History of Kenneth Spencer Research Library

Black-and-white photograph of a couple sitting on the edge of a small pool, surrounded by short plants and a brick wall in the background.
Kenneth and Helen Spencer with their dog Topper in the garden of their home in Mission Hills, Kansas, spring 1959.

Kenneth Spencer Research Library is the rare books, manuscripts, and archives library of the University of Kansas. The library is home to Special Collections (established in 1953), the Kansas Collection (founded before the turn of the century by the university's first librarian, Carrie Watson), and the University Archives (established in 1969). The Spencer Research Library was made possible by a generous contribution from Helen Foresman Spencer.

In the mid-1960s, Mrs. Spencer, a woman of vision and a philanthropist already distinguished for her support of the arts and humanities in the Kansas City area, decided to build a library at the University of Kansas as a memorial to her late husband Kenneth Spencer. Her gift, a 100,000 square foot, four-story library building, was designed by Robert E. Jenks of the Kansas City firm of Tanner & Linscott, specifically to meet the needs of rare books, manuscripts, archives, and their users, and built by B.A. Green Construction Co. of Lawrence. Kenneth Spencer Research Library was dedicated on November 8, 1968, with a speech by C.P. Snow and opened to the public a month later.

Mrs. Spencer's interest in what she called "Kenneth's library" did not end with the completion of the building. She remained a good friend to the Spencer Research Library until her death in 1982, visiting it frequently and demonstrating the most lively interest in its activities, particularly in the development of the collections and in the service it provided to students and other young researchers, and donating to it both her late husband's and her own books and papers. By gift and bequest she provided it with the assurance of a continued modest income for acquisitions and made special provision for its physical upkeep.

Mrs. Spencer built her library for the future, with ample reading rooms, stacks and staff quarters, allowing the university to bring together the previously scattered special collections acquired over its first century and to pursue the growth of the collections and the establishment of new services.

Fiftieth Anniversary Celebration

The University of Kansas Libraries hosted a suite of events from fall 2018 through spring 2019 in honor of the 50th anniversary of Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Dedicated on November 8, 1968, Spencer Research Library celebrated its semicentennial – fifty years to the day – on November 8, 2018. We have valued the opportunity to commemorate this special occasion with friends, alumni, and community members.

Additional details about the celebratory anniversary events are noted below.