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History Day


Educator Evelyn Harper with students at
Atchison Grade School, Atchison, Kansas,
possibly circa 1960-1969.
Call Number: RH MS-P 671

Congratulations on choosing to take part in National History Day! Spencer Research Library welcomes you to explore our large, rich collections. We look forward to helping you with your project!

How can Spencer Research Library help with History Day research?

Spencer Research Library is full of primary sources, including:

  • letters and diaries written by people who lived in the past
  • photographs
  • maps
  • newspapers and other periodicals, especially from the University of Kansas and Kansas communities
  • books about historical events written at the time they occurred or shortly thereafter

Spencer contains a wealth of information about the history of the University of Kansas (1865-present) and the Kansas region (1850s-present). In addition, many researchers are surprised to learn that our collections also include materials from all over the world, especially continental Europe and the British Isles, dating from 4000 years ago to the present. We call these materials Special Collections.

Having trouble finding primary sources about your topic? Don’t hesitate to call, email, or visit us! One of our librarians or archivists will be happy to provide assistance with your research.

How do I find out what materials at Spencer Research Library relate to my History Day topic?

You can get a head start on your research at home.

Information about print sources at Spencer (e.g. books and maps) can be found in the KU Libraries online catalog. We recommend that you start by limiting your search to Spencer's holdings.

  1. Click on "Select Other Search Limits" in the lower left corner of the grey box.
  2. On the next page, look for the "Location" menu and select "Spencer Research Library."
  3. Click "Set Limits" at the bottom of the grey box, and you'll be taken back to the catalog homepage. You'll see "Search limits are in effect!" in red at the top of the page.
  4. Use your search terms to find sources at Spencer Research Library.
  5. If your search turns up lots of results, consider sorting them by date so you can easily find the items published during the time period you're studying.

Many of Spencer's archival collections (i.e. unpublished sources like letters, diaries, and photographs) can also be found via the KU Libraries online catalog. However, you'll also want to search the finding aids section of Spencer's website.

A finding aid is a document, on paper and/or online, created by a repository’s staff to describe the materials in a specific archival collection. It provides an overview of the collection and often also includes a listing of the contents of specific boxes and/or folders. A finding aid is not the archival collection itself.

When you're searching finding aids, keep in mind that not all of them are online. They also do not list most of the individuals, families, organizations, places, events, and topics documented in the collection. This means that Spencer Research Library may have materials about your topic, even if a finding aid search does not reveal them.

Can't fine what you need, or need help searching? It can be tricky, so contact or visit Spencer for assistance.

How do I look at items at Spencer Research Library?

Spencer is different from your public or school library. The materials at Spencer tend to be old and rare, if not one-of-a-kind. As a result, they can only be used at the library. Spencer collections cannot be checked out and taken home.

What to do:

  • Come to the third-floor reception desk and talk to a Spencer staff member.
  • Create a free researcher account.
  • Put personal items like bookbags, purses, and coats in a locker.
  • Talk to a librarian in the Reading Room about finding and using materials.

What to bring:

  • Photo identification (e.g. school ID or driver's license) or one belonging to an accompanying adult.
  • Research materials, i.e. notes, laptop or tablet, paper, pencil, books from other libraries. We have laptops in the Reading Room that you can use during your visit, and plenty of pencils!
  • A thumb drive, for saving digital scans of books, documents, and photographs.
  • A sweatshirt or sweater – it can get chilly in the Reading Room, even during the summer!
Can Spencer help me if I can’t visit the library in person?

Yes! Often we can send researchers scans of materials in our collections. This process does require some paperwork, a per-page reproduction fee, and librarian approval. Contact Spencer Research Library for more information:

Kathy Lafferty
Copy Services Manager
Kenneth Spencer Research Library
University of Kansas Libraries
1450 Poplar Lane
Lawrence, Kansas 66045

Email: klafferty@ku.edu
Phone: 785.864.8924
Fax: 785.864.5803

Are any materials from Spencer Research Library available online?

Yes! Our staff is working hard to make as many materials available online as possible. Some of our materials can be viewed online in these places:

However, the vast majority of our collections have not yet been scanned and are not available online.

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