Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

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

Kansas Collection Artificial Photograph Collections

June 11th, 2019

Sometimes archivists and special collections librarians “create” collections for their institutions by grouping together like items that came from different sources. We call these artificial collections, and we typically do this in order to make materials more physically manageable and/or more easily accessible to researchers.

A real photographic postcard of the Wallace County Courthouse in Sharon Springs, Kansas
A real photographic postcard of the Wallace County Courthouse in Sharon Springs, Kansas. Artificial Kansas-Based Photographs Collection. Call Number: RH PH 535. Click image to enlarge.

From the 1980s through early 2000s, archivists in Spencer’s Kansas Collection , focusing on regional history, worked with dealers specializing in photography to purchase a wide variety of photographs of Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, and other surrounding states. These photographs display street scenes and aerial views of small towns; exterior (and sometimes interior) shots of churches, schools, courthouses, and other public buildings; interior and exterior shots of drugstores and other commercial buildings; residences; portraits of individuals and groups; rodeos, theatrical entertainments, and opera houses; and a wide variety of other subjects. Staff carefully chose these hundreds, even thousands, of images for their subject matter and content.

At that time, Kansas Collection staff had a practice of describing these images individually on paper worksheets, assigning each image its own call number, and placing the worksheets in notebooks for patrons and staff to access in the reading room. This practice became untenable over time, particularly as the library moved away from analog description to online finding aids, and hundreds of these images remained inaccessible in an unprocessed backlog.

In the past year, processing staff – in collaboration with curators and public services staff – developed a new workflow for managing these photographs through the creation of three artificial photographic collections: one for Kansas images, one for non-Kansas images, and one strictly for portraits (i.e. individuals typically formally posed in a photographic studio, rather than large groups at church or fraternal meetings, or athletic teams, or other images of people that could fit into a subject theme). These images are now described online in Spencer Research Library’s finding aid system and available for research.

The artificial Kansas collection of photographs includes images from across the state. It is organized by county and then by town or other political boundary within each county. These images are further categorized by subjects such as agriculture, education, recreation, social customs, etc.

A color lithographic postcard of a street scene from Sylvia, Reno County, Kansas. One of the dealers with whom Kansas Collection staff worked most frequently came from Reno County, leading to a large selection of images of that area. Artificial Kansas-Based Photographs Collection. Call Number: RH PH 535. Click image to enlarge.

Non-Kansas images are organized alphabetically by state and then simply by town or other political boundary. 

Men standing and sitting on what appears to be a large pile of buttons at the Iroquois Pearl Button Company in Sabula, Iowa, 1911
Men standing and sitting on what appears to be a large pile of buttons at the Iroquois Pearl Button Company in Sabula, Iowa, 1911. Artificial Non-Kansas Photographs Collection. Call Number: RH PH 539. Click image to enlarge.
A photograph of Fourth and Broadway in Kansas City, Missouri, 1869
According to the caption on the back, this mounted print shows Fourth and Broadway in Kansas City, Missouri, 1869. Included is Sheridan’s pond, as photographed from Sheridan’s residence. The Missouri photographs include a small set of Kansas City street scenes from the late 1860s and early 1870s. Unfortunately, they are in poor physical condition. Artificial Non-Kansas Photographs Collection. Call Number: RH PH 539. Click image to enlarge.

Portraits are organized either alphabetically by family name, if provided, or grouped by babies, children, men, women, and groups of people when individuals are unidentified.

Portrait of Ivan Bowers
Portrait of Ivan Bowers. A note accompanying this unusually mounted print states that Bowers was born in North Lawrence, Kansas, spent many years in the military, and married late in life, and that the photograph was taken by the A. Lawrence Photo Studio. Artificial Portraits Collection. Call Number: RH PH 540. Click image to enlarge.
Portrait of an unidentified woman
Portrait of an unidentified woman. The back of this carte de visite lists Mrs. M. Gainsford of Great Bend, Kansas, as the photographer. Artificial Portraits Collection. Call Number: RH PH 540. Click image to enlarge.

Many of the images in these artificial collections are real photographic postcards, typically sent between 1900 and 1920; many of these same postcards have messages on the back. The artificial collections also include mounted prints, glass plate negatives, cabinet cards, cartes de visite, and other photographic formats and processes.

An exaggeration postcard by Frank D. Conard, a noted photographer based in Garden City, Kansas. Conard excelled at exaggeration postcards, or a kind of trick photography that makes normally small things such as farm crops, rabbits, and grasshoppers appear much larger than they ever do in reality. While some of Conard’s images appear to be based in Garden City, many are not; as a result, processing staff categorized several of these images in the non-Kansas topical photographs. Artificial Non-Kansas Photographs Collection. Call Number: RH PH 539. Click image to enlarge.

When a photographic collection comes from a singular donor, such as a photographic studio or collector of photographs or a local family, these images will continue to be handled as separate and unique collections. The Kansas Collection has a rich and varied set of photographic collections; these artificial collections both supplement and complement what is available in other collections at Spencer Research Library and at other collecting institutions in Kansas and the surrounding states.

Please feel free to explore these newly processed collections!

Marcella Huggard
Archives and Manuscripts Processing Coordinator

Today in the Lab, Installment 1

March 5th, 2019

There is a hashtag – #todayinthelab – that conservation and preservation professionals on social media attach to posts that allow followers to look over the conservator’s shoulder at what they are working on at the moment. My post today is in this vein, taking a look at and around my workbench to see the materials from Spencer’s collections that are currently awaiting or undergoing treatment. I hope to make this a semi-regular feature, since the supply of wonderful Spencer materials crossing my bench is constantly changing.

Items from Spencer Research Library awaiting treatment on the special collections conservator's bench.
My newest “patients,” materials picked up from the Processing department, with notes from archivists and catalogers indicating problems they have identified. Click image to enlarge.

A few times a week, I will make the rounds of Spencer to collect items that have been identified as needing conservation treatment or assessment. Spencer staff will deposit fragile or damaged materials in a designated area, along with a slip on which they will note each item’s condition issue. Sometimes staff will email conservators with information about materials that need attention, or they will hand-deliver them to the lab. In any case, I record basic information about all items that come to my bench on a paper log. We have a number of spreadsheets and databases where we document our treatments, but for my day-to-day purposes, I love my low-tech list!

Truck at the special collections conservator's bench, with items awaiting return to stacks after treatment and boxing.
A truck at my bench loaded with completed items awaiting return (top) and a stack of materials being prepared for a document rehousing project. Click image to enlarge.

Behind my workbench I keep my brand-new but already-beloved green truck. It is rarely empty! Today its top shelf holds recently treated materials, beautifully boxed and labeled by our student employees, that I need to check off my log and return to either Processing or the stacks, as the case may be. Below are some materials I am preparing for a small but delicate rehousing project – I am making flat, safe enclosures for a group of medieval parchment documents with large seals. After working out some logistics with the curators and manuscripts processing coordinator, I have begun to pre-cut and stage as many of the components as can be prepared ahead of time in order to streamline assembly of the enclosures.

A newly acquired scrapbook awaits treatment; archival folders are kept at hand for rehousing collections.
A drawer in my workbench cabinet containing archival folders and a scrapbook that is awaiting treatment. Virginia Lucas Rogers scrapbook. Call Number: RG 71/99/43. Click image to enlarge.

There is so much to love about our new lab space, but I am especially fond of our big workbench cabinets. These feature shelves on the top half, and an assortment of shallow and deep drawers below. Most of the drawers in my cabinet hold supplies, but I keep two in reserve for materials that I am treating. I am in the midst of a months-long project to mitigate (old, not active!) mold on a large archival collection. As I treat each box, I am replacing the old boxes and folders, so I keep a stock of fresh folders available. The folders are sharing the drawer with a scrapbook (made by a KU student prior to her time at KU) that awaits treatment.

Six boxes of material at the special collections conservator's bench await return to Processing.
Underneath my press table are six boxes of material almost ready to be returned. John C. Tibbetts Portrait Collection. Call Number: MS Q74. Click image to enlarge.

Next to my workbench I have a beautiful press table, with two spacious shelves below. These currently hold six boxes of material from the recently acquired John C. Tibbetts Portraits Collection. The gouache paintings in this collection had been matted and framed, and I have been working to remove the mats prior to processing. I have just about completed the work on this third phase of the acquisition and look forward to having clear shelves again, if only until the next treatment comes along.

The special collections conservator's cabinet contains materials from Spencer collections before and during treatment.
The upper section of my cabinet, which contains materials from across Spencer’s collections in various stages of treatment. Click image to enlarge.

Finally, here are the upper shelves of my cabinet. Among the materials currently under my care, there are items from Special Collections (rare books, artists’ books, parchment manuscript documents), Kansas Collection (a Socialist newspaper from the Wilcox collection, a rolled and torn certificate), and University Archives (so many student scrapbooks!). There are also a few enclosure models that I’ve been working on (I’m in the process of writing up instructions for an enclosure I’ve modified, so that I can share it with other conservators), as well as diagrams and notes on other enclosures that I haven’t made often enough to have memorized yet.

Thank you for visiting my workbench!

Angela M. Andres
Assistant Conservator for Special Collections

Genealogy Hunts in Processing

September 4th, 2018

Manuscripts processing staff try to provide contextual information when creating finding aids to help researchers discover what we have in our collections. Some of the most important contextual information we can provide concerns biographical information for individuals (e.g. when a person was born, what s/he did during his/her life, and whether s/he had children) or administrative information for organizations, businesses, and government agencies (e.g. when an organization was created, what its function was, and what happened to it – did it merge with another organization or fade into obscurity, or is it still going strong). Without that kind of information, it can be difficult for a researcher to evaluate a collection and determine whether or not it is of interest to their research.

When we’re lucky, we’re provided this information in the collection itself or in material provided by the donor when the curator picks up the collection. Sometimes, though, the donor doesn’t necessarily have information about a collection—maybe its something they found in their house or something a family member gave them years ago and for which they never got the story.

In these situations, processing can be a detective game of following clues and performing dogged research.

Take, for example, the Hungate family papers. We had very little information in the accession file about this collection; the accession itself was called “Housemother in Kansas.” (Accessioning in the cultural heritage domain is the act of transferring ownership from one owner to another—i.e. from a donor to the cultural institution, such as Spencer Research Library.)

Upon review, it was found that this collection is a mix of textual and photographic material, the photographs dating back to what I suspect are the 1860s up to 1958, and the textual materials mostly dating from 1945 to 1947.

Photograph of the Hungate family letters while being processed

Hungate family letters during processing.
Call Number: RH MS 1420. Click image to enlarge.

It was immediately obvious why the collection was initially called “Housemother in Kansas”: on top of the stacked material in the box was a scrapbook for Ida B. Patterson’s retirement as a house mother at Goffe House at the Kansas City Art Institute in Kansas City, Missouri. Nearby was a marriage certificate (shown below) for Ida B. Devaney to Frank P. Patterson in Harrisonville, Cass County, Missouri.

Photograph of the Hungate family papers guestbook

Photograph of a Hungate family marriage certificate

The inside first page to the guest book (cover shown, top) states it was for
“Mother, when she left Art Institute as house mother 1950,” with some items inside
addressed to Mrs. Patterson. Call Number: RH MS 1420. Click images to enlarge.

However, the bulk of the collection was Hungate family material, much of which were photographs that were remarkably well identified, including late 19th century cabinet cards.

Photograph of James Gunther Hungate and his wife, Essie Smith Hungate Photograph of James Gunther Hungate and his wife, Essie Smith Hungate

The front (left) and back (right) of a photograph of James Gunther Hungate and his wife Essie Smith Hungate,
one of several identified family photos in the collection. Call Number: RH MS 1420. Click images to enlarge.

The majority of the correspondence in the collection was to Dr. Carroll Paul Hungate, a medical doctor serving in the Naval Reserves in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1945, or to his daughter Mary Agnes Hungate from Brazilian penpals. By quickly skimming some of the letters and reading the backs of some of the identified photographs, I was able to start piecing together family connections.

Photograph of Carroll Paul Hungate

Caroll Paul Hungate.
Call Number: RH MS 1420. Click image to enlarge.

Both Mary Agnes Hungate (writing to her husband “my darling Carroll”) and her daughters Mary Agnes and Annabel (writing to their father “Daddy”) several times mentioned going to the lake with the Pattersons. In one letter, Mary Agnes Sr. mentioned that Donald Patterson called, telling her “Aunt Maude” had died of cancer.

Image of a letter from Mary Agnes Hungate to her husband Carroll, October 5, 1945

A letter from Mary Agnes Hungate to her husband Carroll, writing
about the children going to the movies with the Pattersons, October 5, 1945.
Call Number: RH MS 1420. Click image to enlarge.

The clues in the collection itself led to online researches on genealogical websites. HeritageQuest (available for free through KU Libraries), Find a Grave, and other websites all aided in tracking down Hungate and Patterson family members. I finally discovered the connection between these two families: Ida B. Patterson was Mary Agnes (Patterson) Hungate’s mother. Ida’s husband Frank died in 1908, after they had been married for just ten years. According to the 1910 U.S. census, the widowed Ida was left to care for her two children, Howard and his younger sister Mary Agnes.

Screenshot of the 1910 United States federal census record for Ida B. Patterson

A screenshot of the transcribed entry for Ida B. Patterson in the
1910 United States federal census. From Ancestry.com. Click image to enlarge.

Sometimes, processing detective work pays off.

Pro Tip

If you reside in Kansas and want to look up information in Kansas newspapers prior to 1923—even later for some content—including birth announcements and obituaries, you can go to the Kansas Historical Society’s website, provide your name, date of birth, and Kansas driver’s license number, and have free access to thousands of images of digitized Kansas newspapers on Newspapers.com. Very helpful when confirming birth dates found in other sources!

Marcella Huggard
Archives and Manuscripts Processing Coordinator

Making Collections Accessible for Researchers

May 30th, 2018

When manuscript collections – the papers, letters, documents, photographs, and/or diaries of an individual or organization – are acquired by the Spencer Research Library, they need to undergo processing in order for them to be ready for researchers to use them. Some collections need more processing than others in order to make them accessible. While we process the collection, we create a finding aid so researchers know what is in the collection.

This blog post will use the Jane Wofford Malin Collection (Call Number: RH MS 1444) to illustrate what processing entails.

 

Photograph of the Jane Wofford Malin Collection being processed, 2018

The “before” picture of an unprocessed donation to Spencer Research Library.
Click image to enlarge.

 

Photograph of the Jane Wofford Malin Collection being processed, 2018 Photograph of the Jane Wofford Malin Collection being processed, 2018

Sometimes collections are pretty large. Even a small box can contain hundreds of letters!
Click image to enlarge.

 

Photograph of the Jane Wofford Malin Collection being processed, 2018

Correspondence is unfolded and put into acid-free folders so researchers can
access them easily. The folders will be put into acid-free boxes. Notice the pencils
in the photo above? We use those to label the folder. We never use ink pens
around archival items. Researchers are also required to leave their ink pens behind
when they enter the research room here. Click image to enlarge.

 

Photograph of the Jane Wofford Malin Collection being processed, 2018

This donated box contained hundreds of photographs. In order to protect the photographs and
make them useful for researchers, we put them into acid-free folders and
note the content so we can enter it into the finding aid. Click image to enlarge.

 

Photograph of the Jane Wofford Malin Collection being processed, 2018

The photos from the box shown above were sorted into like-groups and by year.
On the far right corner of the work table, you can see the purple nitrile gloves worn
when handling the photos. We always wear cotton or nitrile gloves when handling photographs
so that our finger-prints don’t ruin the image. Researchers also have to wear gloves
when using photographs here at Spencer Research Library. Click image to enlarge.

 

Photograph of the Jane Wofford Malin Collection being processed, 2018

The “after” picture of a processed collection at
Spencer Research Library. Click image to enlarge.

Here is what the collection looked like after it was all arranged and organized. The larger boxes on top hold oversize documents, such as certificates and artwork, and an oversize scrapbook. Everything is ready to go to the stacks and wait for a researcher to call them into the Reading Room!

With the collection all organized, we put the finishing touches on the finding aid and publish it to our website. Try searching the finding aids for yourself and see what you can discover in the Spencer Research Library. If you need help, please don’t hesitate to ask the staff. We work hard to preserve history and to make sure that it can be used and accessed by you!

Lynn Ward
Processing