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.

Meet the KSRL Staff: Shelby Schellenger

January 7th, 2020

This is the latest installment in a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Today’s profile features Shelby Schellenger, who joined Spencer in October as the Reference Coordinator.

Photograph of Shelby Schellenger at Spencer's reference desk
Spencer’s new Reference Coordinator Shelby Schellenger where you’ll most frequently find him – at the reference desk. Click image to enlarge.

Where are you from?

I was born and grew up in a little town southeast of Wichita called Rose Hill. I’ve visited a number of places throughout the U.S., but have always lived in Kansas. I spent about ten years in Manhattan and five years in Topeka; I’m now working on a couple of years here in Lawrence.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

My job at Spencer is the Reference Coordinator. In the main, this involves spending my day helping patrons at the reference desk or digitally to locate and use materials from Spencer. I need to develop a good overall knowledge of the collections (I can’t know everything in detail), use good research strategies, and communicate well with patrons and the staff and curators who have expert knowledge in the particular subjects they oversee.

How did you come to work in Public Services?

In kind of a strange and convoluted way. I started my undergraduate studies in Computer Science, switched to Business Administration, managed a comic book store, worked in retail, worked in customer service, got laid off, and realized that libraries are and have always been an important part of my life. I went on to get my Master of Library Science degree and worked my way up at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library. When I saw this position at Kenneth Spencer Research Library I realized it would be focused on exactly the parts of librarianship I most enjoy and had to give it a shot.

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

One of the most interesting things I’ve come across in Spencer’s collections are the various literary awards. I read primarily in science fiction and fantasy and it was exciting to find out we have Theodore Sturgeon’s Hugo Award, World Fantasy Award, International Fantasy Award, Nebula Award, Spectrum Award, and more! These awards mark stories I often add to my long, long to-be-read list. These are also the awards that inspire that “maybe one day” sort of feeling in me when I think about doing a little writing. It really brings home that Spencer’s collections contain more items and types of items than can be easily shared and explained. It is always worth checking if you think a little research is in order!

Photograph of a selection of science fiction awards in Spencer's collections
A selection of science fiction awards in Spencer’s collections. Click image to enlarge.

What part of your job do you like best?

I like being part of that moment when someone finds something that amazes them. Maybe it is a photograph from the 1800s that really connects someone to an unknown relative. Maybe it is a handwritten letter talking about not very much that brings home that people are much the same as they have always been. Maybe it is finding a copy of a student publication they helped with years ago and never expected to see again. That moment amazes me.

What are some of your favorite pastimes outside of work?

I am big into board games. I try and make it to a couple of events (or more) a month and have a collection that threatens my bookshelves and closet space. I tend to prefer strategy games at a medium to heavy complexity with some favorites ranging from space exploration to running a vineyard. I also have two dogs and am getting back into anime, something I have fallen a bit behind on.

What piece of advice would you offer a researcher walking into Spencer Research Library for the first time?

If at all possible, take it slowly. Give yourself the time to absorb things and explore related items. The stories you will find may be worth it!

Shelby Schellenger
Reference Coordinator

Meet the KSRL Staff: Stacey Wiens

November 10th, 2017

This is the twelfth installment in what will be a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Joining us in October 2017, Stacey Wiens is Spencer’s newest team member; she’s the Reference Specialist in Public Services.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

My job is about helping users of the library to access the materials and find the resources that best meet their needs. I am still in the training phase for my position, but I will eventually assist researchers in person at the Spencer Reading Room and also respond to off-site researchers through email and phone.

How did you come to work at Spencer Research Library?

I am coming to the library field as a second career after having been a teacher for several years.

I graduated with my master’s in library science in May 2017. While I was in the MLS program, I found that I was drawn to the issues related to special collections and archives such as how to provide access but also protect these materials over time. I completed a graduate certificate in archival management along with my master’s degree.

While in graduate school, I was working as a librarian at a public library and lived in an area where opportunities to work in archival institutions are limited. When I had the chance to apply for the Reference Specialist position at Spencer Research Library, I saw it as opportunity to apply my past experience as a reference librarian and educator while being exposed to work in a special collections and archives setting.

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

Three recent interactions with materials stand out:

  1. The John Gould materials in the Ellis Ornithology Collection are a treat to view. Products from the entire lithography printing process can be examined, i.e., the beginning pencil sketches, inked and painted masters, rubbed transfer images, stone printing plates, and vibrantly-colored final prints. I highly recommend visiting the exhibit in the North Gallery of Spencer Research Library to learn more about John Gould, the artists who worked with him, and the lithography process. Also, check out a 2014 blog post by Special Collections Librarian Karen Cook.
  2. I saw drawings from the Kansas City Terminal Railway that are plans for building a train trestle (a supportive structure over a low place in the landscape). These drawings were from a time before calculations and schematics could be produced by computers. I was struck by the knowledge and skills that are represented by the intricately-detailed drawings with load-bearing information included for each support.
  3. While looking through some of the early KU yearbooks, I found them to be entertaining and revealing of perspectives from a particular point in time. For example, in 1884, the KU departmental classifications were listed as Science, Literature, and Art; Elementary Instruction; Law; Music; and Normal. In the 1903 yearbook, the member lists for a Bachelor’s Club and an Old Maid’s Club were included. Advertisements in yearbooks also offer insights into daily life of a particular time. In 1884, ads revealed that pianos, organs, and sewing machines were often sold in the same store. An ad from 1903 purported that purchasing granulated opium is the best choice for making tinctures.

What part of your job do you like best?

I enjoy helping researchers discover and use the tools they need to feel confident in their search processes. I like the problem-solving aspects of maintaining awareness of our resources and how best to match our resources to a research question. Watching classes of students interact with Spencer materials, especially when they can’t help but show their excitement, is another fun part of my job.

What are some of your favorite pastimes outside of work?

Being out in beautiful natural settings, exploring places that are new to me, creating art, playing tennis, and watching sports with my husband are some of my favorite activities when not working.

What piece of advice would you offer a researcher walking into Spencer Research Library for the first time?

Don’t be intimidated by the process at Spencer. Although it is a different research experience in that you don’t have access to browse the shelves of materials, the request process is fairly straightforward, and the staff is eager to assist you as needed. Allow yourself plenty of time to interact with Spencer’s rich and intriguing materials. Sometimes, using primary source documents, for example, can require some extra time to determine if the items contain what you need.

It’s a great idea to acquaint yourself with the Spencer Research Library website before visiting. The Aeon system for requesting materials, the KU Libraries catalog, and Spencer finding aids are available online. Feel free to contact the Spencer Public Services staff if you have questions before you visit. We look forward to seeing you at Spencer!

Stacey Wiens
Reference Specialist
Public Services

Meet the KSRL Staff: Emily Beran

September 20th, 2016

This is the ninth installment in what will be a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Joining us in July 2016, Emily Beran is Spencer’s newest team member; she’s the Library Assistant for Public Services.

Emily Beran, Library Assistant for Public Services

Where are you from?

I’m from Claflin, this little town in central Kansas.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

I’m primarily responsible for running reception and assisting with the day-to-day running of things at the Spencer (helping with schedule, office inventory, working with students, etc.). I’m also learning more about the collection right now so that soon I can page materials for patrons and help with research questions.

How did you come to work at Spencer Research Library?

I actually worked for KU Libraries for three years as an undergrad (Watson Cataloging Department). When I saw there was an opening at the Spencer for a library assistant, I knew I had to apply! Not only did the position bring me back to KU but it also gave me the opportunity to work in an environment that really prizes research and accessibility to the amazing resources available here.

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

Narrowing this down is so hard! Right now I’m really excited about the facsimiles of The St Alban’s Psalter and The Relics of St Cuthbert that I stumbled upon just the other day! Those are at the top of my list of items to check out!

What part of your job do you like best?

Learning more about the collection! I can’t wait to explore more!

What are your favorite pastimes outside of work?

I love to read – something I can do for fun again now that I’m done with my master’s. I also watch a ridiculous amount of Netlfix. Oh and I’m working on learning French!

What piece of advice would you offer a researcher walking into Spencer Research Library for the first time?

Never be afraid to ask questions! It’s the best way to learn!

Emily Beran
Library Assistant
Public Services


New Spencer Resource for National History Day

July 1st, 2016

The staff of Spencer Research Library is pleased to announce the addition of an online resource dedicated to aiding students and teachers with National History Day (NHD) projects. Our hope is that this new web page will not only direct NHD researchers to the resources of our library, but will also make valuable connections between students, teachers, and our knowledgeable librarians, curators, and archivists.

Image of KSRL History Day online resource

Image of KSRL History Day online resource

Image of KSRL History Day online resource

Spencer Research Library’s new online resource for students and teachers
participating in National History Day. Click images to enlarge.

NHD began in 1974 as a small competition at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, for students in sixth through twelfth grade. The program proved to be a great success, and it grew until it included not only Ohio, but the surrounding Midwestern states. Developing into a national organization by 1980, NHD moved its headquarters to the Washington, D.C., area in 1992. NHD now conducts year-round programs across the country and holds an annual national contest at the University of Maryland.

National History Day has grown from 129 students in 1974 to more than half a million students in forty-eight states today. Entering competition through their local schools, students develop entries individually or in groups. Choosing from one of five categories (Documentary, Exhibit, Paper, Performance, or Website), they compete in a series of competitions beginning at the local level; winners in each category advance to the regional, state, and national contests.

NHD’s stated mission is to provide students with a chance to study historical content, resulting in the development of research, critical thinking and improved communication skills through the study of history, and to provide educators with resources and training to enhance classroom teaching. The staff of Spencer Research Library hopes that this new web resource will provide a valuable research tool to assist with that mission.

Kathy Lafferty
Public Services

Meet the KSRL Staff: Kathy Lafferty

May 17th, 2016

This is the seventh installment in what will be a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Kathy Lafferty is the Copy Services Manager at Spencer Research Library.

Kathy Lafferty, Copy Services Manager, Public Services, Spencer Research Library.

Kathy Lafferty, Library Coordinator/Copy Services Manager
for Spencer Research Library’s Public Services Department

Where are you from?

Both sides of my family are from Ohio. My father joined the Navy shortly before my parents married, and I was born in San Diego, California. For most of my childhood I lived in Pennsylvania.  I’ve also lived in Ohio, New York and Tennessee.  However now, when people ask me where I’m from, I say Kansas.  I’ve lived here since 1983.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

My title is “Library Coordinator.” As a member of the Public Services staff, my main job is to manage and process the reproduction requests that come to Spencer. In addition, I serve on the reference desk and answer email reference inquiries.  I also assist with classes and tours.

How did you come to work at Spencer Research Library?

I started working at KU in June of 1984. My first job title was “Secretary.” I’ve served in the Engineering School, the Communications Studies Department, the Vice Chancellor for Information Services office, and have held several positions in Spencer Research Library. My first job in Spencer started in May of 1990, as secretary for the Kansas Collection.

What is the strangest item you’ve come across in Spencer’s collections?

I can’t think of anything “strange,” but there are things that I’m fond of, such as the Kansas City Monarchs baseball caps, Quantrill’s letters to his mother, the Cuneiform tablets, the fore-edge books, the “retired” KU mascot costumes, and the photograph collections.

What part of your job do you like the most?

I get great satisfaction from helping people find the information they need and from seeing them in awe over the materials we have. This includes the full range of our patrons, from preschool students to seasoned academic researchers.  I also enjoy selecting materials for our students to see and watching their reactions.

What are your favorite pastimes?

My favorite way to spend free time is to be with my granddaughters.  I love being a Grandma! I also enjoy trying to stay physically fit (so I can keep up with them) by walking and taking yoga, weight training and cycling classes. I like working on home projects, like cooking, gardening and decorating. And I watch a lot of old movies.

What piece of advice would you offer a researcher walking into Spencer Research Library for the first time?

I would advise a first time user to take advantage of the availability of KSRL subject specialists. This would be true for both on-site and remote patrons. Talk to our librarians and archivists to gain a deeper insight into our holdings and how they might be useful for you.

Kathy Lafferty
Library Coordinator/Copy Services Manager
Public Services
Spencer Research Library