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Interview at the Library: Amalia Castañeda

by Hannah Lee on 2021-10-06T12:39:00-07:00 in Archives & Special Collections | 0 Comments

By Allison Ransom and Hannah Lee

For the first Interview at the Library series, we are with Amalia Castañeda, the University Archivist at California State University, Dominguez Hills.


As the University Archivist, Amalia manages the acquisition of historical materials and lead records management activities to document all aspects of campus life.

With BAs in Women's Studies and Political Science from UCLA, an MA in History from CSULA, and an MLIS from UCLA, Amalia's research interests include community archives and public memory, fostering ethnic and racial diversity in Archives and Special Collections Librarianship, and the relationship between “urban renewal” and historical preservation in Progressive Era Los Angeles.

You can find her latest publication “Fostering an Inclusive Collection Development Policy at California State University, Los Angeles, Archives and Special Collections" with co-author Azalea Camacho.

Q: What are the University Archives?

Part of the Gerth Archives and Special Collections Department, the University Archives (UA) serves as the institutional memory of CSUDH, preserving official university records, materials that document student life on campus, and other archival materials related to CSUDH.

While the university was founded in 1960, the historical materials that now form part of the University Archives were first collected by the Institutional Archival and Historical Project Committee in 1968. History and library faculty were eager to formally establish a Dominguez Hills archives and by 1973, the Archives Development Committee of the History Department held its first meeting, followed by the more formal Dominguez Archives Committee in 1975. The University Archives was formally founded as a repository in 1978 and archivist Anne DeVore was hired to help grow the collection.

Highlights of the University Archives included the papers of the past presidents and the Master Plan Site Collection, which consists of legislative bills, maps, photographs, and news clippings documenting  the state of California’s decision to build a college in the South Bay area of Los Angeles County. A list of the CSUDH University Archives Collections processed so far are available to the public via the Online Archive of California (OAC), California’s central repository for detailed descriptions of primary source collections with more than 200 contributing institutions.

Toros Pep Club SquadCollege President Leo Cain addresses crowd from podium during groundbreaking ceremony for permanent campus.  Visitors and dignitaries look on.  Cermony held on December 5, 1967.

Q: What does a University Archivist do?

A University Archivist is tasked with preserving records which can include documents, papers, letters, books, drawings, maps, plans, photographs, tapes, film or sound recordings, microforms, or digital/physical files. We have several archivists in the department all tasked with surveying, organizing and making historical collections available, but in my role as the archivist of the university I specifically work with materials relevant specifically to CSUDH in its many shapes and forms: blueprints of the university’s masterplan, pamphlets, reports, photographs, flyers, posters and any other materials that document vital and unique organizational history.


Q: Where do you see the University Archives' future?

The growth of the University Archives is ongoing and it is therefore my job to think strategically about how to preserve and make sense of what we currently house, showcase it, and make it accessible to the campus community. This is all while thinking about how to collect campus history in real time! This means I have to constantly keep abreast of campus events, attend them, meet students, staff and faculty, and proactively collect pamphlets, flyers or any associated ephemera. Thinking about long term strategic goals, especially with the growth of born-digital materials is a huge undertaking, but it is not work that has not been done within the profession so there is definitely a blueprint and support.

That is why I feel fortunate that the College and University Archives Section is among the largest of the Society of American Archivists (SAA), the formal organization that serves the needs of the more than 5,000 archivist and institutional members across the United States. Plus, because many universities formally employ a University Archivist, there is a large and vibrant community of professionals across the country (and internationally) that are constantly seeking innovative ways to better organize and care for the records of local communities and institutions of higher education. In addition, there is a growing number of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) archives professionals who are passionate about bringing in our own perspectives, especially since many of us were first-generation, working class university students ourselves. BIPOC first-generation archivists know the challenges of navigating higher ed first hand and we are especially excited to reach out to students and leverage our roles to give them a voice in the archives.

"Our students’ perspectives are incredibly important to understand who we were, who we are and who we want to be as an institution of higher learning that primarily serves BIPOC students"

Q: How has your career path led you to your current position as the University Archivist?

Well, I would first like to add that I would never have imagined a career in libraries! My aspirations of working in higher education as a history professor led me to this path. While a graduate student at Cal State LA, where I studied modern United States history with a focus on early twentieth century Los Angeles, the work of the Special Collections and Archives department piqued my interest. I approached the archivist about volunteering, and was hired as a student assistant and eventually as a full-time staff member. When I learned about the work of archivists and librarians, and about the prospect of pursuing scholarly research within the Library and Information Science field I switched gears. Instead of the history PhD, I decided to pursue a Masters in Library and Information Science (MLIS), the terminal degree in the library field. It had finally clicked for me! This career was a perfect combination of my passion for history, teaching, outreach and community engagement.

I then spent five years at Cal State LA Special Collections and Archives and pursued internships at the University of Chicago Special Collections and Preservation Department, the Library of Congress, the LA County Law Library, and UCLA Special Collections. At the same time, I began my tenure on the board of directors for a small history museum in downtown Los Angeles near Olvera Street, The Museum of Social Justice. There I co-curated exhibits and worked on outreach projects to essentially bridge academic history with the public. My work with the museum continues and has cemented my decision to work within the culture heritage field.

For me, the library and archival studies field and my current role as the University Archivist provides an avenue to pursue what at first seemed like two divergent passions: teaching and supporting students, particularly first-generation BIPOC students, and making history accessible both within and beyond the ivory tower. As a native of Lynwood in the Southeast side of Los Angeles, I feel so happy and privileged to serve CSUDH students, many who come from communities like mine.

"As a native of Lynwood in the Southeast side of Los Angeles, I feel so happy and privileged to serve CSUDH students, many who come from communities like mine"


Q: Are you planning any new and exciting initiatives we can look forward to in the future?


Yes, absolutely! We are excited about an upcoming partnership with the Office of Alumni Relations. The success of the “I’m a Toro” Banner Campaign helped spark conversations among the alumni office and the Alumni Advisory Council about how to continue elevating alumni stories. One clear way to do this is to showcase student history through the collections of the University Archives. We are excited to be working with the director of Alumni Relations to establish rotating alumni display cases to commemorate alumni history and Toros’ ongoing accomplishments. While we are currently working out all of the details, we hope that this can be a permanent project with a variety of themes throughout the years.

To facilitate the discovery of materials for the rotating displays, I am currently working on organizing the historical collection of the Alumni Association (dating back to the 1970s) in order to make these records available for use in these future displays. In addition, the library recently received CARES funding that will allow us to digitize the CSUDH student newspaper. The first issues date back to when the University officially opened its doors in 1965 in Palos Verdes, and the stories throughout the years feature a host of interesting photos, op-eds and ads that capture the contours student life at Dominguez Hills. I do plan to set aside materials as I go along, and as safety conditions hopefully improve in the coming year, I hope to invite members of the Alumni office to the Gerth Archives to see many of these highlights for themselves!


Student group with pom poms and plaques. RSA group at Toro Days/Homecoming 1997.

Q: In what ways can members of the CSUDH campus community get involved with the University Archives?

This academic year I am piloting an “Introduction to Archives” training to introduce campus offices/units to the principles of archival preservation and basic records management. The goal is to expose the campus community to the work of the University Archives (UA) while at the same time equipping them with the tools to begin to prepare their historical materials for transfer to the archives for long term preservation.

Through several of the Fall 2021 in-person welcome activities, I have had the opportunity to meet leaders of several of the student organizations and have spoken to them about the goals of the UA and the importance of their role in preserving their place in CSUDH history. In the spring, I plan to offer a mini training course aimed to introduce student organizations to the “Documenting DH” preservation initiative. I am also preparing a guide, similar to the University Archives and Records Management Guide to demystify the process for students. The “Documenting DH” initiative will serve as one of many similar efforts across the country working to lend voice to students, whose experiences form the core of institutional histories. Our students’ perspectives are incredibly important to understand who we were, who we are and who we want to be as an institution of higher learning that primarily serves BIPOC students.

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