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UW-Eau Claire's collection of historical photos now easier to access

February 13, 2012
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The men of Alpha Kappa Lambda fraternity participated in a tug of war while other members shouted their support. Photo circa 1967.
EAU CLAIRE — When Gregory Kocken began examining the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire's archived photograph collection last year, he found more than 2,000 photographic prints loosely organized in folders and placed within the drawers of two file cabinets.

Kocken, head of UW-Eau Claire's Special Collections and Archives department, said he needed to come up with a plan to better organize the collection and give users easier access to the photos, many of which date back to university's earliest days.

"Over the span of many years, during which photographs and entire folders were misfiled, the original structure of the collection deteriorated and reached a point where access to the prints was restricted and finding images became increasingly difficult," Kocken said.

In an effort to improve accessibility to the university's collection of historical photos, Kocken initiated a project last fall semester to sort and reorganize the photos and make them easier to retrieve. He also created an internship opportunity and selected 2007 UW-Eau Claire history graduate Avril Flaten, a recent graduate student at UW-Milwaukee, to assist him with the project.

Kocken said Flaten's internship had three primary goals: to spend time exploring the collection to learn more about its contents; to develop an appraisal and processing plan to organize the collection to facilitate better access to it; and to organize the collection based on the appraisal and processing plan.

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Members of the Alpha Phi Omega, Alpha Kappa Lambda and Phi Sigma Epsilon fraternities pull their teammates during Winter Carnival 1970 toboggan races.
Flaten, whose internship fulfilled the last requirement of her master's degree program in information science at UW-Milwaukee, spent several weeks going through the collection file by file and organizing the photos based on nine themes: buildings; athletics; student organizations; campus and student activities; campus life; people; campus landmarks; academics; and history.

"It was truly amazing to see that archival theories do, in fact, work, especially when you face difficulties in department funding, archival space and staff time," Flaten said.

Kocken said the photos are being preserved by placing them within folders and boxes and storing them in a climate-controlled room adjacent to the Special Collections reading room. He and his staff have created a finding aid that will allow researchers to identify the boxes and folders that may contain the photos they are seeking.

Kocken also is in the process of digitizing the images and creating Flickr sets based on the collection's general themes.

"The galleries will be posted online using Flickr, giving the world the opportunity to view images that illustrate UW-Eau Claire's recorded history and culture," Kocken said. The first Flickr set completed is a compilation of images from UW-Eau Claire's annual Winter Carnival celebration.

"As a result of this project, we have rediscovered many amazing prints from UW-Eau Claire's past," Kocken said. "With the university's centennial just around the corner, the timing for the project could not have been better."

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A "Lady and the Tramp" snow sculpture was likely constructed for Winter Carnival 1969, which had as its contest theme that year "The Sno-Wonderful World of Walt Disney."
Flaten, who completed her master's degree at UW-Milwaukee in December, described her internship experience as invaluable.

"It was the missing piece to my master's education," she said. "It took all of the archival theory I had studied in depth the last two or three years and applied it to a practical environment."

Special Collections and Archives, located on the fifth floor of UW-Eau Claire's McIntyre Library, serves nearly 1,000 university patrons and members of the general public each year. Kocken said images from the collection are often requested by campus patrons for use in university publications and by off-campus clients for a variety of uses.

More information about the photo project is available from Kocken at kockeng@uwec.edu or 715-836-3873.

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AH/DW

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