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.
New to the blog this week is the first of many posts in a series called That’s Distinctive! 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. The series will be posted weekly on Friday with occasional breaks. 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.
In honor of the return of students to campus, this week’s post highlights KU Jayhawker yearbooks. Here at the library, we have yearbooks ranging from 1874 to 2011, the last year it was a print publication (with a few missing here and there). While I am only highlighting a few this week, all of the yearbooks in Spencer’s holding are available for viewing in the Reading Room.
These images show select pages from four yearbooks displaying the variety of advertisements located in/near the index of each book. As the years go on, each yearbook seems to feature fewer ads. It can be interesting to browse the various sections of the yearbooks, which can include clubs, headshots, ads, building photos, memories of the past year, and much more.
Like many institutions, KU Libraries (KUL) has come a long way in recognizing that we are not neutral and that our collecting practices, descriptive traditions, and operations are often not nearly as inclusive as we would like them to be. We have much, much further to go, but we are taking steps where we can. Libraries do not move quickly or easily when large-scale systems are on the line.
Realizing we should communicate transparently about our collections and practices, Spencer Research Library colleagues agreed we didn’t want to “disclaim” anything; we do not want to deny our responsibility to cover perceived liability or avoid a lawsuit. In fact, we are proud of our collections and the hard work that has gone into building them for decades. But in the world today, where images can be shared immediately, without context, and where intention is rarely assumed to be good, it was important to try to explain our work to those who might encounter our materials virtually.
Our reasons for collecting disturbing or offensive materials and making them available to users are grounded in library and archival best practices, our mission, and the mission of the larger university. In fact, sharing these materials with researchers, students, and the public around the world is our actual purpose for existing. If we don’t collect these materials, many of the perspectives they capture may not be represented elsewhere. Ignorance and secrecy rarely advance the best of our humanity.
But these reasons might not always be clear to folks outside the library, so we wanted to strike a balance between 1) providing information about why objectionable or even harmful material can be found in our library and 2) acknowledging that, even if we have good reasons to collect and share these materials, they have the potential to cause harm to users. Like libraries everywhere, we began by looking at what other institutions were doing.
We decided to call this work “contextual statements,” to make clear that we want to provide the context of our collections. We wanted to articulate our mission in a way that acknowledges that libraries are doing hard work in trying to capture voices and tell stories, even though we struggle to do enough with limited resources.
The first step was to add a phrase to all images from our collections in KU’s digital repository, where digitized versions of our collection materials are increasingly being made available to the world. This language was drafted by a small group and went through many revisions by the Spencer collections group, and was implemented by our colleagues in KUL Digital Initiatives:
“Users of this collection should be aware that these items reflect the attitudes of the people, period, or context in which they were created. Certain images, words, terms, or descriptions may be offensive, culturally insensitive, or considered inappropriate today. These items do not represent the views of the libraries or the university.”
We also decided we needed a longer statement about our collections, and added more information to our previously published collection development statements, also freely available. Initial work came from Head of Public Services Caitlin Klepper and Head of Manuscripts Processing Marcella Huggard with input from a group from across Spencer.
Finally, we saw an opportunity, as have many of our peer institutions, to expose the work of description, a professional specialty that has long been hidden behind card catalogs and filing cabinets, frequently in the basements of buildings and at the end of a long series of tasks that take collections from the donor’s attic to the loading dock and to the shelves (or laptops). We published a statement about that as well, initially drafted by Caitlin Klepper and Marcella Huggard, based on the work of other institutions.
In all of this, we relied heavily on the good judgement and best efforts of colleagues at peer institutions. We realize that every environment is unique, so we tailored it to the KU world, talking with colleagues and, where we could, members of our communities. We hope to get feedback as we go, as we begin a larger conversation with those who use our collections in various ways—about what we collect and why, how we describe it, and how we use the impact of our collections to make a better, more just world.
Beth M. Whittaker Interim Co-Dean, University of Kansas Libraries Associate Dean for Distinctive Collections Director of Spencer Research Library
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!
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.
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.
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.