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.

Context Matters

October 24th, 2022

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.

Color photograph of a woman sitting, with her back to the camera, facing a desktop computer. She is writing with a pencil, and there are library materials on her desk.
University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 32/13: KU Libraries: Cataloging Department (Photos). Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

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.”

Screenshot of a black-and-white photograph with textual description.
An example of an image in the University Archives Photographs digital collection with the contextual statement about problematic language. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

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.

Photograph of a large open room. Large tables in the foreground are full of boxes and other library materials.
A view of the Processing and Cataloging workspace at Spencer Research Library. Click image to enlarge.

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

Flag Day, 2022

June 14th, 2022
Bandstand decorated by the Eagle Flag Co. in Sedan, Kansas, 1913. Kansas Collection Photos. Call Number: RH MS P2178. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

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.

University of Kansas flag designed in 1928; photo taken in 1933. University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 0/49: General Records: Flags and Banners (Photos). Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

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!

May Day Scrap, 1895. University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 71/10: Student Activities: May Day (Photos). Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

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.

KU anti-Vietnam student protests on May 3-9, 1970. University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 71/18: Student Protests (Photos). Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

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.

The Allen Fieldhouse dedication ceremony, 1955. University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 0/22/1: Campus: Buildings: Allen Fieldhouse (Photos). Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

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!

Shelby Schellenger
Reference Coordinator

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

National Librarian Day: Remembering Carrie Watson (1857-1943)

April 15th, 2022

April 16th is “National Librarian Day.” In honor of all library faculty and staff on KU’s campuses, here is a look back at Carrie Watson, a librarian at the University of Kansas from 1878 to 1921.

Caroline “Carrie” Morehouse Watson was born in Amenia, New York, on March 31, 1957. The following year, her family moved to Lawrence, Kansas Territory. They did so, like the abolitionist settlers who came before them, to ensure that Kansas would enter the Union as a free state. When she was five, Confederate guerilla chief William Quantrill and his band of men raided Lawrence, killing approximately 200 men and boys. Carrie attended survivor reunions and can be seen in group photographs.

Sepia-toned headshot photograph of a young woman. Her hair is pulled up, and she is wearing large earrings and a white ruffle collar.
Carrie Watson about the time she graduated from KU, circa 1877. University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 41/ Faculty: Watson, Carrie (Photos). Click image to enlarge.

Carrie graduated from the University of Kansas in 1877. Several months later, Chancellor James A. Marvin (whose tenure lasted from 1874 to 1883) appointed her Assistant to the Librarian of the University. At that time, the position of “Librarian” was held by a faculty member chosen annually by the chancellor. The holdings of the library consisted of about 2,500 books – mostly government documents – housed in a room in old Fraser Hall (located roughly where modern Fraser Hall currently stands).

Black-and-white photograph of male and female students sitting and reading at long wooden tables. Lamps hang from the tall ceilings, and bookcases line the two visible walls.
The student reading room in Old Fraser Hall, 1886. University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 32/0 1886: University of Kansas Libraries (Photos). Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Carrie earned the title of Librarian in 1887, under Chancellor Joshua Lippincott (1883-1889). She had taken courses in librarianship as she could, mostly over summer breaks, and traveled to the Boston Athenaeum, Harvard Library, and Boston Public Library to gain additional training. KU’s new library building was ready in 1894, and the holdings were moved from Fraser Hall to Spooner Library (now Spooner Hall).

Black-and-white photograph of male and female students sitting and reading at wooden tables arranged in two rows with a cleared aisle in the middle.
The Reading Room at Spooner Library, 1895. University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 32/0 1895: University of Kansas Libraries (Photos). Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Throughout her career at KU, Carrie oversaw the expansion of holdings such that when she retired in 1921 the library had about 140,000 volumes, 1,185 periodicals, and 121 newspapers. After her retirement, Carrie continued to serve in the KU Library, mostly as an unpaid volunteer.

Sepia-toned photograph of two women sitting at a roll-top desk.
Carrie Watson consulting with a colleague, undated. University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 41/ Faculty: Watson, Carrie (Photos). Click image to enlarge.

Thirty years after moving into Spooner, the library, again, had outgrown its space. A new building was approved by the Kansas Legislature. It was completed in 1924 and named Watson Library, forever honoring KU’s first true librarian.

In a December 1943 article for The Graduate Magazine, author Margaret Lynn wrote:

What Miss Watson had inherited of pioneer spirit went into the library. She did not merely take what was put into her hands and make a temporary best of it. She saw the needs of a University library and fought for them, sometimes with authorities who did not see what an investment a library should be. She faced regents and chancellors and professors. She carried on with a staff too small, and quite untrained except in what she taught it. She managed with inadequate or crude equipment. When in 1894 the library was moved from the rooms in Fraser Hall to the new building, the gift of W.B. Spooner, it was a great day. At last there was enough space! But not one assistant had been added to the small staff. Miss Watson had a share in the development of her state also. She was a pioneer in state library work. She was ready to carry what she had learned to those who were still at the beginning. She assisted in state organizations. She was on state committees. She spoke at conferences. She helped librarians-to-be with fundamental instruction. She lectured [to] high school libraries, to education classes in the University. She lectured on bibliography to history classes. She had not only a task but a mission….The three institutions which in childhood she saw beginning – the State, the University, the Library – she lived to see established and developed. She could not have guessed how important a part she was to have in them.

Black-and-white photograph of a woman sitting at a desk reading a book.
Carrie Watson at her desk, 1939. University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 41/ Faculty: Watson, Carrie (Photos). Click image to enlarge.

Kathy Lafferty
Public Services

Yellowstone: The Sesquicentennial of the National Parks

March 10th, 2022
Yellowstone Park booklet, undated. Cooper-Sheppard-Cox Family Papers. Call Number: RH MS 576. Click image to enlarge.

On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed a bill that established Yellowstone. So… Happy Birthday! And 150 is kind of a big one. Yellowstone has very little to do directly with Kansas, but that doesn’t mean there are no connections as our collections here at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library contain maps, photos, postcards, diaries, and even a symphony inspired by the national park. 

Black-and-white photograph of a crowded bridge. A man standing to the side appears to have a megaphone.
All right, on three, everybody sing! But actuall,y “Crowd on Bridge over Firehole River,” 1931. Personal Papers of Raymond Beamer, Photo Envelope 6, Field Expedition Photos. Call Number: PP 392. Click image to enlarge.

People liked seeing the amazing natural scenery of the park; there were quickly hotels, support buildings, postcards, trails, and many named natural attractions. 

Color illustration of a long multistory brown building on top of a small hill.
“Grand Canyon Hotel, Yellowstone Park,” undated. Yellowstone National Park Postcards, Ruth Adair Dyer Papers. Call Number: RH MS 745. Click image to enlarge.
Black-and-white photograph of a rock formation.
Jupiter Terrace, Yellowstone National Park, 1931. Personal Papers of Raymond Beamer, Photo Envelope 5, Field Expedition Photos. Call Number: PP 392. Click image to enlarge.

I haven’t gotten the chance to visit Yellowstone yet, but when I do get to go on vacation, the National Parks are definitely a consideration when picking a destination. The variety of the natural scenery, the ideals of conservation, the privilege of getting to visit these places, shared with so many other people. It is sort of a peaceful and exciting feeling all at once! 

Color illustration of visitors in four yellow open-air cars, driving along a lake framed by tall conifer trees.
“Auto Stages at Sylvan Lake, Yellowstone National Park,” undated. Yellowstone National Park Postcards, Ruth Adair Dyer Papers. Call Number: RH MS 745. Click image to enlarge.

I also mentioned maps, diaries, and even a symphony. There is a map of the tour route in the back of that booklet whose cover starts this post. Evangeline Lathrop Phillips kept a diary of her trip in 1922. And finally, composer and former KU professor James Barnes composed his Fourth Symphony, The Yellowstone Suite, here performed by The Symphonisches Blasorchester Norderstedt.

Shelby Schellenger
Reference Coordinator