The ongoing project to gather, protect, digitize and share the history of UC Cooperative Extension in California is producing a collection that demonstrates the organization's impact in the past and potential for the future.
The effort was launched by former UC ANR vice president Barbara Allen-Diaz shortly after the 2014 UCCE Centennial celebration. She allocated funds to locate a professional archivist at the UC Merced library, which is becoming known for creating comprehensive digital collections of historical materials.
Archivist Lisa Vallen began work on three pilot projects, collecting materials from UC Cooperative Extension offices in Merced, Ventura and Humboldt counties.
In her initial assessment, Vallen learned that the National Archives has archived some UC Cooperative Extension records. UC Davis has digitized state-level Cooperative Extension and Experiment Station publications. Vallen studied archive efforts for Cooperative Extension in other states. In North Carolina, 4-H records, audio-visual materials and annual reports are being archived and digitized. In Colorado, they are working on digitizing their annual reports.
In Merced, Vallen identified 393 linear feet of material and performed a statistical sampling of 912 items. (A banker box is about 1 linear foot.) After sampling, she was able to cut the archival matter down to 102 linear feet, most of which needs to be re-housed or digitized. A priority is digitizing nearly 367 nitrate negatives, Vallen said. Nitrate negatives were the first flexible film base produced by Eastman Kodak. They were used from about 1900 until about 1950. Because nitrate negatives are flammable and give off poisonous gas, they are not easily stored.
Vallen also found a large amount of research trial reports, raw data and various runs of local newsletters in the Merced farm advisor records.
In Ventura, Vallen found 142 linear feet of material, which after sampling was narrowed down to 65 linear feet. She expects processing of the materials to be complete at the end of summer 2017.
“Ideally, historical records should be kept in a space that's climate controlled,” Vallen said. “In Ventura, they have some in a container on a farm. That's not ideal at all.”
The review of Humboldt County material will begin in late spring.
In addition to the pilot archival work, Vallen is developing a manual of policies and best practices for archiving material. The manual will guide UCCE offices on how to label, rehouse and retain a collection of important records, and provide retention guidelines.
“The manual will suggest what materials to keep, for how long, and whether they should be discarded,” Vallen said. The manual will also outline methods for collecting and preserving records that are “born digital,” such as email, PowerPoint presentations and website content.
In order to educate the public and researchers about UC Cooperative Extension, its history and the efforts of the UC Merced library staff to preserve the history, UC ANR has committed to funding the archive project through June 2019.
“There's no question about the value of this project and the richness it brings to the whole state, not just UC,” said UC Merced librarian Haipeng Li.
For more on the UCCE archive project, follow Vallen's blog on the UC Merced library website.
“It is a wealth of information about their activities, and I think it will be a really great resource for research,” said Lisa Vallen, a professional archivist who is working in the UC Merced library under a memorandum of understanding with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.
The logs, plus annual reports and a collection of photos dating back to 1916 are among the first documents that Vallen will review as she embarks on a year-long pilot project to curate and preserve the history of UC Cooperative Extension.
A native of the Midwest, Vallen earned a bachelor's degree at Lake Forest College and a master's degree in library and information sciences from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). While completing her graduate degree, she worked on preserving the UIUC library physical collection, digitizing theses and dissertations and processing a collection of author H. G. Wells' personal correspondence, publishers' correspondence, and other printed materials.
Vallen wrote about her experience with the H.G. Wells material on the UIUC Non Solus Blog. She quoted a letter written by Wells in 1945 to his brother Frederick about his frustration at not being credited for predicting the atomic bomb 30 years before it was dropped during World War II.
“I'm all right & everything misses me. I explained the inevitableness of the atomic bomb half a century ago & it is rather infuriating to have all these journalistic halfwits explaining that here's something Mr. Wells did not foresee,” the letter said.
Vallen has also written about the challenge of digitizing old, brittle publications in an effort to provide a usable surrogate for books that can no longer circulate due to their fragility.
“In many cases, we hold the only copy of record and it is incredibly important for this copy to be preserved and readily accessible to our users,” Vallen wrote in the UIUC Preservation Every Day Blog.
In her UC Cooperative Extension work, Vallen found that Merced County office has 393 cubic feet of historical items, totaling about 164,000 in number. There are photographs for which copyright must be established, publications that may already be digitized by UC ANR or UC Davis, weather and climate data, and plant and insect specimens that may or may not have historical value.
“First we'll be going through and identifying materials, arranging the materials, recording metadata, such as date, author and title to create descriptions,” Vallen said. “And then we can begin digitizing.”
UCCE in Ventura County is also part of the pilot. Vallen said the county office has 700 photographs dating from 1916 to the 1950s, and many are mounted on cards with hand-written captions.
“Photos on their own are great, but when they come with context, it has additional value,” she said.
Humboldt County UCCE historical items will round out Vallen's work under the current MOU, but staff and academics at all UCCE offices are encouraged to locate historical materials for preservation, including annual reports, project summaries and raw data.
“They don't have to do anything with it, just hold onto the material they have,” Vallen said. “Even if they think something isn't historical or I wouldn't be interested, I'd still like for them to hang on to it until I have a chance to view it.”
A professional archivist will begin work in August to document and preserve the history of UC Cooperative Extension. Lisa Vallen, who completed her master's degree in library information science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in spring 2016, was hired by the UC Merced Library under a memorandum of understanding with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Vallen has a range of experience in archives processing and description, physical collections and preservation as well as digitization.
“I am pleased to have someone with her energy, initiative and organizational skills in this position,” said Emily Lin, head of digital assets at the UC Merced library.
During a one-year pilot project, Vallen will work with UC Cooperative Extension offices in Merced, Ventura and Humboldt counties to conduct an inventory of local resources, assess existing records and select material that has potential historical or research value. Most materials will be digitized and stored on a web platform so they can be accessed by scholars throughout the world. In addition, truly unique documents (such as maps and photos) will be kept in hard copy form.
UC ANR vice president emeritus Barbara Allen-Diaz initiated the project following the UCCE Centennial in 2014, when the need to curate and preserve UCCE history became apparent. She chose to work with UC Merced, the newest campus in the UC system, because the school has placed a high emphasis on the development of digital collections, said Jan Corlett, chief of staff to the vice president of UC ANR. The project also furthers the growing relationship with UC Merced established by Allen-Diaz when she placed two UCCE specialists at the Central Valley campus in 2014.
UC Cooperative Extension Ventura County academic Rose Hayden-Smith, a historian by training who is on special assignment as editor of the UC Food Observer blog, will work with Vallen on collecting the historical information from Ventura County.
“We have amazing resources,” Hayden-Smith said. “We have research information on soils, water and crop trials going back 100 years. We have information that will have value for agricultural science historians as well as cultural and social historians.”
UCCE Merced County director emeritus Maxwell Norton will coordinate with Vallen to collect Merced historical information and UCCE Humboldt County director Yana Valachovic will coordinate with her on the Humboldt collection.
After the pilot is complete, UC ANR administrators will consider how to go forward on archiving information from other UCCE county offices.
“It would be a wonderful thing if county directors throughout the state would set aside historical information as they run across it,” Hayden-Smith said. “That will be helpful down the line if we extend the project to additional counties.”