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.

The Park Ranger and the Bear

As most of us have been hunkered down in our homes and working remotely, we have to find ways to live with this new temporary normal. For myself, this new normal will last at least through the summer because my summer fellowship with the Library of Congress is being converted so we can participate virtually.

In a podcast that I listen to the host is a reporter that works from home all the time. He likened working from home to being in situation where you are both a park ranger and a bear. As the park ranger, it’s your job to keep everything clean and tidy. But also as the bear, you will want to get into everything that you can. Working for home has been difficult for me for no other reason than the fact I like being at home. Most of the time I can’t trust myself to get work done at home because it’s where all of my favorite stuff is. To remedy this I would usually go to a library on campus and do my work there. But with our new situation I have to adjust the way I work.

My work during this period of quarantine has been researching and collecting collection development manuals from various institutions. Collection development manuals deal with the development, storage, and long-term preservation of records found within museums and archives. Since this is a research project, I allow myself to have something on the TV while I look for manuals. The urge is get something to eat is always something that can throw me off my work because my fridge also lives with me. So like a bear, that picnic basket can sometimes be too tempting to resist. To combat this I keep a stockpile of snacks at hand so I can work at the same time. During this period of self-isolation, we each will have to invent ways to separate work and home.

Working from home, parenting from home and studying from home: A balancing act during a pandemic

Like many of my fellow graduate assistants and colleagues the last few weeks have been a whirlwind. I went from having a very standard schedule most days between work for myself and school for my five year old daughter.

  1. Wake up and get daughter ready for school. Eat breakfast and head out the door.
  2. Drop daughter off at Montessori school and drive .002 miles to my office in the Drake building.
  3. Work for 5-7 hours and then go pick up my daughter.
  4. Spend a few hours cooking dinner, going for a walk and spending time together as a family.
  5. Daughter in bed and time for me to work on schoolwork. Sleep. Repeat.

We had a great routine that along with the rest of the world was completely upended by the situation surrounding COVID-19. I have quickly tried to establish some work-from-home boundaries but setting up a small table in my bedroom.

Small makeshift work area. At least it has great light!

Nowadays its a mess of attempting homeschooling, juggling work and trying to stay on top of my courses. While also keeping an eye on the ever changing status of the world around us. To accomplish these tasks my daughter has become my companion during zoom calls and I try to time my more important work for her nap/rest hour later in the day. We also try and take a few quick walks around the block so I can squeeze in a discussion post for class while she eats a snack. Despite all the upheaval I am finally almost at the end of my project working to ingest all the documents from the OSIRIS-REx Science Implementation Plan into the campus repository. No matter how difficult it seems these days to juggle my roles as a graduate assistant, student and mom I am so thankful to be able to do my job from the safety of my home.

Its important during this unknown and scary times to try and look at the bright side and enjoy the time we have with our families. Most importantly though, STAY INSIDE!

A photo of Elizabeth and her daughter, Everly.

Archives and WFH?

The pandemic has upended people’s lives and jobs, not only nationally, but globally. As a result, the University of Arizona has embraced the approach being used by other schools in moving activities online and towards remote work. Gratefully, the university’s Special Collections department has allowed its graduate assistants and other students to work from home. This work has been exemplified by research tasks conducted online, thereby maintaining “social distancing” protocols. However, the acronym of WFH (Work From Home) is far from TGIF or YOLO.

I have been wallowing at home trying to get online research done, both for work and for school. Although two of my classes were already virtual, the third was one of the few face to face (F2F) courses left in this principally online library program. Another pandemic victim. For my online work project, I was tasked to explore “born digital” policies utilized by other institutions. It has been difficult to navigate mostly password protected webpages discussing their practices though.

My workstation now…

Throughout this online researching, I have pondered the future of archives as society moves away from physical records towards being completely digital. I considered how researchers will use these resources. So, I examined a recent trend in archival utilization – data science. Digital collections are being analyzed through data visualization. The Library of Congress’ website even has a blog discussing its considerable capabilities.

Digital Collections and Data Science

Data visualization of archives can be done while “sheltering in place,” so it seems to be the next path for me to take.

Exploring digital collections from home

With the closure of the University of Arizona campus due to the COVID-19 outbreak, graduate assistants will be working from home for the next several weeks to come. During this time, the nature of our work is going to change. We’re going from physically processing materials and collections to working on research, digital collections, and exhibit preparation. Our meetings are going to be conducted on Zoom, through email, and occasionally on Slack and other services.

As I was preparing to work from home, I realized that there are going to be some perks:

  • I can wear my pajamas to work
  • I can have work helpers (see photo below!)
  • I can drink as much coffee at home as I’d like without judgement.

Michelle takes a much needed mental health break with the #ThreeLittlePiglets (left to right: Hopper, Scooter, and Skipper) while three of her 16 farm dogs (left to right: Mars, Frigga, and Yeti) anxiously await ‘getting back to work’.

I stress to everyone out there, take a few moments each day to relax. There’s a lot of stress going around — so remember to find your zen. If your zen includes looking at digital archive resources then I highly suggest you spend a moment with Special Collection’s digital resources and collections.

Though we’re closed, you can still view some of our online exhibits. We also have several digital collections where you can continue to browse items in our holdings.


If you browse one collection per day, you’ll have plenty of things to learn about each day. Virtual museum tours are also becoming quite popular — so feel free to look around at other collections out there as well! Graduate students will continue to update our blogs so that you can follow what we’re up to. But remember, find a moment of zen each day. We cannot wait to see you when we open our doors again.


This blog post is going to be about boxes. This isn’t a metaphor for a larger problem in archives, just a rant about boxes. In most job posting for archival jobs, and maybe in other jobs types as well, there is usually a qualification that says the candidate must be able to lift around 25 to 40 pounds. This may be something that you can look off if you are able, but with archival processing this is a qualification you will exercise daily. Because most archival institutions deal mainly with paper collections, boxes are a daily aspect of life. Paper goes into folder, which in turn go into boxes. The current project that I am working on is an addition to the Bernard L. Fontana papers (MS 434). Other than being a collection that boasts emails signed with a bunny, it is a source of a multitude of boxes.

With five students processing in the same space, everyone’s collections can be mixed up. So let’s play a game. Guess which boxes are mine.

The addition for the Fontana papers is 25 linear feet. One linear feet usually equals one box, so 25 linear feet means 25 boxes to move. In my original survey of the addition, I anticipated that I would only keep 15 of the 25 boxes. But after processing about half of the addition, I will be lucky to get rid of 5 of them. Another aspect that needs to come up is that we usually do not keep the original boxes that incoming collection come in. In the name of preservation, manuscript collection are transferred into acid free boxes that are archival grade. Since most boxes do not follow these requirements, they are left wanting after their contents have been transferred. So with old boxes being aside and new archival boxes being created to replace them, it can start to feel like the plot of I, Robot. But on the bright spot, there are enough boxes around to build myself a fort for an afternoon nap.

Round 2: Guess which boxes are mine.

One issue with additions to collections is that it can be difficult to keep the collection together. The original Fontana papers numbers 52.5 linear feet. With the addition, it may reach 72.5 linear feet. The problem arises because the 20 linear feet of newly processed collection typically is added to the end of the physically collection, which can be difficult when other collections already take up that space. The original processor of the collection had the idea of leaving space of a possible addition, which is smart, but didn’t have the foresight to leave space for 20 boxes. Since I don’t want to be part of that shifting project, because boxes are heavy, I hope the archival fairy will do me a solid.