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.

Tips and Tricks to Using Spencer’s Finding Aids

September 13th, 2023

Using a finding aid might not always be the most intuitive process. I know when I started working at Spencer, the finding aids were quite confusing to navigate. Even today, I am still learning new ways to utilize them in my research. Preliminarily, I would just say to dive right in. Things are not always going to make the most sense, but you won’t learn unless you try!

While this post isn’t meant to be a be-all, tell-all to using Spencer’s finding aids, I hope it can help provide some insights to make things easier. We want our collections to be easily and readily available to all our patrons.

So, first, you might ask: What is a finding aid? Well, it’s a document created by archivists that consolidates information about and describes the contents and context of an archival collection. Some information in a finding aid can also be found in the catalog record for an archival collection. A finding aid is typically longer than a catalog record because it includes additional information about a collection.

You might also be wondering: What materials are described in – and can be found by searching – Spencer’s finding aids? It tends to be things like manuscripts, scrapbooks, diaries, etc. Mostly, it is the things we house that are not printed books. However, just as some books are not cataloged, not all materials have a finding aid. Additionally, things can get tricky because no two finding aids are the same. Some collections are processed in greater detail than others, which can make searches easier yet also more complicated.

For the purpose of this blog post I am using the Diaries of Anna Johnson (Call Number: RH MS 1421) as my example collection. The collection is a standard, processed small collection. And, as I said, processing happens on many levels, and collections come in all sizes. This post is a small example of how to navigate the finding aids. So, let’s dive in!

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The homepage for the Spencer finding aid website. Here you can perform searches, and you will also see (in the ribbon across the top of the screen) browsable lists of all processed collections; subjects and names you can search with; and a list of some of our digitized items. Click image to enlarge.


To begin your search, you need to identify some search terms. You can start out as vague or specific as you like, depending on your topic. For some collections, you might have to get a little creative. To find my example collection I typed “diaries” into the search bar. As you can see in the screenshot below, that search returned 1024 results, and my collection is not one of the top few choices. A short scroll later and the Diaries of Anna Johnson are listed.

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The main search screen, with top results for the search term “diaries,” on the Spencer finding aid website. Click image to enlarge.

Example aside, looking at the search screen, you can see that in the top right, you can sort the search results by title and year if desired. You can also filter results by an assortment of criteria to the right. Additionally, you can do a further search by using more search terms (and sometimes a year) in the box to the right. This is kind of like a search within a search. You can see in the following screenshot that I searched “Anna” within my original search for “diaries.”

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An example of a search within a search on the Spencer finding aid website. Click image to enlarge.

Collection Pages

Now looking at the main or home page for a collection’s finding aid (see below), there is a lot of information given. The most notable information is the collection’s title, call number, and container inventories. How in-depth the collection has been processed determines the amount of other information provided. Some examples of information given on the collection’s main screen include an overview of the collection – a brief description of what the collection contains – as well the date range of the collection, information about the collection’s creator (including a biography, if available), and conditions governing access and use of the collection, which will note any restrictions. Keep in mind, this is not a complete list of all the information that may be provided on a collection page.

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The main or home page for a Spencer collection’s finding aid. Click image to enlarge.

If you look to the right on the collection’s main page, you will once again see that you can search within the collection by search term or year. You will also see the collection organization sidebar, which gives general information on what materials are in the collection. Items of interest can be clicked on and will link you to that item’s page. Depending on the level of processing, there will be different information available. For my example, I clicked “1922-1923,” which took me to that diary’s own page. This is where researchers can find what box within the collection the item is housed, as well as which folder within the box. You can see that the diary from 1922-1923 is housed in Box 1, Folder 3. This information is crucial when researchers are creating Aeon requests for specific materials.

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Page for the 1922-1923 diary in the Anna Johnson collection. Click image to enlarge.

It is worth noting that – while it can be important for researchers to know what folder number they are looking for – when items are pulled from the stacks, they are pulled at the box level. This means that the researcher will receive the entire box when visiting the Reading Room, even if they just want to view one folder within that box.

Container Inventories

If we go back to the collections main page, there is a tab at the top titled “Container Inventory.” This is another way to see what is within each box in the collection. If a collection has multiple call numbers, this page is also useful in determining which box and call number a researcher truly wants. For this example, I selected Box 3. At the top of the screen in the second image below, you will see the call number and box number. Then below, you will see what materials are included in that box and what folders they are in.  I find this screen especially helpful with the more complex collections that house many different types of materials.

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The container inventory for the Anna Johnson collection. Click image to enlarge.
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The inventory for Box 3 in the Anna Johnson collection. Click image to enlarge.

As I said previously, these tips and tricks are not an in-depth look on how to use Spencer’s finding aids; they are simply to help you get started. Using finding aids for the first time can be a bit overwhelming, but the more you interact with them, the more neat features you will find. If you have any questions on navigating the finding aids, you are welcome to visit us in person or reach out to us at You can also check out our 2014 blog post “Finding Aids 101,” although it shows Spencer’s previous finding aid interface. Happy researching!

Tiffany McIntosh
Public Services

KU ScholarWorks and Spencer Research Library Resources: An Introduction

April 20th, 2022

On the Find Collections page of the Spencer Research Library website, you will find a variety of resources for the collections housed at Spencer. These resources not only provide information about the collections but also suggestions for locating materials. Additionally, the page provides access to the library’s Digital Collections, where researchers have free, public access to digitized items from the collections.

Tucked into the plethora of featured Digital Collections resources is KU ScholarWorks: Archives Online, part of the university’s digital repository. What exactly is this digital repository and what all does it entail? Read on to learn more about this valuable resource!

What is KU ScholarWorks?

KU ScholarWorks is a digital repository of scholarship and other scholarly works all by faculty, staff, and students at the University of Kansas. The repository also includes digitized records and materials from University Archives. KU ScholarWorks is part of the numerous Open Access initiatives at the university. The primary goal of KU ScholarWorks is to provide access to research and historical items while helping with the long-term preservation of the materials for generations to come.

Graphic that says "KU ScholarWorks" in blue letters with the open access symbol.
KU ScholarWorks logo. Click image to enlarge.

What Spencer resources are included in KU ScholarWorks?

To go directly to the items in KU ScholarWorks related to the collections at Spencer, use the link on the Find Collections page mentioned above. On the Archives Online page, the departments and collections – referred to as sub-communities – are listed for browsing. University Archives materials are featured prominently and include resources about different university departments such as the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, collections related to Kansas Athletics, and information about student organizations.

While many of these sub-communities are related to the materials in University Archives, there are also resources available for Special Collections and the Kansas Collection as well! Some examples of what is available are publications related to exhibits such as 50 for 50: Celebrating Fifty Years of Kenneth Spencer Research Library; information about specific collections such as African American Experience Collections by Deborah Dandridge; and resources about certain topics or types of materials such as All That in This Delightfull Gardin Growes by Sally Haines.

Black-and-white document with the title in the middle and woodblock images of plants in the four corners.
The front cover of All That in This Delightfull Gardin Growes, 1983. Click image to enlarge.

What are some ways to find resources in KU ScholarWorks?

Not sure where to find information related to a specific topic? No worries – there are a variety of search features and filters to help locate relevant items in KU ScholarWorks! Researchers can utilize the Search feature to look for items that include keywords related to their topics. It is also possible to browse and search within specific communities such as the Archives Online community. Researchers also have the option to explore available materials by Author, Subject, and Date Issued – all features available on the KU ScholarWorks homepage as well as on individual community pages.

Happy researching!

Emily Beran
Public Services

Wayback Wednesday: Allen Fieldhouse Then and Now Edition

November 25th, 2020

Each week we’ll be posting a photograph from University Archives that shows a scene from KU’s past. We’ve also scanned more than 34,800 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

Who’s excited for the return of KU basketball this week?!

Photograph of the interior of Allen Fieldhouse under construction, 1954
The interior of Allen Fieldhouse under construction, 1954. University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 0/22/1 1954: Campus: Buildings: Allen Fieldhouse (Photos). Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

What does that view look like today? The answer to that question comes courtesy of KU student Rick McNabb. As part of a project for HIST 348 (History of the Peoples of Kansas), Rick found the above image in University Archives and later juxtaposed it with a picture he took at the men’s basketball game against Eastern Michigan on December 29, 2018. Play the video below to see! You can also move the slider back and forth yourself by visiting Rick’s post on the website.

A video created from two juxtaposed images of Allen Fieldhouse. The first is the image above, from 1954. The second was taken from roughly the same position in 2018.

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

Students’ Adventures in University Archives

June 25th, 2019

This week’s post was written by Hannah Scupham, an English 102 instructor and Doctoral Candidate in English Literature at the University of Kansas.

“I feel like a detective!”

“I didn’t even know this stuff was here!”

“This is SO cool!”

These are just a few of the comments I heard as my English 102 students (mostly freshmen and sophomores) hunched over folders and boxes from the University Archives about past student life and organizations from the past 100 years at KU. For most of my students, this was their first experience in Spencer Research Library, and this experience with archival documents was new and exciting. Although most professors and graduate students use archives for their own research, undergraduate students are often unaware of why archives exist and how they operate. This past semester, I brought my English 102 students into Spencer Research Library and, with the help of University Archivist Becky Schulte, they got hands-on experience doing exciting research with primary sources from the University Archives.

Photograph of a CORE group in front of Lawrence City Hall, 1964
A CORE group in front of Lawrence City Hall (now the Watkins Museum of History), 1964. University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 71/18 1964 Negatives: Student Activities: Student Protests (Photos). Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).
Photograph of Black Student Union students riding in the Homecoming parade, 1998
Black Student Union students riding in the Homecoming parade, 1998. Photograph by R. Steve Dick for KU University Relations. University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 71/1 1998 Prints: Student Activities: Homecoming (Photos). Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

The goal of English 102 is to teach students how to become scholarly writers and researchers and to expose them to scholarly writing genres and research methods. For the past few years, I have always included a unit in my English 102 course that tackles debates and issues in higher education. I want my students to consider the point of their college education as well as learning about issues such as the adjunct crisis, student debt, academic freedom, and increasing administrative oversight. One of the major issues that my students enjoy debating and discussing is student activism. Many students hold the misconception that college campuses have recently become political spaces in just the past five years, yet after diving into the University Archives, we can see that universities and colleges have always been spaces that reflect and respond to the opinions, needs, desires, and politics of its students.

For this assignment, each student was responsible for learning about their chosen KU student organization through archival materials, and they shared their findings with their classmates through presentations that highlighted a particular object from the archive. By examining both the mundane documents of past student life organizations and the media coverage of former student activist groups, my students discovered the lives of past KU students.

Photograph of members of Students Concerned with Disabilities in front of Fraser Hall during Disabled Awareness Week, 1982
Members of Students Concerned with Disabilities in front of Fraser Hall during Disabled Awareness Week, 1982. University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 71/27 1982 Prints: Student Activities: Persons with Disabilities (Photos). Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).
Photograph of members of KU's Tau Sigma Dance Society, 1932
Members of KU’s Tau Sigma Dance Society next to Potter Lake, 1932. University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 67/100 1932 Prints: Student Organizations: Tau Sigma (Photos). Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Taking all of the student presentations as a whole, the University Archives depict KU’s rich and vibrant history featuring passionate, curious, and community-orientated students. The Archives detail the past lives and struggles of KU student activists like the members of CORE, who fought for desegregation in Lawrence. The archival information about groups such as the Black Student Union, the February Sisters, and Students Concerned with Disabilities also serve as a potent reminder of how students can agitate for change within the university. The University Archives also offers a glimpse into the types of communities from athletics (Tau Sigma [Dance] and Sasnak) to events (KU Medieval Society and KU Home Economics Club) to specialized studies organizations (Graduate Math Women and Wives and the Cosmopolitan Club) that students have made possible throughout KU’s history. My students finished their time in Spencer Research Library not only knowing the basics of how to use archival sources, but also having a larger sense of how their own time at KU will contribute to a long tradition of student life. Many of them noted how much they enjoyed working with primary documents and how they hoped they would be able to return to Spencer Research Library for work in their future classes! (Perhaps there will be a wave of new librarians and archivists in the next four years? Hopefully!)

Personally, I want to give a big thank you to everyone in Spencer Research Library who helped my English 102 students during this process, and a very special thank you for Becky Schulte, without whom these projects could not have happened.

Hannah Scupham, M.A.
University of Kansas Doctoral Candidate, English Literature
Chancellor’s Fellow
Lilly Graduate Fellow