Nestled in a corner of the Goodstein Foundation Library at Casper College in Casper lies a significant portion of Wyoming history.  As Wyoming’s most centrally located city, Casper is the second most populated municipality in the state.  Wyoming towns are few and far between, making Casper a hub of history and culture for much of the state. As one of the largest colleges in the area, coupled with the central location, patrons have historically entrusted their historically significant documents to the Goodstein Library. Due to the growing volume of special collections within the library, creating an archives specifically designed to organize and preserve the quickly amassing historically significant documents seemed the natural progression. Thus, the Western History Center archives was formed to facilitate better systematization and make accessible area history to authors, researchers, students, and the community.  The archives itself is a relatively new endeavor created as a separate entity in just 2007 with much of its collection originating from the Goodstein’s special collections, assembled as early as 1967.

library-panorama.jpgThe archive is currently managed by Archivist Vince Crolla, the second archivist employed in the WHC’s short history.  Crolla holds a degree in history as well as a Juris Doctor degree (J.D.). While he did not pursue formal archival training, Crolla became a certified archivist through the Society of American Archivists, having met the requirements through holding a master’s degree, a year of archiving experience, and passing an exam covering the essentials of the archiving profession. The role of wading through an archive with an inherited and significant backlog is certainly daunting. However, as the only archivist in the WHC archives Crolla has the advantage of implementing whatever systems and procedures he ascribes to.

For Crolla, assuming the majority of the archive’s holdings from a special collection includes its own unique set of challenges to consider.  The records received did not contain any uniform descriptive data as laid out in Describing Archives: a Content Standard, resulting in difficulty searching documents and finding aids for specific information.  When asked about their standards for the content within the archives, Crolla replied, “We are slowly moving towards DACS.  The problem is that we have over half a million legacy records that were entered into databases using no specific standards, so it’s slow going.” While the finding aids in the WHC are currently a mixture of More Product Less Paper and Describing Archives: a Content Standard, Crolla subscribes to the more in-depth description and appraisal practices found in the DACS and uses such methods in his arranging and preserving practices. Crolla defends his stance, arguing that “It’s slower, but you’re basically balancing a greater amount of vague information for a smaller amount of detailed.  I guess there is also something unsettling to me about seeking to do the least amount of work while still hoping to adequately fill user needs.”

The relative newness and under-organization of the archives results in an ever-changing administration strategy as Crolla encounters emerging archival issues to manage, such as born digital documents (which are organized in files on his hard drive) and digitization, all while balancing the arrangement and description of newly accessioned documents, serving researchers, and directing outreach efforts.   Currently, no digitization of documents is available to researchers, which often include students, professors, the local newspaper, and authors. Crolla hopes to implement a digitization plan, but with such little time and staff to manage the project, it does not seem likely to occur soon. Each researcher who visits the archive must scroll through microfilm or search by subject through the finding aids found in the archive to access their documents. The WHC receives new archival donations regularly throughout the month. There are no specific guidelines in place as to what is kept and what is not, leaving those acquisition choices up to the discretion of the archivist, who weeds duplicates and documents with no value and accessions those that contribute to the archival mission of preserving local history

Although digital documents are not yet available to researchers, the archive does offer a small web presence. The Western History Center’s website can be found at http://www.caspercollege.edu/whc. The WHC’s web presence is basic but does includes perfunctory answers to potential users without the need to call the archive directly.   Delving further into non-essential information, the website for the WHC, which is under the umbrella of Casper College’s main website, displays the archives’ mission statement, stating that “The preservation of our cultural heritage is recognized as being important to our college and our community.” While not the most profound of declarations, the motives behind acquisition and preservation of the archives is clear: preserving local history and culture.

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The WHC presents many distinct challenges to its archivist; hundreds of thousands of disorganized legacy records, relatively infant in its status as an archive, no concrete theory practices or regulating guidelines, conforming to new digital expectations, and an extreme lack of resources with a miniscule staff. However, of the issues the WHC faces, I believe the most immense challenge is the significant backlog of unprocessed documents. The role of the single archivist demands that serving users take priority, leaving the overwhelming backlog neglected. That, coupled with Crolla’s preference for in-depth processing including attention to minute details such as removing all metal fasteners, only serves to increase the backlog, which in turn prohibits the accessibility of documents to users.  Speaking to archival backlogs, Greene and Meissner’s assertion that “the problem is exacerbated by many of the traditional approaches to processing collections that archivists continue to practice” .  This is certainly the case with the WHC. With limited time and resources, staff “should be paying more attention to achieving basic physical and intellectual control over, and thus affording research access to, all our holdings, rather than being content to process a few of them to perfection.” Increasing users’ accessibility of holdings will increase the WHC’s value to the community by “serving our patrons, resource allocators, and donors better” than is currently being done.

 

-Alyson Sharp

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