The Ins and Outs of Congressional Archiving

As the new semester starts, my work with the Jim Kolbe congressional collection is drawing to a close; soon I will be moving on to processing the Gabrielle Giffords collection. The Kolbe collection has been my first experience with congressional archiving, and I have learned so much in so short a time. While it sometimes felt a little overwhelming, I feel much more confident as I begin work on this next collection.


I think that the oddest part for me was just how large the collection was. As a congressman, Kolbe generated a lot of material while in office—emails, pictures, CDs, and speeches. While the Sinclair Browning Papers were five boxes total, each category of the Kolbe collection had many more. When faced with three carts’ worth of pictures, I had to wonder how we were ever going to be able to complete the processing before our deadline.


After sifting through piles of invitations, constituent mail, and schedules, I began to realize just how much work goes into being a political figure. I can’t begin to fathom how busy someone like Kolbe must have felt—and he was in office for twenty-one years! Working on this collection has definitely given me a new appreciation for political office. I hope that the addition of this collection to the U of A Special Collections will allow other students to learn about the intricacies of government, and maybe even to run for office themselves.


Now, as I move on to the Gabrielle Giffords collection, I’m excited to see what I will find in all those boxes. My favorite part of the archives is that element of surprise; no two days at work are the same!


Finishing a Collection


Near the end of the Fall 2014 semester, I was fortunate enough to work on the Papers and Photographs of Paul M. Roca (MS 531). In order to familiarize myself with the collection, I read the control file which contains the history of the material as it relates to Special Collections. Through the control file I learned about the Mr. Roca’s long-held interest in the history and architecture of churches in the Southwestern United States and Mexico. While browsing through the collection, I was struck by the stunning black and white photography depicting the various stages of churches and Mr. Roca’s use of maps identifying the location of the churches. An interesting characteristic of Mr. Roca’s work was that he interviewed locals and searched for the buildings even if they were long since erect as there are some photos which depict mere remnants of churches.

MS 531, Box 2, Folder 520150120_115412

Another SIRLS student, Katie Young, created a History Pin, Paul Roca Photographs of Missions in Sonora, Mexico, featuring the photographs in the collection. This project served as her capstone project for her DigIn (Digital Archiving) Certificate. She did an amazing job combining the maps and photos in her project.

My tasks were to double-check the numbering of the folders containing the 156 photographs featured in his book, Paths of the Padres through Sonora: An Illustrated History and Guide to Its Spanish Churches, to incorporate the draft manuscripts of his book, Spanish Jesuit Churches in Mexico’s Tarahumara into the collection, and to create the front matter of the finding aid. When I was assigned the project, there was a container list of the already foldered and boxed photographs featured in Paths of the Padres through Sonora: An Illustrated History and Guide to Its Spanish Churches published by the Arizona Pioneers’ Historical Society in 1967. I had to make sure the numbers of the folders and contents matched, if not, I then renumbered the items. Numbering the folders and items ensures the ability to locate a specific file rather than having to search through the entire collection.


I also processed the manuscript drafts for Mr. Roca’s book, Spanish Jesuit Churches in Mexico’s Tarahumara published in 1979 by the University of Arizona Press. The various drafts document how exhaustive the editing process is for both the writer and the publisher especially in a time when typewriters were the norm.


The container list eventually became the basis of the final finding aid for the collection. I added the front matter which provides a great deal of information about a collection. For instance, the creator’s name, the date range, the bulk date of the collection, the physical description (or size) as well as biographical information and how the information is organized are some of the features contained in the front matter.

20150120_132030 20150120_131951

Soon we will be using EAD to make our finding aids online and searchable in Arizona Archives Online (AAO). I cannot wait to learn that aspect of the archival process.

Exhilaration Mostly Arrives When You Are Alone…in the Stacks.


That handwritten quote is by Charles Bukowski, most renown of the authors catapulted to fame by Black Sparrow Press, the Santa Rosa-based publishing house whose partial archive resides at UA Special Collections. Half way through fall semester, soon after I had finished processing my first two collections, I was approached by archivist Roger Myers, who suggested I finish rehousing the Black Sparrow Collection and complete its finding aid. Two thirds of the 500+ published works’ files had already been rehoused and organized, but the remaining ones awaited still in the folders in which they had been received. It took about two months to rehouse those in acid-free folders and boxes, and to save time, I began to draft the finding aid as I went as well.

The collection, acquired over 20 years ago, began arriving to the UA Special Collections in installments since the early 1990s. John Martin, founder of Black Sparrow, was savvy enough to create this archive as authors were being published (1966-2002) with the intention to later capitalize on its value. In the introduction to his Catalogue 140, titled “In Our Time,” Martin explains his driving force was to “develop a genuine poet’s press for the poets themselves,” for which he focused on Avant garde American poetry in an effort to provide “a good cross section of American poetry today” (BSP, 1970).

BSP_stacks1    BSP_stacks4

The exhilaration alluded in the Bukowski quote began for me as I started opening each of the brown manila folders. Within each were all sort of materials relevant to the production of individual tomes, from manuscripts drafts, to cover art sketches and photographs, to correspondence and, on average, four copies of the book in question (usually 3 hardcovers and one paperback edition). Some of the files contained Christmas letters or special limited edition poems bound and distributed among faithful followers of the Press. The authors I came across included Diane Wakoski, Wanda Coleman, Gerard Malanga, John Fante, Fielding Dawson, Laura Chester, John Yau, D.H. Lawrence, and of course, Charles Bukowski.

BSP_books1    BSP_Malanga_artwork

BSP_books4    BSP_Bukowski4

In preparation for writing the collection’s finding aid, I have been spending time perusing its control files and asking Roger about the process behind acquiring this collection. As it turns out, portions of the Black Sparrow Press archive can be found among the Special Collections holdings of five other institutions: University of Alberta (1966-1970), Pennsylvania State University (1967-1974), Emory University (1966-2002), the University of California at Berkeley (1970-2002), and at the Center for Southwest Research at the University of New Mexico (1967-1976). Looking over the way others institutions have organized their portions of the collections has been helpful, and it will inform the organization of our own, since the main goal is to make it as accessible to researchers as possible. This finding aid will be unlike the other two I have tackled, much larger in scope and with many other considerations to keep in mind. According to Roger, it should take about a week to complete. Finishing this project that has been in the works at Special Collections for such a long time will be bittersweet for me, for it signals that my time alone in the stacks, surrounded by the work of these poets will no longer be a regular part of my day. Good thing I can always come and visit, now that I know what is there.