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.

Improving Energy Efficiency in Collection Storage in Spencer Research Library

February 21st, 2023

KU Libraries was awarded an implementation grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, under the Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections program. The purpose of the grant is to act on the findings of environmental consultants from a planning grant under the same program, with the goal of improving the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system in collections storage areas of Spencer Research Library. The ultimate goal is to better preserve our collections while also finding ways to save energy.

While we have run into pandemic challenges, such as global shipping delays on key equipment, we are happy to report that the project is now in full-swing. Thirty-six heating units in the HVAC system that were identified as malfunctioning or underperforming are currently being replaced. Spencer Library’s HVAC system is largely still original to the building, which opened in 1968. The heating units are controlled pneumatically, which is not the standard today. Fewer and fewer HVAC technicians are trained to service pneumatic systems, so that when individual units break it is difficult and costly to fix them. This project upgrades the heating units to electrically-controlled, modern ones.

After walking the building with the contracted engineering firm, staff in Conservation Services covered collections storage shelving in areas near the heaters to be upgraded. Sometimes getting into the ceiling and removing equipment can result in emergent dust, so we wanted to preemptively protect the collections.

Collections stacks covered with plastic to protect them from construction work.
Collections in the stacks covered with plastic, in preparation for new heater installation in the ductwork.

The contractors first removed ceiling tiles under the heating units to be upgraded in order to have the best clearance to de-install the old heaters and install the new.

Original heating unit in the ductwork
1968-era heating unit in the ceiling of a collections storage area.
Gap in ductwork where old heater has been removed, before new heater has been installed.
Old heater removed; new one still to be installed.

The new heaters are currently being installed, with an engineering firm partnering with electricians to hook up the new heaters and update circuitry where necessary.

HVAC installer on ladder, with head in the ceiling ductwork.
Contractor installing a new heating unit in the ambulatory area of the second floor North Gallery stacks.

After the heaters are installed, we will conduct testing and balancing to confirm that air is flowing and the heaters functioning properly. We will continue to monitor the temperature and relative humidity in collections areas long-term to ensure that the equipment properly controls the environment in collection spaces.

New heater installed in the ceiling ductwork.
New heater installed in ductwork

Whitney Baker
Head, Conservation Services
KU Libraries

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this blog post do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. “Improving Energy Efficiency in Collection Storage in Spencer Research Library” has been made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections.

Fall Exhibit 2022: Keeping the Books: The Rubinstein Collection of the Orsetti Family Business Archive

September 15th, 2022

In 1974, the University of Kansas Libraries acquired a remarkable collection of bound business manuscripts from the Orsetti family of Lucca, in present-day Tuscany, Italy. Containing 294 bound volumes; 84 individual, hand-drawn maps; and five boxes of unbound accounting and family records, the Rubinstein Collection, as it is now called, comprises a rich archive of business accounts and legal documents of the Orsetti family’s commercial enterprises of agriculture, real estate, and textiles, as well as personal expenses. The collection of account books, business letters, legal documents, and inventories spans the late 12th century to the early 19th century, with the heaviest concentration dating from the 16th to 18th centuries.

The Orsetti family originated in San Donnino di Marlia, a rural village located near the Tuscan city of Lucca, where they relocated at the beginning of the 15th century. Lucca was a center for silk production and trade. By the mid 17th century Orsetti family members owned the second-largest textile workshop in Lucca, with ninety-five looms. Their companies thrived in Italy, as well as in Germany and Eastern Europe, especially Poland. Their silk trading company, Filippo Orsetti e Compagnia, flourished between 1695 to at least 1744. As the silk market declined in the 18th century, the Orsetti liquidated those assets and focused on their land holdings. Other noble families acted similarly, transforming the ruling class of Lucca in the 18th century from a group of merchants into wealthy landowners.

The Orsetti family crest features a golden eagle in profile wearing a crown in the top half, and a shock of wheat flanked by two gold stars in the lower half.
The Orsetti family crest features a golden eagle in profile wearing a crown on a blue background in the top half, and a shock of wheat flanked by two gold stars on a red background in the lower half. This ink-drawn version adorns the covers of a series of legal books in the Rubinstein Collection. Call number MS E133 v.4 of 6, Special Collections, Spencer Research Library, KU Libraries.

The Orsetti family of merchants used the accepted practices of their time to record their business and personal expenses and revenues. In 1494, Luca Pacioli, a Franciscan friar and mathematician, published his description of the Venetian double-entry accounting system, the treatise “About Accounts and Other Writings,” in Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalita. Pacioli’s work was translated into many languages, and that the style of bookkeeping became standard practice across Europe. In many ways, his descriptions of double-entry accounting are still used today. Pacioli recommended different types of books for different accounting purposes, and that practice is reflected in the Rubinstein Collection and in this exhibit.

Large ledger open to columns of accounting notations.
Ledger H for the Altopascio estate. The red arrow points to a credit posting for a grain transaction with the Biancalana family of Carraia, Tuscany. Call number MS J15:6, Special Collections, Spencer Research Library, KU Libraries.
Front cover of an Italian manuscript book, dated 1698.
Bound book of copies of business letters for Filippo Orsetti e Compagnia, a silk business that operated from 1695 to at least 1744. Call number MS E136 v.3 of 11, Special Collections, Spencer Research Library, KU Libraries.

In addition to serving as an example of accounting practices in early modern Italy, the collection provides a rare opportunity to study bookbinding attributes from one family’s archive over centuries. From January to June 2022, I was awarded sabbatical leave to study the bindings in the Rubinstein Collection. A University of Kansas General Research Fund grant provided funds for raw materials to create bookbinding models to further understand how the books were constructed. Some of the models are also shared in this exhibit.

Model of a book in Spencer Library's collection, featuring a parchment cover with leather bands. Title and date are hand-written on the top cover.
Parchment account book model made by Whitney Baker, based on MS E145 (Contracts of Goods from the Altopascio Estate), Special Collections, Spencer Research Library, KU Libraries.

The Rubinstein Collection honors Joseph Rubinstein, the first curator of the Department of Special Collections at KU Libraries, from 1953 to 1963. After Rubinstein left KU he entered the rare book trade and was instrumental in helping the University of Kansas acquire the Orsetti family papers. Rubinstein died in 1973, while purchase negotiations were ongoing. When the Orsetti family papers finally came to Spencer Library the following year, the collection was named in honor of KU’s first special collections librarian.

Man holding book, in front of bookshelf
“Joseph Rubinstein examines books, 1956,” call number 41/0, University Archives, Spencer Research Library, KU Libraries.

Keeping the Books will be featured in Spencer Library’s main gallery from September 9, 2022 to January 13, 2023. An online version of the exhibit may be found here:–the-rubinst

Visual Communications (VISC) 440/740 (Book Arts) students meeting with exhibit curator Whitney Baker in a gallery tour, September 14, 2022.

Whitney Baker
Librarian / Head, Conservation Services

Working from home: Making a girdle book model

September 14th, 2020

During the summer of quarantine, I constructed quite a few bookbinding models to try out structures I was reading about or hadn’t made before. I decided to finally pursue my dream of constructing a medieval girdle book. This style of bookbinding is most easily identified by an extension of the covering material, which often ends in a knot. The extension and knot allow for the book to be attached to a belt and carried on the person.

Only twenty-three girdle books are known to exist today, but if we judge by their presence in medieval art, they were a popular commodity at the time. Manuscript books were luxury items, so their representation in art signifies wealth and prestige. Because these books were meant to be carried on the body, they are usually quite small.

Girdle books have a lot of components, many of which were difficult to acquire early in the pandemic. So I reached out to bookbinder and teacher Karen Hanmer to see if she would sell me the raw materials. She enthusiastically agreed, sending me every last component to make the book, as well as an in-depth instruction manual. Because I have bound books for many years, the manual was sufficient for completing the project. However, for someone new to bookbinding, I recommend taking her class in person.

The first step was to construct the text block. I folded papers into groups of four sheets each (called a section or quire). A piece of parchment, a type of animal skin, was hooked as an endsheet around the outer sheets of the first and last section. The sixteen sections were pressed under a board and heavy weight. After a few days, I sewed the sections on sets of linen cords, using a device called a sewing frame that holds the cords taut. The sewing structure used on this book is called “packed” sewing, which requires sewing around the double cords and looping around a few times in between each quire to add strength along the spine.

Book being sewn on a sewing frame.
Textblock sewn on double linen cords, with linen thread, on sewing frame.

The sewing creates a natural round at the spine. In order to hold that shape, I placed the textblock in a press, further shaped the spine with my fingers, then attached parchment strips between the middle sewing supports with wheat starch paste. The parchment extended beyond the edge of the spine, to be attached to the inside of the boards.

Sewn book in finishing press.
Sewn book in finishing press, with rounded spine shape.

The next step was to sew endbands at the top and bottom (head and tail) of the book. During the medieval era, the endband was sewn on a core (in this case, linen cord) that extended beyond the spine and was laced through the boards to add stability to the book. I chose to sew a primary endband using linen thread wrapped around a linen cord core. This style of endband has the bead (or thread pass-over) on the back. Then I sewed a secondary, decorative endband over it using blue and yellow silk thread, with a bead on the front.

Silk endband sewn on book.
Secondary endband sewn in blue and yellow silk, over a linen cord core.

The boards on medieval books were almost always made of wood. I’m not an experienced woodworker, so the wood shaping steps took a lot of time. I shaped the wood at the spine edge to accommodate the round of the textblock spine, on both the inside and outside of the wood piece. The other edges were beveled. Next I marked and drilled holes for the sewing and endband cords to lace through the wood, and chiseled channels between the two sets of holes. A channel was also cut and chiseled to accommodate a strap at the fore-edge

Book laced into wooden boards.
Front board, with linen cords laced through holes and channels cut in the wood.

Once the cords were laced through and wedged in place, the book was ready to be covered. Karen offered me a few options, and I chose grey pigskin. I have repaired many books covered in pigskin but hadn’t bound any new ones in the material. As expected, pigskin was tougher and less pliable than calf or goatskin. Once dry, the vellum spine lining extensions would typically be adhered to the inside of the wooden boards. I decided to leave them unattached at the front and adhered at the back, since I will use this model as a teaching tool and I wanted to show steps in the bookbinding process.

Girdle book model, open. Made by Whitney Baker.
Completed girdle book, open, with parchment spine linings adhered to the back board.

To close the book, Karen suggested making a simple clasp from brass rod, with a brass escutcheon pin on the center edge of the top board. The strap is a laminate of pigskin and airplane linen. I laced the strap through the back board and adhered it on the inside in the channel cut into the wood. Medieval books were often written on animal skin, which has a spring to it, so clasps were necessary to keep the book closed.

Karen’s kit was so complete that she even included some finishing embellishments. A contrasting gray leather was used to create the traditional Turk’s head knot that is often found at the end of the leather extension. I decided to create a simple design on the outer covers with a bone folder, and added upholstery tacks as bosses (traditionally used to protect the leather when the book was placed on a surface). Karen thoughtfully even included tiny scraps of parchment to create markers on the edges of the book’s pages.

Girdle book model, closed. Made by Whitney Baker.
Completed girdle book, closed, showing cover decoration, clasp, Turk’s head knot.

While this project took many evenings and weekends over a few months, I am very pleased with the results. I will add this model to our bookbinding model collection in Conservation Services, to teach bookbinding history to classes and public visitors.

Whitney Baker
Head, Conservation Services

Rudolph Wendelin: From KU to Smokey Bear

September 10th, 2019

Smokey Bear recently celebrated his 75th birthday. Rudolph Wendelin, a KU student in the late 1920s and early 1930s, worked for the United States Forest Service and created Smokey Bear artwork over the length of his career.

According to the Forest History Society that houses his archives, Wendelin was born in Ludell, Kansas, and attended the University of Kansas School of Architecture, as well as art schools in Milwaukee and Washington, D.C. After serving in World War II, Wendelin “was given responsibility for the Smokey Bear project and proceeded to create hundreds of Smokey representations that highlighted natural resources conservation and forest fire prevention.”

In honor of Mr. Wendelin and Smokey Bear, we would like to highlight some of the examples of his artwork that are housed in KU’s University Archives. His artistic promise can clearly be seen in the samples featured here.

MacDowell Club detail 69_1 1931 Jayhawker
University of Kansas MacDowell Fraternity for students interested in the arts of painting, music, and literature, chosen by the faculty and an honorary committee. Rudolph Wendelin is in the second row, third from right. Photograph in the 1931 Jayhawker yearbook. University Archives. Call Number: RG 69/1/1931. Click image to enlarge.

Rudolph Wendelin studied in the department of Architecture and Architectural Engineering. In a scrapbook from the School of Architecture and Architectural Engineering that spans the years 1913 through the early 1930s, there are many examples of Wendelin’s caricatures.

Drawing of individuals in School of Architecture and Architectural Engineering in 1930-1931
“We Have With Us . . . 1930-1931.” Pencil drawing by Rudolph Wendelin featuring faculty and student leaders from the School of Architecture and Architectural Engineering. University Archives. Call Number: SB/18. Click image to enlarge.

Wendelin captures student life, including the annual Architect’s Party. In 1932 the theme was “Depression.” The description in the scrapbook, most likely written by Wendelin, indicates that “costumes and decorations were in keeping with this feeling [of Depression] . . .” The event featured “singing and dancing by Bob Mann’s chorus, juggling of balls and jokes by Prof. Beal, and tap dancing by Ruth Pyle . . . Refreshments were served the hungry mob, and dancing followed–to depression music–the radio.”

Print: "Join the Breadline"
“Join the Breadline at the Architects Depression Party.” Print by Rudolph Wendelin, 1932? University Archives. Call Number: SB/18. Click image to enlarge.

Wendelin’s work was also included in the Humor section at the end of the 1930, 1931, and 1932 Jayhawker yearbooks. In 1931 he depicted the “Hill’s Hottest He,” which features Sennett Kirk as the most desirable bachelor on campus.

Page from 1931 Jayhawker yearbook
The “Hill’s Hottest He.” Reproduction of a Rudolph Wendelin mixed media piece, featured in the 1931 Jayhawker yearbook. University Archives. Call Number: RG 69/1/1931. Click image to enlarge.

Rudolph Wendelin was also an accomplished sculptor. Early in his career, he used bars of Ivory soap to hone his craft. Rather amazingly, the Archives houses a collection of these tiny sculptures, dated 1929.

Soap sculptures by Rudolph Wendelin
Above: Photographs of Rudolph Wendelin’s soap sculptures in the School of Architecture and Architectural Engineering scrapbook. Below: Three examples of surviving Ivory soap sculptures. The one in the center is most likely featured in the photographs above. University Archives. Call Numbers: SB/18 and RG 18/1 (artifacts). Click image to enlarge.

Whitney Baker
Head, Conservation Services

Improving the Physical Environment in Spencer Library: The Third Visit from Image Permanence Institute

December 12th, 2018

KU Libraries recently hosted Christopher Cameron and Kelly Krish, consultants from Image Permanence Institute (IPI), for their third and final visit as part of the planning grant we were awarded from the National Endowment for the Humanities, under the Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections program. The purpose of the grant is to work with our environmental consultants to study the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system in Spencer Research Library in order to more sustainably preserve our collections.

On December 4-5, 2018, Chris and Kelly met with members of the KU team representing Facilities Services, Campus Operations, KU Libraries, and Facilities Planning and Development. We first met to discuss building and mechanical system updates since their visit in April, such as the opening of a new conservation lab and work on windows in Spencer Library’s North Gallery. In addition, we talked about weather conditions in Lawrence, Kansas, during the spring, summer, and fall.

As in past visits, the consultants collected data from dataloggers placed in the mechanical system, vents in the collections stacks, and in open spaces in the stacks. They then spent time analyzing the data and searching for anomalies that should be addressed.

Consultants checking air flow in Spencer Research Library

Chris Cameron and Kelly Krish check for air flow from a vent
in the new conservation lab. Click image to enlarge.

On the second day, the consultants met with the KU grant team to discuss the conclusions that resulted from a year of studying Spencer Research Library. Chris and Kelly referred to climate data gathered over a year’s time in eClimate Notebook. We also discussed ways to improve the sustainability of our system, which currently consumes too much energy. The consultants showed us architectural drawings for the airflow throughout the building in order to ponder how our HVAC system might be updated to provide separate zones for collections and people.

Consultant discussing architectural drawings of Spencer Library's ductwork

Chris Cameron shows us how air travels from the air handling unit through two underground
channels, which provide air to the east and west sides of the buildings. Click image to enlarge.

It has been a pleasure to work with Chris and Kelly from the Image Permanence Institute. We have learned so much about the idiosyncrasies of our building and have some short-term action items to help its systems operate more efficiently. We will receive a final report from the consultants early next year and will then make plans for next steps.

Consultants discussing temperature and relative humidity graphs from Spencer Research Library

Chris Cameron and Kelly Krish discuss temperature and relative humidity
data for a space in Spencer Library. Click image to enlarge.

Many thanks also to the National Endowment for the Humanities and the grant reviewers who deemed our project worthy of funding. We are most appreciative.

Whitney Baker, Head
Conservation Services

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this blog post do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. “Improving the Physical Environment in Spencer Research Library” has been made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections.