Let’s Talk About Instruction

We’ve past the mid semester point here at the U of A but at Special Collections we’re still busy in our archival work. In my last post, I mentioned that I had finished surveying the SAWARA collection and that my next steps would be arranging and describing the collection. It is a large collection and I am still processing it, but I am happy to report that I have made significant progress. The research reports SAWARA used in their work have all been arranged alphabetically, I have weeded through numerous duplicates, and have refolded many of the file folders. I hope that I will soon finish processing and be able to move on to the next step!

An accurate representation of me and the SAWARA boxes in my office

A new project I have been working on is creating an instructional presentation for an undergraduate class. Specifically, I have been working with the different items in the Borderlands Collection to identify theme areas that highlight the different topics present in the collection. I also created a padlet activity about the collection for the students to complete after the presentation.

So far, this is where I stand in my projects. As the end of the semester approaches, I hope to finish what I have started and I look forward to the projects the new year brings.

SAWARA Processing and WFH

It has been a few weeks now since I was given the SAWARA collection to process and I am happy to report that I am steadily moving along in my task of processing the items in this collection. I finished surveying the collection last week and the next step was to create a processing proposal detailing how I thought the collection should be arranged.

It’s a good thing I get to work in the conference room because I needed seven tables to fit the SAWARA Collection once it was surveyed.
The processing proposal I created for the SAWARA Collection.

Now that I have written the proposal, I am currently in the process of arranging the collection to match what I wrote. I am organizing the collection alphabetically and chronologically, weeding unnecessary files such as duplicates, and replacing folders and boxes as needed. Once this part of the process is finished, I’ll create a finding aid that will help users navigate the collection.

One of the work from home projects I have been working on is updating the finding aids for the digital collections so that they include the links to the images in the collections. For this project, I have mainly been working with ArchivesSpace. First, I find the location of the item in the finding aid. Then, I create a digital object for the item where I add the link to the item. After creating the digital object, I add it to the finding aid and it is ready to be updated.

A digital object I created and linked to the Papers of Morris K. Udall finding aid

Working with ArchviesSpace has been a great learning experience. At first it was a bit challenging because I had never worked with (or even heard about) this application, but once I got the hang of it it got easier to create and link the digital objects.

I’ve been enjoying working on both of these projects because they have given me the chance to work with digital and physical archival collections in ways I hadn’t previously had the chance to. I can’t wait to see what other projects I’ll get to work on during my GAship.

Summer Fun as a Remote Intern for the Law Library of Congress

As part of the Masters in Library and Information Science degree here at UArizona we are required to complete an internship. I was very lucky to spend part of my summer working remotely from home on an internship for the Law Library of Congress. I was tasked with selecting a topic related to law or the government and creating a Story Map, which is basically a form of digital exhibit. While the completed Story Map has not been officially published on the LawLOC website I did want to share with you a few interesting archival documents from the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library that I found while researching the Freedom of Information Act.

So, what exactly is the Freedom of Information Act? The video below does a great job summarizing its history and use but its basically an act of legislation passed to encourage and enforce government transparency and provide access to government documents by civilians.

One of the first surprising things that I learned was that the majority of the federal government was staunchly against any open government polices. While I had assumed that there would be some who were not in favor I was surprised to find that even Lyndon B. Johnson the President who signed the act into law in 1966 only did so unwillingly and under immense pressure.

President Johnson, like many other Presidents enjoyed holding public ceremonies when he signed new legislation into law. When it came to the Freedom of Information Act though he refused as you can on the document below, a memo from June 24th where the words ‘No Ceremony’ are scrawled across the bottom of the page

White House Memo from June 24th 1966 https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB194/

Another interesting example I found were these two different versions of the Statement by the President. The first one was the original version written by Press Secretary Bill Moyer and features the handwritten edits from President Johnson.

A copy of the original statement by press secretary Bill Moyer with LBJ’s handwritten edits https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB194/

Here we have the final version that was given to the press. There is a notable difference in tone between the two letters as it removes any mention of previous negative polices held by the government.

Official Statement by the President

These three documents are only a few of the pieces of archival materials that I was able to include in my Story Map. I feel that are a great example of the wealth of information that can be gleamed from working with primary sources as well as how digitization allows for greater access and use of archival materials! I look forward to sharing the completed project with you when it is made public.

Processing During a Pandemic

Processing has always been my favorite task at Special Collections. There is something powerful about arranging a collection, determining what goes into a folder, arranging and alphabetizing, or ordering chronologically — there are also 100 different ways to process a collection so it can be fun to discuss your process with others.

This semester things are different. Discussion is kept to a minimum because we limit how many people are in the archives at a given time and we spread out to social distance. Thus, most discussions happen over Slack or Zoom meetings and (honestly) just is not as fun as standing over a box with others peering into it.

I have also been working on the George Chambers papers (MS 723) which was being processed by another intern before the lockdown happened. Since Shelly is now working elsewhere, I am finishing up this collections for her — I love that she took detailed notes so I know exactly where she wanted things and understand how she decided to arrange things. This made my finishing the project a smooth transition.

The collection now consists of 13 boxes and a treasure trove of information about newspaper publisher George Chambers, as well as includes a lot of his research files. A full finding aid will be published online soon. But, since all of these materials have been handled recently (even though I wore cute blue gloves the entire time!) they now need to go into their own quarantine for a week — just to be safe.
Processing is, again, my favorite thing. So I’m thrilled that I’m back for a few hours a week to get to do what I love!

The Digital Preservation Lab, Out of Lab Experience, Fall 2020, Part 1

Where to start? This entire year has been quite an experience for me as the Digital Preservation Lab Graduate Assistant.

The Digital Preservation Lab (DPL) is a separate entity from Special Collections, under ODIS (Office of Digital Innovation & Steward) that focuses on the recovery and collection of born-digital media (that is is media that is created originally in digital form and stored on objects like flash drives, floppy disks, hard drives, etc)

This is my second year in the position, and it has been 6 month’s now since COVID has forced us out of the lab. In that same time period, the Library has begun a search for a new full time Digital Preservation Librarian, and the nature of our work (interacting with physical digital born media) has changed significantly.

In my first semester as GA for the lab, I worked with the previous Digital Preservation Librarian, Monique Lassere, on developing workflows and imaging and collecting resources from several of the collections that Special Collection’s has had waiting for this type of work to be done. (At one point, I went through almost 50 floppy disks in a single shift!).

Floppy disk - Wikipedia

(8-inch, 5.25-inch, and 3.5-inch floppy disks; the lab is able to process the two smaller sizes, but the larger 8-inch floppys are difficult to work with)

In addition to floppy disks, we also have workflows for Hard Disk Drives, CD and DVD-ROMS, and several other types of media. Because of how often these media need to be replaced and backed up, it’s very important that we preserve the original contents before they can be permanently damaged, degraded, or altered.

However, as working in the lab the lab normally requires working with items and objects that have come in contact with several, if not dozens, of other people. This, combined with the safety precautions being taken around COVID, has pushed lab work in a direct direction: research and workflow optimization, the two areas I have been spending most of my GA time working through.

The most significant part of this work so far has been helping ODIS and Special Collections develop and search for information on constructing a digital preservation field kit, for the purpose of collecting media in the field from donors. And that is what my next post will cover!

Getting Started with the SAWARA Collection

One of the few things everyone can agree on is that water is an important resource. This is especially true in a desert environment like Tucson, where we count on very little rain during the year and must rely on other sources to stay hydrated. Given the importance we place on water here in the Southwest, I found it rather fitting that my first processing project at Special Collections involved surveying the SAWARA collection.  

A few of the boxes in the SAWARA collection.

SAWARA, or the Southern Arizona Water Resources Association, was an organization that formed in the early 1980s to inform the Tucson community on water issues and to raise support for the Central Arizona Project (CAP). Construction on the Central Arizona Project began in 1973 and was created as a 336-mile aqueduct to divert water from the Colorado River to Southern Arizona. Originally, CAP only extended as far as Phoenix and it was SAWARA’s goal to bring the aqueduct to Tucson. Their efforts proved successful. By the time the project was finished in 1993, it ended 14 miles south of Tucson.

A map of the CAP aqueduct, courtesy of Central Arizona Project website.

The SAWARA collection also extends beyond CAP. It includes reports and surveys, correspondence and court records, photographs and journals; all related to water issues in the Southern Arizona. This collection documents the behind the scenes efforts that go into providing residents with the precious resources that is water in the desert. 

SAWARA also published a newsletter on water issues in Southern Arizona.

Right now I’m in the process of surveying the collection, which means I’m doing a broad overview of the contents that will help in the planning of processing activities. My next step will be to write a processing proposal that describes what the collection includes and how it should be arranged. 

Some of my notes on the contents of the SAWARA collection.

Fall 2020: OSIRIS-REx Graduate Assistant- Work From Home Edition

Never in a million years could I have expected to end my first year as a graduate assistant and begin my last, working remotely from home because of a worldwide pandemic. While the majority of my co-workers in Special Collections have returned to working in person, at least once or twice a week, as they need access to the physical collections housed in the library I am beginning what feels like week 280 of working from home.

Doing what you can with what you are given.

I think everyone will agree with me when I say that working from home during a pandemic is not the same as working from during any other period. The days begin to blend together and despite desperate attempts, work/life balance is almost non-existent. I am forever thankful for my wonderful coworkers who don’t even bat an eyelash when my young daughter comes racing into frame while on a Zoom call, or they notice that the upload timestamp on a file is 4am rather than 4pm. We all have to carve out the time we can to get the work that needs to be finished completed. As I balance my responsibilities as a graduate student working on the OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Return Mission, my course load and my new position as Kindergarten Zoom Manager/Distance Learning guide I have identified a few guidelines that have really helped.

  1. Make a schedule.
  2. Throw that schedule out the door.
  3. Make a new schedule that includes time blocked out to take care of the items that didn’t get completed during their originally scheduled time.
  4. Highlight the most important tasks each day and complete those first. By listing tasks by importance you can make sure that if an emergency pops up you don’t have the added stress of that email that HAD to be replied to.
  5. Take time to recognize what you have completed each day! Its important to focus on your accomplishments as well!

Over the summer I completed a full review of the OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Return Mission ‘Science Team Wiki’. This wiki-site is used primarily as a way for the members of the various science teams to both store documents related to the mission as well as a way for them to communicate and update one another on new information related to their Working Group.

Because the Science Team Wiki is a ‘living’ site, meaning that the information and documentation located there is still being updated and added to we needed to find a way to track which documents were completed and ready for ingestion into the campus repository and which were still in use. After surveying the collection I ended up creating an excel spreadsheet that lists all of the current documents, as well as the date in which they were last updated and if they are within the scope of the collection. This document will allow for future archivists in charge of this collection to track newly created documents on the Wiki as well as track when documents have reached the appropriate period of it has been one year since the last edited date. Which then signals they are ready to be placed in the campus repository.

It definitely feels like a real accomplishment considering everything to have created something useful that will allow for whoever takes on the OSIRIS-REx collection after I graduate to continue updating and sharing new information from the mission with the public.

Welcome back to Special Collections!

When Special Collections closed in early 2020, I honestly thought we would be back to work a bit sooner than August. Working from home started off fun — who can deny they love working in their pajamas — but after a few weeks, I was craving human interaction. I longed to be able to actually “go” to work. As of August, librarians, archivists, graduate students, and student workers have returned to Special Collections — but things have definitely changed!

There are definitely some positive outcomes from their being limitations on how many people are coming to campus. Case in point, have you seen how empty the parking garages are?!

Similarly, the line at Starbucks is non-existent right now. For those that know me, I cannot begin the archival process without my morning coffee. It has been quite exciting to visit with some of my favorite baristas!

Special Collections is taking the pandemic seriously. We have arranged schedules so that only a limited number of employees are in the building at one time. We are wearing our masks throughout the day. When we touch materials, we wear plastic gloves, and we then quarantine items when they go back onto the shelves. The building is quite large and all of our work stations are spaced out so that, at a minimum, we are at a 6-foot distance at all times. While this is all quite different, I am so relieved to be able to wave at co-workers!

For my first week back, I decided to finish my work on the Western pulp fiction collection. This collection is a series of paperback books that had previously been housed separately. We did not have an accessible finding aid for this collection, making it hard to discover for researchers (and pleasure readers). Before we closed, I had created a finding aid and was about to start re-boxing and re-housing the collection.

This flap fell off of one of the document boxes ages ago — it was hanging on by a few pieces of tape. As you can imagine, we needed to re-box this group of books. I just needed to create new labels that included the MS number of the collection… but several employees had discussed the amazing original artwork on the old labels. In making new labels, could we find a way to keep these older drawings?

The answer is, yes. After working with a scanner, PhotoShop, and even Paint, I was able to get an image that was pretty close to the original! This type of preservation is not something we do regularly, as most of our labels do not include illustrations, but in this case we absolutely had to retain the original imagery. I refused to lose the saguaro and steer skull!
Here, you can see the new box labels (left) compared to the older labels (right) in the collection. Again, it seems like a small thing, but I really enjoyed preserving the imagery. I was also ecstatic to be able to finally move MS 722 to the main shelves. I look forward to my next project, now that we are finally ‘back at work’!

End of the Year Wrap Up

Since we are all social distancing we have decided to have a virtual wrap up party and share some of our favorite moments and experiences from the last year.

End of the year thoughts from Shelly Black

I was excited to do my MLIS internship in Special Collections for the hands-on experience of processing a collection. Between online classes and my job, I was tired of staring at a computer screen and wanted more tangible work. For the first couple of months of the semester, I surveyed and sorted the George Chambers Papers. Then COVID-19 struck, and many of my daily activities—from my internship to grocery shopping—transitioned online. While that was unexpected, I’m reminded to be resilient and grateful for the privilege of working at home. For the latter part of this internship, I’ve researched policies and manuals and wrote lesson plans, which has been valuable.

As for archives during the pandemic, I’m inspired to see institutions documenting their communities. I’m also reminded of the importance of archives and the need to preserve born-digital stories about what’s transpiring before our eyes.

Look closely. If it wasn’t for archives, we wouldn’t have photos like this! Image of family in Dublin, CA during 1918-20 influenza pandemic via Dublin Parks Heritage Center

Thank you Lisa, the staff, and students in Special Collections for everything I’ve learned this semester! I’m disappointed I won’t be able to say goodbye in-person, but I hope we’ll cross paths again at a conference or workshop in the future.

End of the Year Thoughts from Michelle Nicole Boyer-Kelly

When I think back on this year at Special Collections, I realize that I processed several meaningful collections. As we wrap the year up amongst Covid-19 and work-from-home scenarios the future is not certain. So, I turn to the past and think: What is the first thing I think of when I think about my year at Special Collections?

Sloth poop. Yep, that is the first thing that popped into my brain. Remember that fossilized sloth poop that you found in the Paul S. Martin (MS 442) collection additions you did?! It is going to be hard to focus on anything else once you have sloth poop on the brain. In fact, I’ve spent several moments thinking …

Let’s just say the work-from-home brings up a lot of questions. How do we work from home? If the future of archives is digital, have we considered the computer screen fatigue that goes with it? And of course, I realize that interaction with my peers is really what mattered most this year because, once we were all working from home, I missed everyone terribly. So, although we process ‘alone’ a lot of the time, having others around is something that seems to be missing right now. Do not take working in peer groups for granted! Stay safe. I cannot wait to see everyone in the future. 

End of the Year Thoughts by Jeremy Evrin Thompson

When I think about my time at Special Collections, I couldn’t be happier with what I’ve learned and experience. This wasn’t my first time doing archival work, but it was my first time with a lot of structure. This year as Special Collections coincided with my first year in the Library Science program at UArizona. The combination of studying archival studies and being able to apply what I’ve learned at Special Collections has been a indispensable experience.

If you were to ask me what I enjoyed most from this year, I would have to say processing the Arthur Naiman papers. This was my first project of the year and I had a lot of fun going through the collection. Naiman had an assortment of professions and was a very expressive person, so the material from the collection was vast and a joy to look over. I also feel like it was a good challenge because working with the different types of material and thinking about how to arrange them tested my abilities.

Although the end of my year at Special Collections was hampered because of the pandemic, I have really enjoyed my time at Special Collections. Not only did I enjoy the work I was doing, but I also enjoyed the cohort of students workers that I came in with. All of us were in our first year within the LIS program, so we could discuss our shared experience of being in school and working at Special Collections. This year at Special Collections has really felt like my official introduction into archival work and I am grateful for the opportunity.

End of the Year Blog by Mario Villa

This year in Special Collections has been one of both learning and unlearning. The more I tried to do the former, the more of the other occurred. My past experiences were not always helpful when it came to being an archivist apprentice. In fact, the past was mostly baggage and previous thinking clouded new learning. Frustration was a constant companion during these nine months and came to term within the confines of an apartment, which essentially became a waiting room during the pandemic turmoil.

Patience has now become our guide as the global situation has upended everything causing things to be cancelled or altered in ways that we have yet to discern. Although Special Collections was able to switch to a Work From Home paradigm, the reality is that archival processing is still largely a physical endeavor. The past few weeks were spent dealing with fatigue brought on by the staying at home and moving to a primarily digital existence.

So now as the year ends, I find myself dealing with the collection that started my journey. Though I previously joked that agrostology was as exciting as watching stolons and rhizomes spread, I now find the notion appealing so as to spend more time outside of my apartment and under the soon to be summer sun. On that note, I bid adieu with one of my favorite microphotographs from the year:

To Infinity and Beyond! By Elizabeth Wheeler

This last year working in special collections has been one of firsts for me. My first semesters in the LIS program, my first time working as a graduate assistant in the archives and the first time working primary with born-digital materials. I will be honest, I have spent more time in the last year sitting at a computer and compiling PDF’s then I ever thought I would.

I spent a lot of time traveling back and forth between working with the OSIRIS-REx team at the Drake building and working with my co-workers in Special Collections. It has been a great opportunity to learn not only the hands on skills I will need the archives field but also how to communicate with people who don’t work in archives and be a liaison between departments. I know that soft skills like these will really come in handy when I am out in the work force next year

Its also been really exciting to have been a member of the OSIRIS-REx mission team. I have processed many documents related to the mission and science plans. As well as helped research and prepare a nomenclature proposal for the features of the asteroid Bennu itself! And to think my mom said all that knowledge about ancient wildlife would only ever be good for trivia night.

While I wish the semester had ended differently and that we could all be celebrating together I am really proud of all of the work the graduate assistants and student workers alike have been able to complete during this pandemic. Knowing that we were all in this together and struggling with the same things was so helpful on days where it started to feel like too much. I am looking forward to hopefully getting to go back to Special Collections soon but for now, bring on summer!

End of Year Wrap Up by Jeff Henkel

As my first year in Special Collections comes to a close, I am left with the feeling that there is never enough time when it comes to working in an archival institution. Being a digital assistant, I have been fortunate enough to spend much of the last year of my life looking at collections of photographs and manuscripts that are as unique as the library they are housed in all while creating access to these items that was never before possible. In addition, while working with this cultural organization I have been able to serve the community not just by providing digital access to many parts of Special Collections, but by working side-by-side with them to preserve integral parts of society, locally and globally. Processing archives is another new skill I have been working on during my time at Special Collections and one that has taught me patience along with the fact that being detail oriented is always vital.

Another enjoyable piece of my year in Special Collections is a new project entitled ‘Collections as Data’ where we have the objective of turning the large corpus of newspapers into a searchable form for text analysis. This project is unique in many ways because it incorporates teaching, programming, data science, archives, and record management into a teaching methodology that will demonstrate data literacy and computational text analysis while documenting our distinctive cultural collection. I know without the staff and students of Special Collections my year would not have been nearly as encouraging or meaningful, I credit all my success to them and their patience. I look forward to further serving the public, our patrons, our University, as well as learning new digital technologies and techniques for selecting, appraising, preserving, and curating these rare and unique materials. 

The Tales of Team Hooligan by Emma Luthi and Caroline Kinsley

Hello! Long time listeners, first time callers, Caroline and Emma here! You might be wondering who we are. We are the student workers, and we are typically behind the scenes, processing collections, supporting events, but not writing blogs! Unfortunately, we have been unable to contribute to this illustrious publication until now, mostly because we have been busy reenacting our Indiana Jones and Evie from the Mummy dreams.

(Caroline) (Emma)

However, you might have heard of us referred to as “The Dynamic Duo”, “The Dream Team”, “Chemma”, or “Those Two Hooligans”.

When we were asked to reflect on our time in Special Collections this year, we knew we had to reunite Team Hooligan for one last archival endeavor. Considering how much we worked together this year, all of our favorite memories include each other. But what to write about? One of our first and longest-running assignments involved reviewing collections and updating the comprehensive All Collection Spreadsheet. This task gave us the chance to wander the stacks in search of collections, which led to our “Mysterious Trunks” photo series:

(Guess which one is haunted!)

Or should we talk about our pop-up exhibit on Leonardo da Vinci? Back in November, we were given the chance to create a small exhibit celebrating the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death. Since we both have a fondness for art history, we were both so excited we nearly had art attacks (buh-dum).

(From left, Emma, Leonardo and Caroline)

But our favorite assignment had to be working in the vault. The vault, which holds our oldest and most valuable books can be a little intimidating. The massive steel door looks like something out of a heist movie, it is extremely chilly, and we had to shut ourselves inside to keep the humidity and temperature constant. Despite all this, we were thrilled to spend time handling books older than the United States.

All goofy pictures aside, it’s been a great year, and we have absolutely loved the chance to work in Special Collections. We got to work with wonderful and strange collections and people, and we adored every minute of it. This semester may not have ended the way we planned, but we enjoyed it all the same.

Hang in there!

(Our tiny friend, discovered hanging from a fire exit sign)

Archiving during coronavirus

At the beginning of the semester, I thought this post would be about my near completion of processing the George Chambers Papers. However, like many students, faculty, and staff in higher education, I’ve pivoted to working remotely due to COVID-19. When I think about archives, or just the future generally, I wonder how this collective experience and personal stories will be preserved and interpreted in the future. While some archives and organizations are documenting the pandemic, there is so much information to capture. I also think about the new normal of archival work. How much will continue to be on-site and face-to-face? How much will be spent at home?

Laptop, cat, coffee mug, notebook
My work from home set-up

I’m fortunate to be able to complete this internship at a distance. One project I wrapped up was researching collections development and management policies of other institutions. I was first introduced to such documentation in my advanced archives class, where we learned about its purpose and examined different sections it may contain. As Collections Management Archivist, Lisa plans to compile a policy for Special Collections. I found about 120 examples on the websites of other special collections and archives in higher education. While some institutions had recently updated policies explaining collecting areas and how much they’re collecting in said areas, others were brief. Some were written more for an internal audience by specifying stakeholders and other policies affecting decision-making, and others spoke more to donors and the general public.

I’ve also begun creating an instruction kit based on an eSociety class I observed earlier this semester. In preparation, I looked at some literature (Teaching Undergraduates with Archives edited by Nancy Bartlett, Elizabeth Gadelha, and Cinda Nofziger) and learned about the Teaching with Primary Sources Collective, which offers lesson plans and templates. I’ll also be researching accessioning as processing, a practice akin to “More Product, Less Process,” which addresses backlogs and makes collections more readily available to users.

I’m sad that I may not see the Special Collections staff and students in person again, as I’m leaving Arizona this summer. However, to end this post positively, I’m looking forward to my next chapter: a two-year fellowship at North Carolina State University Libraries where my home department will be Special Collections.