AzAA Blog Post August 2021

August 2021

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This month we feature a write-up regarding the work of Leo Graves, who is a project archivist operating as a cooperator at the Western Archeological and Conservation Center (WACC) through the University of Arizona’s School of Information.  In addition, we explore the collections available at WACC that handles archival matters for the Intermountain Region of the National Park Service located in Tucson, Arizona.  In addition to being a project archivist at this important institution, Leo is currently a Director at Large with the Arizona Archives Alliance.  We thank Leo for providing this overview of the important work the Western Archeological and Conservation Center does with the National Park Service for the Intermountain Region and some of the amazing projects he has been involved with from around the state of Arizona. 

The Western Archeological and Conservation Center (WACC) in Tucson provides archive and record management support for over 75 park units in the Intermountain Region of the National Park Service (NPS).  Collections at WACC are available to researchers on-site in the research room by appointment only, (albeit currently in person access is suspended due to the COVID-19 response), and through records transported in person, and sent out via e-mail.  Primarily used by park staff, the archives are also utilized by researchers and scholars.

The state-of-the-art WACC facility just across the Santa Cruz River near downtown Tucson consists of archives, museum objects and curation, conservation and preservation, and a library.  Dedicated to the preservation and study of museum collections within the Intermountain Region of the National Park Service, the Museum Services Program at WACC provides expertise in professional conservation, museum, and archival assistance to park staff and partners. 

In archives, I perform a myriad of tasks including archival processing, arrangement and description.  Other duties include inventory, and preparing cataloged materials for scanning among other things, such as light metadata attachment, and working with databases and content management system platforms.  The repository contains more than 9,000 linear feet of archives from parks and programs.  Archive items are part of the estimated 17.9 million documents and objects currently stored at WACC.  They are housed in different rooms for paper, media, cold storage and nitrate materials.

Because the nature of the work NPS deals with is national parks, monuments, and national historic sites, I have the opportunity to work with different collections, and I am fascinated sometimes being able to see the development, completion and resolution of maintenance and other park projects.  Dealing with Administrative/Central files of various parks, I use disposition retention schedules when processing these files.

As well, I am intrigued to be able to peruse materials when processing Cultural and Natural Resources Records respectively, with multi-faceted subjects such as biological diversity and studies, historical developments, and windows into past civilizations, (including archeological associated field records).  These, along with other natural phenomena, such as the origin and existence of Montezuma Well in North Central Arizona, all in the beauty of nature.  Other types of collections to be found in the NPS include Aerial Photographs, Archeology, Development and Maintenance, Fire Management, and Land/Boundaries.

Whether it’s a study on bats, handling 35mm motion picture film from the 1970’s, the inner-workings of the Faraway Ranch guest ranch that is now part of Chiricahua National Monument, or the documentation of petroglyphs left behind by the Ancestral Puebloan, one never knows what they’re going to come across.

As the needs of collections can vary, in the past I have worked on various projects that were a specific part of a greater gestalt encompassing many components which can be inclusive of many contributors and spread over the course of years.  Whereupon any single person doing their part may not see the final product.  Since workflows and assignments can change based on contractual aspects of what can be worked on, flexibility and patience can be pertinent companions to behold when re-assigned to other duties.

These traits along with other invaluable hands-on experience I have been able to garner at WACC, while finishing an Archival Certificate early on from the University of Arizona School of Information and utilizing applied learning as an extension of academic elements.  For example, I once worked on a re-cataloging accretion project which reorganized an already existing collection and added new contents to it.  Currently one of the tasks I am working on is a storage location update in the main repository, and a more in-depth scanning request involving 35 mm slides, oversized maps, negatives, photos, and paper documents. 

I believe it is crucial to continually find and maintain interest, if not be enthralled with the content one is working with and (feel) I have been very lucky to work with items and subjects that I’m naturally drawn to.  As aforementioned, while I am a contractor through the University of Arizona, and my term is scheduled to expire in about 6 months from the time of the writing of this blog, feel free to contact me at with any questions you may have.

Published by Arizona Archives Alliance

The Arizona Archives Alliance is a nonprofit organization that advocates for Arizona's historical archives and their users, provides training to archivists and archive volunteers, and promotes the use of Arizona’s historical archives.

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