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Rebecca Gourevitch

UC Merced Library and Merced County 4-H Wrap-up Inaugural StoryMapping Project

Wed, June 23, 2021 5:30 PM

Last month, UC Merced Library and Merced County 4-H concluded an inaugural StoryMapping Project for students in grades 9-12. Designed to encourage participants to discover the value of historical archives, the project introduced young people to UC Merced’s University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) archive. Comprised of nearly 10,000 documents, booklets, letters, and photographs from the past 100+ years, the archive covers the range of research produced by UCCE and features documents about dairy, almonds, livestock, crop trials, youth development, nutrition, family consumer sciences, and much more. 

Over the course of twelve weeks, participants formed questions based on their findings in the archive and learned how to conduct research using primary and secondary source materials. Project meetings also focused on ways students would apply their research results in the form of presentations. To do this, ArcGIS and StoryMap experts trained students on how to use these digital tools for creating and visually presenting maps and historical narratives. This process encouragedparticipants to exhibit digitized archival materials alongside their observations and analysis.

On May 12th, 4-H Ambassador Melanie P. presented her StoryMap to local stakeholders, family, and community members. Titled DHIA Records: A Brief History and what DHIA Records Are, Melanie’s project traces the Dairy Herd Improvement Association’s (DHIA) use of records to improve efficiency and management by tracking milk production, herd size, and breeding and feed records. 

Her research uncovered information about early record keeping systems used by the Ferndale Cow Testing Association in Humboldt County and Melanie was able to compare them to contemporary DHIA records, including documents she used when purchasing her own heifers. The project serves as an excellent example of the ways in which archival materials not only represent the past, but inform our present. We thank Melanie and our other participants, teachers, and facilitators for their amazing work!

Check out Melanie’s StoryMap here!

CARA highlights agricultural history from across California

Wed, May 26, 2021 5:25 PM

Our digitized UC Cooperative Extension archival collections continue to grow and are accessible through our online repository, Calisphere. Recently, 500 images were added to the Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties, UC Cooperative Extension Records. Spanning the 1920s through the 2010s, the total number of digitized items from those two counties is now 1,672. In May of this year, UC Merced Library staff met with farm advisors and staff members from the Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo UCCE offices to review the Library's work on this collection and to show them how to access the material online. We provided tips on conducting searches, in order to locate items based on key terms, and highlighted themes present in the material. It was exciting to show Cooperative Extension staff material created by their predecessors and to provide them with historical documents related to their important work around the state. Check out the collection on Calisphere:

[Farm equipment truck with Farm Bureau logo], undated

Preserving the Film Reels of the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Thu, April 8, 2021 2:50 PM

In addition to archiving the records of county Cooperative Extension records such as Merced’s, the CARA (California Agricultural Resources Archive) project at UC Merced is also preserving historical reports and film from the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UCANR), the statewide organization that oversees UCCE county offices and personnel. In 2019, we accepted several boxes of 16mm film reels from the UCANR statewide office. Produced by UCCE personnel throughout California, the films date from 1953 to 1979 and cover UCANR activities such as the 4-H youth development program, food and nutrition education, wildland management, the ag industry, animals, and adolescent health.

Boxes of film reels from the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, UC Cooperative Extension Records.
Boxes of film reels from the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, UC Cooperative Extension Records.

In previous columns we’ve discussed how archivists approach organizing records. When the library acquires collections, the archivist first conducts a survey of the materials making note of major topics, themes, and how the records are organized. For example, did the material come from the offices of a certain farm advisor or home demonstration agent? This step helps the archivist to process and arrange the materials in a way that makes them easily accessible to the public. In addition to these concerns, the archivist must also take into account the physical properties of the materials. Doing so can help determine the approximate date of records that may otherwise be undated. Some mediums, in particular audiovisual items, are now obsolete and require older technologies to listen to or view them. Archivists need to be familiar with different formats and media types and how to handle them—both to preserve them and to provide access to researchers.

Film reels are laid out on a table and organized by title.
Film reels are laid out on a table and organized by title.

While surveying this collection of over 100 UCANR films, the archivist documented essential details such as the type of canister, the diameter of the reels, and condition of the medium, as well as titles, dates, transcriptions and other production information. Doing this work required opening each film can, and the vinegar smell was very strong! Why? The base of 16mm films made during this time period is cellulose acetate, which carries with it certain preservation concerns. If the reels are not stored in the right environment where temperature and humidity are controlled, and if they are not housed in archival quality boxes and cases, the films are at great risk of developing what is called “vinegar syndrome.” This form of deterioration occurs when acetic acid is released from the film base, leading to embrittlement, shrinkage, and bubbling of the film. Not only does this affect the particular film omitting the acid, but when off-gassing occurs, it can damage any objects in its vicinity. The strong smell of vinegar is an indicator that the process has started. Once vinegar syndrome begins, it is irreversible; if the effects of vinegar syndrome go too far, it becomes impossible to play the media or even transfer it to a digital file format.

Red powder flaking off film cans
One aspect of deterioration emanates from the metal cans which can rust and cause a red powder to flake off onto the object.

Clearly, these reels were in various states of deterioration and needed immediate attention so their contents would not be lost. However, working with such film requires specialized equipment and trained experts to digitize—all of which comes at an expense. Since we did not know beyond the little information on the cans what the contents of these films were, nor the quality of playback once digitized, we decided on a set of films that would constitute a pilot for preservation and digitization. We worked with the MediaPreserve, a company based in Cranberry Township, PA with extensive experience working with universities, libraries, and other cultural heritage institutions to preserve and digitize such materials. Their experienced specialists helped to guide us through the steps needed to make these films last, including housing in archival quality film cans and digitizing them into sustainable file formats.

MediaPreserve lock boxes for shipping films
The MediaPreserve sent us their own lock boxes so that the films are protected as they make their way to their offices in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania.

So far, we have already received the digital files for the first three films of our pilot, and they are high-quality professional productions. One film, titled 4-H Trail, was produced in 1963 to illustrate the extensive range of activities undertaken by 4-H club members in California, with scenes from local club meetings, family farms, camps, and field days accompanied by singing from a county 4-H club chorus. Another film, What’s in Food? (1962) is a production of the “Homemaker’s Notebook” with UCCE home nutritionist Marion Tate presenting information about healthy eating. The last of the three was chosen because of the intriguing title, “Muppetts” on the film’s canister. It turned out to be a series of short clips from 1975 titled Children’s Nutrition (Candy) produced for the KTVU station that feature puppets—not to be confused with the widely known Muppets—speaking about the benefits of eating healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, instead of candy.

We are seeking the funds to support the digital preservation of the other films in the collection. The range of titles include Modern irrigation equipment (1964), Tomatoes (undated), Hills of Grass (Madera County, undated), California deer (1965), and Cows n’ kilowatts 4-H. In the meantime, you can see the films digitized from our pilot on Calisphere.

We look forward to digitizing and sharing more of these films with you.



Storymapping Project Underway with Merced County 4-H

Tue, March 2, 2021 11:30 AM

Last December, Emily Lin, Head of Digital Curation and Scholarship at UC Merced Library, announced an exciting new partnership between the Library and the Merced County 4-H Club. After the Library acquired the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) archives, a key objective has been to share this incredible resource with the community. With this aim in mind, we developed the 4-H StoryMapping Project. The project seeks youth engagement with the digitized items of the UCCE archival records for Merced County, a vast collection that dates back to 1916 and includes primary source documents and photographs about irrigation, fires, home economics, crops, dairy, and much more. A large portion of the collection is 4-H material that highlights the extraordinary work the organization has done to create experiences for youth in which they “learn by doing.” Below are just a few of the photographs from the UCCE collection that document 4-H-ers in Merced County.




1. 4-H members in front of bus, 1959

2. 4-H girl and cow, c. 1967

3. Boys give presentation, c. 1957

4. Group of girls, c. 1957

5. Radish garden, undated

6. Boy standing on rope, 1990

The images show youth participating in a variety of activities that include gardening, livestock shows, rope courses, poster presentations and more. In the midst of the Covid-19 global pandemic, these types of experiences are on hold until it is safe again to gather collectively. So, the 4-H Storymapping Project comes at the perfect time. Project meetings are conducted on Zoom, and content providers from the UCM Library and the Spatial Analysis & Research Center (SpARC) conduct lessons through online tutorials, aimed to engage our youth participants in local historical research – just like historians! 

As the Project Archivist for UC Merced’s California Agricultural Resources Archive (CARA), I have shared with our youth participants the ways that primary source documents can illuminate obscure and forgotten historical information and artifacts. After conducting searches in the digital collection, they have decided on research topics for their StoryMaps, a digital platform that allows users to integrate text, documents, audio-visual materials, and maps to construct historical narratives.

Youth participants use online teaching tools to think about research areas found in CARA.        

UC Merced Library staff help 4-H youth to take broad themes found in the UCCE collection and develop research questions for their StoryMaps.

Participants will have the opportunity to present their final projects to 4-H leaders and community members through online venues. We are excited to see what they come up with. Stay tuned for updates!



Processing Obsolete Media in CARA

Tue, October 27, 2020 3:50 PM

Our last post referenced items from CARA related to wildfires in California and demonstrated how archival materials from the past can inform our present conditions. This connection was underscored last month when CARA staff joined with others from the UC Merced Library and Facilities Management teams, to assist in the emergency evacuation of the archive of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks (SEKI). Over the course of two days, the SEKI archive was transferred to the Leo & Dottie Kolligian Library building where the collections will remain permanently. Read With Fire Threatening, National Parks Turn to UC Merced for Help Preserving History from the University newsroom to learn more about this SEKI-UC Merced partnership, one that has deepened the relationship between the campus and surrounding lands.

With the SEKI materials safely stored for the time being, the CARA team continues to process the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) collections. In recent days, we’ve turned our attention to UCCE’s significant sets of audio-visual objects. For example, the Humboldt County records contain a box of ¼-inch open reel audio tapes. In use from 1949 through the mid 1980s, open reel tapes are a type of magnetic media and were a popular and affordable option to record audio until they were widely displaced with newer media formats like 8-Tracks and cassette tapes.[1]

Box of open reel tapes
Box of open reel tapes, Humboldt County, UC Cooperative Extension Records.

The Humboldt County tapes contain only small amounts of contextual information, or metadata, both on and proximate to the tapes. What is clear, though, by reading the few labels, stickers, and annotations is that these are the tapes of former 4-H Home Advisor and County Director, Evelyn Wanderlich, recorded for a local radio station show. Not present though, are any references to themes, subject matter, and other contextual clues.

Box cover
Open reel tape box cover, Humboldt County, UC Cooperative Extension Records.

Therefore, in order to accurately know what is on them, and to both physically and intellectually position the materials within the archive, they must be listened to. Open reel tapes are placed on particular tape recorders for playback, but many institutions, such as the UC Merced Library, simply do not have such equipment on hand. The inability to listen to certain media formats on site is demonstrative of a challenge many twenty-first century institutions face. It is something that CARA contends with and so we must reach out to organizations that specialize in preserving and digitizing obsolete media. By doing so we can make these unique documentary records accessible.

Tape recorder collection 

A tape recorder collection at Record Exchange in St Louis, Missouri. This is the type of equipment needed to listen to the open reel tapes in our Humboldt County UCCE records.

The Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC), located in San Francisco, has been supporting media makers and activists since 1976, an era in media history that was revolutionary due to the innovation of the widely available battery-powered videotape recorders. Creating audio-visual material became less prohibitive and independent media creation flourished.[2] They continue to serve as an important leader in the field of media production, education, and preservation. So, we reached out to Morgan Morel, Preservation Manager at BAVC, for information about their services and how they could help us with Evelyn Wanderlich’s tapes.

I started by sending Morgan an inventory of the six tapes. This helps a preservationist understand the state of the materials before agreement is made to work on a project. Below is an example of the inventory sent to BAVC:

   Audio tape inventory 1Audio tape inventory 2

The brand, material types, and condition of the object are all described here. In this example, a white powdery substance was found on the tape (see image below for what we found).

Tape degradation

Morgan’s concern was that this substance was mold, creating an unfavorable condition for digitization. This picture, sent along with the inventory, helped him determine that the markings indicate deplasticization. Although no mold is present, this type of degradation can still cause trouble and will be analyzed further at BAVC facilities.

Barring any other major issues, the content of the audio tapes will be converted to master and access files and placed on a hard drive. These digital files will then become accessible to the public alongside other materials found in the Humboldt County UCCE collection. We will also place the reels in new acid-free archival boxes that will ensure the long-term preservation of the original object.

                     Clamshell box                                                                                                                                                                                         

Old housing and new housing (Gaylord Archival® Clamshell 7" Audio Reel Box).

We are excited to expand our digital collection and for the opportunity to work with the Bay Area Video Coalition. Look out for updates for when these recordings are online!




CARA Project makes strides during challenging times

Tue, September 1, 2020 1:25 PM

A lot has happened since our last blog post in December of 2019. The CARA project team continues to process and digitize archival materials from Merced, Ventura, Humboldt, Fresno, San Joaquin, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo county offices, providing the public with increased access to documents, manuscripts, photographs, and other objects dating back to the beginning of the twentieth century (refer to our previous blog post for information on how to access UCCE archival materials).  

There have also been personnel transitions in recent months and as the latest addition to the team, I’d like to introduce myself. My name is Rebecca Gourevitch and I am the new Project Archivist for the California Agricultural Resources Archive. I arrived at UC Merced from Rochester, NY where I earned a MA degree in Photographic Preservation and Collections Management earlier this year. However, California is my home. I grew up in the Bay Area and attended UC Santa Cruz, receiving a BA in Sociology and a MA in Social Documentation. After a couple of years away, it is great to be back in the state I love and I look forward to getting to know UC Merced, the Central Valley, and of course, the fascinating materials found in the UC Cooperative Extension county collections. 

I’m happy to join forces with our Digitization Coordinator, Jonathan Wilcox. Jonathan earned his BA from CSU, Dominguez Hills in Art History and received his Master’s in Library and Information Science from San Jose State University. He arrived at UC Merced following an internship position with Curatorial Assistance, Inc. in Pasadena. Since starting in October of last year, Jonathan has overseen the complete physical scanning of the Fresno county collection (approximately 20,000 scans) and of photographic prints of San Joaquin, Ventura, and Humboldt counties. He also oversees our CARA digitization student assistants who, under his guidance, have scanned 627 Humboldt county files, 900 San Joaquin county files, and 200 photographs from Ventura county.  

Of course, the shutdowns that began in March, due to the  devastating Covid-19 pandemic, have altered (at least for now) the way we do our work.  It has been  interesting, to say the least,  to start a new position in the middle of a global pandemic. The University Library is currently closed to the public and the majority of its staff are working from home. Student assistants can’t access the scanning equipment and trips around the state to inventory more collections are on hold. Despite these challenges, the CARA team continues to work remotely. We have been reviewing the metadata for each of our digitized objects. Metadata is defined as a “characterization or description documenting the identification, management, nature, use, or location of information resources (data). By corroborating these bits of evidence, we make sure that there are various access points by which researchers can discover materials through our online platforms. 

Since the pandemic sent our staff and students assistants home, three of our student assistants have either graduated from UC Merced or are continuing their studies at another university. We would like to congratulate Giovanni Alvarado, Maryam Bonyadi, and Amanda Paulino on their achievements and thank them for all of their hard work and dedication to the project. Reflecting on his work with CARA, Gio describes how his experience will aid him in the future:  

During my time working with the [Digital Curation & Scholarship] unit, I have gained valuable and useful skills. It is crucial for student employees to follow procedures and be vigilant of any errors that they may come across. Because we work with material that is used for research purposes, it is important for us to do the best possible job. Over the course of two years, I was introduced to new equipment that I was expected to learn how to use in order to complete tasks. Initially, I had trouble getting the hang of how to properly use the equipment and it wasn’t after a couple of weeks until I was able to feel comfortable. Going through this challenge gave me the ability to ask questions whenever I needed clarification, and this will be helpful for when I possibly go to graduate school. My challenging experience has taught me to stay motivated, while also continuing to strive to get better at things that I am having trouble with. This will be very helpful when transitioning over to a graduate program. – Giovanni Alvarado 

This work would not be possible without our incredible student assistants and we are lucky to still have so many dedicated students working on the project. 

As we move forward this year, the current California wildfires spawn new anxieties and as well as tragedy for too many. They demonstrate the fragility of our environment and the ongoing impact of climate change. They are also a reminder of the value that archival materials hold for understanding how researchers, farmers, scientists, and others have measured the effect of wildfires and communicated fire prevention to the public. The archive contains materials related to California wildfires. In the Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties, UC Cooperative Extension Records, there are photographic examples of firefighting methods, information about controlled burns, and a document dedicated to the dealing with the aftermath of a destructive fire. 

Its introduction states, 

Words may not be able to describe the loss experienced by southern Californians in the recent fires, but they can provide some reassurance about the resiliency of our natural systems. Now that the fires are over it is time to consider rebuilding and restoration. We have prepared this pamphlet to educate you about the nature of this disaster and what you can do to restore natural landscapes around your home. 

Click on the titles below to view other CARA materials pertaining to California wildfires:


       Fire break around an oak tree, undated   

       Man posing with Smith Indian backpack fire pumps    

     Man with a Smith Indian fire pump, undated                                                                                              

       What's happening in California forestry? 1963                                                                                        

  What's happening in California forestry? 1963                                                     


    Wildlands after a fire, 1995

As we adjust to the challenges this year has brought, the CARA project team has adapted and continues to work with the materials from Extension offices around the state. Look out for future posts to see what we’re up to in the coming weeks and months.  



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