Wanderlust, Women, and Arizona

This week, I was able to set up my very own mini-exhibit here at Special Collections in the reading room. In conjunction with Women’s History Month, this one case exhibit pays homage to the many women who have traveled and explored our glorious state. I wanted to give viewers a glimpse at several different women, both past and present, who have fallen in love with Arizona and explored its many wonders.

The exhibit, of course, cannot highlight all of the many women of Arizona and the borderlands who have contributed to our archive. However, I was able to highlight different types of materials that are housed here: rare small press books (March is also National Small Press Month!), maps, sketches, poetry, and photographs.


The collection features items from Ofelia Zepeda (Tohono O’odham), Hazel E. Mills, Annita Delano, and Nell McCarthy. Zepeda is an award winning poet/author and if you’re able to stop by and read some of her O’odham poetry, you will fall in love with Cuk Son all over again. Mills’ sketches of different travels across Arizona are gorgeous, but also highlight the different ways women participate in travel. Delano is an artist and her photographs of archaeological ruins are extraordinary. Nell McCarthy grew up in Douglas, Arizona and documented her experiences with photographs but I’ve also showcased some of her handwritten, hand illustrated poetry. These are just four of the amazing women that have traveled and contributed to Arizona’s history. I hope you’re able to stop by and view some of their work.


Teaching Archives with a Meaningful (but fun) Methodological Approach: Creating a “UA History” Scavenger Hunt

This week, I continued working on a collection I’m in the midst of processing. I started the week by labeling folders, a process that seems easy (and is) but gets tiresome and tedious after you encounter a unique box with over 200 folders. To be clear, 200 folders is not the norm for an archival box, but some collections are special. So again… I was getting tired of writing the box numbers and folder numbers on these materials — just because it was getting so repetitive.

Luckily, I was asked to help create a scavenger hunt for a visiting group of students!

Middle school and high school students often visit Special Collections on academic field trips. Archivists will explain what Special Collections is, what we collect, why we’re important, and go over how to handle these materials. Students are then able to look through different types of primary and secondary sources — and what is a better way to make a visit fun than having an activity? For a scavenger hunt, you pull materials that are interesting for students, and then ask questions about the items — specifically, you want them to have to do some research!

Step 1 — Pull materials that are fun! For this group of middle schoolers, they wanted to look at materials relating to the history of the University of Arizona. They have indeed found the correct place!


I pulled several different photographs from the University of Arizona Photograph Collection, including photos of Old Main from construction onward. This is a great way for students to “see” the changes that have occurred to this building, and the campus in general. I also pulled collections relating to different types of courses that were taught here (including one devoted to teaching young women social fundamentals), a collection about events happening on the mall, and some important baseball documents from J. F. McKale’s papers. We have it all: photos, books, documents, sports memorabilia, etc. Hopefully, there is a little bit of something for all of these students to take an interest in!

I’m looking forward to seeing if they can “scavenge” all of the different items using my clues!

Professional Development: UA Graduate panel at the Arizona Archives Summit 2019!

The 2019 Spring semester at the University of Arizona is underway, and the graduate students at Special Collections have hit the ground running. This semester, we’ll all be working on a very important aspect of professional development by attending the Arizona Archives Summit conference in Tempe, Arizona. Together, the graduate students will create a four-person panel that will present our experiences working in the archives, focusing particularly on how our experiences working with different collections will benefit various communities.

That is correct, we will all be participating in the harrowing event many nervous public speakers refer to as: Oh no, a conference presentation in front of my peers, people I do not know, and probably lots of other people that stumble into the conference because they have a desire to heckle a young professional trying to reiterate their experiences!  This sense of panic is usually followed by thoughts of: But what if I get up there to present and I have nothing to say, or I have lots to say but everything is really boring and the entire audience falls asleep?!

Luckily, we are a strong group, and we have not felt any of these moments of panic, nor do we expect to feel them at any point between now and our presentation. We are completely rock solid as we begin the process of reviewing our materials, discuss each collection’s connection to the local community, take photographs of interesting items in the collections, and combine these experiences in a Power Point–which will not only have the perfect color and font scheme, but also a series of captivating photographs that will arouse applause from the audience.

fingers crossed.. - imgur

Creating a panel presentation is a challenging task because the collections we will be discussing are so different. Some members of the panel have spoken at conferences before, and for others this will be their first professional development conference. We have two mock-presentation dates set aside where we plan to practice our presentations, one of which will include time for feedback from archivists in Special Collections, and right now we’re a tiny bit nervous but 100% excited to be able to present at an academic conference full of professionals working in libraries, archives, and academia.


We will be presenting at the Tempe History Museum Public Meeting Room on Friday, January 25th from 9:30-10:30 if you are in the area and would like to stop by. However, we know that many of our fans have busy schedules, so we will make sure to update you after our presentation. Expect lots of photos, a Q/A session with the graduate students that will reveal what we loved about the conference, and summaries of our presentations.



The Archives Ghost(s)

In honor of Halloween, I wanted to direct attention to a unique member of the Special Collections team: The Archives Ghost(s). When you’re working downstairs in the ‘basement’ of an archive, there are often strange things that happen. Many will tell you that your mind plays tricks on you. You think you hear a sound, but it can easily be explained away as a water pipe or creaky door. You see the lights flash in the motion-sensor aisles and think glitches happen.  But for many of us, we wonder if there is an Archives Ghost that lurks throughout the collections.


Clearly, this is not our particular Archives Ghost because no one has been able to catch the apparition on camera. Yet we’d like to think of the Archives Ghost as a friendly individual that helps us maintain the collections, and hope that we do a worthy job of protecting the treasures that the Archives Ghost oversees.

Some have reported hearing a voice in the annex area, but when you round the corner, there is no one there. Many have reported that while working the motion sensor lights in aisles will turn on, which creates a distinct clicking sound. Yet no one will be in the aisle when you get up to go investigate. Others are even certain that folders will have been moved from one side of a table to another with no explanation. And of course, there have been times when it seems to be oddly cold downstairs.

There are, of course, many that would explain these instances away. Voices belong to people that move. Technology can do strange things by itself. While cleaning someone may have moved folders. And we work in a temperature controlled archive so of course when the a/c comes on, it gets cold for a moment. These are all reasonable explanations. However, if you work in an archive and feel like there may be otherworldly helpers watching over the collections, you’re not alone. Perhaps we all have an Archives Ghost(s) making sure we’re doing our best to preserve their materials!


Birds Just Want to Have Fun: The Photographs of Laurence M. Huey (MS 241)

While it is not a secret that I love birds, I will pretend that this is a fact you do not yet know about me.  But my name is Michelle and I love birds. I’m also a peristerophile (someone that loves and cares for pigeons). Now that we’ve been properly introduced… you can imagine how excited I was when I saw the following manuscript labels on a collection I was not yet familiar with:


Photographs of Laurence M. Huey (MS 241). 

Traditionally, manuscript labels are simplistic. They’re in black and white text and include the manuscript identifier (MS 241), the name of the collection, and a box number. So, you can imagine my excitement that there was a bird waving at me, practically screaming, “Look at this collection!” 

Laurence M. Huey was the Curator of Birds and Mammals for the Dan Diego Natural History Museum from 1922 to 1962. His photographs include pictures from his trips across Baja California, the United States, Canada, Central America, and South America. Many of his subjects are birds because Huey loved birds *almost* as much as I do.

Now, I’m not sure where Huey found a single mallard duck in the middle of the White Mountains, but it is plausible. And it is adorable!


(MS241_Box2_Folder3): Young Stephens Whip-poor-will. June 1931. (Photo N-7874).

I was also very excited when I found several different photographs of hummingbirds in their nests. If you’ve ever seen a hummingbird, you know how fast they are. You also know that trying to photograph the tiny birds is extremely stressful, and you often end up with lots of ‘dud’ photographs. Yet Huey had an amazing eye for hummingbirds, their nests, and their young.


Another fun photograph was titled “Little husband, little wife!” and depicts two Phimbious Gnatcatchers creating their home in Western Arizona, near the Lucky Star Mine, in Mohave County. The photograph was taken in April 1938.


(MS241_Box2_Folder9). Phimbious gnatcatchers (N-7891).

Huey took several photographs of different birds sitting on branches. Whether flying solo or playing with friends, it is clear these birds were entertaining themselves and photographers.

Huey also enjoyed capturing birds feeding their young.


(ms241_box2_folder18): Ash Throated Crested Flycatcher building a nest in Yavapai County, Congress Juntion area (n-7888).

Finding odd/irregular nesting locations was a bonus for Huey.


(ms241_box2_folder18): Ash Throated Flycatchers. May 20-25, 1941 in the Congress Junction area, Yavapai County, Arizona. One bird entering a nest (in post!) and one watching for danger (n-8236).

Huey also liked to find groups of birds. As I am sure you have heard, the best things sometimes come in sets of three!

Other birds are interesting specimens because they have some amazingly unique “hairdos” that should be shared with the public.


(ms241_box2_folder19): Yuma County, Arizona (n-7925).

This prominent crest would be passed on to another generation of adorable birds–which Huey also photographed.


(ms241_box2_folder19): Phainopipla feeding young in Castle Dome, Yuma County, Arizona. April 21, 1935 (n-7901).

And if you think I forgot to include a photograph of several different bird nests that Huey photographed… here is the photo you have been waiting for!


(ms241_box6_folder3): Several photographs from the collection that show different styles of bird nests. 

I hope that you now share my love of birds just a bit more. The Laurence M. Huey collection contains a large grouping of different avian photographs–I hope to intrigue you with a few selections from Box 2, which features birds from Arizona. But if you would like to go “bird watching” in the Special Collections library, there are numerous bird sightings to be had in this collection. To take a look at the collection guide, feel free to click this link: MS 241.

Collections of Disarray: Cleaning Up and Preserving Archival Materials

The 2018-2019 academic year marks my second year as a GA (Graduate Assistant) at Special Collections, but I’ve held different student worker positions here since 2009. My plan to infiltrate the archive and make myself a permanent fixture here seems to be working.  Processing collections has always been one of the most significant tasks I’ve been given and I cannot stress enough how much I love being able to make sense of collections for future researchers, scholars, and curious patrons.

My first processing project this semester is what can only be (lovingly) described as a ‘Collection of Disarray’. This nickname refers to a collection that comes in with no clear order (everything is haphazardly piled into boxes), lots of dirt and grime, needs a lot of weeding (removing and discarding items that have no intellectual value to the collection–like an old phone bill or receipt from the grocery store), and has condition issues.

The collection I’m currently processing arrived to Special Collections looking like this:


It is not uncommon for collections to come in without any specified order to them. After all, donors are entrusting their materials to an archive because archivists take the time to tidy up the collection: we put materials in folders, clean up any small issues, etc.

Yet this collection was unique because it had significant dirt and grime. This was likely due to storage issues (not everyone has a temperature controlled room, and you should keep in mind that lots of people keep their materials in storage sheds that aren’t dirt and/or animal proof). Thus, as I’ve started sorting these materials, I’ve had to spend a lot of time carefully wiping up dirt, bugs, and other fun treasures. It actually is *very* fun.

The collection itself also has different types of damage.


A significant portion of this collection is letters from the 1910-1930s. The letter pictured above is family correspondence from 1921, and as you can see there are different types of damage to the letter itself. This letter had some dirt on it, which was easy to carefully wipe away. However, there are still some stain “spots” of an unknown origin. The edges also have some significant damage from an unidentified bug. I have a carcass or two that were preserved in these boxes, and I’m not kidding when I say I’m taking photos and sending them to a friend who studies bugs in order to get the true identity of the letter-eaters! You can see little areas where a bug was happily eating away at the letter (the more ’rounded’ areas). However, there are also nicks and tears in the letter (likely from improper housing and, let’s be honest, plain old age and non-archival paper).

The collection is exciting because it is giving me a chance to use different real-world techniques to get some of these materials back into shape. Cleaning dirt off, putting letters in sealed mylar, and arranging the items is proving to be time consuming but well worth the effort. And… I get to use these exciting blue gloves that make me feel like a doctor–skillfully bringing life back to a collection!


Digital Collections: The Future or a Curse?

Recently, I entered a heated debate with a friend about e-books, via Facebook, of all places! A voracious reader, I have always preferred to hold a book in my hands. I enjoy the way the paper smells, its feel beneath my fingers, and I own a large bookmark collection. Despite having a Kindle and storing books on it, I find it hard to read there. But my friend, and many others, are of the digital age and believe everything is more accessible online.

While working at Special Collections–specifically, examining old movie posters that show 1signs of mildew and mold–I began to wonder if digital collections are becoming the new “norm” for archivists. Adding things to the digital sphere is becoming common everywhere I turn, but would entirely digital archival collections lose something special if I could only view them from a screen? Special Collections currently does host several digital online collections. Most of these collections are not representative of an entire collection, but are instead smaller selections aimed to draw interest.

I decided to explore the Records of the San Rafael Cattle Company (AZ 122). I have a

fondness for ranching and cattle so this collection stood out to me as a researcher. Visiting the digital collection, I was able to start examining the Bylaws for the company. The digital collection has an interface that allows you to look at the collection page-by-page. You can zoom in if you want to look at something in more depth. While meant to be a “quick” way to explore the collection, I personally found that it was harder to navigate the side panel (because it does not title each item in the folder, only gives page numbers) than it would be to sit down with the folder in the Reading Room and search through the collection one document at a time. But… that does not mean that having access to digital collections is not an amazing feature of the digital world.

My primary research focus for my dissertation work is on the Maori. Traveling to New Zealand to visit an archive, as you can imagine, would take a great deal of planning, time, and let’s face it: money. Luckily the National Library has online collections that allow researchers unable to travel long distances access to some of their materials.

While many of us still want to hold things in our hands, there is also the obstacle of getting to archives that are far away from our research. And this is true for researchers using Special Collections’ digital materials, exhibits, and collections. So even though you may never see me holding an e-book…you’ll definitely see me exploring digital archives as a way to begin my research journeys.

If you’ve never browsed the digital collections at Special Collections, I suggest taking a virtual tour to let your mind explore.