Learning the Profession

Over the past several weeks we have continued to process the Gabrielle Giffords collection.  In particular we were able to finish processing the legislative aspects of the collection which include staff files, committee files, speeches, and other materials.  The aspects of the collection related to the January 8th shooting are now being processed.  The bulk of January 8th material consists of newpaper clippings and correspondence.

This shelf was full of boxes and is now almost empty as materials have been processed.

This shelf was full of boxes and is now almost empty as materials have been processed.

Processing the Giffords collection has allowed me to partake in archival processing in a new and exciting way.  Because of the experience I have gained over the past year I have been more active in planning how to process the collection.  I have conducted research into other congressional collections and using my new skill set I’ve participated in conversations about processing in a much more integral way.  I have been able to provide input on how to process the committee work Giffords completed as well as how to handle post-January 8th materials.

The end of spring semester provides an opportunity to reflect on a year of unique work experiences.  When I look back on having processed the Clarion Records in August I realize how much my knowledge and skills have improved over the year.  I have had the opportunity to create archival exhibits, learn to process notoriously challenging congressional collections, participate in outreach, and contribute to the special collections blog.  Each of these experiences has provided opportunity to gain new and valuable skills as well as learn more about the archival profession.

The majority of my time this year has been spent doing congressional collections processing.  The Jim Kolbe collection allowed me to learn the skills I needed to take a stronger role in planning how to process the Gabrielle Giffords collection.  This exemplifies how pivitol my time at UA special collections has been to my growth in archival processing.  Each collection I have processed has allowed me to gain more skills that I can then use to take a more active role in processing other collections.

Plans for processing the Gabrielle Giffords collection.  I was glad to have played a role in developing this organization.

Plans for processing the Gabrielle Giffords collection. I was glad to have played a role in developing this organization.

From Apprentice to Pro

As the semester wraps up, we graduate assistants are either ready to move on to the real world post-graduation or, as in my case, stick around for another year of Special Collections fun. Lisa Escobedo Duncan, assistant librarian and former Knowledge River Scholar, was our go-to mentor for processing of congressional collections. Lisa recently landed a position as Archivist and Special Collections Librarian with the ID Weeks Library at the University of South Dakota, where she will head the archives, oversee the Oral History Center, provide outreach to diverse communities, work on digital projects with members of the staff, and supervise a staff of three. Sad as we all are to see her go, we were curious to find out all we could about how she approached the job search, interview, and salary negotiation. Always the mentor, Lisa was only happy to share.


Lisa’s Tips:

Job Search: Keep an eye out for job openings every day. Spends 5-10 minutes on a site like Archives Gig and focus on job descriptions that are appealing and locations that you can handle living in—having roots in those places makes you an attractive candidate too. Consider timelines: if you need a job by summer/fall, best to start looking by Nov/Dec, since 4-5 months is a typical wait period in academia. Don’t pass up jobs even if you don’t feel fully qualified or if something in the title turns us off; you just never know. Make sure your resume/CV and cover letter are flawless and, above all, don’t obsess. It will happen when it will happen, sometimes right away, but more often it will test your patience.

Resume/Background: Employers are looking for multiple years in one place, experience supervising staff/student workers, variety and challenge level of the projects you’ve worked with (being in charge is important too), experience with born-digital materials as well as software like CONTENTdm, DSpace, Archon, etc. Go after internships, just make sure to network, network, network—it usually comes down to who you know. Work hard and be ready to pay your dues: the dream job may not come for many years, so temp, work part-time, apply to residency programs, volunteer, do what you have to gain enough experience to appeal to employers out there.

Interview: The first round will be over the phone or Skype, by committee members. Be ready with examples that correspond to the skills listed as required and preferred, as well as a couple questions for them too. The In-person interview setup is similar for all academic libraries: you arrive in the evening and have dinner with people from the search committee, followed by a day of nonstop meetings, a 45 minute presentation by you, and a tour of the campus and departments. You either stay the night or leave the next day. Keep your game face during rides to and from—even the people assigned to drive you will weighing in. Don’t forget to ask about salary and professional development; you will need to know this to negotiate later on.

Accepting the Job: You will likely be offered the minimum salary they can pay, but remember that universities usually have room for negotiating salary and professional development, so do some homework ahead of time. Be prepared to say what you deserve based on (1) your experience and (2) the nature of the job (know what others in similar positions make, info that is publicly disclosed for most universities). Consider whether the position offers tenure track, continuing status, or if it simply is an academic professional job. Once all is agreed upon, start date can usually be delayed by up to two months.

Thanks to Lisa Duncan for all her help this past year, for the amazing tours of local archives that she organized for us, for having the best attitude one could ask from a mentor. Congratulations and we wish her the very best in her new job!

University of South Dakota, Lisa's soon-to-be home!

University of South Dakota, Lisa’s soon-to-be home!


Wrapping Up: Congressional Exhibit Coming To A Close

I have had a wonderful semester here at Special Collections learning how to create an engaging and appealing congressional exhibit.  While my process involved a lot of trial and error in order to find a comfortable and effective work process, I know that I will be able put these skills to use later in my career.  Since my last blog post, I have worked on Stewart Udall, Morris Udall, Dennis Deconcini, James McNulty, and Jim Kolbe.  Unlike the beginning of the project, the recent congressman all had fairly large collections, which proved to be another challenge.  Whereas before I struggled with finding materials from the smaller collections which were limited and small, this time I experienced the problem of having too much to choose from.   In retrospect, I prefer working with collections that have an abundance of material, even if it takes a bit more time to decide which materials are best.

Stewart Udall Collection, UA Special Collections, A campaign poster that will be a featured image above the Udall exhibit case

As I near graduation, I am confident that I will be able to finish on time, which was a pleasant surprise.  The last step will be creating a plan for the images that will be placed on the wall above each exhibit case.  I decided that I would feature at least one photo of the individual, an item relating to their campaign, and maybe another item that is visually interesting.  While I have already chosen 1-3 items per congressman to use to introduce each person, I need to measure and determine the placement as well.  After that is complete, I will be submitting materials to our library Express Document Center for scanning and printing and finally hang the images.  The last addition I will be making to the exhibit include QR codes that will be placed on each case in order for patrons to access the finding aids of each featured congressman.  This will hopefully increase traffic for the Special Collections website and encourage others to research and access the amazing collections that are featured here.

Stewart Udall (MS 372), Morris Udall (MS 325) and Dennis DeConcini (MS 399) Collections, UA Special Collections Campaign materials from multiple congressman

Stewart Udall (MS 372), Morris Udall (MS 325) and Dennis DeConcini (MS 399) Collections, UA Special Collections
Campaign materials from multiple congressman

As my graduate career comes to a close, I am thrilled that I was given the opportunity to work at UA Special Collections.  The people I have met and the skills I have learned will no doubt assist me in landing my first professional job.  Until then, I cannot wait to see my finished exhibit and demonstrate the progress I have made.

Henry Fountain Ashurst (AZ002), UA Special Collections Ashurst featured in Hearst’s Magazine

Henry Fountain Ashurst (AZ002), UA Special Collections
Ashurst featured in Hearst’s Magazine

UA Special Collections Fun Arizona Trivia!

UA Special Collections
Fun Arizona Trivia!

A Semester In Review

As my second semester of graduate school winds down, I can’t help but feel a little sad that my time here at Special Collections is almost up. Since starting work in August, I have learned so much about what it means to be an archivist. From working events to processing collections, I have been able to experience many different facets of this field, and I hope to continue learning and growing as an archivist.

One of the last skills I learned these past few weeks was how to code an EAD. I have never done any coding before, and frankly I was feeling rather intimidated by the whole process. However, with support from my coworkers and asking a lot of questions, I managed to complete the EAD for the Sinclair Browning Papers. This collection was the first one I processed, and it was incredibly satisfying to be able to handle the material from the very first step to the very last. It is also pretty awesome to now say that I have done coding, as well. Coding is actually pretty fun.


I am so grateful for the opportunities that I have been afforded here at Special Collections. Because of this assistantship, I have found that I have a passion for the archival field, and the skills and experiences I have gained are going to help me finish out my final year of grad school. It was been a great working here, and I am definitely going to miss it.

Castro MS 417

Raul H. Castro: The Douglas Destroyer

This semester I was fortunate enough to work on an exhibit covering the life and career of Raul H. Castro, the only Latino governor of Arizona. My supervisor, Maurita Baldock, instructed me to speak to Bob Diaz, the Exhibitions Coordinator. Bob provided immediate directions to create a timeline of Governor Castro’s life. He also encouraged me to speak to Verónica Reyes-Escudero, Borderlands Curator, for additional input should he not be available. Castro Capture

Both Bob and Verónica informed me of the spreadsheet method of keeping track of the objects. I embraced the power of the spreadsheet which allowed me to document the location, the document type and a brief description of the representative item.My instructions were to make sure to cover his life supplemented with documents and objects in the collection. This was somewhat daunting as Mr. Castro had had a long illustrious career not only as governor, but served as ambassador to Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina respectively and previously he worked for the University of Arizona as a Spanish professor, the State Department when he was unable to use his newly acquired teaching degree, served as a Pima County Attorney and Superior Court Judge and was a long-time partner in the Castro and Zipf Law Firm.

Letter from Castro thanking then University President Harvill for the opportunity to work as a Spanish professor. (UA Biographical Files: Castro, Raul H.)

Letter from Castro thanking then University President Harvill for the opportunity to work as a Spanish professor.
(UA Biographical Files: Castro, Raul H.)

While attending Arizona State College (now Northern Arizona University), Castro was known as “The Douglas Destroyer” because of his athletic prowess (a photo of Castro as a boxer is featured online). Another challenge I faced was not approaching an exhibit “cold” since there is also an online exhibit documenting Governor Castro’s life. I wanted to ensure the physical exhibit did not necessarily mimic the online exhibit.

Commemorative Key to the City, Ciudad de Cordoba, Argentina (MS 417, Box 22, Folder 3)

Commemorative Key to the City, Ciudad de Cordoba, Argentina
(MS 417, Box 22, Folder 3)

My first step was to research Raul H. Castro. I utilized the finding aid for his collection, MS 417, as my primary source and highlighted items of note as well as double-checking the materials against what was featured in the online exhibit. Once I had decided what materials seemed relevant, I began to curate the exhibit since I would be able to visually and physically assess the sizes and types of materials. I soon discovered some items were far too large for the exhibit case even though they were interesting pieces such as the sign for Castro and Zipf Law Firm.

Castro practiced law between his many political appointments. (MS 417, Box 30)

Castro practiced law between his many political appointments.
(MS 417, Box 30)

Thanks to teamwork, I was able to build my exhibit in the time frame afforded to me moreover I learned quite a bit about Arizona’s only Hispanic governor, Mr. Raul H. Castro.  He is inspirational having made a successful life’s journey from humble beginnings.

Cananea, Sonora, Mexico (MS 417, Box 16, Folder 31)

Castro Home in Cananea, Sonora, Mexico (MS 417, Box 16, Folder 31)

Second page of Castro's response to a student's question: What has it taken for you to be the success that you are today? (MS 417, Box 1, Folder 10)

Second page of Castro’s response to a student’s question: What has it taken for you to be the success that you are today?
(MS 417, Box 1, Folder 10)

The exhibit is currently in the Congressional Archives Room on display with many of our other political materials.

English and Spanish newspaper articles announcing Castro's gubernatorial win.

English and Spanish newspaper articles announcing Castro’s gubernatorial win.

Events at the Archive

The U of A Library Special Collections hosts a lot of really interesting events that help to showcase the variety of materials that are housed here. Some of the past events include lectures by journalists working on the border and Home Movie Day. As a Graduate Assistant, one of the facets of my position is to attend and help out at these events. Not only do I get to learn about whatever interesting topic is being discussed, but I also get to see what it takes to promote and host such events within the Special Collections space.

March 31st was an event titled “Celebrating Excellence: Women in Anthropology.” The event was a panel discussion concerning influential women in the anthropological field, including Jennifer Roth-Gordon, Stacey Tecot, Marcela Vasquez-Leon, and Mary Voyatzis. These women have wide-ranging interests within anthropology, and it was incredibly fascinating to learn about their work. From primatology to the study of Greece, the panel showcased the way that anthropology is such a varied field.


The other topic that the anthropologists discussed was the obstacles that women in academics commonly face. It was eye-opening to hear about the way that having children or simply being in a male-dominated field that create difficulties for professional women. It was great to hear the anthropologists speak about solutions to the issues faced, and how we as the college community can try and help.


As a woman hoping to balance a career and a family, this event was an important one to me. I feel like I learned a lot from the anthropologists, and I am inspired to continue down this academic path. It just goes to show that being a GA here at Special Collections is never boring!

Got Technical Skills?

As the semester winds down, graduate assistants here at Special Collections have had a chance to process a collection or two, worked on at least one finding aid, and collaborated on an exhibit, often setting up one on their own. This week marked the beginning of our technical training, first by attending an SAA webinar on Archival Collections Management Systems, and today with an introduction to EAD.

One of my favorite aspects of this assistantship has been the chance to combine what I learn in my MLIS classes with what I do at work every day. Last week, for example, we started talking about process and content management in Dr. Ceja’s Introduction to Archives class. Our lecture provided an overview of archival management software (both ICA-AtoM and ArchivesSpace), standards of arrangment and content, DACS, and EAD, while our homework included gaining some practical experience on ArchivesSpace by accessing our professor’s educational membership to create a resource. Thanks to that, yesterday, when the entire staff at Special Collections sat down to attend that SAA webinar, I was able to follow what was covered and take full advantage of the professional development opportunity. Same with this morning, when Maurita Baldock and Trent Purdy of Special Collections sat three of us down for an initial training in EAD.


Having theoretical instruction closely followed by hands-on work is the best way to learn and reinforce concepts, as well as for getting a sense of how it all works together. For the next few days, I will focus on encoding the first finding aid I put together, one that also belongs to the very first collection I had the chance to process, the Adalberto Guerrero Papers. Once that is completed, I have been asked to translate and encode the finding aid into Spanish, to be later upload into the public website for Arizona Archive Online (AAO). From processing to publication, dealing with papers and code, we have the best set up for gaining current and practical archival skills every step of the way.