan University and here at the University of Kansas. Before I started this job in August, I was living in western Massachusetts.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

I am the new General Collections Conservator/Preservation Coordinator for Conservation Services. I have a lot of different roles. If any book from one of the circulating libraries on campus is damaged, it comes to me, and I assess what treatment it needs. Some things will be sent out to a commercial bindery to be rebound, but many things will be treated in-house in our conservation lab. Some of the common treatments we do include tipping in loose pages, repairing torn paper, adding protective covers, and building new cases and boxes for books. I supervise the student workers who complete most of the treatments on general collections materials. I also order the archival supplies needed for Conservation Services and Spencer Research Library. As Preservation Coordinator, I work on preservation projects in Spencer such as object housings and long-term storage improvements.

How did you come to work at Spencer Research Library?

I was a student worker in the conservation lab from 2018-2020 while I was attending KU for my master’s in museum studies. I worked under Roberta Woodrick and learned the different treatments that are done in the lab. I really enjoyed working in the lab and the problem solving that came with determining different treatments and creating custom housings for objects. After I graduated, I moved away and worked in a couple of museums. I was just finishing up a two and a half year cataloging project at the Emily Dickinson Museum in Massachusetts when I heard that Roberta was retiring. I thought this was a great opportunity to come back to KU and work in the conservation lab in a new role.

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

KU’s collection of class banners from every graduating year are some of my favorites! I was able to work on a housing project for them when I was a student, and it was so interesting to see all of the different designs. Many of them were hand-made which gave them a creative and unique quality.

What part of your job do you like best?

I like the variety of what I do here. I don’t know what will come through the lab next. It makes work interesting!

What are some of your favorite pastimes outside of work?

I like to play tennis, bake, and knit. I also enjoy trivia and board game nights.

Remembering William “Bill” Mitchell (1932–2023)

November 7th, 2023

Kenneth Spencer Research Library has many faces working behind the scenes to maintain its collections and provide patrons with access to these materials. William Lawrence “Bill” Mitchell was one of these many faces, working with the Department of Special Collections. He served in various capacities at KU Libraries from 1967 to 1999. Both William and his wife Virginia Jean Mitchell died in March of this year.

Headshot of an older man with glasses.
Bill Mitchell in 1998, a year before his departure from KU Libraries. University Archives. Call Number: RG 41/ Faculty: Mitchell, William L. (Photos). Click image to enlarge.

William Mitchell was born on June 2, 1932, in Kansas City, Missouri, the son of William M. and Donna L. Mitchell. Before he joined the University of Kansas, Mitchell served in the United States Coast Guard from 1952 to 1956. He received his bachelor’s degree from KU in 1959 and then received his master’s degree in library science from the University of Illinois in 1960.

Mitchell’s work in libraries started before his master’s degree. Joining KU Libraries in 1957 as a student assistant for special collections, Mitchell worked his way through various library positions. He became a cataloger with KU in 1971 and eventually became chief cataloger. Mitchell’s work was well received; he earned membership in Beta Phi Mu, an honor society that recognizes high achievement in library science and librarianship. He was promoted to the rank of Librarian III in 1967, a marker of his distinguished career as a librarian.

Special Collections weren’t Mitchell’s only interest. He often encouraged work with bibliography and advocated for the conservation of unstable library materials. He led several courses on conservation for KU’s Museum Studies program and, on occasion, spoke with history of the book classes. His interests in conservation covered a wide variety of materials, from the proper preservation of textual materials and bindery techniques to film preservation. He often kept interesting paper ephemera he came across – usually from other bookstores or vintage postcards – to preserve the history of his travels and work. Many of these postcards and syllabi can be found in his personal papers collection.

Three postcards in a row: an Asian woman serving tea to three children with the caption "Drink O & O tea!"; the Monument de la Bataille de Nancy (1477), with text; and a naval battle.
Several of Mitchell’s collected postcards. Personal Papers of William (Bill) Mitchell. Call Number: PP 649, Box 1, Folder 1. Click image to enlarge.

Mitchell’s love of preservation extended beyond KU and into surrounding communities. He consulted with several other libraries in the state, including at Kansas State University, Baker University, Saint Mary College, and the Wichita Public Library. He worked with the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library to save a letter from General Dwight Eisenhower that was sent to a family member. Mitchell presented at several library conferences and attended various conservation group meetings to bring further awareness on the necessity of conservation efforts.

This image has text.
Bill Mitchell’s letter to the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library discussing a letter that Eisenhower sent to Mitchell’s grandmother, Minnie Brazil (or Brazi). Personal Papers of William (Bill) Mitchell. Call Number: PP 649, Box 2, Folder 31. Click image to enlarge.
This image has text.
A 1944 letter from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Minnie Brazi (or Brazil), Bill Mitchell’s grandmother. D-Day was June 6, three weeks before Eisenhower wrote this document. Personal Papers of William (Bill) Mitchell. Call Number: PP 649, Box 2, Folder 31. Click image to enlarge.

Lawrence, Kansas, also had a special place in Mitchell’s life. He was a vocal historical building advocate, writing many letters to the Lawrence Journal-World with his concerns for historic Lawrence buildings regarding new proposed commercial developments. He wrote to the Lawrence Preservation Alliance and worked alongside the organization to protect a historic livery stable that was threatened by commercial development. But he was perhaps the most interested in preserving the history of West Hills, a neighborhood northwest of the University of Kansas campus. Many of his writings surround this neighborhood, from notes on traffic to rezoning laws allowing commercial enterprises to develop in the West Hills neighborhood.

Mitchell was not the only Mitchell with high accomplishments; his wife Jean was a notable quilter and one of her quilts, “Bill Willie’s Whirlygig Factotum,” documents Mitchell’s work and life. Her quilts were once exhibited at the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art, and the exhibit was digitally archived

William Mitchell retired from Spencer Research Library in 1999, though the Mitchells remained in Lawrence after retirement. Both Bill and Jean Mitchell supported Kenneth Spencer Research Library and the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art; William’s papers were donated to the library in 2013, and Jean’s quilts and textiles are housed at the museum. Mitchells’ legacy continues on with The Bibliographical Society of America’s William L. Mitchell Award, given to researchers whose research focuses on eighteenth century English or English colonial periodicals.

Molly James
Manuscripts Processor

That’s Distinctive!: Behind the Scenes

October 13th, 2023

Check the blog each Friday for a new “That’s Distinctive!” post. I created the series because I genuinely believe there is something in our collections for everyone, whether you’re writing a paper or just want to have a look. “That’s Distinctive!” will provide a more lighthearted glimpse into the diverse and unique materials at Spencer – including items that many people may not realize the library holds. If you have suggested topics for a future item feature or questions about the collections, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this page.

This week on That’s Distinctive! we are mixing it up a little. Having posted every Friday (except for one) since January 20th (or 38 weeks), I thought it might be fun to share a little about me and how That’s Distinctive! works.

Headshot of a young woman.
Tiffany McIntosh. Click image to enlarge.

Some background about me.

I grew up in Lawrence and went to KU for my undergraduate studies in anthropology and religious studies. I am currently pursuing my master’s in museum studies online via the University of Oklahoma in hopes of some day working at the KU Natural History Museum. When I’m not at work at Spencer, I am likely at home in Meriden cuddling with my five cats or hanging out with family. We moved away from Lawrence in 2022 to an old farmhouse in Meriden, which is about a 40-minute drive from Lawrence. You can also find out more about my position in my Meet the Staff post from 2022.

How did you come up with the idea for That’s Distinctive!?

I came up with the idea for the blog not too long after I first started working at the library. I had started sharing cool items I found with my family on Facebook under the name “fun find Fridays.” After some thought, I felt it would be better to share these materials more broadly. It seems a large portion of the public, or even the student body, does not know that the library is here and open to everyone so I thought the blog posts would help raise awareness. I didn’t know the library was here when I was studying at KU, and it is really a unique resource with something for everyone. While the library’s primary use is for research (as noted in the name), its collections are vast and cover a wide range of topic areas. I have yet to meet someone that I wasn’t able to find an item of interest for.

What does your process for picking items look like?

I honestly do not have a very rigid process. For most of this year I chose holidays or anniversaries of things for the weeks I wasn’t sure what to share. Other weeks I just chose whatever topic came to mind and did some quick researching. Once I have a topic in mind I go through our online catalog and finding aids to find collections and materials I think might fit. I then pull everything I found to view in the Reading Room and narrow down to a single item or collection. Sometimes items are not at all what I was expecting; other times I find multiple things I like, which can make it hard to choose. Then with other topics I walk away empty-handed and start all over. Once I have an item chosen, I scan it on our Bookeye and then I sit to write the post. Some posts come more easily than others as you can see by the varying length of posts (some are really long, while others are super short).

I try to keep a hefty backlog of posts, so I’m not writing them every week. I will stock up five or six weeks’ worth then when that runs down, I’ll start writing again. Sometimes when I sit to write a post, and nothing comes to mind, I simply start my process all over. Quite a few topics have been pushed aside due to lack of inspiration. Fear not, though; I keep a running list of items I like but don’t write about to be visited later.

I should also add that finding items does not always require such an in-depth process. As I spend more time in the stacks, I frequently find items of interest just by walking around. I have also highlighted items that I have shared with classes and family members on special visits.

What does the future of That’s Distinctive! look like?

I am hoping to continue That’s Distinctive! into 2024. I intend to switch it up a little and attempt to avoid holidays and anniversaries and instead just focus on random topics and finds. I also hope to collaborate with staff and students around the building to highlight some items they have interest in as well.

What are some of your favorite finds for That’s Distinctive!?

Honestly, everything on the blog is of some interest to me. Obviously, some items intrigue me more than others but I wouldn’t highlight something I didn’t think people would like. I have a hard time picking a favorite, but I have narrowed it down to three posts that I really enjoyed writing.

Kansas farmer’s diary: I found this post super fun to write because you can’t go anywhere in Kansas without driving past a field of corn, seeing cows, or running into a tractor driving down the highway. Being able to look back and see what farming was like in the 1890s is just fun. It might seem mundane and redundant but what would Kansas be without farmers?

This image has handwritten text.
Two pages from the diary, September and October 1896. Call Number: RH MS P885. Click image to enlarge.

Flood of 1951: This post was interesting to me because the flood of 1951 was something I had heard about but didn’t really grasp the severity of until I saw the photographs. The process of writing this post also sent me on a little side quest. I shared one of the photos with some friends and my friend Chris recognized a grocery store in the photo that used to belong to his family. This led me to search to see what else we had related to his family, and we actually had a collection with old family photos from when his dad was a child. I thought that was super neat.

Black-and-white photograph of a row of buildings along a street flooded with several inches of water.
Locust Street in North Lawrence, 1951. 1951 Flood – Lawrence and Kansas City, Kansas, Photographs. Call Number: RH PH 172. Click image to enlarge.

Mexican recipes: Other than looking at all the old diaries we have in our holdings, this collection is probably my all-time favorite. Handwritten in the early nineteenth century, the recipes in the collection give a peek into what life was like back then. The process of having them translated was fun too because it was a collaboration of staff in the libraries. I think it would be neat to have the whole collection translated to be able to make the dishes in the present.

This image has handwritten text in Spanish.
The recipe for bodin, undated. Call Number: MS 346. Click image to enlarge.

Tiffany McIntosh
Public Services

Student Spotlight: Claire Cox

October 9th, 2023

This is the latest installment in a series of posts introducing readers to student employees who make important contributions to the work of Spencer Research Library. Today’s profile features Public Services student assistant Claire Cox, who answered a few questions about the projects she works on at Spencer.

Headshot of a young woman.
Public Services student assistant Claire Cox. Click image to enlarge.

Please provide some brief biographical information about yourself.

I am an Accelerated M.A. student in the history department. This is my third year at KU, but my first year as a graduate student. As an undergraduate, I spent my first two years at Johnson County Community College before transferring to KU and earning my B.A. in May 2023. I majored in history with a minor in global and international studies. I started working at Spencer Research Library in August 2022.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

I am a public services employee. My job tasks include retrieving and re-shelving materials from the stacks, sitting at the reception and reference desks, and assisting researchers in the Reading Room. Occasionally I work on a shifting project in the stacks. I also get the opportunity to curate temporary exhibits located in our North Gallery.

What part of your job do you like best?

I really enjoy working in the stacks. Whether retrieving or re-shelving materials, I am usually handling new items that I have never seen before. Not only does this help me get to know the collections better, but it is also really fun and interesting. The Kansas Collection is my favorite part of Spencer. I am constantly looking at old books related to the Kansas environment from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I also like working with the patrons that come into the Reading Room, and I love hearing about their research interests/projects.

What are you studying, and what do you hope to do in your future career? Has your work in at Spencer changed how you look at your studies or your future career plans in any way?

I study environmental history of the Great Plains in the twentieth century. I look forward to continuing my research on the relationship between Indigenous peoples, rural communities, and the environment by further examining the process of artificial lake-building in the region. As an undergraduate, I studied the construction of Clinton Lake near Lawrence. I plan to build upon this research throughout the upcoming year. As an employee at Spencer Research Library, I have learned a lot about how a special collections library works from behind the scenes. This knowledge informs how I conduct my own research, and I feel more confident when visiting other research institutions or archives. I have also found a lot of very useful material in the Kansas Collection about Clinton Lake, which I used for my undergraduate thesis project.

What advice would you offer other students thinking about working at Spencer Research Library?

I highly recommend working at Spencer. There are so many different opportunities for students to find a position that suits their own interests. Contrary to the stereotypical library job, working at Spencer never gets boring! Every day comes with new and exciting challenges.

Claire Cox
Public Services student assistant