The Documented Border: A Back End Tour

Last year, during my first semester as graduate assistant at Special Collections, I got the chance to collaborate in The Documented Border, an open access digital archive showcasing a collection of interviews by UA journalist professors, Celeste González de Bustamante and Jeannine Relly, as well as Operation Streamline sketches by 2-D professor, Lawrence Gipe. The oral histories in the archive provide a glimpse of what life is like for journalists and human activists along the border working to preserve freedom of expression even while often putting their personal safety at risk. The sketches serve as witnesses to U.S. immigration court proceedings, part of the controversial program that some call “assembly-line justice.”

DB Front Page

My role in this project started out simple enough. Back in November 2015, I spent hours listening to the over a dozen recorded interviews (most of them in Spanish), providing bilingual descriptive metadata to be used as the audio files became part of the digital archive. A large of portion of these interviews were accessible by the time the Documented Border was unveiled in a well-attended ceremony that I wrote about here. Over time, more interviews have been slowly added to our files, and now that we have the complete set, it’s time to upload them all.

Sounds easy, right? And it is, but there are more steps involved that you might suspect. For some files, like in this example of the one for newspaper owner Ninfa Deandar, the process is not too complicated: all I have to do is upload the audio file to our SoundCloud account, along with a corresponding image (when available) and some basic metadata:

Next step is to link that SoundCloud item to our Omeka site. To accomplish that, first an item must be created in Omeka that includes more extensive metadata (along with tags predetermined while I listened to the original recordings). An image is again uploaded here, as is the corresponding SoundCloud code for this particular interview, allowing it to be seamlessly embedded in the digital archive:

The Omeka items are then added to the exhibit page. In this example, I added Deandar to the page designated for Mexican journalists, then set it to “public” to complete the process:

Some files, however, require some added steps. A good example is the one by Miguel Timochenco, another Mexican journalist. His interview, as was the case of three others, was done in two parts, which required I merged the audio files before uploading a combined one to SoundCloud. To accomplish that, I used Audacity, an open-source audio editor that I was already familiar with thanks to a course required of all Knowledge River students, LIS 557 (Documenting Diverse Communities). To merge the interview files, I must first transfer them to Audacity and then align the tracks by using the function “End to End.” Once that is done, I can export them back to our masters’ folder, along with some basic metadata to help keep track of each one.

The combined sound file then follows the same process as the Deandar example, one that includes adding metadata in both Spanish and English. Note that not all interviews have image files to upload. When that is the case (whether because we have not received one or because the journalists opted not to provide one), we use a stock image instead:

DB Page_Timochenco

All these steps can be tough to keep track of, and to make things easier, we have workflows. These step-by-step instructions have both written and illustrated guides that speeds things up. Even then, sometimes things fall through the cracks, or we may get new files that need to be added to the digital exhibit. Librarians and archivists work in so many different projects, that it makes sense to take advantage of tools that keep track of the process of each one. At Special Collections, the tool of choice is Redmine, and it allows my supervisors to track my process and clarify what comes next:


For now, we have a total of 53 interviews uploaded in The Documented Border exhibit. Recently, new ones have been accessed and are ready to go through all the steps I have just described. I will once again be listening to interviews, providing bilingual descriptions and tags, then getting each uploaded as illustrated above. As the semester and my fellowship are both winding down, I will be splitting the remaining time between this project and the finding aid translation pilot. Then comes graduation in May, so it will be a busy month and a half. Wish me luck!


Additions to Collections: Getting Started

I was recently asked to process additions to two collections. Additions to collections are materials that have been donated after a collection has been fully processed. The first addition I worked on was processing several folders of correspondence added to the University of Arizona Agricultural Experiment Station Papers, MS 446. This collection includes financial and agricultural records, workbooks detailing research and experiments, correspondence, and miscellaneous related items from 1891-1922. This addition was small and uncomplicated and didn’t require me to shuffle around any of the previously processed materials. I have updated the finding aid but have not yet encoded the new finding aid in EAD.


William R. Mathews, WWI, 1918

I was also recently given an opportunity to process a larger addition (6 boxes) to the William R. Mathews Papers, MS 406. This addition is less straightforward than the Agricultural Experiment Papers. William R. Mathews (1893-1969) was an accomplished journalist, newspaper editor and publisher. In 1924, he and business partner Ralph E. Ellinwood purchased the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, Arizona. Mr. Mathews served as the general manager from 1924-1930 and as editor and publisher from 1930-1967. The William R. Mathews Papers (1916-1971) primarily document his journalism career as editor and publisher of the Arizona Daily Star (1930-1967), and also includes material relating to Mathews’ military service in World War I, and his role as an official war correspondent in World War II. The additions include family papers, scrapbooks, clippings, photographs, and correspondence.

Mathews chair

William R. Mathews at his desk, undated.

The first step, which I am still in the process of completing, has been to separate the new materials by using the existing series arrangement of the collection. I am also adding two new series to account for family papers that don’t fit into the existing structure. I am then going to rehouse the materials and label each folder as I would if processing a new collection. The more difficult aspect of processing this Mathews Obitcollection is deciding how to add new folders to the existing series arrangement by maintaining the order that was established when the main collection was processed. In this case, it appears most of the items have been arranged alphabetically and then chronologically. In order to add in new folders I will have to shuffle some items into new boxes to account for growth. I will then need to update the finding aid to account for the changes and encode it in EAD. It’s a new and challenging process but now that I have more experience with processing I feel I am up to the task!

Latino Youth and the Social Justice Education Project

IMG_5491This week I had the opportunity to survey a collection on the Social Justice Education Project (SJEP), a collaborative program between the University of Arizona and a couple of TUSD schools. UA Professor Julio Cammarota initiated the project in 2003 at La Cholla High School. It was launched as an attempt to engage Latino youth in the education process by teaching them research skills that allowed them to address social issues they encountered as students of color. The first group of student participants were at risk and on the verge of dropping out. The program helped them become engaged with their education once again, and gave them the confidence to address and initiate social change where they identified inequalities. The program empowered the students so much, that 12 out of the initial 16 participants not only graduated from high school, but also went to college.

IMG_5492Ethnic Studies has been threatened in the school district a number of times despite its substantial success. Student participation in SJEP has grown from 16 to 125 students, and spread to other high schools such as Tucson and Rincon High. According to Cammarota and Augustine Romero, director of Ethnic Studies for Tucson Unified School District (TUSD), student success is evident in attendance rates, test scores, grades and graduation rates. Part of the success of the program was that students got to pick the topics they worked on. This motivated them to work on their school project, while inadvertently working on critical thinking, writing, communication and research skills. It  allowed them to realize the importance of their education in combating inequity, injustice and other topics that they face in their daily lives. Some of their projects were presented to the school superintendent and were able to promote change through their recommendations.

The collection consists of student research documentation, SJEP newsletters, newspaper clippings highlighting their work, photographs and ephemera. One of the challenges I foresee in this collection is possible restriction of the students’ research, as there is no disclosure waivers included that would allow their interviews to be made available to the public. However, I still think it is a great collection to hold, as it documents the community and their educational efforts.  This proves how important it is to have all voices heard and the impact it has in people’s lives.IMG_5483

A Charla on Access and Archives

Over the past few months, Special Collections and the Arizona Historical Society (AHS) have been developing a partnership with the UA’s Translation and Interpretation Program for the translation of finding aids into Spanish. As AHS archivist and former graduate assistant at Special Collections, Lizeth Zepeda notes, “historically archives have been perceived as inaccessible places, and by showing that there is an effort to document and provide accessibility to the Latino community with bilingual access points, makes it a significant step.”

Last January, Lizeth and I presented a poster at the Arizona Archives Summit on the progress of this project. In February, we had the chance to present at the Critical Librarianship and Pedagogy Symposium (CLAPS), hoping to elicit a conversation on our methodology for the selection of finding aids to be translated.

During our 50-minute charla (Spanish for “conversation”), we first provided an overview of why it makes sense for our institutions to provide this service. At Special Collections, for example, over a tenth of our collections focus on the Borderlands and most of these contain a significant volume of Spanish material. Visiting researchers account for a third of those accessing materials in our reading room, and we can only imagine how many more community members and researchers from across the border would make the trek if we provided access in Spanish. As Xaviera Flores and Elizabeth Dunham state in their article “Breaking the Language Barrier: Describing Chicano Archives with Bilingual Finding Aids,” “Spanish-language finding aids have proven to be valuable tools for building community relationships and further developing the Chicano/a Research Collection. The Collection’s curator and curator emerita both report encountering members of the Mexican American community who feel that Spanish finding aids show an appreciation and respect of the language and culture that is often lacking in their dealings with Anglo society” (p. 505).

Flores and Dunham were able to translate a limited number of finding aids thanks to a one-time grant that made their project possible. Inspired to take such efforts even further, our pilot’s goal is two fold: we aim to develop a collaborative effort that facilitates the project’s sustainability while approaching issues of language as too important for casual amateurs to address. By tapping into the expertise under development within the Translation and Interpretation Program, we believe we have found a mutually beneficial way to provide quality access while giving translators-in-training the chance explore yet another field in need of their valuable skills.

TIP Slide

Before our audience at CLAPS, we presented the methodology developed so far, a combination of qualitative and quantitative approaches for the prioritization of finding aids to be translated. By taking advantage of assessment analysis conducted by Assistant Librarian and Archivist, Wendel Cox, we at Special Collections were able to look at circulation data, as well as to the reference and instruction requests received over the past 36 months. In addition, we looked at our Borderlands collection content and noted gaps, making sure to include collections by women and indigenous people among those to be translated during the pilot.

The feedback we got from those in attendance will allow us to fine-tune our methodological considerations and workflow. One of the main lessons from these activities, at least for me, is how much better a project becomes when the result of collaborative work, from having to explain our thought process to each other, bouncing ideas back and forth, and learning about concepts that might not come to play when one works alone. As a new archivist, I am making sure to take advantage of every opportunity to learn from others and also to develop relationships that are sure to bear fruit once out in the professional world.

Dunham, E., & Flores, X. (2014). Breaking the Language Barrier: Describing Chicano Archives with Bilingual Finding Aids. The American Archivist77(2), 499-509.