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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.

The North Gallery Revisited

The word “iconic” is often overused, but I believe it describes, better than any other word, the power of the Spencer’s North Gallery. People who have not been on campus for decades remember “the red room,” or the “room with the books.” Often, of course, they remember the “room with the view of the Campanile.”

Spencer Library's North Gallery
Kenneth Spencer Research Library’s North Gallery, view into the
Summerfield and P. S. O’Hegarty collections. Click image to enlarge.

The exposed shelving of the North Gallery (once called “the Ambulatory”) has housed outstanding items from Special Collections since the opening of the library in 1968. Its visual and intellectual appeal cannot be overstated. It not only houses books, like a section of the larger Summerfield volumes, for example, but intriguing artifacts like several horn books and the jumbled writs of habeus corpus that fascinate visitors every day.

North Gallery, Rilke Collection
Kenneth Spencer Research Library’s North Gallery, with view of the Rilke Collection
and the horn books (center shelf) on display. Click image to enlarge.

The Spencer collections, however, are not the same as they were in 1968 when the third floor was the province of Special Collections and books were the name of the game. With the consolidation of the public spaces of Special Collections, Kansas Collection, and University Archives in the early years of the 21st century, and the continuing desire to provide a more interpretive context for our collections in general, we are considering how best to program this stunning space as a true gallery. An enthusiastic group of Museum Studies students recently completed a project to explore bringing diversity and experience into the space through an interesting array of physical and virtual exhibit “stations.”

What would you like see in our signature space for visitors? Is there something we should consider as we move forward with these plans? I’d welcome your input and suggestions as we look ahead to the future of the North Gallery.

The North Gallery at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library

View of the Campanile from the Kenneth Spencer Research Library's North Gallery

Amazing vistas: A wide view of the North Gallery (top)
and looking outward onto the Campanile (bottom).
Click images to enlarge.


Beth M. Whittaker
Head of Kenneth Spencer Research Library

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6 Responses to “The North Gallery Revisited”

I like the idea of stations exhibiting the range of spencer resources (including audio and film). best wishes

Scott McEathron

Perhaps a secondary use could be for small music recitals. THe School of Music is in dire need of venues for students to present their work. Is ther room for a piano?? or harpsichord?

Thanks, Melissa. I know there have been recitals in the North Gallery in the past (I’ve seen the photos to prove it)! I think the acoustics aren’t ideal in that space, but I’ll make sure that our Director, Beth Whittaker, sees this suggestion.

Hi Scott: Yes, we’re hoping to include a real range of materials. Due to preservation concerns, we likely would not put actual audio or film reels in that space, but it might be a fantastic idea to have clips of some films (perhaps especially from the University Archives) playing on a loop.

Thanks for the ideas!
Elspeth, Special Collections Librarian.

Elspeth Healey, Special Collections Librarian

Just added: a photo showing the view of the Campanile, as per request of Andy Hyland in Heard on the Hill ( Alas, we would need a fish-eye lens (or a professional photographer) to capture the full panoramic view!

Elspeth Healey, Special Collections Librarian

I think it would be great to have a main station that features a particular collection for a certain period of time. Each collection, whether film, audio, or book, could be featured for a few months at a time, much like an exhibit. I think rotating collections in and out would allow for some variety. Those of us who love to spend time in Spencer would be happy, and those who do not may have extra incentive to stop there when on campus.

Shayn Guillemette

Thanks for the comments, everyone. I have also received many questions directly to my email, so I thought I would just follow up.
We are not planning a major physical redesign, nor do we plan to alter the exposed stacks. We are simply looking for ideas as to how we might feature additional materials that are not currently “visible” to visitors. I know all of us who work here have favorite items or collections we would like to see more prominently displayed, and I imagine many of you do, too.
At this point, our plans simply call to highlight additional and different collection materials and to add unobtrusive interactive elements that fit with the style of the Gallery and allow us more flexibility to help visitors learn as they enjoy the view.

Beth Whittaker, Director of Spencer Research Library