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September Partner Spotlight: University of Utah

A picture of the University of Utah Willard J. Marriott Library from the Southeast.

Welcome to MWDL’s first partner spotlight! We’ll be writing one of these overviews for each of our partners over the coming months so be on the lookout for an email from our metadata assistant, Keegan Dohm.

In late summer I met with Jeremy Myntti, Head of Digital Library Services at the U, to talk about what new projects, directions, and transitions are being embarked on at the Marriott Library. We discussed new data visualization projects, collection acquisitions, new mindsets for approaching data, and the books Jeremy recently edited (The Sudden Position Guide to Cataloging & Metadata and Digital Preservation in Libraries).

New Methods, New Mindset

The U’s Digital Library Services and Digital Matters departments have been developing several small pilot projects exploring the concept of “Collections as Data”. That’s the moniker given to the new-ish approach to digital collections and metadata that arose in response to the somewhat widespread digitization of records and the rise of computational research methods in the humanities over the past couple of decades.

A problem emerges however, because we began digitizing records long before computational methods became commonplace, our digital archives are still closer to the traditional library model. Since we haven’t caught up with all the social and historical scientists turned programmers, they resort to reverse engineering ‘web scraping’ programs that automatically download records one at a time, or else give up and find other data sets. “Collections as Data” is about figuring out how to prepare and present these collections in ways they can be engaged by data visualization tools and analysis.

In their first project, members of the U’s Digital Library Services and Digital Matters teams (Rebekah Cummings, Anna Neatrour, Rachel Wittmann, and Lizzie Callaway) went deep into collections of mining oral histories, a primary focus of many Utah collections. They struck gold with the project title, dubbing it “Text Mining Mining Texts”.

Word cloud of terms that appeared frequently in the collections of mining oral histories

The word cloud above is a topic model produced by scanning through text from a portion of the mining oral histories. The topic model can provide really profound insight into what’s really going on in these historical periods. For example, it spurred the team to inquire about the usage of ‘strike’ in the histories; they discovered that it referred to not just miners striking, but striking out racist real estate laws as well. Though only a test case, this project certainly illustrates the benefits of making collections easier to access in bulk formats. A determined researcher with enough time might observe generational language variations using network analysis on the syntactic structures in each document and comparing them to more recently recorded interviews. This project along with other Collections as Data projects will be discussed in an article to be published in Information Technology and Libraries (ITAL) this December.

New Collections

In the meantime the team at the University of Utah is continuing to engage in projects like this. Recently, Rachel Wittmann incorporated location metadata from their brand new Harold Stanley Sanders Matchbooks collection into an interactive map using ArcGIS. Rachel also wrote an excellent newsletter about the collection here.

Check out the interactive version of this map here!

Ongoing Work

Alongside all these new approaches the Special Collections and Digital Library Services teams are continuing the ongoing work of preserving and processing new and old collections. Of note, the Manuscripts Division of Special Collections was awarded a grant from Utah State Archives to finish processing the materials in the Kennecott Copper Corporation records. The last couple of months saw the completion of that project with the remaining 189 cartons of materials successfully organized. These records give researchers access to stories of the numerous ethnic communities who migrated to Utah over time, seeking the opportunity of the mining industry. Now Anna Neatrour has been awarded funding from the U’s Digital Matters to begin transcribing the text from these records to make them more accessible.

Another large undertaking that could eventually tie back into the Collections as Data concept is the captioning and transcribing of the Audio Visual collections. Even for collections with only a few videos, this can be a daunting task as timing video captions can be a time-consuming process. Jeremy Myntti and Molly Steed have been heading this project with funding from the Marriott Library’s Jumpstart Grant Program.

Thanks for reading our first partner spotlight and be on the lookout for the sequel posts in the coming months!

Opening and Closing Remarks on MWDL 2019 Summer Conference Community Day Offered by Dr. Gregory C. Thompson


Gregory C. Thompson, Ph.D. is the Associate Dean of the University of Utah’s J. Willard Marriott Library for Special Collections and an Adjunct Assistant Professor of History. He received his Bachelor of Science degree from Colorado State University (1965), Bachelor of Arts degree from Fort Lewis College (1967), and his Master of Science (1971) and Doctoral (1981) degrees from the University of Utah. From 1967 to 1983, Greg, a historian of the American West, served on the staff of the University of Utah’s American West Center. During this time, he worked with and helped to develop tribal histories, tribal archives and oral history collections for fifteen tribes across the Western United States. His own research focused on the Ute tribes of Colorado and Utah and he served as a consultant to the San Juan County School District (Utah) and the Southern Ute Tribe of Ignacio, Colorado. Dr. Thompson has published several monographs on the Ute tribe including Southern Ute Lands, 1848-1899: The Creation of a Reservation (1972); The Southern Utes: A Tribal History (1972); and edited, with Floyd A. O’Neil, A History of the Indians of the United States: A Syllabus (1979)

In the 1980’s Greg co-founded, with the late Sue Raemer, the Marriott Library’s Utah Ski Archives Program. He grew up in Durango, Colorado and as a youngster skied and competed in Colorado and New Mexico. An original member of the Alf Engen Ski Museum Foundation Board and the Board of Trustees, Greg has been involved with skiing since the early 1950s as a participant and historian. He has lectured widely and published numerous articles on the history of skiing in the Intermountain area. His publication, with Alan K. Engen, First Tracks: A Century of Skiing (2001), focuses on the history of skiing in Utah. Greg is also the general editor for the Tanner Trust Publication Series, Utah, The Mormons, and the West. The latest publication in the series is David Bigler’s book, Confessions of a Revisionist Historian (2015). Greg and his wife, Karen, live in Salt Lake City with their two children, Anna and Patrick.

Collecting Yellowstone Conference at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West

In a couple of days, various institutions will converge on the Buffalo Bill Center of the West to share their Yellowstone related collections in preparation for the sesquicentennial anniversary of the Park. That’s a fancy way of saying the park is turning 150 years old soon. So, in partnership within partnership with Brigham Young University and the University of Wyoming, The Buffalo Bill Center of the West is hosting the Collecting Yellowstone Conference so as to facilitate exchange and discussion about the various Yellowstone National Park collections across the nation. You can read more about the conference here

Since we won’t be attending the conference itself we’re going to give it a shoutout and recommend a few collections from the Buffalo Bill Center showcasing the history of the region.

The Cody Local History Collection

Taxi Service 1907

The Cody Local History Collection contains photographs from the early days of Cody, Wyoming. Presumably, due to amazing foresight, all these photos are perfectly formatted for viewing on a smartphone screen (as is our blog site)!

“Cody, Wyoming was founded in 1895. Long associated with William F. Cody and the East Entrance to Yellowstone Park, Cody has had a rich and varied past. Series within the collection have been set up on the history of the City of Cody and Park County, which include Cody Rod and Gun Club papers, W. F. Cody, Wyoming and Western U.S. history, local persons and families such as Elmore Jones and the Hargreaves family, general city of Cody and local scenery and wildlife photographs (many photos still unidentified), and Cody newspapers that include the Heart Mountain Sentinel of the World War II Japanese-American internment camp.”

MS 228 – Buffalo Bill Museum Photographs

William F. Cody with Grandchildren

Here we have a photograph collection of over 400 images depicting the historic town of Cody, WY including many scenes picturing William “Buffalo Bill” F. Cody himself. The collection has photos of the original Buffalo Bill Museum so you can immerse yourself the timeless location even if you aren’t attending the conference.

Buffalo Bill Scrapbook and Photograph Collections

An excerpt from a Buffalo Bill Scrapbook

The Buffalo Bill scrapbook and photograph collections are some of the most varied and interesting collections we have and well worth perusing. Even for those who haven’t caught on to the scrapbooking craze, they offer marvelous snapshots of history taking place as Buffalo Bill traveled and performed across the globe. There more than 30 scrapbooks each located in its own collection and another dozen collections of photograph albums all providing a glimpse into the history of countless locations and stories.

MS 32 – Edward Becker Collection of Indian Photographs

This collection contains an impressive selection of black-and-white photographs of American Indians living in Crow Agency, MT in 1898. The entire photo album can be downloaded conveniently in a single pdf.

MS 247 Fred R. Meyer Photographs

Native American girl on horse. Wagon on right. On item, “This is the young virtus girl chosen to select and touch the pole. She is chosen by the old Med. Women and will later in life if she carries herself right will become a Med. Woman. 1902”

Here there are 46 black and white photographic prints of Blackfeet, Cree, Crow, and Sioux peoples taken 1902-1904 by Fred R. Meyer, a photographer from Buffalo, NY. Included are some scenes of the burial of Chief Plenty Coups and of Crow tribal member Pretty Horse Right Hand, a 1902 Blackfeet medicine lodge at Browning, Montana with Chiefs Three Bears, Rocky Boy, Wolf Eagle, Old Mountain Chief, Many Guns, Little Dog and Many Tail Feathers, and images of the Pine Ridge Sioux including Chief Red Cloud, Two Moons, Crazy Horse, Chief Calico and his wife Good Dog, and Black Horn. Also included are few photographs of the Little Big Horn battlefield memorial. All the caption quotations are from text written by Fred Meyer on the back of the photographic prints sent to his friend.

MS 111 Roy Marcot

Illustration of shot targets and a Marlin Fire Arms Co. rifle.

The Buffalo Bill Center is known for its firearms collections and in the Roy Marcot collection you’ll find scans of the preserved mass advertising campaigns set out by American firearm manufacturers in the early 1800s. Many commercial arms and ammunition companies found they could greatly increase their profits by placing pictorial ads in newspapers, catalogs, and magazines. Increased technology, such as the rotary press and the use of flexography, helped to spread advertisements to previously untouched markets. Quite a bit of history was loaded into this collection.

Black History Month

February is Black History Month and to help celebrate we’re going to throw a spotlight on some MWDL collections that highlight some important people, events, and experiences of Black communities in the Mountain West region. Celebrate with us by perusing the collections below!

African American Experience Collection – UNLV

Black and white photograph of the Moulin Rouge facade, dated [May 23], 1955.

This collection presenting the experience of African Americans in Las Vegas is a large scale project which led to the formation of the African American Community Advisory Board in Las Vegas, identified important cultural heritage organizations, and created a central portal to access their digitized materials.

We found it well worth the time to sit down and browse through this collection.

James H. Gillespie Oral Biography

James H. Gillespie in a black suit and tie with a red shirt.

James H. Gillespie was a prominent Utah civil rights leader and World War II veteran. He served as president of the NAACP chapter in Ogden, UT for 33 years and passed away in 2009 at the age of 88 leaving behind a tremendous legacy of activism and struggle. We have found two extensive interviews with him in our collections. The one in the above link was recorded by a student at Weber state in 1971, and there is another performed more than a decade later by the University of Utah Oral Histories Project.

Interviews with African Americans in Utah

Past SLC NAACP president Albert B. Fritz.

The Interviews with African Americans collection preserves and remembers the lives of people in Utah whose stories otherwise might have gone untold or been lost. The collection exists as a part of the Oral History Institute and includes the stories of many prominent civil rights activists in Utah including Albert B. Fritz and James H. Gillespie. There are 90 interviews in the collection and the stories relayed in each are raw and powerful.

Special Collections Photographs UN-Reno

Photograph of a crowd outside the arena; Jeffries-Johnson fight July 4, 1910.

The UN Reno Special Photographs Collections features an impressive array of photographs of Jack Johnson, an American boxer in the earlier 1900’s who became the first African American to win the world heavyweight championship, resulting in racial tensions and leading to the “fight of the century” wherein James J. Jeffries came out of retirement to fight him. Johnson’s win over Jeffries caused race riots to erupt across the nation that night (the 4th of July 1910) as white Americans felt enraged by the defeat. Johnson continued to play an important role in events until his death in 1946.

Counties of Deseret

Counties existing in Deseret at the end of 1850 are blacked in on the map. The first counties were restricted to inhabited valleys. Iron County between January and December 1850 was called Little Salt Lake County. Davis County was created in October, 1850, out of Weber and Great Salt Lake Counties; the latter originally extended almost to the northern Davis County boundary.