Pikes Peak Library District, CO
Between June 23 and July 10, 2012, one of the most devastating fires in Colorado history took two lives, consumed 347 homes, burned 18,247 acres, destroyed the historic Flying W Ranch and caused an estimated $350 million damage in the Colorado Springs area. While the fire had a profound effect on the entire community, it also revealed the courage of residents, firefighters and police officers; the generosity of strangers; and the strong sense of community in El Paso County and the state of Colorado. From the outset of the tragedy, the Pikes Peak Library District began seeking ways it could serve the community affected by the fire. Among other initiatives, it became clear that PPLD’s Special Collections area needed to collect and preserve documentation of the fire. As the principle repository of regional history documentation in the Pikes Peak area, Special Collections serves researchers throughout the United States with collections of published and unpublished materials. The events of the Waldo Canyon Fire gave the Special Collections staff the opportunity to focus on collecting the primary source documentation that would serve researchers for years to come. While accustomed to handling and preserving paper-based and film-based collections, documentation of the fire was almost exclusively “born-digital” material. Collecting, preserving and making available these digital materials challenged staff to rethink the nature of archival work in the 21st century.
In response to the Waldo Canyon Fire, the Pikes Peak Library District’s Special Collections created the Waldo Canyon Fire Digital Collection, which brings together documents, reports, press releases, photographs, videos and oral history interviews relating to the devastating fire. The collection contains materials created by local, state and federal agencies; oral history interviews conducted by PPLD with affected residents and first responders; hand-written note cards on which residents were able to express their experiences and feelings about the fire; and powerful photographs and videos, made by Colorado Springs residents and donated to PPLD, of the fire and its aftermath. PPLD Special Collections staff began collecting materials even before the fire was extinguished. Staff realized the importance of capturing the documentary evidence of the historic tragedy for future study. Photographs and videos were solicited from community members while reports, press releases and other official documents were collected from government agencies. Nearly all of the materials are “born digital” items, that is, they exist only in digital, rather than physical, form. These types of materials pose a particular challenge to archivists whose charge is the long-term preservation of information, as well as its dissemination. Special Collections had to develop the technological infrastructure both to preserve these materials and to make them available to the public. Several staff members have attended training on digital preservation and have worked with PPLD’s IT staff to develop strategies to ensure the long-term viability of digital assets. Following best practices for the preservation of digital collections, redundant network RAID arrays are being implemented along with the development of digital preservation policies.
The Waldo Canyon Fire Digital Collection has produced many positive outcomes to date and is expected to continue serving a critical research need well into the future.
- Online publication of the Waldo Canyon Fire Digital Collection on PPLD’s Digital Collections site has made more than 400 items in the collection freely available to users worldwide. Using the OCLC CONTENTdm platform, sophisticated searching (including full-text searching of textual materials) and browsing increases the usability of the collection.
- In collaboration with the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, a major exhibition of photographs, videos, documents and artifacts was mounted to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the fire during the summer of 2013.
- The Waldo Canyon Fire Web Archive was created by Special Collections staff to archive websites containing significant content related to the fire.
- Public photography exhibits have showcased photographs collected by Special Collections of the fire and its aftermath.
- A public exhibit talk was given by five photographers recruited by Special Collections to document the destruction in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood. The photographers documented every residence that burned during the fire.
- PPLD’s Heather Norris, Jamey Hastings, and Ralph Giordano conducted video interviews of 28 people directly impacted by the fire by evacuation or home loss, and of the firefighters and police officers who managed the blaze.
- Video producer Hastings edited interview footage and photographs into the documentary film, “In Our Own Backyard,” which has had several public screenings as well as broadcast on PPLD.tv.