The Costs of Preservation

During my media survey, I came across hundreds of records belonging to the Southwest Folklore Collection. It was a fascinating find that sent me down the road of researching the best practices for preserving grooved media (defined as either flat discs or cylinders with grooves in them that are played back by running a needle or stylus through the groove). Many of these records contain oral history type interviews that are worthy of preservation – but as with most things, preservation is not simple or cheap.

When I first came across these records, they were stored in open containers in a paper based lined sleeve. This was a concern, since any amount of dust can stick to the grooved media, causing intense skipping 1005071044(even scratching!) when playback occurs. While an attempt was made to rehouse these record sleeves into an archival box, I soon found that the oversized paper sleeves would not allow for the records to fit within the proper archival box. Of course, I began finding other issues alongside proper housing as I started to look at individual items.

A majority of the collection includes lacquer discs. This format was predominantly used from 1920-1970s and came in varying sizes. They could also be called “acetate discs” and “laminate discs” in the industry. Preservation concerns 1005071045ainclude cracks in the coating that peels away from the core, brittleness, and plasticizer loss. Plasticizer loss is when a white, greasy powder with a crystalline appearance gets on your disc—which can lead to delamination. The white powder look is actually a fatty acid (often from fingerprints) that migrate to the disc and start a process of deterioration. Attempting to clean this can, if you’re not trained, add more damage.  I’ve included a photo (left) of one of the records that remains in an overall good condition. Yet, there are a high number of records (like the one below) that are suffering from fatty acid delamination and deterioration.


This first wave of preservation issues is–overall–a good one. Now we’re more aware of what needs to be done to house these materials. Materials in good condition need to be removed from their current sleeves and put into new ones, then ideally should be put into a plastic casing, where they will then be migrated to a proper archival box. Materials like the one above need to be sent to specialists for cleaning and digitization to further preserve them. But… this is all at a huge financial cost. This is something faced by most archives: knowing what needs to be done, but having to make sure it can be put within the budget.

For now, I’ve helped to identify some preservation needs for these records, and now the higher ups will meet to determine if archival processing materials (boxes, sleeves, plastic record boxes, etc.) are within the budget.


Equity and Justice at AzAA

Processed with Snapseed.

Last year at AzAA in Tempe, Arizona.

Last October, I had the privilege of driving to Tempe, Arizona for the Arizona Archives Alliance (AzAA) symposium, which focused on understanding the role of archivists and understanding the interconnections of staff in archival institutions. Many archivists at Special Collections are members of AzAA, and just like last year, we’re all getting excited for the annual symposium. I’m particularly excited for this year’s event because it will be focusing on issues of equity and justice, and will be featuring two out-of-state speakers working on archiving the stories and information of communities of color at historically white institutions. Local panelists Nancy Godoy-Powell, Jamie Lee and Amanda Meeks will present on their experiences working with local queer and undocumented communities in Arizona.

I find that this conference fits nicely with the work I have been doing at Special Collections. Last spring, while working on the Community Digitization Day project and while processing the Pachucos collection, I thought a great deal about archiving materials belonging to Tucson’s various and intersecting marginalized communities. I’m excited to learn more about approaching archives and archiving in a way that seeks to dismantle colonialism and white supremacy, and I’m even more eager to meet Arizona archivists involved in the same kind of work.

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Come join us at the annual AzAA symposium at Arizona Historical Society on 10/22!

download.pngThe Arizona Archives Alliance annual symposium will be held on Sunday, October 22 from 9AM to 3PM at the Arizona Historical Society in Tucson, Arizona. Attendance is free. Members of AzAA are provided with a free lunch; for non-members lunch is $10.

Mo Udall and Native American Rights

Special Collections is home to hundreds of collections, including the congressional records of Morris “Mo” K. Udall (D) who represented Arizona as a US Representative from May 2, 1961 to May 4, 1991. In 1976 he even threw his hat into the ring to become the Democratic Nominee for President (but was later edged out by Jimmy Carter).


A helpful map to help locate St. John’s, Az.

As a graduate assistant working in the world of archives, I’m often asked if I ever spend a few minutes looking through collections “for fun” and the answer is of course! As a PhD candidate in the American Studies Department at the University of Arizona there are a lot of collections that catch my eye because of their relationship to Native American rights. The Papers of Morris K. Udall (MS 325) are a researcher’s dream.

“Mo” always advocated of Native American rights and was part of several groundbreaking legislative moves that reaffirmed sovereignty in Arizona, as well as throughout the United States. He was also visited many communities and took part in daily activities. Interested in agriculture, Udall even attended an FFA (Future Farmers of America) event to show his support (he also received a basket of home grown tomatoes).

Udall was an advocate for “Save the Children,” an international non-governmental organization that promotes children’s rights, provides relief and helps support children in developing countries. Due to the economic hardships on Arizona reservations, as well as many other reservations throughout the country, Native American youth were also included in programs that offered summer programs, literacy help, healthy food options, and child school preparedness courses.

In the early 1980s, Udall advocated for Tohono O’odham water rights, citing that the O’odham relied on access to water that had been diverted. He introduced H.R. 5118 to the 97th Congress, which later became known as the Southern Arizona Water Rights Settlement Act of 1982. The act  “directs the Secretary of the Interior to deliver water supplies to the Papago Tribe of Arizona and its members in settlement of tribal and individual water rights claims in portions of the Papago reservations.” The bill re-enforced Tohono O’odham sovereignty and played a large part in later water rights cases across the country.


Udall (far left) with John Narcho, Chairman of the San Xavier District Council (far right). They are holding a copy of H.R. 5118. (MS 325 Box 738 Folder 11)

A firm believer in strengthening relationships with Native tribes, Mo also supported tribal gaming during a time when other members of Congress were suggesting gaming would lead to higher crime rates. Udall pointed to prior legislation and treaty rights to suggest that tribes, the Pueblo in particular, should be able to game within the State of Arizona (and in other states). He supported alliances and compacting measures between the State and Tribes, but “would allow nothing to diminish tribal sovereignty” when it came to gaming (Indian Gaming: Tribal Sovereignty and American Politics by W. Dale Mason, pg 57). He made an impact in legislation that would open up gaming more broadly to Arizona tribes and would be cited in other claims as a proponent of tribal sovereignty.


Representative Udall (center) with Jim Hena of the Tesuque Pueblo (right). Udall worked closely with Hena in New Mexico to further gaming rights and the affirmation of Pueblo sovereignty in New Mexico. (MS 325 Box 738 Folder 11).

You can look through multiple boxes of photos in the collection alongside correspondence, bills, and other documents — matching them up, you can see not only Udall’s bills, but the very people he was working to help.

Yet as a PhD candidate in the American Indian Studies Department at the University of Arizona, I’m also very aware of the fact that archival collections can often contain items that were not meant to be preserved or displayed openly. Specifically, many American Indian communities have faced challenges with museum archives that hold items that were taken without consent. Until 1990, it was next to impossible for American Indian groups to request the return of items that belonged to them–including human remains.

March 23, 1989 — Mo Udall brings H.R. 1646 to the House.  The bill is “to provide for the protection of Indian graces and burial grounds” and sets the tone for repatriation. The bill points out that there is often confusion over who should “rightfully have control or ownership over skeletal remains” and other “grave goods” or “sacred ceremonial objects.” The bill suggests that it will become unlawful for anyone to “sell, use for profit, or transport” Native skeletal remains without consent of the tribe. Any grave goods or ceremonial objects found on public or tribal land revert to ownership of the tribe. Section 6 specifically lays out guidelines for the start of repatriation.

A link to the full bill can be found here:


July 10, 1990 — The bill undergoes several changes, making it twice as long! Yet the bill now protects more items and offers more insight into the repatriation process. The Act requires federal agencies and institutions that receive federal funding to return Native American “cultural items” to lineal descendants and culturally affiliated Indian tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations. Cultural items include human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony.


Above: The first page of the NAGPRA Bill introduced by Morris K. Udall.  Below: Clerical information from the Office of the Clerk regarding the acceptance of NAGPRA into law.               (MS 325 Box 235 Folder 15)

The Morris K. Udall collection contains a breadth of knowledge regarding Udall’s career. I suggest that if you’re interested in contemporary politics, you reflect on the foundation of those politics. Select a subject and then review the MS 325 finding aid — undoubtedly, Mo was likely involved in shaping today’s political agenda in every regard.

Inside the Frame

Since my last blog post, I’ve continued processing the Joe Carithers papers and getting to know more about Joe Carithers the person. When processing a set of personal or professional papers, you begin to feel like you know the creators – as relatives, acquaintances, antagonists.

In 1957, Joe Carithers received a certificate of recognition from Ernest W. McFarland, then Governor of Arizona.

Here’s the certificate in its original gold frame.

The certificate congratulates Carithers on his contributions to Arizona parks and the founding of the Arizona State Parks Association. When Special Collections received the certificate, it was in a standard gold frame. Consumer frames, with their absorptive backing, space for mildew growth, and moisture-trapping glass aren’t ideal archival homes for conservation purposes. So, I knew the document should be re-housed.

Removing the certificate from the frame revealed new information about the object itself. A quick look at the back shows that the framed object is actually comprised of at least four parts: a letter from the governor (complete with seal and ribbons), a backing of blue paper, a piece of letterhead from the AzPA, and an additional bit of letterhead to fill out the bottom left corner.

The back of the document shows many kinds of chemical and physical change – sun bleaching, acidification of the paper, tape stains, and even some water damage. Looking under the ribbons, we can tell that the document was probably exposed to sun over a long period, leaving ‘shadows’ where the ribbons lay.

On the left, we see the join where two pieces of stationary were taped together. In the center, the ribbons have protected the paper from sun bleaching – especially the yellow ribbon.


The governor’s seal, along with the the ribbons and the letter itself, protected the center of the blue paper from sun damage.

For some archivists these are signs of conservation nightmares, but I think this ‘damage’ gives us additional information about the Joe Carithers papers. The frame itself suggest that Carithers prized this certificate and, likely, displayed it in his home. In fact, the glass of the frame has some residue ‘stuck’ to it from the ribbons, and the prop for the frame is bent from wear.


The streaks across the top of the glass and along the right side are actually from the ribbons pressing against it over time.

Overall, the paper document is structurally stable without tears, weak points in the tape, or creasing damage. I doubt it was often, if ever, taken out of the frame. Joe Carithers and his family wanted to protect this document, and clearly wanted to present it in the context of his work (the stationary comes from the association he co-founded!).

Frames give you a particular kind of encounter with an object. You can pick up a frame without too much fear of damaging the contents. Frames hold photos, diplomas, scraps of ephemera – things we cherish. In re-housing the document, I wanted to find a solution that would keep it safe and hold its parts together but still allow the viewer to get close. I also wanted to make apparent Carithers’ ‘matting’ work – to give researchers a sense of how he integrated a government document into his own personal aesthetics.

Serendipitously, I found a sturdy clear sleeve just about exactly the size of the document. It keeps the document from bending, but also shows all sides of the object. It’s a mix between Carithers’ approach to display and my own desire to make apparent how special this document must have been to Carithers.

Non-textual physical ‘clues’ can tell us about the provenance and context of a document, beyond what’s written on the page or implied by the original order of a folder. We can miss this information if we only focus on language-based contents. This certificate was created by the Office of the Governor, but it was transformed by Carithers and his environment into an object of decor and – inadvertently – into a record of how materials change as we keep them.

Planning, Changing, Preserving

Special Collections houses multiple audio visual formats within its collections: compact discs, VHS tapes, audio cassettes, and others are a secret treasure trove (albeit some students may never have had the opportunity to use a VHS at home!). Yet they face a dangerous future if they are not preserved. VHS tapes were high-tech at their time, making it easy for home viewers to pop tapes in and watch their favorite movies at home, and they also allowed us to record our favorite shows.

Video cassette tape isolated on white.

Working with the Southwest Folklore Center collection, which is now housed at Special Collections, it has become clear that people recorded much more than television shows. SWF 010 dedicates itself to VHS recordings of different events–mainly musical performances. One of the tapes that most interested me was a performance by the Gu-Achi Fiddlers. They are locals of Tucson and perform O’odham fiddle music. This is an amazing find and undoubtedly watching this performance could inspire the next generation of O’odham musicians, allow insight to critical musical theory, all while being entertaining.

But we have to make sure that this VHS tape is properly preserved. We’ve all seen VHS tape strung out alongside the road and if you ever recorded VHS tapes at home, you’ve probably re-recorded over something that was meant to be saved. And here is where I come in to start the preservation process!

Step One: Rehouse VHS tapes in clearly labeled boxes. We noticed early on that these VHS tapes had been sitting on shelves, which leaves them open to the elements and the possible danger of falling off a shelf and breaking. At first, we had not accounted for having to rehouse all of these tapes. But the beauty in archives is: You plan, you adjust the plan, you plan again, you preserve, and then you repeat!



Step Two: After getting the VHS tapes into the boxes, I made an inventory. I examined each tape for apparent damage. I then made sure to record which boxes the tapes were now housed in before returning boxes to our new shelving area.


Step Three: To protect each tape from accidentally being recorded over, I popped all of the tabs from the corner. This will insure that someone cannot accidentally hit “record” and erase all of the tapes we’re preserving. Note: This is something you can do at home to save all of your VHS collection from accidental record issues!


So what now? I’m now moving on to work with the cassette collection. Once we finish the survey of all of our audio visual materials, we will be better able to determine:

  1. Which items are most at risk.
  2. Which items are of significant interest.
  3. Options for moving media to new forms. (ie: making digital copies of cassettes that can be accessed online by patrons)
  4. The order in which we will begin further steps in the preservation process.

Architectural Archives

My first substantial assignment this semester has been to take an inventory of our collection of materials by and about Judith Chafee, a very celebrated Tucson-based architect known for her modern desert homes who practiced until her death, due to emphysema, at age 65 in 1998. Chafee was born in Chicago in 1932 but moved with her mother and stepfather to Tucson early on, where she became familiar with the landscape and architectural traditions. Chafee attended the Yale school of architecture in the late 1950s, where she was the only female student in her class. Throughout her career she had to deal with being underestimated, and according to a friend and colleague, she sometimes had to remind clients that she was the head architect at her firm.


Judith Chafee

Having spent the last few weeks going through Chafee’s files, it is clear to me that she was extremely prolific and worked constantly to refine her craft. She entered designs into numerous contests, and won a great deal of awards and certificates. Her designs were also often showcased in architectural and design magazines and books. Among her most famous works was the very sleek and modern Ramada House, which also made heavy use of concrete, or as Chafee called the material, the “adobe brick of our time.” The Ramada house was nestled into the desert landscape and featured a large ramada made of narrow wooden slats that shaded and protected the house from the sun.

While she was a very serious architect, Chafee enjoyed other artistic pursuits, such as painting, drawing, and poetry. Her collection includes a great deal of her artwork, some of which she saved from when she was a child.

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Judith Chafee’s 11th grade art portfolio

Water Under the Rainbow

Traditionally, archives keep water out of their collections, but for Joe Carithers we’re going to make exception.

Joe Carithers was a conservationist from Tucson and, as a new graduate assistant, my first assignment is to process his papers.

Photos of Joe Carithers from the Joe Carithers Papers at the University of Arizona Special Collections Library.

Within seconds of opening the first box of items I came across a small vial of water.

Water vial from the Joe Carithers Papers at the University of Arizona Special Collections Library.

The water was collected by Carithers in 1960 when he visited Tsé’naa Na’ní’áhí (Rainbow Bridge) on the edge of the Navajo Nation.

Rainbow Bridge. Image courtesy of

The massive stone structure is comprised of two forms of sedimentary rock ‘carved’ by water and is part of a set of locations sacred to the Navajo, Hopi, Paiute, and others. In the late 1950s, the Glen Canyon Dam was constructed, creating Lake Powell and simultaneously submerging many sacred sites. The dam remains a point of contention for Native communities. Carithers collected the water from small pools beneath Tsé’naa Na’ní’áhí a few years prior to completion of the dam.

Cropped image of a Joe Carithers’ manuscript, wherein he describes collecting the vial of water from Rainbow Bridge.

Native communities of the region have asked hikers and park employees not to walk under Tsé’naa Na’ní’áhí, but this request is often ignored. This vial an example of that. Sometimes, archival materials represent these kinds of conflicts and it’s the archivist’s job to carefully maintain and provide context. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to think through these challenges here at Special Collections and hopefully, through processing Carithers’ papers, provide a resource to both conservationists and Native communities who want to understand a difficult period of history for the region.

You can learn more about Tsé’naa Na’ní’áhí through the National Parks Service Rainbow Bridge Oral History Project.