About UCMP : News and events : UCMP newsletter

Cataloging the archives: Update I
by Dave Smith and Pat Holroyd

In the previous issue (January 2011, "The Mellon Fndn. CLIR grant"), UCMP News reported that the museum had received a grant from the Mellon Foundation to catalog its eclectic and extensive archives — not fossils, books, or journals, but just about everything else, such as field notes, manuscripts, research notes, professional correspondence, locality information, maps, drawings, scientific illustrations, negatives, slides, and prints.

So with such a wide range of archival collections, where does one begin? We chose to start the cataloging process with the field notes, in part because they would be the easiest to work with — in general, they're in a single location and in alphabetical order — but also because they are the core archival material that documents our physical fossil collections. Field notes are equal in importance to the fossils themselves in terms of making collections scientifically useful and are unquestionably the most frequently accessed part of the archives.

Dave Smith with Jessica Jedvaj (middle) and Dana Riess Field notes dating from 1916 Shelves in the Type Room with a variety of archival materials

Left: Graphic Designer and Archivist for the CLIR project, Dave Smith, with the museum's two URAP students, Jessica Jedvaj (middle) and Dana Riess. Middle: These field notes dating from 1916 have been cataloged but have yet to be stored in an archival quality envelope. Right: Shelves in the Type Room with a variety of archival materials yet to be cataloged, such as film, rolls of illustrations and maps, glass slides, and ledgers.

The first step of the cataloging process was to install Archon, user-friendly software for inputting and publishing online descriptions of our holdings. Joyce Gross, a programmer with the Berkeley Natural History Museums (BNHM), completed this at the end of January.

In February, Assistant Director Mark Goodwin and Museum Scientist Pat Holroyd hired two remarkable undergraduate students through the University Research Apprentice Project (URAP), Jessica Jedvaj and Dana Riess. Unpaid, but earning up to three units of academic credit for the semester, Jessica and Dana have been busy using the Archon interface to enter data on over 100 years of field notes. The speed with which they're entering data has surprised everyone, and it's looking like a good 75% of the field notes information will have been entered by the end of the semester. Jessica plans to continue assisting UCMP through the summer, but Dana has accepted a summer internship at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC.

Meanwhile, UCMP Graphic Designer and Archivist for the CLIR project, Dave Smith, customized the public interface of the Archon software to make it look more like a natural part of the UCMP website. He also did a general survey and mapped out the locations of archival flotsam scattered throughout UCMP's vast collections space.

For professional advice on how to better conserve UCMP's archival holdings, Dave and Pat turned to the Bancroft Library's Appraisal Archivist Lauren Lassleben. Meeting with Lauren in mid-March, Dave and Pat received recommendations regarding the best kinds of envelopes, tubes, and boxes for long-term archival storage. In April, Lauren and James Eason, the Bancroft's Principal Archivist for Pictorial Collections, visited UCMP to get a first-hand look at the current state of the museum's holdings and to provide advice on how best to conserve and store them, given our particular space and storage options.

So this summer, Jessica will continue entering information using the Archon interface and the museum may recruit volunteers to assist in the data entry. Lucy Chang, Sarah Werning, and Kaitlin Maguire, graduate students in the Marshall, Padian, and Barnosky Labs, respectively, have been hired to start tackling some of the more eclectic (or shall we say, eccentric) parts of the archives and to blog on unusual and interesting items from the archives. They will have no shortage of items to report on — some previously unknown and fascinating documents were discovered on the very first day of entering field notes data!

Smith, Jedvaj, and Riess photo by Mariska Batavia; file drawers and shelves by Dave Smith