Archive Oddities

Imagine you’re an agronomist. Fair enough — I had no idea what an agronomist was before I started working on the Thomas W. Barrett papers either! An agronomist is an expert in the science of soil management and crop production. Barrett, who was a professor at Arizona State University, was a well-known agronomist who worked for the university, but also did a lot of paid side projects, all while publishing several papers per year.

Part of Barrett’s job was to visit sites and look at the soil, and the plants residing in that soil, so that he could write up notes on the area. This was all being done in the 1950s-1970s long before anyone in the field could pull up Google on their phone. So when Barrett was in the field he carried a hand-fashioned ‘backpack’ of all of the plant specimens he’d collected for reference. And this large, oddly shaped backpack was donated to Special Collections alongside his papers.

As you can see, the backpack above is held together by two steel rods, some wood, and a lot of jeans material. At the time, this was state of the art and was a great way to check samples out in the field. However… you can see the materials are bending, making it hard to handle them, and making it even harder to preserve them.

To preserve the materials inside the backpack, I took on the lengthy task of taking the pack apart. Trust me–whoever designed this never wanted it to come part in the field–and it took over an hour to adjust and cut the rods, carefully remove the wood, cut away the jeans material, and then carefully slide the papers and folders away from the remaining steel rods.


These are all of the different folders and plant specimens that are found throughout the pack. They were all carefully removed and re-housed so that they don’t get further bent or crushed in the pack. The folder sheets include information about each sheet and then there are also plant samples (pasted down with thick tape-like paper sheets) in each section. While some of the folders remain bent, and we’re working to flatten them, this move will preserve these materials for the next century and will make them more accessible to visitors that may want to see these awesome samples.

It isn’t every day that a hand-constructed field pack comes into the archive. But when they do, it leads to lots of questions, decisions on how to best house materials, and begins a craft project like no other!

Fort Series

After I had completed surveying the Arthur Naiman papers, it came time arrange the collection in the order that I envisioned it would rest in. The process of surveying a collection before processing it is important because you get a picture of what the collection encompasses, but you also get an idea of what series to group the material in. One common trend that you will find among archival finding aids is that they only describe down to the series-level. Which means that instead of describing what each folder encases, finding aids describe the series and how each material correlates to on another. Because of this it is very important to develop series that articulate where to find different material.

If you were to approach me in my natural habitat while I was arranging the Naiman papers into series, you may find it difficult thanks to the fort I constructed for myself. I like to tell myself that I don’t do this to shield myself from the outside world, but with the right podcast it does get pretty cozy. The main reason I set up my workspace like this is so I can get a full view of each series I have decided on and which material I should place in them.

The walls of this fort are manned by boxes with assigned series that face inward. With the simple swivel of my chair I can choose a series that a record may end up belonging to. This also allows me to gauge whether similar series should be merged based on their size or similarity of material. While arranging a collection your starting list of series will changing as you find better ways to arrange the collection. The process of creating and reworking series works toward creating better finding aids that reflect what’s in the collection and where material is situated.

Creating Finding Aids Using ArchivesSpace

One of the central components to the work that I am doing with the OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Return Mission relates to access. This project intends to provide and encourage access to the data and information within and surrounding the mission. So, for me to do that I need to provide a list of the information that we have, directions on how to access that information and context for information. Enter the finding aid. A finding aid is most easily defined as “A description of records that gives the repository physical and intellectual control over the materials and that assists users to gain access to and understand the materials.” Archivists use finding aids to help users understand what is contained in a collection. The finding aid for the OSIRIS-REx mission is located on the Arizona Archives Online website

To create a finding aid I use an archives management tool called ArchivesSpace. When I first started at Special Collections this was the program I was most excited and most intimidated to learn. Walking into a new job having no experience using a vital program can be scary but I soon found that there was little to fear. My experience with ArchivesSpace has been nothing but pleasant largely in part to having intuitive the program is as well as the wonderful handbook that was provided to me when I started that breaks down every step of the process for creating a finding aid. Having this handbook so I could troubleshoot my own issues has been very beneficial.

I have also been able to use the information in discussions in my courses. When discussing finding aids just this pass week I was able to use my own finding aids as examples of how you can direct patrons to the campus repository for access to digital items! Its always beneficial to me when I am able to take my experiences from my graduate assistantship and share them with my classmates so that we can all learn more about our future profession.

The Reeder papers: The Final Chapter

It has been about three months since I started the Reeder papers. In that time, I have tried to learn the best and most efficient ways to process a collection. Unfortunately, the learning curve seems to be a bit larger and take longer than I imagined. I was hoping that I would be finished processing this collection by the midpoint of the semester. But, that time has come and gone. And I am still in the Special Collections/UA Main Library basement reviewing the Reeders’ legacy daily.

However, as slow as it may feel to me, there has been much progress. I have moved away from trying to just instill some form of order to the random collection. Where once I was just focusing on a quick organization of the materials, I have now moved materials from original containers into acid-free boxes and folders and have written a processing plan. This processing plan is currently in its third iteration, which is a common thing when it comes to archival processing. The picture below shows the type of folders and box that I will be using in this collection.

Throughout this processing period, I have been asked on several occasions about the excitement of archival processing. When friends learned that I was processing the papers of known agrostologists, I endured the bad joke asking whether it was “as exciting as watching grass grow.” Although it may not seem to be the most exciting of subjects, I have found some interesting items within the Reeder papers. Some of the most fascinating items within their papers are the micro-photographs of plant chromosomal and cellular structures. It is intriguing to see how reminiscent the organic shapes are on the microscopic level to those we see on a daily basis.

There is beauty within the genes of grasses that most never can see properly…

Los Universitarios collection (MS 684)

In summer 2019, I processed the Los Universitarios collection (MS 684). Los Universitarios formed in the early 1950s as a social club for Mexican-American students, many of which were the first to attend college from their families. The group created a scholarship fund for Latino students, awarding the first scholarship of $250 to Julie Ortega of Douglas, Arizona. The scholarship formed the foundation of the University of Arizona Hispanic Alumni, which was created in 1982 and included several members of Los Universitarios. Many members of Los Universitarios went on to become educators, doctors, lawyers, military officers, and civil servants.

MS 684 — Los Universitarios collection.

On October 21, 2019 several past members of Los Universitarios visited the University of Arizona campus and attended a bench commemoration on campus. In my experience as a student, it is rare to have the donor of a collection return to the archive so that they can see their processed collection. In fact, a majority of the collections I have helped process were donated posthumously — so while I take pride in highlighting someone’s materials, they often never get to see how their collection was processed. They never get to see the collection the way that a researcher gets to see the collection.

MS 684, Box 1, folder 09, item 001 — Scrapbook page with photos from Los Universitarios events.

So as you can imagine, I thought it was a humbling and thrilling experience to have members of Los Universitarios come and visit their materials in Special Collections. The collection is made up of several individuals’ donations, so these donors were able to look not only at their donation, but could see what others had provided. As a group, they could see what they all valued, cherished, and preserved for future generations. I suspect in the future we may see additions to this collection — I certainly hope so — but for now, I am ecstatic that this group was able to view their processed collection.

MS 684, Box 1, folder 09, item 002 — Newspaper clipping featuring members of Los Universitarios attending the “Feria Primaveral” event hosted by the Tucson Shrine Club.

Surveying a Collection

For my first assignment here at Special Collections, I was given the Arthur Naiman papers. Naiman was an author, best known for the Macintosh Bible, and a publisher by trade. He also spent time as a teacher and lent his talents to advertising. Because of the array of jobs he had and the complexity of his personal life, this collection boasts a wide range of material that would earn the jealousy of any archivist to process. But with this comes the puzzle of how to arrange this jigsaw of material to be accessible to the public.

This collection is not the first I have been asked to process, but it is the first time I’ve been asked to survey the entire collection before picking away at it. So instead of removing the rusted staples whose days were already numbered, I would postpone their judgement until I had looked over the whole collection. This would save my brain from prematurely forming series only for them to be destroyed because of new material found and new potential series arising.

Because of Naiman’s work as an author and a publisher, the collection is laced with proposals, drafts, proofs, and correspondence for books that showcase the publishing process. His work in advertisement affords access into that world as well as advertisement drafts for companies like Mountain Dew and Renault are also present.

Questions like “What do I do with two LBJ dartboards?” have come across my desk thanks to Naiman’s unique ability to express himself. Now that I have surveyed the entire collection I can begin to answer these questions and form series that actually represent what’s in them. It has been fun to survey this collection and gauge the amount of willpower it will take to conquer it.

My First Pop Up Exhibit

As a new Graduate Assistant in Special Collections, one of the opportunities I was most looking forward too was the chance to pick and design my very own pop up exhibit that was to be placed in the Reading Room. On our first day, we received the schedule and I saw that I was going to have the second block of the semester, running from late September through early November. With Halloween falling in the middle of that period my first thought was to do something spooky but also related to the large Moon exhibit in the adjoining space. So, my first thought was werewolves. Well, a quick perusal of our collections showed a lack of interesting books or manuscripts related to werewolves so it was back to the drawing table.

With the moon still in mind, I began to consider other topics that interested me. One of those is mythology. The moon can be seen represented in the mythology and folklore of a variety of cultures. With a single search, I was able to find numerous items within our collection that might be suitable for an exhibit on the Moon in Myth. I requested around 10 books from various cultures and then narrowed those down to the ones I felt were both educational and had interesting and differing formats. I ended up selecting books from both Latin and Greek mythology along with a children’s folklore picture book from the Tamaya Pueblo and an image of a plate from the Mayan culture.

The Genealogy of Greek Mythology: An Illustrated Family Tree of Greek Myth from the First Gods to the Founders of Rome by Vanessa James
BL785 .J53 2003 OVS
The Coyote and the Sky by Emmett Shkeme Garcia with art by Victoria Pringle
E98.R3 G36 2006

The most difficult part of putting the exhibit together was narrowing down my selection and then finding a way to display them all attractively. I used blocks to lift the fold-out Greek Gods and Goddess Genealogy book above the rest of the items and used an acrylic book holder for the Mythographi Latini and a wooden stand for Coyote and the Sky. Then by placing the printed plate featuring the Mayan Moon Goddess in a frame, I was able to clearly define each piece and give them their own space. It was a fun and exciting project and I enjoyed having the opportunity to merge two of my favorite interests. 

Finished Exhibit