Justine Rothbart 2015-01-26 13:53:26
After two flights and one drive in a thirteen-hour stretch, I finally arrived in the sleepy town of Gardiner, Montana. I parked the car and stepped out to admire the Theodore Roosevelt Arch at the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Etched in the arch is the phrase “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People.” With the setting sun reflecting off the stones in the gateway, I envision the historic photographs of Theodore Roosevelt dedicating this arch in 1902; after seeing them countless times, I can’t believe I’m standing beneath that same arch. Maybe it’s the sun setting over the foothills, or maybe it’s my delirium from a lack of sleep, but there’s something magical about this place. There’s so much history in our nation’s first national park, and I had the privilege to experience a week-long adventure to help process a significant collection in its archives. The Yellowstone “Archives Blitz” My journey to Yellowstone began when I received an email with the subject “Gardiner Montana – Volunteer Archivists – Yellowstone National Park.” At the time I was interning at the National Park Service American Battlefield Protection Program in Washington, DC, and studying library and information science at Catholic University. I loved working for the National Park Service, but I was desperate to leave the sea of cubicles and see national parks with my own eyes. The opportunity seemed ideal. National parks and archives—what more could I want? The posting called for five volunteers to participate in Yellowstone’s first “Archives Blitz” to expose the park’s hidden collections. At a time when archival institutions commonly hear phrases like “budget cuts” and “short staffed,” the Archives Blitz seemed as though it would have a positive impact. In addition, due to its rural location, the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center has a difficult time attracting graduate students, volunteers, or interns. The one-week program makes it easier for students and professionals to leave their daily commitments to participate in this unique offering. After several email exchanges and countless explorations on Google Street view, I arrived at Yellowstone National Park on September 20 with four other volunteers. Although we traveled from different places (Idaho, California, Illinois, and Washington, DC), we came together to work toward a common goal, and we spoke the same archives language. We immediately bonded over our love for archives and had countless conversations about graduate school and internships. As we swapped stories while exploring the park, our car pulled up to a bison. We took pictures, and paused to take in the enchanted place. More Product, Less Process After spending a day in awe of the wildlife and scenery, we kicked off the Archives Blitz. Shawn Bawden and Anne Foster, the archivists and project leaders, gave an overview of the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center and provided a game plan. Our goal was to process 145 linear feet of the Interpretation and Public Affairs Records. We divided the collection into series, which included educational training materials, museum exhibits, and youth programs. I was assigned to the audio visual collection that includes photographs, slides, negatives, and film. We went through several stages of archival processing during the Archives Blitz: arrangement, appraisal, preservation, and description. Bawden and Foster helped us gain a better understanding of the collection to make processing decisions. While all of us had processing experience, this was our first experience processing archival collections in such a short amount of time. Throughout the program, I had to remind myself of the tight timeframe and not to process at the item level. Our motto for the week became the well-known archival strategy “More product, less process.” Throughout the processing, we came across unique items that reminded us of the importance of the project. I found a Yellowstone telephone directory from 1939, which lists the Civilian Conservation Corps camps in the park that year. Another volunteer found a stack of notebooks dating from 1891. The existence of these two items was unknown before the Blitz. By the end of the week we processed the 145 linear feet of archival material ahead of schedule and moved the boxes to the permanent storage area. On our last day, Bawden and Foster held a debriefing about the experience with our team. They will be hosting five more Archives Blitz teams and wanted to learn what worked and what didn’t. We discussed the benefits and drawbacks of having more structured assignments throughout the week, as well as the benefit of Bawden and Foster teaching us archival processing techniques in a hands-on setting. An Experience to Remember Although our team was there for only one week, we really connected with the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center. By experiencing firsthand day-to-day operations and by meeting with employees and learning about their roles, we caught a glimpse of life as an archivist in a rural area and the different encounters this geographic location has to offer. Our team not only spent time together during work hours, we also bonded after work. We ate dinners together; played charades; attended ranger talks at nearby Mammoth Hot Springs; and had jam sessions with our guitars, harmonica, and Ukulele. We also bonded while we learned wildlife safety tips firsthand when a bull elk charged toward our group during a ranger-led tour. Our time spent together outside work hours made this an experience I will never forget. The Yellowstone Archives Blitz was a great success. We came away with more in-depth knowledge of how to process a collection as a team and how to process in a short timeframe. We also got to take in the breathtaking scenery. Our team is enormously proud to have contributed to the greater preservation of and access to the historical records of our nation’s first national park. I hope other cultural heritage institutions will implement this Archives Blitz method as a new and creative way to process archival collections. Notes I would like to thank Shawn Bawden and Anne Foster for their support while hosting and leading the Archives Blitz. I also would like to thank the Yellowstone Park Foundation and the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), which helped fund this project through CLIR’s Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives program. I have great appreciation of the National Park Service (NPS) for this incredible experience. To find out more about the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center visit http://www.nps.gov/yell /historyculture/collections.htm Read more about the Yellowstone Archives Blitz on the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center’s blog, In the Shadow of the Arch: http://www .nps.gov/yell/blogs/museumblog.htm.
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