Special Collections and Archives blog

January 6, 2016
by special collections & archives
Comments Off on Elizabeth M and PT Reilly Internship Announcement

Elizabeth M and PT Reilly Internship Announcement

Changing the Entrance Sign to Campus from Arizona State College to Northern Arizona University, May 1, 1966. NAU.ARC.1966-1-1

Changing the Entrance Sign to Campus from Arizona State College to Northern Arizona University, May 1, 1966. NAU.ARC.1966-1-1

Northern Arizona University

Cline Library

Archival Internship Announcement

Summer 2016 Reilly Internship

The Cline Library at Northern Arizona University invites applications for The Elizabeth M. and P.T. Reilly Internship.

The 2016 Reilly intern works closely with Cline Library’s Special Collections and Archives staff to develop physical and virtual exhibits celebrating the institution’s 50th anniversary as a university. The library is seeking a highly motivated and organized student to serve as the curator of the exhibit. The intern will draw on the vast and rich resources housed in the University Archives, which are part of Special Collections and Archives.

Northern Arizona University was founded as Northern Arizona Normal School in 1899 in the then small northern Arizona town of Flagstaff. It opened its doors with two faculty (one of whom was the president) and 13 students. The institution grew over the next 67 years and became a university on May 1, 1966. The last fifty years have seen unprecedented development as an institution of higher learning and physical campus growth. Currently the university student population is nearly 26,000 residential and online students.

The University Archives contain over 2 million items, including photographs, oral histories, moving images, reports, correspondence, yearbooks and academic catalogs, student newspapers, and other publications. The records document the following areas: presidential tenures, administrative records, athletics, staff and faculty, and student organizations and activities. Some resources can be accessed through the Arizona Archives Online, as well as the digital NAU Archives collection.

Duties and Opportunities: The 2016 Reilly intern assumes primary responsibility for the virtual (web-based) exhibit.  The intern provides significant support for development of the physical exhibit, from its interpretive text to design and fabrication.

The internship offers the opportunity to gain practical experience in:

  • Research
    • Synthesis of primary and published sources
  • Exhibit Planning (team-based project management)
    • Storyline development and content interpretation
    • Web page design, creation, and digital storytelling
  • Public speaking (presentation to library staff upon completion of the internship)

The Reilly intern is scheduled 40 hours per week for ten consecutive weeks. The successful candidate will select a preferred ten-week block between June 6 – August 19, 2016.  The workweek schedule offers some flexibility.

Stipend and Housing:  $4,500 (no benefits included) total.  The Reilly intern is paid in bi-weekly installments to reach the total of $4,500.  On-campus housing is subject to availability.   For more information, please consult http://nau.edu/Residence-Life/Housing-Options/Summer-Housing/. Renting a room in the community is also a possibility. The successful candidate must be willing to relocate to Flagstaff for ten weeks and underwrite his or her own food, lodging, transportation to work, and parking.

Qualifications:  The preferred candidate will be a graduate student in information science or museum studies working toward a career in a library, museum, or archives setting. Graduate students should be currently part of a program with an anticipated completion date of August 2016 or later.  Undergraduate (junior or senior) applied indigenous studies, geography, history, and anthropology students are also encouraged to apply.

Knowledge, Skills, Abilities Required:

  • Strong ability to write creatively while employing advanced research skills
  • Strong communication skills (oral and written)
  • Ability to work as part of a team
  • Familiarity with archival practice
  • Basic experience with Microsoft Office products
  • Basic understanding of Web design
  • Familiarity with video and audio software tools, HTML editing, web-responsive tools such as Bootstrap, and the Adobe Design Premium software suite

Knowledge, Skills, Abilities Preferred:

  • Knowledge of Colorado Plateau and Southwest history
  • Demonstrated success working with visual materials and creating exhibits using archival material
  • Knowledge of higher education institutions from an administrative and student perspective.

Application Deadline:  February 12, 2016.  To apply, submit the following documents as a single .pdf to:  Peter Runge, NAU Cline Library, Box 6022, Flagstaff, AZ  86011-6022:

  • Letter of application addressing your qualifications
  • Résumé or vita
  • Copy of current transcript
  • A writing sample in the form of a 250-word historical sketch of a personal life event
  • Names and contact information for three references

For more information, contact Peter Runge via email at peter.runge@nau.edu or phone at (928) 523-6502.
The mission of Cline Library’s Special Collections and Archives Department is to collect, preserve, and make available archival materials that document the history and development of the Colorado Plateau.  Interdisciplinary in nature, the collections include 12 million manuscripts, 1 million photographs, 55,000 books, 2,000 maps, and 1,300 oral histories.  Learn more at http://nau.edu/library/archives .

Northern Arizona University has a student population of about 26,000 at its main campus in Flagstaff and at over 30 sites across the state.

Committed to a diverse and civil working and learning environment, NAU has earned a solid reputation as a university with all the features of a large institution but with a personal touch, with a faculty and staff dedicated to each student’s success. All faculty members are expected to promote student learning and help students achieve academic outcomes.

While our emphasis is undergraduate education, we offer a wide range of graduate programs and research. Our institution has carefully integrated on-campus education with distance learning, forming seamless avenues for students to earn degrees.

Flagstaff has a population of about 67,000, rich in cultural diversity. Located at the base of the majestic San Francisco Peaks, Flagstaff is 140 miles north of Phoenix at intersection of Interstate 17 and Interstate 40.

All qualified candidates are encouraged to apply.

January 5, 2016
by special collections & archives
Comments Off on Archives and Instruction

Archives and Instruction

Happy New Year to all.


Group of young students, probably part of the Northern Arizona Normal School’s Training School program [1922]

This past year Special Collections and Archives at Northern Arizona University has embarked on a little experiment involving class instruction and the use of primary source materials. To that end we began partnering with willing faculty to introduce their students to our manuscript and University archives collections; their respective finding aids online in Arizona Archives Online (AAO), and material we have digitized and made available via our digital archives.

The instruction sessions took several forms. Some were highly targeted reflecting focused research for papers that well matched our collecting focus (the human and natural history of the Colorado Plateau), others were built around assignments for specific regional topics, while others were more episodic and task-based, somewhat experimental, or better, experiential. We really tried to move away from simply showing students “old stuff from the archives”, to assignments that had students assess what it was they were presented with- whether that was material they had found searching AAO, or representative material selected by the instructors (often with our input) that students evaluated individually or in groups. We also began throwing the doors to our collection storage areas so that smaller students/tour groups could actually see the organization and extensive nature of our collections.

Some numbing statistical information:

In all we did 42 instruction sessions across 2015, 10 in the Spring semester and 32 in the Fall. We dealt with 24 individual faculty (or instruction/event organizers, as some of these were community or non-NAU events), and 862 students (229 Spring, 633 Fall). Of the events, 11 were for non-Northern Arizona University groups (Coconino Community College [4], Prescott College [1], Old Trails Museum [1], Soroptimists [1], Winslow Rotary[1], Flagstaff High School AP History [1], and Howard University [1]).

Academic areas and departments represented include: History [8], Environmental Studies [1], Native American Studies [1], Honors [5], English [4], Humanities [2], Communications [6] and Education [2]. The courses ran the gamut from high school level through graduate 700 level.

These sessions lasted on average an hour (the range was from 40 minutes up to 3 hours), and required at least one hour for planning, meaning the time investment on the part of Special Collections was on the order of 84-108 hours over the course of the year.

So what did we learn from all this?

First, that those courses and areas of studies that we might assume would be our primary partners (like History) are certainly important, but they are not by any means exclusive. We partnered with a wide academic array of faculty to create useful and interesting assignments around primary source material.

Second, there is a high degree of interest in primary source materials outside of the university that needs to be and should be served. Some of these groups are logical academic partnerships while others reflected interest in our current public exhibit (Fred Harvey: Branding the Southwest) or other local interests, and these sessions are frankly useful at several levels (archives promotion, and cultivating potential donors and collections as an example) aside from fulfilling some level academic or research interest.

Third, while it would be inappropriate to link archival instruction sessions to increased use as being causational at this point, our use statistics were up by 2% for the 2015 year over 2014. Is that significant given the numbers above? I don’t know that there is an easy answer to that.

Fourth- and most importantly, our instruction sessions did have significant impacts on student academic success. While almost entirely anecdotal, what we heard from faculty and students is all about what they learned about research, and about their research topics. One class was so enthused, they asked that their capstone presentations be made in Special Collections- and that turned into a remarkable afternoon. Certainly much of what students told us fell into that “I didn’t know this material existed” category, but others also reported being launched into new research and interest areas which may impact their academic careers at NAU because of their encounters with primary sources. Similarly, faculty are finding ways to support their classes using primary source materials in ways we normally (as archivists) would not think of that deals more with exposure to unique materials than finding specific application of their information. These new partnerships and SCA’s supporting role in class instruction are enhancing both the student experience, but also our own reference and retrieval skills.

Lastly, this has been fun. Lots of fun. Special Collections has been front and center for a number of classes, and that really has impacted our desk traffic and interactions with students. We answered their enthusiastic questions; we placed unique material into peoples’ hands and we got to talk about archival, research and preservation issues and theory. This has been as good for us as for the students and their faculty.

It may not seem like much, but what we have done is moved deliberately from being a passive service unit towards being an active one. We can’t say where this leads or whether it is sustainable (I got four instruction requests for the Spring 2016 semester while composing this), but it has invigorated Special Collections and our users. Active IS better.

December 24, 2015
by special collections & archives
Comments Off on Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays!

Belknap family Christmas Card, December 1950. NAU.PH.

Belknap family Christmas Card, December 1950. Photo courtesy of the Bill Belknap Collection, NAU.PH.

Happy Holidays from all of us at the Cline Library and Special Collections and Archives!

Thank you to all the faculty, staff, and students who made 2015 such a wonderful and memorable year for us. See you in the New Year.

 Christmas card from the Kolbs with the scene of a storm over Grand Canyon.  Photo courtesy of the Kolb Collection, NAU.PH.568.10114.

Holiday greeting card from Emery and Blanche Kolb with the scene of a storm over Grand Canyon. Photo courtesy of the Kolb Collection, NAU.PH.568.10114.


December 9, 2015
by special collections & archives
Comments Off on History 498C and Stories from the Colorado Plateau

History 498C and Stories from the Colorado Plateau

HIS498c flyer

Special Collections and Archives is dedicated to supporting faculty and students in many ways. We support student success, critical thinking, and advanced research skills by working with faculty to integrate primary source content and research into their course curriculum. This past semester (fall 2015) Special Collections and Archives partnered with 13 faculty teaching 16 different courses from three colleges (CAL, SBS, CFENS). In total, we worked with over 600 students this semester! Perhaps our most closely with was History 498C, the History department capstone course.

Special Collections and Archives was honored to partner with Linda Sargent Wood’s History 498c this semester. Dr. Sargent Wood brought her students to the department at the beginning of the semester to meet with archivist Sean Evans. Mr. Evans provided her students with an overview of the department, our collecting focus (human and natural history of the Colorado Plateau), and primary source research strategies and tools. The History 498c students worked with Dr. Sargent Wood and Mr. Evans to identify subjects within the department’s holdings to examine for their capstone projects. Over the course of the semester, the students spent time in the department reviewing finding aids, examining content from collections, and coalescing their analysis into their final projects and papers.

As a culminating event, Special Collections and Archives hosted History 498C’s final research projects and presentations in the department on Thursday afternoon. The students shared their research and discoveries through posters, displays, or websites that showcased their thesis statement, argument, methodology, and findings. Several of the students made presentations to an audience composed of parents, friends, faculty members, the staff of SCA, and library administration. Each student did an impressive job with their research, writing, posters, and presentations. The topics covered were diverse and touched on several cornerstone collections from our holdings. For example, Navajo trading posts, cultural appropriation on Route 66, mining on the Navajo Nation, missionaries on the Navajo Nation, veterans, Mormon women’s rights in the 19th century, the mysterious disappearance of Glen and Bessie Hyde, campus unrest at ASC/NAU, the Harvey Girls, the growth of NAU’s campus, dams in the region, the lumber industry in Flagstaff, and the history of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church.

photo 8 photo 1 photo 3 photo 4

We want to acknowledge and thank the students for their effort, passion for history, and the enthusiasm they brought throughout the semester and during the final presentations. We also want to thank Dr. Linda Sargent Wood for partnering with us and letting us be part of the final presentations.

If other faculty and instructors are interested in learning more about our holdings and how we might be able to support your courses, please contact us at special.collections@nau.edu or 523-5551. We have an instruction page on our website that provides additional information for faculty interested in partnering with Special Collections and Archives to support their courses.

November 23, 2015
by special collections & archives
Comments Off on Thanksgiving in the Archives

Thanksgiving in the Archives

For many, this week is shorter on work and lengthier on planning for/experiencing Thanksgiving. Whether it be through the gathering of friends and family, a game of football, shopping (in store/online), or binge-watching a newly-discovered television program, this is meant to be a time to unwind and gear up for December.

In recognition of Thanksgiving, Special Collections and Archives (SCA) would like to answer the fictional (but perhaps soon to be realized) research question: “What do you have here about Thanksgiving and such?”

To answer this question, we have to first pose a followup question about a time frame that is of interest to our patron. While information related to pre-colonial (thus ‘written’) cultures in the Southwest is sparse, it is nonetheless important to acknowledge that indigenous people have lived here for thousands of years and were not documenting themselves using media (paper, photography, film) that colonial society introduced and with which we have now become accustomed. Colonial history in the Southwest is comparatively recent on a global scale, beginning with Spanish exploration in the 1530s; Mexican independence from Spain in the 1810s; American acquisition of the territory of Arizona in 1848; and finally Arizona statehood in 1912. Considering Thanksgiving in the United States hails back to the Pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock in 1620, most documentation related to celebrating the holiday between 1621 and 1848 will reside elsewhere and mostly with repositories on the east coast that document the history of the American colonies. It is also worth noting that photography as a medium had just been born in 1839 with the advent of daguerreotype technology, which would open up many new and exciting ways of conveying information.

Briefly, SCA has primary source material that describes the celebration of Thanksgiving from the mid-to-late-19th century to present, with the vast majority covering life in the mid-20th century to present. Start your search for digitized content at our main page here.


Letters to Samuel E. Day, Sr., from Dan Mitchell [constructed title], 1908. MS.89: Day Family Collection.

Thanksgiving Day 1986 Our Lady of Guadalupe, Father Dobrowski. NAU.PH.2013.11.1.50. Our Lady of Guadalupe Church Collection.

Thanksgiving Day, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Father Dobrowski, 1986. NAU.PH.2013.11.1.50. Our Lady of Guadalupe Church Collection.

Our fictional patron may ask about written or oral primary source accounts of Thanksgiving in the Southwest and for that several interesting results can be found. Numerous audio and video files document oral histories in which narrators discuss Thanksgiving, either personally or factually. Many of these speakers were featured as part of the Flagstaff Public Library Oral History Project (1975-77) or were recorded as part of SCA’s 1998-2000 United Indian Traders Association Collection. Willie Coin (in 1975) describes his perspective on the holiday as a Hopi person and wonders why its significance has faded away so much. In 1976, Kathryn Rucker reminisced about the amount of family time involved with Thanksgiving as compared to Christmas. In 1980, Myrna Hillyard recalls being asked to speak about the Apache and their first Thanksgiving. In 1999, Mary Bailey described how she would cook Thanksgiving dinner for the Navajo and that they would refer to it as “Little Christmas.” In 2000, Colina Yazzie remembers her mother’s recollection of giving birth to her on Thanksgiving day. In 2008, Nat White discussed a-then yearly “Turkey Trot” that took place at Buffalo Park in Flagstaff.

While digitized content is a great beginning to our patron’s search on such a broad topic, it would also be very helpful to do a search at Arizona Archives Online for any material that may not have been digitized. A simple search for the word “Thanksgiving” among SCA’s collections reveal 13 unique collections in our repository that cover myriad related subjects. Our patron, upon review of these finding guides, may request that a series of boxes and folders be pulled in order to review their contents for relevance.

Of course, a robust search strategy would not be complete without a review of any publications (published books etc.) on the topic of Thanksgiving that are found through the library’s main catalog.

We hope that these search strategies can be applied successfully across a range of topics of interest to our patrons. We enjoy the challenge of–and being engaged with–finding new and exciting historic information that is being interpreted and disseminated in multiple ways in archival repositories across the world.

Happy Thanksgiving from SCA!


October 12, 2015
by special collections & archives
Comments Off on Book Review – The Spanish Frontier in North America

Book Review – The Spanish Frontier in North America

Spanish Frontier

Our second book review by Tom Schmidt looks at David Weber’s The Spanish Frontier in North America. 

David J. Weber (1940-2010) was one of the premier historians of the Spanish borderlands who taught at Southern Methodist University. I had the honor of meeting him in 2001 as a graduate history student at the University of San Diego. Weber sought to dispel the notion that United States history started entirely with the thirteen English colonies along the Atlantic seaboard. The Spanish Frontier in North America is a narrative of Spanish colonial history from California to Florida between 1513, when explorer Juan Ponce de León landed in Florida, to 1821, when Mexico won independence from Spain and control of the Southwest.

Although this book is a complete history of Spain’s empire in the American Southwest and Southeast, much of it focuses on Spanish relations with Native Americans. For years, the Spanish have been portrayed as uniquely cruel under the “Black Legend.” Instead, Weber argues that Spanish behavior was shaped by the 15th century Reconquista (“reconquest”), when the “pagan” Moors and Jews were driven out of Spain. In the Spanish mission system in the Southwest, Spanish Franciscans exploited Indian labor. However, harsh treatment of Native Americans was not confined to the Spanish; for example, at Jamestown, Virginia the English committed numerous atrocities against Indians. Weber offers an excellent analysis of the causes and events of the Pueblo Revolt in 1680 in New Mexico. After the Spanish restored order in New Mexico they fought together with Pueblo Indians against attacks from Apache and Navajo Indians and other threats.

One of the most interesting aspects of Weber’s book is the discussion of human and environmental transformations of Spain’s presence in North America. Throughout North America the Spanish introduced domestic animals, including sheep in the Southwest. Sheep play an important role in Navajo culture where wool is woven into textiles. Horses completely transformed the Apache, Comanche, and Indians of the Great Plains into powerful societies and brought further ecological changes. Grazing animals transported Old World grasses and the Spanish brought new plants, including watermelon and peach seeds. The presence of the Spanish mission system in California and throughout the Southwest is testimony of the Spanish period.

Many excellent titles have been published about Spanish borderlands history since Weber’s book, including James Brooks’ Captives and Cousins: Slavery, Kinship, and Community in the Southwest Borderlands (2002) and Juliana Barr’s Peace Came in the Form of a Woman: Indians and Spaniards in the Texas Borderlands (2007). (Both titles are available at Cline Library). More scholarship will likely build upon Weber’s fine work.

Weber, David J., The Spanish Frontier in North America (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1992).


To read other book reviews by Tom, please visit his blog Reader’s Advice

October 8, 2015
by special collections & archives
Comments Off on Book Review – Shadows at Dawn: A Borderland Massacre and the Violence of History

Book Review – Shadows at Dawn: A Borderland Massacre and the Violence of History


Our volunteer, Tom Schmidt, would like to share his book review of Shadows at Dawn: A Borderland Massacre by Karl Jacoby.

Here’s a teaser of his review…Western American history is dominated by violence toward Native Americans, most notably the Bear River Massacre of the Shoshone Indians of 1863 and the Wounded Knee Massacre of the Lakotas in 1890. However, one massacre that has not attracted much attention until recently is the 1871 Camp Grant massacre in the Arizona borderlands. Unlike the other incidents, there were more sides than whites and Indians. On April 30, 1871, a force of Anglo Americans, Mexican Americans, and Tohono O’odham Indians attacked a camp of Apache Indians near Tucson, killing scores of women and children. All of the parties involved had a history of conflict with the Apaches.

To read the full review, please visit Tom’s blog Reader’s Advice.

October 5, 2015
by special collections & archives
Comments Off on October is American Archives Month

October is American Archives Month

Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 7.29.43 AM

October is American Archives month and the Cline Library Special Collections and Archives is excited to share several of its treasures with you throughout the month.

Special Collections and Archives has two major collecting areas: the human and natural history of the Colorado Plateau and the institutional history, or University Archives. The department will make selections from each area of our collecting scope to highlight a few of our collections.

To kick off the month, we selected a 1936 travel journal of a gentleman named William “Wully” Wares to highlight an example of our Colorado Plateau collections. This exceptional photo-journal chronicles a 1936 motor trip which began in Butte, Montana and covered much of the Southwest. William Wares describes excavating a site at Awatobi, hunting mountain lions in Utah, and the beauty of numerous geographic landmarks such as the Grand Canyon and Goosenecks of the San Juan country.

Goosenecks, 1936

Goosenecks of San Juan Country, 1936

Grand Canyon National Park Pass, 1936

Grand Canyon National Park Pass, 1936

Journal Entry, August 24, 1936. Entering Grand Canyon National Park.

Journal Entry, August 24, 1936. Entering Grand Canyon National Park.

Journal Entry, August 24, 1936. Entering Grand Canyon National Park.

Journal Entry, August 24, 1936. Entering Grand Canyon National Park.

Photographs from Grand Canyon National Park, 1936

Photographs from Grand Canyon National Park, 1936

Photographs from Grand Canyon National Park, 1936

Photographs from Grand Canyon National Park, 1936

The journal also mentions Yellowstone National Park and the Teton mountains. An Anglo, Wares made cultural observations about the Navajo and Hopi as well as the inhabitants of Mormon towns. Some of the pages in this journal contain images of culturally sensitive material. The culturally sensitive material remains part of the original diary; however, Special Collections and Archives has elected not to provide online access to the culturally sensitive material out of respect to the Native American communities those images document.

The entire journal can be viewed online via our Colorado Plateau Archives here. The finding aid for the collection can be found at the Arizona Archives Online here.

Cline Library Special Collections and Archives will be partnering with three other institutions in Flagstaff to celebrate American Archives Month: The Arizona Historical Society, Northern Division; Lowell Observatory; and the Museum of Northern Arizona. Please feel free to visit their sites to learn more about the history and archives of northern Arizona.




October 3, 2015
by special collections & archives
Comments Off on Special Collections and Archives Welcomes Volunteer Tom Schmidt

Special Collections and Archives Welcomes Volunteer Tom Schmidt

tom schmidt

Tom Schmidt Enjoying New Years in Flagstaff in front of the Weatherford Hotel. Photo courtesy of Tom Schmidt

Special Collections and Archives has the fortune of having wonderful and dedicated volunteers who steadfastly and meaningfully contribute to the department. One of our more recent volunteers is a librarian named Tom Schmidt. Tom has worked over 10 years in public and museum libraries in Florida, New Mexico, and most recently, the Flagstaff City-Coconino County Library and the Museum of Northern Arizona. He also enjoys history (particularly Southwest). He received his master’s degree in history from the University of San Diego (go Toreros)  and later a master’s degree in library and information science from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (go Fighting Illini). Despite living all over the country, he considers himself a Southwest native.  Tom is volunteering in the department by helping us with our monograph collection.

Like so many of us, Tom loves reading and history. He combined these two passions and is now making selections from our monograph collection and reviewing those books on his blog Reader’s Advice! He is very excited at reviewing books from the Special Collections & Archives and wants to focus on the different peoples of the Southwest/Colorado Plateau and their interactions with each other and the natural environment, and how history affects the future of the region.

Stay tuned for weekly book reviews from Tom, and if you see him in the library or around town, please say hello!

September 22, 2015
by special collections & archives
Comments Off on Collection Pickups: Professional Peril?

Collection Pickups: Professional Peril?

In an ideal world, donors would submit collections to Special Collections and Archives (SCA) in as pristine a manner possible: boxes would be clearly labeled and the contents organized and titled appropriately; contents would be in excellent stable condition; and the threat of pests (insects etc.) would be minimal to none. The idea that a box of material–whether textual or photographic–could be a danger to a person’s health seems a little out there.

Unfortunately this is a reality that many archivists and librarians face on the job; Post graduation, recently-minted professionals would never have imagined the sorts of environments they would be exposed to while collecting valuable historical documents. Mold/mildew, mice/rats, snakes, spiders, book lice, chemicals, and other biohazards are often parts of the job that are less than glamorous and certainly seldom publicized.

Recently, Special Collections and Archives was asked to retrieve materials stored in a older-model bleekers box that was offsite storage for the organization making the donation. The name and location of the material (and its donor) shall remain anonymous. Upon opening the door to the bleekers box, the immediate heavy musty odor suggested the very real likely presence of active mold and/or wood rot.

After clearing some space in the aisle, we were able to make headway and rebox some damaged boxes

After clearing some space in the aisle, staff were able to make headway and rebox some damaged boxes

The source of this odor was not immediately clear, but it wouldn’t take long to discover that a nickel-sized hole in the metal roof of the storage container had allowed water to enter for a number of years. Subsequently, numerous boxes and wooden shelves directly underneath had active (fuzzy) mold on them, preventing the retrieval team from even looking at the contents and assessing them for potential acquisition. Active mold contains tiny spores that are easily breathed in when disturbed; often these spores can attach themselves to tissues in the body and continue growing there, leading to serious medical issues. For this reason, archivists know that specialized retrieval by a trained team of experts in full protective gear is the only way active mold should be safely removed and managed. Inactive mold (dark and powdery) has fewer health concerns, but wearing gloves and using a mask to protect airways is always a good idea.


The area directly underneath the hole in the ceiling/roof

The evidence of mold growth underneath the wooden shelves is apparent

The evidence of mold growth underneath the wooden shelves is apparent


SCA staff demonstrating responsible gear for retrieving materials in less than ideal conditions.

However, all is not lost! There are many safety precautions that can be taken to mitigate exposure and potential illness when working with at-risk materials. Prior to commencing work, SCA staff put on protective nitrile gloves; these were swapped out regularly throughout the day. One member of the staff regularly wore a protective mask as she was making regular trips in and out of the box, while two other staff were predominantly stationed in the outdoors where there was less risk of exposure. Out of approximately 125 boxes stored in the bleekers box, the contents of 91 were identified as being in stable condition. After re-housing them in new boxes (and retaining all contextual information written on the boxes), the old boxes were collapsed and discarded or recycled. A further 17 boxes were experiencing accelerated mold growth and were not touched. Other boxes contained information that was of no interest to SCA. It is anticipated that a future visit to the bleeker’s box by a special team of pest professionals will be undertaken to retrieve the remaining 17 moldy boxes safely.

AND the story is not over. To eliminate other pests (such as silverfish, spiders, beetles, and book lice) that were not immediately seen in the material, these 91 boxes will be plastic wrapped on-site and sent to a large walk-in freezer for one-week of freezing. This step is critical so that SCA does not unwillingly introduce pests to collections presently housed in its storage facility. Altogether it is anticipated that this process will take over one month before all 91 boxes (and potentially some of the other 17 boxes) are all housed in SCA and ready for a formal review for appraisal, arrangement & description, and digitization purposes.

In closing, SCA will leave you and our future donors with some recommendations for storing your material so that the scenario above can be avoided.

  • Ensure the storage environment is sealed from exposure to the elements (check for leaks, cracks, and points of entry for insects/rodents)
  • Wherever possible, provide a consistent year-round temperature and relative humidity. While this is an ideal, new research suggests that materials are hardier than previously thought and can withstand some degree of seasonal fluctuation (winter to summer and vice-versa; monsoon activity) that can affect either temperature or relative humidity
  • Mitigate the level of light beaming down directly on materials or the boxes in which they are contained. Light damage will rapidly deteriorate these materials. Most materials prefer environments as dark as possible.
  • Use acid-free (and preferably waterproof/resistant) boxes and file folders/supplies to store documents/materials
  • Organize and inventory boxes in a manner conducive to eventual transfer in the event you move or you wish to donate materials to an archival repository.