Western History Center, A glimpse into the past, preserved for the future
Casper — The Western History Center was founded in 1967 when Bob David donated a collection of historical items for preservation, and today it houses over half a million photographs, 187,000 newspaper files, and over 1,400 DVDs with information in addition to a variety of maps, books, letters and other historical information.
Housed in the Casper College Library building, the Center continues to receive collections from private individuals, newspapers and families.
“The David Collection included a lot of information on the Johnson County War he gathered in the 1920s. But he also had many pages of notes he wrote that told family stories and the history of this area during the late 1800s and early 1900s,” explains Western History Center Archivist Kevin Anderson.
One of the most interesting pieces to Anderson is a three-page description of how to hook up a team of mules to a wagon. The account covers everything in very descriptive terms and, by comparing the notes with timely photos, Anderson explains a greater understanding of the process was gained.
“Both the Casper Star Tribune and the Casper Journal donated collections in 2000 that added a lot of information to our available resources. Then in 2003 our information requests jumped 10-fold and I credit that to a donation made by the Casper Chamber of Commerce and the publicity surrounding that donation,” says Anderson.
He adds that while the Center has information encompassing a large area, there is more available the closer one gets to Casper.
“We provide information to a variety of individuals including students, professionals, authors, families and TV projects. We’ve had everyone from CNN, ABC, the Discovery Channel, the History Channel and Fuji TV out of Japan use us for information,” he adds.
A recent move from a location Anderson describes as looking like someone’s office to a more defined, public location has further increased awareness of the Center and resulted in more information inquiries. With a museum-style sitting area, reading and audio rooms and an impressive amount of storage, the new location is more capable of housing the Center today.
During the entire history of the Center there have only been three archivists. The first was Rose Mary Malone, who retired from the Natrona County High School Library and took the position part-time. She worked the nine school months of the year and traveled during the summer months. In 1986 Jamie Ring took over and held the position until she retired to Montana with her husband.
Anderson started his position with the Center in 1992 and will retire this summer. When hired he was already working in the college library and his time was split between the library and the Western history collection. Due to the tremendous growth of the collections the Western History Center was separated administratively from the library and became its own entity in April 2007, with the heads of each department reporting to Lois Davis, the Dean of Educational Resources.
Anderson has a background in rare books and has studied at the Western Archives Institute. He has taken additional coursework in conservation, preservation, cataloging, copyright and digitization from the Society of American Archivists, the Northeast Document Conservation Center and the Midwest Document Conservation Center. He was working on a Masters Degree in Library and Information Science when he decided to apply for archival certification instead. The Academy of Certified Archivists accepted his education and experience as the equivalent of a Masters Degree and allowed him to sit for the exam, which he passed on his first attempt. “It’s like having a Ph.D. in archival science,” he says.
Currently Wyoming is home to only one other Certified Archivist, who works at the American Heritage Center. While Anderson notes that certification is not required for archivists and that there are a number of highly skilled archivists around the state with skills equal to and surpassing his own, he says he is proud of having obtained his certification.
Today Anderson spends most of his time filling inquires and relies on his assistant archivist Brigid Herold and a number of volunteers.
“There are currently 16 volunteers who equal between two and three full-time people. They do the majority of the data input and get to see all the stuff. They are also a big resource to researchers because they are from around the state and have personal knowledge and contacts from those areas that are often useful,” explains Anderson.
He feels an important part of his job is to prepare everything for the next person, and he says he’s at a point where that has been accomplished to the greatest of his abilities.
“We will never have our data archives caught up,” he notes with a chuckle. “But everything else is coming together, and this is a good time for someone to take over.”
Upon retiring, Anderson plans to pursue research and writing within his personal areas of interest. He explains that several years ago he became frustrated at the lack of time he had to work on personal projects. He decided to commit himself to work for a few years, then retire and concentrate on his personal areas of interest. This mindset allows him to achieve the degree of quality necessary to both areas of his life.
“My favorite part of this job is taking something someone gave us and giving it to the world. I feel like Santa, in a sense. A person will call asking for a teddy bear, and when I can reach in my bag and pull out a teddy bear and tell him we have what he wanted, it’s great. I enjoy helping people,” says Anderson.
“Imagine in a 1,000 years someone is looking for a photo and they find it here and say, ‘I am so glad someone kept this photo, look at what Casper looked like when it was founded!’ That’s what we’re able to do here and it’s amazing,” comments Anderson.