Kenneth Spencer Research Library
9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
On the web:
- Kansas Collections — Records pertaining to Kansas since statehood, Douglas County government, as well as information on the Great Plains region and other nearby states.
- University Archives — KU’s closet. Holds interesting university items, student records and other information pertaining to university activities.
- Special Collections — This is the miscellaneous category. With parts of ancient Bibles, and collections on Irish heritage, the Renaissance and early modern books, this is home to things that would be of interest to researchers the world over, and not necessarily related to KU and Kansas.
Library collections that aren’t books are often measured in linear feet — the amount of shelf space the materials take up.
Bruce McKinney, a Wichita collector of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered ephemera, recently donated his collection of more than 160 linear feet of materials to the Spencer Research Library.
There, it immediately went to good use.
“This is my baby,” said graduate student Susan Thomas with a hand on the boxes, sitting on tables and shelves in a cataloguing area off-limits to the public.
She will be turning the leaflets, pamphlets and other Kansas historical documents into a dissertation topic.
Thomas is one of many scholars, students and other members of the public who use the library’s resources. On a busy day, the library reports that more than 100 people will come through the door.
Not your usual library
Home to a vast array of old books, historical materials and a number of other surprises, Spencer Research Library can offer assistance in places that may not be readily apparent to many in the Kansas University community.
“The place is really very interesting and amazing to me for a number of reasons,” says Beth Whittaker, the library’s director, as she leads a building tour.
Opened in 1968, the building sits between KU’s Memorial Campanile and Strong Hall and honors Kenneth A. Spencer, an alumnus who founded the Spencer Chemical Co.
Helen Foresman Spencer, his widow, established the grant that built the library so KU could have a home for its archives and rare materials.
A register for guests to sign goes back decades and shows quite a few international visitors — one page lists visitors from Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan.
Whittaker likes to tell those visitors the point of having a library like Spencer in an information age when nearly everything is a Google search away.
“These kinds of collections are the things that can’t always be found on Google,” Whittaker said.
None of its materials leave the building, though copiers and scanners to make PDF documents are available. Anyone interested can work with a librarian to request the materials they need, and then sit in one of several reading rooms to pore through the material at his or her leisure.
One of the libraries specialties is Irish literature — it has arguably the largest collection of Irish literature outside of Dublin, Whittaker said.
She showed off the James Joyce collection to prove it. There’s a signed first edition of Ulysses, along with many of the book’s other editions. Whole shelves are lined with different copies of the book.
Whittaker points out that the books aren’t just useful to Irish scholars. With so many different editions throughout the life of the book, they also shed insight into book binding, book design, distribution and a host of other things, too, she said.
The library also houses the Kansas Collection, which documents Kansas history from statehood to the present, and the university archives, which has a voluminous amount of material from chancellors’ papers to blueprints of many KU buildings.
“I really do believe we owe it to future generations to preserve what we can of the cultural record,” Whittaker said.