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.
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?
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.
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.