Three MLIS students gained professional expertise in archival conservation at Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park and Zion National Park.
When Theodore Roosevelt was quoted as saying, “It is not what we have that will make us a great nation; it is the way in which we use it,” he was referring to the natural beauty and resources of the American landscape. Known as the “conservationist president,” Roosevelt created the United States Forest Service with the 1906 American Antiquities Act, which protected approximately 230 million acres of public land, including five national parks.
Second-year MLIS students in UCLA’s Department of Information Studies have been putting their stamp on ensuring that two of these designated areas of wilderness are “used” as well as Roosevelt had hoped, through their archival internships with the U.S. National Park Service (NPS). These internships, funded by Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks (SEKI) and Zion National Park, and in previous years also by Yosemite National Park, help to support the parks in their roles as places for respite and recreation; as institutions that benefit scientific and cultural scholarship and preserve local ecosystems and histories; and as locations that are home to multiple Native American and other communities.
For her NPS internship, Carri Frola worked with the archival team at Zion National Park in Utah under the guidance of museum curator Miriam Watson. Frola assisted with a digital preservation project and paper conservation efforts, and also processed a portion of the administration files for Zion, Bryce Canyon and Cedar Breaks National Parks, which span the 1930s to the present day.
“When I walked in, there were about 40 newly accessioned banker’s boxes of historical administrative files. I was able to help inventory and process about 14 of those boxes,” Frola says. “It was illuminating to see a government records retention schedule and … the differences between when they are active [records] and when they are archived. The archivist could say, ‘The schedule says to destroy that, but I’m going to keep it because it looks like it could be important for research purposes.’
“For instance, they had film scripts of movies that were filmed in the park, dating back to the 1950s. The retention schedule dictated that they would get rid of [scripts] when the project was completed, but these had made it to the archive and someone said we should keep it. After I left, I actually got a note from the archivist saying that someone had called to see what movies were filmed [at Zion], so it ended up being really useful. It was cool to have a researcher ask about files that I had helped to inventory and process.”
Casey Winkleman served her internship at Sequoia National Park, processing the Steve De Benedetti Slide Collection, created in the early 1970s by one of the first research scientists hired by the park when it established the first meadows survey in Sequoia. She also created a workflow plan for Sequoia’s archivists to eventually digitize their entire slide collection.
“For the De Benedetti Collection, I wrote a finding aid and interviewed a few people who knew him when he started the meadows survey,” recalls Winkleman. “I processed about 200 slides. It was relatively manageable in size and scale and it was great to be able to do that project from start to finish [and] to be able to talk to the different scientists who worked in the park back in the 70s as well as Bill Tweed, the park historian.”
Dan Molloy was also placed at Sequoia National Park for his archival internship, and worked with Winkleman on a collection of 16 mm films, some going back to the 1940s-50s, as created by park interpreters.
“They’re almost like home movies in some ways, some of them show rangers doing their work on ski patrols,” says Molloy. “Others show park visitation, the Giant Forest, and other park destinations. And then a lot of them were small rolls of wildlife, different scenes of the park, wildflowers, landscapes – all sorts of different things.
“There were about 125 individual film elements and I would put them together on bigger reels so that they could be housed more easily, inspecting them, cleaning them, and drafting an inspection report for the preservation department here at UCLA Library to start digitizing and preserving [them].”
“The rangers are the interpreters of the park to the public and over the years, they created many materials, many slides and films,” says Winkleman, who continues under the same funding to work on this collection as an assistant at UCLA’s Audiovisual Preservation unit. “Once we processed and made compilation reels of the park interpreter films and created a spreadsheet at the end of the internship.
“I’m really excited to see [the films] digitized,” she adds. “It would be great if they could eventually use them in the way they were first used … along with the slides, the films were very active. The interpreters would create public programs and docent tours from the material. But because they’ve been sitting in the archives unprocessed, Ward Eldredge, the parks’ curator, was one of the only people aware of the films.”
Another hidden gem that Winkleman and Molloy were able to begin uncovering was the history of African American “Buffalo Soldiers” who patrolled Sequoia National Park in 1903 under the command of Colonel Charles Young, the first Black superintendent of a national park. The interns took a research trip to the eastern side of the park, to study the area of Sequoia where Col. Charles Young – then a captain – supervised troops who were advancing work on a road leading to the Giant Forest. Winkleman and Molloy were specifically researching the involvement of Young – who was the first Black colonel in the U.S. Army – and his troops in the first trail construction up to Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the lower 48 states.
“Casey and I … drove down through Tehachapi and Owens Valley, through the desert to the eastern side of the Sierras, looking at documents in the Eastern California Museum and Independence Public Library … to search for any newspaper report or public record indicating that these Black soldiers went through these towns,” says Molloy. “We did find some… small reports, a little item in the paper: ‘Colored Troopers coming through the town.’ In the town histories of Lone Pine and other Eastern California towns, the citizens there were taking credit for the building of the trails rather than acknowledging the work of the Buffalo Soldiers.”
Frola notes that archives at national parks have a great deal of value, “… beyond researchers and scholars.”
“A lot of the parks have really wonderful collections surrounding local history because they are so tied in with [their] communities,” she says. “As information about these collections is put online and linked across [aggregate] sites,they could also help with connecting the local community, who oftentimes are very curious about how the park came to be [and] what their role in it, is.”
Molloy, whose chief archival interest is the preservation of “orphan films” – footage whose copyright is unknown or that are made by non-commercial entities – says that the Sequoia internship was useful in learning to create standards for processing these obscure materials for online access.
“[Orphan films] definitely need to be preserved, but there isn’t the incentive that they’ll make money for the archive or the institution preserving them,” says Molloy. “A lot of historical societies, libraries, small regional archives, and even bigger archives have digitized and [uploaded] orphan films, home movies, and industrial films, but there are so many different ways that they have done it. I am trying to figure out what a kind of standards and best practices could be, to find the right audiences, and to find the most useful ways that [preservation] can be used to fit the goals of the films and of the institutions.”
Winkleman says that her internship at the Sequoia/Kings Canyon archives provided “a really unique experience,” including her exposure to the range of non-digital exhibits available to scholars and experts.
“There was an herbarium in the office space,” she recalls. “I was able to help inventory the herbarium and also have scientists and biologists come through to see certain specimens. The archive was actively serving research scientists who were doing work within the park – they were able to come in and see these important samples that were available to them.”
“I had a similar experience,” says Frola. “I didn’t expect [the Zion archives] to be such an amazing cross-section of repository types. It was a government repository with administrative files and it was also a museum collection with a massive specimen collection. There was a graduate student at Zion studying the ringtail cat population [who] got some specimen samples of the hair [from the museum collections ] for genetic research. They had two visiting conservators from the Harpers Ferry Center. One of them was a paper conservator … doing a lot of work with old blueprints and mostly concentrating on preserving for access, so that other staff members could go back and look at building blueprints and things like that. There was also a natural history specimen conservator, she was working on restoring… they had a golden eagle on display at Bryce [Canyon]. It had been on display and was covered in dust, so she … got it to a place where they could put it back on display. It was really cool to be able to see [conservators] do their work, unique to working in a national park.”
Winkleman also experienced the relationship between national parks and the local community.
“I was really struck by the positive relationship between the local Native American community, the Monache tribe. There’s definitely a conversation happening between the local tribes and the resource management part of the National Parks.”
Frola says that archival internships are a win-win for both students and the institutions that may hold collections that are unable to be processed for access due to a small staff or limited resources.
“I think every repository has its share of backlog,” she says. “My experience at Zion is that they did a very good job of getting grants and funding for digitization projects. So, they are chipping away at it. But it can be overwhelming. Zion has a very small staff, so it can be challenging.
“There is so much exciting stuff there. They have done masses of important work in digitizing many of their collections as well as posting finding aids that describe other collections online. These items can be found on the Zion Museum website as well as the NP Gallery website. I was happy to be a part of that effort.”
Molloy says that his decision to earn his MLIS at UCLA was based on advice from a mentor back home in his native Portland, Oregon.
“I was considering the NYU Moving Image Archiving and Preservation program and the University of Rochester Program at the Eastman Museum,” he says. “One thing was proximity – I’m from Portland, Oregon, so moving to Los Angeles was quite a bit cheaper than moving across the country. Another thing was cost – I had spent last year working to get California residency, so it made it significantly [less expensive] than the other two programs.
“But the main thing is that UCLA has the Media Archiving specialization within the Information Studies department that gets you a MLIS degree, which is what a lot of jobs [require]. I had a mentor in Portland who was the digital archivist at the Portland Historical Society. Because he had gone to Rochester and earned his certificate and then got his MLIS at a separate school, he said, ‘UCLA is going to give you the degree that you need… You may as well go there and get the hands-on experience you need as well.’”
Above: Carri Frola, a second-year MLIS student, takes a break from her internship at Zion National Park and hiked through “The Narrows,” a popular trail in Zion.
Photo by Beth Palmer