June 22, 2015 - Comments Off on 2015 Western Roundup Recap

2015 Western Roundup Recap

The 2015 Western Roundup, a joint conference hosted by Society of Rocky Mountain Archivists, took place in Denver, Colorado on May 27-30. Mallory Furnier, Special Projects Archivist at the Autry National Center, and Rachel Mandell, L.A. as Subject Resident Archivist, attended the joint conference and have shared some of what they saw, heard, and learned.nwa-2015


The 2015 Western Roundup was a breath of fresh air in picturesque Denver, Colorado. It was both good and bad that the conference schedule was so packed that there was little time for mountain excursions into the Rockies. The busy schedule was well run with plenty to learn and see, including a number of guided tours of local repositories and historical sites of interest.

The Roundup opened with an engaging plenary by Patricia Limerick, Faculty Director and Chair of the Board of the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado. She elicited a gasp from the audience when she mentioned the loss of a group of documents to time via a dumpster. She knew her audience. The primary subject of her talk focused on her correspondence with a number of Western writers and historians over her long career.

Many Roundup panels focused on digital issues in the archives. It was a tough call to decide which panels to attend, but decisions had to be made. A few key takeaways from several panels (and by no means an exhaustive or comprehensive representation of individual talks):

“Evaluating and Deploying Digital Preservation Systems”

-Robert Dirig from Art Center College of Design urged the audience to think about digital space in the same way as thinking about physical storage.

-Kathleen Legg at the National Center for Atmospheric Research referred to digital preservation as a suite of tools, as there is not currently a one-fits-all solution. Her institution uses Drupal, Islandora, DuraCloud, ArchiveIt, and Archivematica. They do quarterly crawls with ArchiveIt.

-Lisa Miller at the Hoover Institution Archives recommended reading the NDSA storage report on preservation storage systems and the Minnesota Historical Society report on digital services. The Hoover Institution Archives created a plan with a six year digital growth projection.

“Collection Roundup: Aggregations of Digital Content and Metadata”

-Sherri Berger from California Digital Library previewed the revamped Calisphere. Redesign decisions were made with user interface design in mind, and utilized tools like Chalkmark. Many users arrive at the site via Google image searches, and the new design takes this into consideration.

-Jodi Allison-Bunnell from Orbis Cascade Alliance revealed ArchivesWest, the new NWDA site going live on July 1st. The site will include visual icons instead of pull down menus, and will make sure that the link between finding aids and applicable digital objects is made clear. Their redesign was guided by eight rounds of usability testing.

“Collaboration between Tribal and Non-Tribal Organizations: Sharing Expertise, Knowledge, and Cultural Resources”

-Steven Bingo from Washington State University spoke on the Sustainability Heritage Network, a “platform for sharing knowledge about digital cultural heritage preservation.” Institutions can become involved by signing up as Digital Workbenches, which serve as sites that provide services ranging from consultation to the use of workspace and digitization equipment.

-Elizabeth Joffrion, from Western Washington University, and Natalia Fernández, from Oregon State University, presented on their recent work examining best practices in collaborative projects between tribal and non-tribal cultural heritage institutions.

“Implementing ArchivesSpace: Challenges and Solutions”

-Presenters shared valuable tales from the field of transition to, and working with, ArchivesSpace. Multiple presenters talked about a variety of data clean up projects (location field, data redundancies, date formats) they incorporated as part of the process of migrating data to ArchivesSpace.

There are definite advantages to engaging with a wider geographic pool of archivists. It’s great to learn about projects and progress with our Western neighbors, while having a conference that remains a more intimate size. Increased awareness of other Western repository holdings is always a good thing.

Thank you to local hosts the Society of Rocky Mountain Archivists for the breath of fresh Denver air, and brain food, and to all the Western Roundup organizers for lassoing a great selection of panels.


The Western Roundup Conference is a collaborative effort between the Conference of Inter-Mountain Archivist (CIMA), Northwest Archivists (NWA), Society of California Archivists (SCA), and Society of Rocky Mountain Archivists (SRMA). As a first time attendee of Western Roundup, I arrived in Denver with very few expectations.  As my panel presentation was scheduled for the morning on the second day of the conference, I spent the first day listening to talks and networking with colleagues.  This first day of the conference also included the reception that took place in the evening at the Denver Public Library.

"Holistic Archives: New Ways to Connect with Customers, Donors, and Each Other"

One of the most impressive and inspiring group of presenters I saw on the first day was the panel from the Denver Public Library (DPL). The goal of the panel was to present the holistic approach that was taken to critically examine the various activities of the DPL, in order to determine if and where improvements were necessary. The three areas that were subsequently considered for improvement were the internship program, library outreach, and the acquisitions process.

First, Abby Hoverstock discussed her method of determining appropriate projects for both volunteers and internship students.  She spoke about the necessity of choosing a meaningful topic for internship students in order to give both the library and the students a mutually beneficial experience. Katie Rudolph then discussed the Time Travel Trunk—a grant funded new approach to outreach.  The Time Travel Trunk has various games and activities all related to the history of Denver and is aimed at engaging children and library visitors. One of activities that caught my attention was the “photo booth”—a black and white photograph of the inside of an old Denver street car.  Children (and adults alike) can sit in front of the photograph and have their picture taken. The resulting photograph simulates riding in an old street car and works remarkably well.

As an archivist, I found myself most interested in the improvements made to the procedures associated with accepting and processing new collections. Jamie Seemiller explained that by making a strict policy of ending desk drop-offs and revising the deed of gift form, the backlog dwindled and the quality of the collections improved greatly.  She spoke at length about the necessity of involving the patron in the process of ingesting a new acquisition-- requiring more detailed information to help add context and ultimately value to the collection. By the end of the panel, I felt inspired to think about established workflows in the institutions I have worked in and consider how a few policy shifts can really make a difference.

All-Attendee Reception

The reception at the Denver Public Library was well attended and had a very relaxed and fun atmosphere. It took place after hours in the library, which of course made librarians and archivists alike both nervous and excited to be sipping libations and nibbling heur d'oeuvres by library stacks and old card catalogs. It was great meeting colleagues, discussing the panels, and also take photos with the photo booth on the DPL’s Time Travel Trunk (discussed above).

Mallory Furnier, Special Projects Archivist at the Autry National Center, looking happy in the old-fashioned Denver street car. Photo: Rachel Mandell

Mallory Furnier, Special Projects Archivist at the Autry National Center, looking happy in the old-fashioned Denver street car. Photo: Rachel Mandell

The venue was well-chosen and the food and drink selection made for a great evening. A personal highlight was winning the $250 gift certificate to Hollinger Metal Edge. I see mylar photo sleeves in my future!

“Resident Archivists: The LA as Subject Experience”

The panel I participated in took place during the first session on the second day of the conference and consisted of the three Resident Archivists--Kelsey Knox, Beth McDonald, and myself--as well as Liza Posas and Claude Zachary. The LA as Subject Resident Archivists program is a two-year, Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) funded project. It was designed to give new archivists a chance to experience multiple institutions, and participate in a wide range of professional development opportunities and archival projects. The grant was awarded to three collaborating institutions—The Autry National Center of the American West, California State University Northridge, and the University of Southern California.  Each of these three institutions received one Resident Archivist for this first year and will receive another archivist for the second year.  The archivists then rotate every three months to different LA as Subject member institutions. LA as Subject is a network of institutions and collecting bodies with materials relating to the history of Los Angeles. This rather innovative and seemingly logistically complicated program is one of the first and only of its kind. **For those interested in participating in the second cohort of resident archivists—the application period is open until June 26, 2015. Apply here.**

"Resident Archivists: The LA as Subject Experience" panel. Photo: Mallory Furnier

For our presentation, we discussed the Resident Archivist program from multiple perspectives.  First, Liza Posas explained the program from its inception through the multiple and complicated logistical considerations, from hiring the residents to figuring out how to coordinate the payroll.  Next, Claude Zachary from the USC Library and Special Collections explained his experiences as a mentor in the program.  Finally, the three residents described our projects at each of the rotations and some of the interpersonal qualities we believe are beneficial for this type work.

After our talk, the audience asked questions, which ranged from technical inquiries about how to get institutions involved in this type of program, to how to determine appropriate projects for residents, to questions directed at the residents about our most meaningful or valuable experiences in the program thus far.  The enthusiasm from the audience was definitely a good indication that our presentation was of interest and relevant. A personal highlight for me was when a woman from the University of Washington Libraries and Special Collections approached me with suggestions about how to obtain resources for helping me deal with my current project—the inventory and condition report for a collection of 16mm film at the LA Police Museum.

Although there was a half-day of talks scheduled for a third day of the conference, I had to leave early to catch a plane to New York. It was actually perfect timing, as I was beginning to feel tired and a little bit of information overload. All in all, I thought that Western Roundup was a very well organized and interesting event. I would definitely attend again and I was also inspired to become more active in the Society of California Archivists. It seems like a great group of knowledgeable and passionate archivists.

Published by: Los Angeles Archivist Collective in In Process

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