Monday, March 16, 2015

From the Archives — New Archivist in Town

The Mojave Desert Archives is the memory of the Mojave Desert community and the MDHCA organization.

by Chris Ervin, Archivist
Mojave Desert Archives

Chris Ervin
As mentioned in the Mojave Road Report, my wife Leslie and I have recently taken up a two-year residency at the Goffs Cultural Center (GCC). I'm excited to be appointed the first archivist for the Mojave Desert Archives and am looking forward to helping make the amazing collections here more widely known and accessible to researchers.

You can think of the Mojave Desert Archives as a department of the nonprofit Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association (MDHCA). Our organization has many wonderful historic buildings and artifacts on display here at the GCC—the Goffs Schoolhouse being the crown jewel. But the 1,300 oral histories, 110,000 photographs, 7,000 historic maps, and 6,000 rare books–just to name a few of our holdings–require descriptions to help researchers understand their content and context, an organized filing system that allows the materials to be quickly retrieved, and special care to preserve them for the longest time possible. That's where the archives staff come in. They ensure there is physical and intellectual control over every item held in the Archives.

I was recently asked by one of our leading members how I'm going to make the above happen. I've had a lot of time to think about just that. I was an Information Technology (IT) professional for 32 years and I've been a volunteer for our organization for 27. When we built the Dennis G. Casebier Library in the image of the Goffs Depot seven years ago, I was struck by the fact that we had this wonderful building, soon to contain desert-related collections found nowhere else, yet we were lacking an archivist to give our repository the level of professionalism it deserved. Becoming the archivist for the Mojave Desert Archives was something I wanted to do, so I went off and got a master's degree in Archival Science. Last August, I passed the Certified Archivist exam.

In October, just before I left the IT world, I induced my former employer to donate two IBM business servers and related equipment to the MDHCA. They are now installed in the Dennis G. Casebier Library and loaded with the archives data management software we'll be using to document the collections and generate collection guides to be posted online. I'm also conducting a survey of all the collections, their locations, sizes, and current status. This will help us prioritize them for any preservation needs and for creating high level descriptions.

The first pass will be done at the collection level so we can measure just how big the breadbox is. Subsequent passes will drill down into the details, where our superb volunteer staff such as Carol and Hugh Brown, Loris Mitchell, Jackie Ridge, and many others have been concentrating for years. Much valuable work has been done to protect and organize the collections. My approach will not be to change any of the good work that's already been accomplished, but to build upon it. We all want to make the Mojave Desert Archives into the world renowned research center it has the potential to be.

In future installments of this column I'll be highlighting our collections and how we're taking care of, organizing, and making them accessible. I'll also share how we will continue to develop and enhance the collections and, more importantly, how we'll inform the community about the cultural richness and authentic heritage preserved here at Goffs. In the meantime, you can keep up with Mojave Desert history at our blog at and by following us on Twitter at