The Lewis & Clark Archives

After writing a brief report of the workings of Lewis & Clark Archives, I decided to post it here on my blog since it coincides well with the documentation of my experience.

In 1867 Albany Collegiate Institute was born, thanks to a partnership between the Presbyterian Church and the small town of Albany Oregon. With the establishment of a bachelors program the board of trustees later officially adopted the name Albany College. Almost 100 years later it became Lewis & Clark College, after the Lloyd Frank Family donated a 63 acre estate in Portland Oregon for the expansion and movement of the institution.[1] With a rich and extensive history such as this, the institution greatly values its archival department for preservation.

There are several purposes and functions of the Lewis & Clark College Archives and Special Collections. To first give a brief layout of the archives, storage is located below the library with records organized by keeping “like things” with “like things” and considering the user. For instance, photograph and other media sources are in the same area and stored in chronological order while student files, institutional papers, student files, publications, and historical collections are all kept together. Upstairs is where the rare books and research room is located as well as most frequently used collections. The primary role of the archives is to store records created by the institution for both retention and destruction. Some examples of such records include student transcripts, materials from the president’s office, yearbooks, faculty files etc. However, the department also collects outside materials for their special/historical collections that are internationally known. In fact, the most widely used materials in the Archives and Special Collections are from their literary and historical materials; specifically their Lewis & Clark Expedition (the most extensive in the world) and William Stafford Collections. It is not uncommon for writing workshops based at the college to draw users in from all around the world to explore the William Stafford collection that includes an incredible amount of material. The success of these open houses serve as a wonderful tool for outreach and informing outside users. These count for a mere fraction of users though with the archive open to not only students and faculty but the general public as well. As a result, perspectives of those utilizing the archival and special collection resources can be quite varied.[2] Because Lewis & Clark is a small liberal arts College, the archive develops uniquely close relationships with its users and Zach Selley (the Interim Head of Special Collections) is no exception.

Emphasizing the importance of standards that guide and allow for cohesiveness across academic institutions, Zach Selley understands the significance of theory in archival practice and also why its application is about balance. In the areas of arrangement and description provenance, original order, and Describing Archive Content Standard (DACS) are all commonly utilized. [3] Principles of particular importance include respect des fonds (principle number 2) and the idea that “Arrangement involves the identification of groupings within the material” (principle 3).[4] However, the depth to which a collection is processed and therefore arranged and described is also dependent on the specific collections needs and its anticipated use. The Stafford collection, as an example, was anticipated by the archives to be a very widely used collection and is therefore organized and described sometimes down to individual sheets of paper. Both single level and multilevel elements for describing in DACS are used at the archives for materials.[5] Original order is also considered vastly important at the archive because it can provide very useful contextualization. However, it is Zach Selley’s perspective that each collection must speak for itself and therefore can at times need a different approach such as putting a newspaper collection in chronological order. Although the archives is aware of theories such as More Product Less Process, there is so little back log that there is really no application for this method.[6] In fact, the efficiency of the selection and appraisal of the archives and special collections is quite refreshing as it is so wisely managed.

When it comes to collection development and reference in the Lewis and Clark Archives and Special Collections there is no particular theory consulted but rather a reflection of many themes seen throughout articles and research in the subject. The practice in use is to only accept materials that are relevant for the institution and user needs. Not only that, but the Archivists diligently keep in mind the long term costs and preservation needs of the material they are accepting/rejecting as well. Because each collection has its own unique needs for longevity, cost and practicality of storing is strongly considered. While all materials are kept in climate controlled facilities with acid free boxes and folders there are some that require much more extensive upkeep. The college archive is rightfully unafraid to say no to unwise acquisitions and even chooses to refer donors to more appropriate sites if the material is not relevant or unwise to obtain. These ideals continue on in to reference services as well as users are helped to find the materials they need even if they are located in another institution. Differing from traditional librarianship, however, Zach Selley emphasizes exploration and discovery for researchers and the importance of the archivist guiding the user to possible records but not doing the work for them and thereby causing them to possibly miss out on other information.[7] In all areas the user is considered first and foremost.

In a time where archives and the digital realm are just starting to develop and growing quite rapidly, Lewis & Clark is still navigating their web presence and standards for handling born digital items. Until very recently, the Special Collections & Archives’ website was very outdated and limited. Recently with a new interim head of special collections, the department has been working very hard to create a completely new site. The website was created with an emphasis on usability at the forefront of priorities and will be unveiled at the end of this summer. In the meantime, however, all digital collections of the institution (such as digitized materials) are available on the Northwest Archives website; which helps cast a wider user net. Born digital items, however, are more of a challenge for the archive. Many of the departments within the institution that have their older records managed by the archive have switched to digital formats and the archive therefore receives quite a lot of materials from places like the president’s office. Without an institutional repository the process of storing these items is somewhat makeshift with outside programs having to be utilized. Things like file format and duplicate records for backup are all issues still being grappled with. Aside from the troublesome technical aspects the archives do provide various digitized materials online, including an array of beautiful historical photographs. Again, when deciding what materials to digitize the user and what would be most beneficial to them is always kept at the forefront[8]. This is an archive where personal relationships with users is common and a genuine understanding of there needs of great importance.

In any academic institution archives serve a vital function in guarding the history of the school and collecting works that bring cultural enrichment to the community. While there are struggles to navigate, Lewis & Clark is working intensely hard to bring resolutions to those difficulties that best serve their user community. With the size of the college being quite small archivist positions are expansive and therefore they work closely with researchers since they are there to assist throughout the entire process. Overall the archive and special collections at Lewis & Clark College are very well maintained and thriving in areas like selection and appraisal where many others are failing.


Lewis & Clark. “About Lewis & Clark.” .

“Statement of Principles,” in Describing Archives A Content Standard, xvi-xvii, 8-10. Society of American Archivists, 2013.

Zach Selley (Lewis & Clark Interim Head of Special Collections and Archives) Discussion of Archive Practices, July 2015.

[1] Lewis & Clark. “About Lewis & Clark.” .

[2] Zach Selley (Lewis & Clark Interim Head of Special Collections and Archives) Discussion of Archive Practices, July 2015.

[3] Zach Selley, Discussion of Archive Practices

[4] “Statement of Principles,” in Describing Archives A Content Standard. (Society of American Archivists, 2013) 17-18.

[5] “Statement of Principles,”8-10

[6] Zach Selley, Discussion of Archive Practices

[7] Zach Selley, Discussion of Archive Practices

[8] Zach Selley, Discussion of Archive Practices

Paper Clips

WP_20150723_14_07_23_Pro           Thanks in part to an unexpected eruption of spots covering my daughter, I was unable to update progress last week on my internship at Lewis & Clark College but alas I am back again and completing out of anti-itch lotion. What I discovered most obviously last week was the amazing assortment of paper clips that seem to exist. Paper clips are just one of many tools that archivist hardily detest because of their damaging qualities. It is therefore common practice to remove them as one goes along.

On a more serious note, coinciding with what is being discussed in my summer course, there are some complicated legal issues in the field of archives that I am still working to wrap my head around. For example, we came upon a box full of letters written to the literary estate’s author when they ran an advice column in a local newspaper. The discussion that thereafter ensued was as follows: who do these belong to? Do we really have the right to access them and call them part of the collection? Are they the newspaper’s? The senders? In the end we decided against keeping the letters, which was some semblance of a loss considering their absolute hilarity (one of which the writer claimed to work 39 hour shifts at a marshmallow tasting laboratory). When adding digitization to the situation the question of legal rights becomes even more complicated. While a donor agreement is well needed and important, it does not grant the institute legal rights (as seen in the Belfast project).  We often come across more simple instances of this when another author’s book or something of the like is included in the materials and needs to be weeded for reasons of rights. Personally, I still feel the line is a foggy and blended one. Yet, this seems the case often with the archives profession and differs greatly from main libraries. In a library any book may be acquired and treated in the same manner and with the same practice as another but in an archive each new accession (or collection) must in some instance speak for itself. Therefore, the procedure is often different and quite often evolving and changing. While this concept is nerve racking, it makes me thankful for the experience I am getting since such things are not easily learned from a book.


This week I boxed a custom limited edition version of Author X’s most famous work that sells on Amazon for around $600.

Archival Theory: Original Order


This week as I read Arranging & Describing by Kathleen D. Roe for my archival preservation course, my thoughts laid heavily on my experience so far at Lewis & Clark College. The main archival theory weighing on my mind is of original order. For the most part, mystery author X maintained a clearly defined order of their work. However, what is becoming clear to me as I compare what I am reading about arranging and describing and what I am actually arranging and describing is that theory is great, in theory. While archival theory is wonderful and can provide an essential foundation and standardization for the field, in practice the lines are not so clearly drawn. There are many times when material is on the fence between two organizational “bins” and I have to make a choice, which is sometimes based on theory and other times based on what I have seen in the collection. While original order is important to maintain for context, I also think it is important  to consider user experience and access as well. I’m discovering that there is a balance between theory and practice that isn’t a straight path but rather a winding and crooked road that swerves depending on every collection.

Something I am finding most useful in my interning experience is simply learning the ins and outs of a university historical collections and archives. I am not just viewing these activities but helping to accomplish them. I have been very thankful to have a mentor that happily answers my infinite amount of questions that are a key to my learning experience. This week I learned more about archival material destruction and its relationship with off site storage, the process of budget planning, digitization in liberal arts colleges, and the ever confusing archivist job market and pay.

More to come next week when I come back to talk about my experience with removing previous special collection exhibits to make way for a new display.


Every week I will share a tid bit including something strange or interesting I came across to provide potential hints to the identity of mystery author X!

Among the boxes and many scrambled papers in this collection we found a small scrap of paper with only the words “Courtney Love” on it and a phone number!

This week I foldered a Playboy magazine.