February 17, 2018

Pairing Context with Access in E-Collections | The Digital Shift 2015

TDS_WassajaOne of the latest additions to the digital repository at Arizona State University (ASU) is a selection of issues of the Wassaja Newsletter, an important record of Native American culture and activism in the early 20th century. At Library Journal and School Library Journal’s virtual conference, The Digital Shift: Libraries Connecting Communities, ASU associate librarian Joyce Martin and digital curator and research data manager Jodi Reeves Flores discussed the project, emphasizing the role that partners in the Native American community had played in improving this resource by providing valuable context for the newly available content.

The Wassaja Newsletter was published between 1916 and 1922 by Carlos Montezuma, a member of the Yavapai nation in Arizona who was captured by Pima raiders and taken from his home as a young child. He was adopted and grew up in Chicago, where he became a doctor and grew into a vocal advocate for Native American civil rights.

“The Wassaja Newsletter was a vital source of news about Indian affairs in an era that had very few outlets for such information,” Martin told the online audience. “It contains valuable reports from people living within the Indian reservation system, and the newsletter was distributed across the country.”


In 2014, Martin and collaborators Flores and David Martinez received a seed grant to digitize ASU’s issues of the newsletter, as well as other items of Montezuma’s from the collection, including correspondence, bills, and envelopes used in the newsletter’s distribution—about 85 individual objects.

In addition to adding these documents to the repository, the team worked with ASU’s digital humanities group, Nexus Lab, to create an online digital exhibition around this new collection with the goal of drawing attention to it while also making it easier to use. The exhibition opened a lot of doors from improving access and adding features, said Flores.

“While it allows users to browse the digital materials in a more user friendly environment, it also allows us to give additional context to the digital materials, such as background information about Montezuma,” Flores said. “In the future, we can publish essays or blogs about this work, we can relate news about the project, including events, and we can better highlight our collaborators as the project progresses.”


While getting the Wassaja Newsletter online in an easily accessible format was important, it wasn’t the only goal ASU’s librarians and their collaborators had in mind. Beyond providing a way to inspect original documents, they wanted a way to put those materials in context. Key to that is the ongoing assistance of volunteers from the Yavapai Nation, the community from which Montezuma hailed.

Early on in project, the team met with Yavapai Nation tribal librarian Jacquelyn McCalvin and museum director Karen Ray in nearby Fort McDowell, AZ, to discuss how they could work together on the budding collection, and a partnership soon formed. The librarians got assistance from community members who helped identify the subjects of photos in the collection, and McCalvin, Ray, and former Yavapai Nation president Raphael Bear spoke about the project on a panel at ASU. The university also placed a grad student in the Yavapai Nation archives to gain a better understanding of the materials and holdings.

Currently, the only way to view a full run of the Wassaja Newsletter is on microfilm. Moving forward, the team is working to partner with several other institutions that hold materials related to Montezuma, including the Wisconsin Historical Society and the University of Arizona, with the aim of bringing the full archive online. They are also working closely with members of the Yavapai Nation in Fort McDowell who are offering identification assistance, as well as helping vet what material is appropriate to be made available online. Once it is finished, the full archive of Wassaja issues and related materials could span 16,000 pages, including letters, handwritten notes, photos, and more.

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