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.
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 will be highlighting photos from University Archives that show views of campus throughout the years. The University Archives houses over a million photographs along with departmental records, personal papers, university publications, and much more. Over 35,000 photos within University Archives have been digitized and can be browsed online. Many more photos of campus over the years can be found by using the search term “campus.”
If you are following the holidays we have correlated with previously and are still in the Valentine’s Day mood, check out our 2013 “Civil War Valentine” post by Whitney Baker, Head of Conservation Services at KU Libraries. It focuses on a handwritten poem titled “A Valentine” from one of Spencer’s regional history collections.
These items are meant to show that the library houses many things that many people may not realize. From books, to manuscripts, to maps and ephemera, if you can think of a topic, we likely have something related. Have a topic in mind? I have three unplanned weeks between March and April so please feel free to leave ideas/interests in the comment box below and I will see what items we may hold.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
April 16th is “National Librarian Day.” In honor of all library faculty and staff on KU’s campuses, here is a look back at Carrie Watson, a librarian at the University of Kansas from 1878 to 1921.
Caroline “Carrie” Morehouse Watson was born in Amenia, New York, on March 31, 1957. The following year, her family moved to Lawrence, Kansas Territory. They did so, like the abolitionist settlers who came before them, to ensure that Kansas would enter the Union as a free state. When she was five, Confederate guerilla chief William Quantrill and his band of men raided Lawrence, killing approximately 200 men and boys. Carrie attended survivor reunions and can be seen in group photographs.
Carrie graduated from the University of Kansas in 1877. Several months later, Chancellor James A. Marvin (whose tenure lasted from 1874 to 1883) appointed her Assistant to the Librarian of the University. At that time, the position of “Librarian” was held by a faculty member chosen annually by the chancellor. The holdings of the library consisted of about 2,500 books – mostly government documents – housed in a room in old Fraser Hall (located roughly where modern Fraser Hall currently stands).
Carrie earned the title of Librarian in 1887, under Chancellor Joshua Lippincott (1883-1889). She had taken courses in librarianship as she could, mostly over summer breaks, and traveled to the Boston Athenaeum, Harvard Library, and Boston Public Library to gain additional training. KU’s new library building was ready in 1894, and the holdings were moved from Fraser Hall to Spooner Library (now Spooner Hall).
Throughout her career at KU, Carrie oversaw the expansion of holdings such that when she retired in 1921 the library had about 140,000 volumes, 1,185 periodicals, and 121 newspapers. After her retirement, Carrie continued to serve in the KU Library, mostly as an unpaid volunteer.
Thirty years after moving into Spooner, the library, again, had outgrown its space. A new building was approved by the Kansas Legislature. It was completed in 1924 and named Watson Library, forever honoring KU’s first true librarian.
In a December 1943 article for The Graduate Magazine, author Margaret Lynn wrote:
What Miss Watson had inherited of pioneer spirit went into the library. She did not merely take what was put into her hands and make a temporary best of it. She saw the needs of a University library and fought for them, sometimes with authorities who did not see what an investment a library should be. She faced regents and chancellors and professors. She carried on with a staff too small, and quite untrained except in what she taught it. She managed with inadequate or crude equipment. When in 1894 the library was moved from the rooms in Fraser Hall to the new building, the gift of W.B. Spooner, it was a great day. At last there was enough space! But not one assistant had been added to the small staff. Miss Watson had a share in the development of her state also. She was a pioneer in state library work. She was ready to carry what she had learned to those who were still at the beginning. She assisted in state organizations. She was on state committees. She spoke at conferences. She helped librarians-to-be with fundamental instruction. She lectured [to] high school libraries, to education classes in the University. She lectured on bibliography to history classes. She had not only a task but a mission….The three institutions which in childhood she saw beginning – the State, the University, the Library – she lived to see established and developed. She could not have guessed how important a part she was to have in them.
On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed a bill that established Yellowstone. So… Happy Birthday! And 150 is kind of a big one. Yellowstone has very little to do directly with Kansas, but that doesn’t mean there are no connections as our collections here at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library contain maps, photos, postcards, diaries, and even a symphony inspired by the national park.
People liked seeing the amazing natural scenery of the park; there were quickly hotels, support buildings, postcards, trails, and many named natural attractions.
I haven’t gotten the chance to visit Yellowstone yet, but when I do get to go on vacation, the National Parks are definitely a consideration when picking a destination. The variety of the natural scenery, the ideals of conservation, the privilege of getting to visit these places, shared with so many other people. It is sort of a peaceful and exciting feeling all at once!
I also mentioned maps, diaries, and even a symphony. There is a map of the tour route in the back of that booklet whose cover starts this post. Evangeline Lathrop Phillips kept a diary of her trip in 1922. And finally, composer and former KU professor James Barnes composed his Fourth Symphony, The Yellowstone Suite, here performed by The Symphonisches Blasorchester Norderstedt.