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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.

“How the Work Gets Done: Local Activism Through Kansas Conservation Societies” – An Archives and Special Collections Exhibit at the University of Kansas

June 20th, 2023

Inspired by the American Library Association’s “Libraries and Sustainability Virtual Book Club,” hosted during the Fall of 2022, the idea for an exhibit focused on environmental activism was born. We wanted to investigate which local conservation organizations’ materials are held at Spencer Research Library. We combed through boxes of materials from national conservation groups, Kansas chapters, and KU student chapters. Documents from organizations including the Jayhawk and Burroughs Audubon Societies, the Sierra Club of Kansas, and the Kansas Wildlife Federation showcase long-standing conservation efforts in the Lawrence, Kansas, area through task forces related to riparian conservation, water reclamation, the Clean Air Act, bird and buttery fly counts, and more. We also discovered that, within the central theme of local activism, calling community members to action on behalf of local and regional environmental concerns is woven throughout every aspect of the work that these organizations do. From bumper stickers to congressional papers, newsletters to posted fliers, the urgency of action is evident through the various channels of communication these organizations utilize. Not only do these materials document a network of local community efforts, but they also make for a visually appealing display of these important efforts.

Archival boxes, folders, and documents covering a large table in a library classroom.
Consulting and organizing collection materials for the exhibit. Click image to enlarge.
Stacks of archival documents, with a person's hand writing in a notebook.
Exhibit curator Gwen Geiger Wolfe taking notes about materials. Click image to enlarge.

Challenges faced during the development of the exhibit were numerous and varied. For example, KU collections reflect that conservation engagement was heightened during the 1970s to the 1990s. This might be an accurate depiction of the context of the environmental movement, or it might reflect the need for further collection development in this area. Other examples were more logistic in nature and required flexibility to pivot around timelines, research processes, and themes of inquiry. The original theme focused specifically on Kansas Audubon Societies, of which there are several, but concerns regarding Audubon himself encouraged us to shift to the broader context of conservation, with the desire to highlight the important work accomplished through environmentally focused organizations and their members. Taken together, the resulting outcomes of facing these challenges have extended the timeline of the exhibition and motivated our desire to showcase the vital work of local environmentalists in Kansas.

Archival documents arranged in rows, covering a large table.
Selecting specific materials for inclusion in the exhibition. Click image to enlarge.

The exhibition opened in June and will be on display in Spencer’s North Gallery through July 2023. The selected materials are meant to inspire action and visitors can leave with a postcard they can send to friends and family to urge their participation in local environmental activism by joining a conservation group. Kansas-based organizations featured in the exhibit are invited to attend and share this experience with their members.

Exhibit case with installed items.
Installing the exhibit. Click image to enlarge.

We would like to especially thank Pam Chaffee for allowing us to reproduce her photograph “Monarch Tagging with the Jayhawk Audubon Society” (Call Number: RH MS 691, Box 2, Folder 28), which adorns the postcard take-away for the exhibit. We also extend our thanks to Spencer and KU Libraries colleagues who were instrumental in supporting this exhibition: Angela Andres, Phil Cunningham, Molly Herring, Caitlin Klepper, Melissa Mayhew, Meredith Phares, and Nikki Pirch.

Jaime Groetsema Saifi
Special Collections Cataloging Coordinator, Spencer Research Library

Gwen Geiger Wolfe
Science and Engineering Librarian, KU Libraries

All Creeping Things: A History of Herpetological Illustration

May 26th, 2015

All Creeping Things: A History of Herpetological Illustration, Spencer Library’s newest exhibit, opened on May 14, 2015. Guided by Special Collections Librarian Karen Cook, students Megan Sims, Sydney Goldstein, and Ryan Ridder created and installed the exhibit for an exhibit planning and design course (MUSE 703). Whitney Baker, Head of Conservation Services at KU Libraries, Special Collections Librarian Sally Haines, and Caitlin Donnelly, Head of Public Services at Spencer, also assisted the students with their project.

The exhibit was developed in conjunction with the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles conference being held at the University of Kansas in July and features herpetological illustrations from seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century books in Spencer Library’s Special Collections. Spencer has put on a few iterations of a similar exhibit for previous conferences. Each student had a unique perspective on their experience creating the exhibit.

Ryan Ridder

“One of our goals was to be distinct from Slithy Toves [a previous exhibit, by Sally Haines] and to present images that viewers familiar with that exhibition, and associated book, might not see as often. We ended up repeating a few irresistible images – the giant salamander, Agassiz’s turtles, and the famous frontispiece to Rössel von Rosenhof’s frog volume – but everything else you see is different. We thought touching on embryological illustrations would give our exhibit another unique slant.”

Photograph of Megan and Ryan installing books

Megan Sims and Ryan Ridder installing books in the cases. Click image to enlarge.

Sydney Goldstein

“I found this class to be both an overwhelming and an incredibly eye-opening experience. Coming from a graphic design background I’ve never gone through the steps of curating an exhibition or working off the computer. It was fun to rummage through a variety of books to select illustrations, figuring out how they will fit in the cases, selecting wall graphics, and working in a group. The most rewarding part was applying our vinyl title graphic ourselves. Overall, a great experience!”

Photograph of the MUSE 703 group hanging vinyl

Megan, Sydney, and Ryan hanging the vinyl title graphic.

Megan Sims

“I have installed many exhibits according to specific designs from clients, but this was my first experience selecting objects, designing signs and labels, and fabricating book mounts and wall graphics for an exhibit. Both the physical process and communication were challenging at times, but seeing the finished product was very rewarding. I’m excited for the conference members and the Lawrence community to see this exhibit!”

Photograph of the MUSE 703 exhibit team in front of title

Ryan Ridder, Sydney Goldstein, Megan Sims, and curator Karen Cook. Click image to enlarge.

All Creeping Things is free and open to the public through August 2015.

Megan Sims
Museum Studies Graduate Student

The Magic of Oz: A Collection Celebrating a Classic

January 24th, 2014

Like many people, I suspect, my knowledge of The Wizard of Oz has been limited to the 1939 MGM movie, which turns seventy-five years old this year. However, in recent months I’ve had the opportunity to learn a great deal more about the topic from Jane Albright, an Oz collector in Kansas City, Missouri, with an impressively comprehensive knowledge of all things related to the beloved story.

Image of Jane Albright in front of Oz exhibit at KSRL, 1977

As a student at KU, Jane Albright won the Snyder Book Collecting Contest
for her Oz collection in 1977. She is shown here with some of her books,
which were then displayed as a year-long exhibit in the Kansas Collection
at Spencer Research Library. From the collection of Jane Albright.

Jane and I have been collaborating to develop Spencer’s current exhibit, “The Magic of Oz: A Collection Celebrating a Classic.” The exhibition features books and other items from Jane’s wonderfully extensive collection of Oz materials and uses them to explore some of the contexts in which The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) was created and enjoyed by readers. Jane and I also hope that visitors will come away from the exhibit excited by the “fantastic host of characters, marvelous adventures, and strong sense of place” found within the Oz stories, much as Jane fell in love with them as a young girl growing up in Topeka, Kansas.

Image of the cover of By the Candelabra's Glare 1898

By the Candelabra’s Glare (1898) is a collection of Baum’s
own verse. He printed and bound each of the ninety-nine copies
himself. This copy is marked No. 2 and inscribed to his oldest son.
From the collection of Jane Albright.

Included in the exhibit are early editions and more-recent foreign-language translations of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; examples other works written by L. Frank Baum or illustrated by W. W. Denslow, two men who had prolific careers beyond the Oz stories; ephemera from the 1903 stage musical based on the book, which was the greatest Broadway hit of its time; and copies of Oz books written by Baum and other authors. Noteworthy are the several exceptionally rare pieces from Jane’s collection that are included in the exhibit.

Image of Wizard of Oz postcard 1906

This postcard showing a scene from The Wizard of Oz stage musical has been
time-stamped and annotated. It was postmarked in Milwaukee on February 8, 1906,
and sent to a Mrs. Parish in Delavan, Wisconsin. From the collection of Jane Albright.

“The Magic of Oz: A Collection Celebrating a Classic” is free and open to the public in the Exhibit Gallery during Spencer’s regular hours: Monday through Friday, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, and (when KU classes are in session) Saturday, 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. The exhibit will run through Saturday, April 19th. For additional information, please contact Caitlin Donnelly at (785) 864-4456 or

KU Libraries will host a reception and lecture by Jane Albright later in the spring. The event is scheduled for Thursday, April 17th from 5:30 to 7:30 pm at Spencer Research Library. More information will soon be available at

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

River City Rebels: Beat Poetry in Lawrence

May 17th, 2013

In this week’s post, Museum Studies graduate students Anna Paradis, Bre Wasinger, Karrah Whitlock, and Melody Yu reflect on the experience of curating and mounting the exhibition “River City Rebels: Beat Poetry in Lawrence,” which is currently on display in the Kenneth Spencer Research Library’s exhibition gallery.

On Thursday, May 9th, we celebrated the opening of our new exhibit with a reception. This event marked the completion of the semester-long project in which four museum studies graduate student collaborated with Elspeth Healey, Whitney Baker, and other KU Libraries staff to create an interactive exhibit that compellingly tells the story of Lawrence’s River City Reunion and introduces visitors to some of its more notable characters, including writers Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and Diane Di Prima.

Image of students installing the exhibit Photograph of Museum Studies student Bre Wasinger in front of the case she developed on Allen Ginsberg.

Left: Museum Studies students Anna Paradis, Karrah Whitlock, and Melody Yu install materials in an
exhibition case for the River City Rebels exhibition. Right: Museum Studies student Bre Wasinger
in front of the case she developed on Allen Ginsberg. Click images to enlarge.

Student curator Bre Wasinger remarked she is particularly proud of the “interactives” (or interactive features of the exhibition) – “the listening lounge and poetry wall bring an air of creative sharing and activity to the space that emulates the creative process so central to the Beat community. I hope that people who experience this exhibit find themselves feeling more connected to and curious about Lawrence’s past. Knowing that these rebellious writers were so drawn to Lawrence (a town historically known for its own rebellious attitude) makes me proud to be here, and I hope we can impart this feeling onto others who visit the Kenneth Spencer Research Library.” Fellow students, Anna Paradis, Karrah Whitlock and Melody Yu, learned a lot about the individual poets and the town, as well as the many processes central to planning and executing exhibits through their MUSE 703: Introduction to Exhibits course taught by Bruce Scherting, the Exhibits Director at the Biodiversity Institute.

Photograph of exhbiition visitor at the magnetic poetry wall. Photograph of visitors at the River City Rebels exhibition opening

Left: Exhibition visitor at the Beat-themed magnetic poetry wall.
Right: Visitors at the River City Rebels exhibition opening. Click images to enlarge.

River City Rebels showcases the diverse and interesting holdings at Spencer Research Library for Beat poetry. Karrah Whitlock described the challenges the group experienced when choosing objects for the exhibition, as there were so many unique and visually interesting pieces. Many non-traditional items such as t-shirts, event flyers, handwritten journals, and personal photographs are featured in the collections. It was also important to the student curators to illustrate the strong link of several of the iconic Beat figures to Lawrence. At the exhibit opening several local Lawrencians had personal stories of interactions and experiences with William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, as well as memories of the River City Reunionwhich took place in Lawrence in 1987.

Exhibition case featuring materials from the 1987 River City Reunion in Lawrence, KS. Exhibition case featuring William S. Burroughs materials

Left: Exhibition case featuring materials from the 1987 River City Reunion in Lawrence, KS.
Right: Exhibition case featuring William S. Burroughs materials. Click images to enlarge.

This was a true team effort and the student curators are indebted to librarian Elspeth Healey and KU Libraries Conservator Whitney Baker. Both of these staffers worked closely with the exhibit team and assisted in so many ways. The experience has strengthened our knowledge as well as our real-world abilities to create and share an enriching experience – none of which would have been possible without the support of each other and our collaborators.

Photograph of River City Rebels student curators

Graduate student curators (left to right) Karrah Whitlock, Anna Paradis, Bre Wasinger, and Melody Yu
in front of the River City Rebels: Beat Poetry in Lawrence exhibition title wall

It should also be noted that there are two other student-curated exhibits currently taking place through the museum studies program: Continued Dedication, a special exhibit honoring Senator Dole’s service at the Dole Institute, and Occasional Mayhem: Exploring Crime and Punishment in Lawrence at the Watkins Museum (which coincidentally also features William Burroughs).

Anna Paradis, Bre Wasinger, Karrah Whitlock, and Melody Yu,
Museum Studies graduate students in MUSE 703: Introductions to Exhibits (Instructor: Bruce Scherting)

Jayhawks on Display

December 7th, 2012

Have you ever wondered what steps are involved in mounting an exhibit? We recently completed installation of “100 Years of Jayhawks: 1912-2012,” curated by University Archivist Becky Schulte, with assistance from Letha Johnson and Sherry Williams. The exhibit celebrates the evolution of the Jayhawk, the mascot of the University of Kansas, from the first, long-legged version drawn by Hank Maloy to the present design. This is the first exhibit to be mounted in a newly renovated space in Spencer, in the former location of the Special Collections reception area.

Becky Schulte retrieved many items from the stacks and determined the theme of each of the five cases. Assistant Conservator Roberta Woodrick and I covered the exhibit case bases with the cloth Becky had selected. Once the cases were ready, Becky laid out objects in the cases in rough configurations, determining the best location for each item while considering the flow of the exhibition “story.”

Photograph of initial layout of materials in the case
Initial layout of materials in the case. Click image to enlarge.

After items were placed in the cases, we constructed mounts for materials in order to elevate, highlight, and soundly support them during the course of the exhibit. For this exhibition we selected archival matboard and Volara polyethylene foam as mount materials, both of which are inert and will not chemically or physically damage objects on display.

Photograph of University Archivist Becky Schulte positioning an item on mat board within the case
University Archivist Becky Schulte positioning an item on matboard within the case.
Click image to enlarge.

Once the labels and mounts were finished, the Jayhawks were placed in the cases. We measured and determined safe lighting levels for the exhibition space to limit light exposure to objects on display.

Photograph of finished exhibition case
Finished Product! The final version of one of the exhibition’s five display cases.
Click image to enlarge.

The exhibit will be on open through March and may be viewed during regular Kenneth Spencer Research Library Hours:  Monday-Friday, 9:00am-5:00pm, and (when regular classes are in session) Saturday 12:00pm-4:00pm . Please visit and let us know what you think!

For images from the exhibition’s opening celebration on Wednesday, December 5, please click on the thumbnails below.

Image of crowd at Exhibition Opening: 100 Years of Jayhawks, 1912-2012    Photograph of guests examining an exhibition case at the exhibition opening of "100 Years of Jayhawks, 1912-2012"    Photograph of guests Mingling in the new exhibition space at the opening of the "100 Years of Jayhawks, 1912-2012" exhibition.    Photograph of Dean Haricombe addressing the audience.

Whitney Baker
Head, Conservation Services