Collection Management in Archives and ArchivesSpace

At the end of last semester, I finally decided to enroll in a course on collection management. Despite the fact that most of my library experience is in archives, throughout the course, I have been reading about collection management in public libraries, academic libraries, and even museums. However, last week, my professor, Dr. Carla Stoffle, invited Lisa Duncan, the Collections Management librarian at Special Collections, to guest lecture.

Up until last week’s class, I had a somewhat hazy understanding of the role of a Collection Management librarian in an archival setting, especially since at a Special Collections library, items are typically donated, not purchased. However, Lisa explained that her role is to manage collections from the moment they arrive at our repository to the moment they are put on the shelf, ready to be accessed. It turns out this is actually a large job, as it requires the overseeing of all processing activities.

One of the things Lisa brought up in her presentation was ArchivesSpace, an open source archives information management application that we use at Special Collections to organize and manage our collections. I have done some tinkering with the website, but now that I am finishing a new collection, the Dr. Laura Lee Cummings Pachuco/Caló Oral History Project Collection, one of my next tasks is to input my finding aid into ArchiveSpace.

I started by finding the accession record in ArchivesSpace associated with my collection and then spawning a resource record from within the accession record. The next step is to fill out the resource record.


Entering basic information about the collection into ArchivesSpace.


Inputting date information for the collection in ArchivesSpace.

Following the basic information and dates sections of the resource record, there are a dozen more sections to fill in. Luckily, Lisa has already created a document to aid staff with entering information into resource records. Using the information in my finding aid, I can complete this ArchivesSpace record and it will be available for viewing by other Special Collections staff.


Metadata Mamacita

Groupies of this blog might remember that last year in March, Special Collections held a public event called Community Digitization Day where members of the community brought in their treasured archival materials such as photographs and printed documents to be digitized. Attendees were able to take home high-quality scans of their images home on flash drives, which we provided for the event.  We also gave attendees the option of donating the digitized images to Special Collections, so we now have a small collection of over one hundred images from the community showing real life in Tucson and other areas from which community members originate.

Since the event, which I had such a delightful time being a part of, I have been working on organizing the digital collection and preparing it for a digital exhibit. To start with, I did a metadata benchmark, where I looked at how similar digital collections at other institutions were described and organized using Dublin Core. I was then able to come up with the most appropriate DC elements to describe our collection (title, creator, date, etc.), and made a spreadsheet to harvest that metadata from the items themselves.


Metadata for the Community Digitization Day Digital Collection

I hope to make it through all the steps of processing a digital collection. So far, I have been able to cement my understanding of metadata and become familiar with the various platforms for digital exhibits. I hope that the exhibit will be available for the public to see soon, even if I am not able to finish it before I have to leave Special Collections, because the collection is very rich and has opened my eyes to new parts of Tucson history and daily life.

Reference Rookie

Last week, as I keep working on processing the Pachuco Oral History Collection, I got the chance to help with a reference request that came from a researcher via our online reference system, LibAnswers. The researcher was looking for a particular letter related to border security.  I love working on reference requests because I have the opportunity to look through our collections and become just a little bit more familiar with them. Plus, it’s like a professional scavenger hunt. 


When I received the request, one of our staff had already tried looking in two different sets of locations that the researcher gave us. Given what I was looking for, and given the other spots that had already been checked, by looking through the finding aid using a variety of keywords, I made a new set of places in this collection to look.

After looking in a few different boxes, I found a copy of the letter that was published in a newspaper in April 1999. There was a note at the and of the letter that read: “This letter was sent to President Clinton and other U.S. and state officials as well as other daily newspapers and TV stations.” I made a list of Arizona representatives that were in office in 1999, but we only had two collections pertaining to representatives from that time, and the original letter with signatures was not in either.


When I came to the conclusion that we didn’t have the original letter, I was slightly dispirited that I could not make the researcher happy by granting them the resource they needed. 

GIPHY (3)However, when I spoke with my supervisor, Erika, to get some advice, she reassured me that even though it can be discouraging to not be able to fulfill the request, it also gives us information about where we have gaps in the collection, which is a good thing. I also learned that doing reference can be an indirect way of doing collection management.



GIPHY (4).gifIn the end, I contacted the researcher and let them know that I had found a copy of the letter, but not the original one with signatures that they were looking for. I sent along a scan of the newspaper clipping and the list of Arizona incumbent representatives in 1999, and suggested that they look in other Arizona repositories, such as Special Collections at ASU, with congressional collections that could possibly contain the letter.

Chafee Exhibit Opens

Last week, on Monday, we finally opened the Judith Chafee exhibit. The next evening, we held an event to commemorate the opening titled Judith Chafee – Geographical Powers where one of Chafee’s ex-students, collaborators, and current UA Architecture Professor Christopher Domin contextualized the exhibit with a lecture about her work and life. I was so excited to learn about Chafee from an outside perspective, as I feel that I developed my own (possibly warped) perspective about her from her archives. The event was a major success, and over 200 people attended!

The exhibit itself will be displayed in the Special Collections gallery until July, and features a variety of materials from the archival collection. Curator Bob Diaz organized the materials around different parts of her life and featured some of the main houses that Chafee designed.I didn’t know until the very last day, but an anonymous donor also let us borrow the original model of the Ramada House, which is exciting to see, after only seeing pictures of it.



Model of the Ramada House.

After the lecture by Professor Domin, the attendees were able to walk through the exhibit and look at the various items from the collection. Multiple people asked if the collection was available to the public, and I was so glad to be able to see first-hand the interest that people had in Chafee’s collection. Processing this collection has been a real treat, as someone who is interested in space and design, and I’m happy that it’s now open for people to admire and peruse on their own.

In case you missed the lecture, there will be another one about Judith Chafee and her career on March 13, 2018. More information can be found here.

A critical look at maps

I love maps. In my undergraduate years here at the University of Arizona, I was a geography major, and even though I am in graduate school for library science, my interest for the relationship between people and their environment hasn’t waned. In fact, one of the really cool things about the archives is that you can continue learning about the things you love—but with primary sources. 

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Map of El Presidio by Judith Chafee. What factors could have influenced the designation of El Presidio as historic district? Why are the limits of the district where they are?

As I keep working through the Chafee collection, I have begun to understand that architects are also very interested in the relationship between people and their environments—just in a different way that geographers are. However, in order to plan sites and figure out where to put buildings, a lot of geographic methods are required. Last week, I started processing Chafee’s research files, which are materials she collected when doing research for her architectural projects. Two of the biggest subcategories have turned out to be “Tucson Historic Districts” and “Planning and Zoning.” Inside these folders are a plethora of maps, reports, and analyses detailing the geography of Tucson’s Historic Districts and Barrios. Many of these materials were produced in preparation for the urban renewal projects implemented in Tucson’s downtown area that razed many of Tucson’s oldest Mexican and Black neighborhoods in order to build the Tucson Convention Center and the La Placita complex. 

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This map was produced by the Tucson City Planning and Human and Community Development Departments . What might “perceived neighborhoods” mean? How do these clean shapes represent the space?

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Another map from the same report as above, here you can see the older neighborhoods underneath the community and civic center.

In my opinion, it is extremely important to remain critical and ask questions about what the map is attempting to represent, especially when looking at historical maps. Different layers, boundaries, and zones on a map try to represent real spaces, but the relationship between the map and the real place, and the people who live there can be complicated. Some questions to think of might be, what was going on in this place at this time? what does it mean to draw boundaries on land? what do boundaries on the map mean? do the boundaries mean something to the people that live there? would someone who lives there use the same boundary lines? Can lines be fuzzy? Throwing history in the mix makes things even more complicated because we can ask these questions across time, as well, and in an archive, we know that different places have different value to different people. 

People’s History of Tucson

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© 1977 Tucson Community Development/Design Center

For the past few weeks, I’ve been dedicating the majority of my hours at work to processing the Chafee architectural collection. The collection is the largest I’ve worked on so far at 43 boxes, and as I work through the papers, I often find some real treasures. Since I found it months ago, I’ve been intrigued by one item in particular, a newspaper sized comic produced in 1977 by the Tucson Community Development/Design Center (TCDC) called People’s Urban History of Tucson. The comic explains the history of the development of Tucson with vivid images from the point of view of Tucson’s lower-income and marginalized communities instead of telling the usual dominant narrative of our town’s history.


I was curious about the TCDC itself, so I did some online sleuthing. It turns out, the TCDC was a non-profit architectural planning, design, and research firm that worked to serve low-income communities, and contributed to and completed a number of projects between 1973 and 1983 such as the Lalo Guerrero project in Barrio Viejo that provides low-income housing to the elderly. The organization even sued a local politician for classifying a neighborhood as “blighted” which allowed the city to use public funds to build a luxury apartment complex for winter visitors.chafee_urban history_001

However, the organization also worked on graphic design projects like the People’s History of Tucson that were meant to educate the public about local housing laws and history, and about politicians working with corporations to displace low-income people in the downtown area in order to open up land for development. I was lucky, because we actually had some of those other pamphlets in our holdings here at Special Collections. In our pamphlets collection, we had two issues of a newsletter called “The True News” (“Los Hechos” in Spanish).

I started to wonder if maybe Judith Chafee did any work for the TCDC or if the comic just drew her in, as it did with me. Maybe she was friends with one of the members of the organization, or maybe, as an architect, she was concerned about how economic policies affect who can afford to buy a house. Either way, I was so happy to get to learn a little bit about housing policy in 1970s Tucson, and I can’t wait for the next treasure I find in this collection.

Spooky stuff


Haunted, edited and published by Samuel D. Russell, 1963

This is a particularly spooky October. A couple of weeks ago, Friday fell on the 13th, and it seems sort of special that this year, that date fell in the same month as Halloween. I wanted to honor this month with a post about something creepy or scary, and at Special Collections, we have plenty of items that fit the bill. I also wanted to take the opportunity to go on an archival treasure hunt, as my work processing the Chafee collection hasn’t left much time for exploring the stacks.


Haunted, edited and published by Samuel D. Russell, 1964

After doing some simple searches on Arizona Archives Online, which any one can do to look through the vast array of holdings of several archival repositories in the state, I came across the Anthony Boucher Fanzine Collection. The collection contains zines dating from the early 1940s-mid 1970s, most of which fall into the science fiction and horror genres. One of the fanzines, called Haunted, features mysterious and beautiful lithographed covers. The publisher of Haunted, Samuel D. Russell, tells us in the editorial comments that “HAUNTED will specialize in publishing articles and book reviews about weird supernatural horror fiction, with occasional stories and poems in this genre.” The two volumes include reviews of stories by Hugh Sykes Davies, H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, and original stories and poems by Alison Marmour, Shirley Windward, and Richard C. Maxwell, among others.

Come to Special Collections to find more macabre materials to get you in the Halloween mood!