New archivist Anastasia Armendariz wants you to open your steamer trunks
by Benjamin Marcus
For a long three-plus years I’ve been researching, writing and gathering photos and information for an ambitious Malibu history book being put together under the working title “Chumash to Hard Cash.” I’ve spent many hours digging through photo archives at the Huntington Library, the Adamson House, and the Pepperdine Digital Collections. Before COVID threw a spanner in the works, I had an opportunity to visit Pepperdine Libraries and access their photo archive. I was fortunate to have access to the Pepperdine archive, which would trim money off the book budget, and people in Malibu from young to old are genuinely interested in Malibu history.
Several months ago, Anastasia Armendariz, the new librarian for special collections and the Malibu Historical Collection, contacted me after the closing of Malibu Kitchen. We met for lunch at Broad Street Oyster to discuss my project.
I showed her images from the book I had collected from the archives and also some private citizens and we both agreed there was probably a lot of Malibu history stashed away in steamer trunks and attics. So I said I would do an interview with her to try and flush that history out.
Southern California native Anastasia Armendariz, the new librarian for special collections and the Malibu Historical Collection, is responsible for maintaining and building the Malibu Historical Collection at Pepperdine. Contributed Photo
Anastasia, what brings you to this quiet little seaside community? Did you attend Pepperdine?
No, I didn’t attend Pepperdine. I am originally from the area, and when I was in high school and applying for college. I was ready to try somewhere beyond Southern California. I went east to Georgetown and then on to University of Maryland, College Park, for grad school. It was this job that brought me back to SoCal.
Does your office have a view?
Of my wonderful co-workers, yes! It encourages me to go outside during breaks and remind myself where I have landed.
Your job title is a whopping 22 syllables. What are your official duties?
I am responsible for maintaining and building the Malibu Historical Collection. This includes processing collections and making them available for others to refer to and access and promoting them in writing, over reference consultations, and through different public-facing programming.
In addition to other tasks, I also support various rare books-focused projects in special collections and lead instruction sessions for undergraduate students with relevant collections objects in our seminar room. I really enjoy these opportunities to connect Pepperdine students with their course materials, prior interests, and history through material objects.
How are you qualified for this position?
My education and work experience definitely ended up preparing me for this job. I didn’t know what special collections and archives were until I started looking for student employment during my first semester of college. I saw postings for jobs in the library, and special collections specifically. I quickly learned this would involve much more than loving libraries for the sake of reading books. Special collections and archives in academic institutions, including here at Pepperdine, are charged with preserving and also sharing physical and digital materials that represent significant cultural heritage for the purpose of education and enjoyment.
I continued working in libraries and museums from there, and I sought out opportunities to learn about the rare book trade and community-based archives as I continued my education.
You studied English and library science at Georgetown, I believe.
I did a five-year BA/MA in English at Georgetown. As my studies in literature progressed alongside my awareness of narrative-rich archival and book history, the two fields started merging. This looked like care for material culture — an understanding of history through the objects that people use and treasure, and their associated stories. Nothing against anthologies or textbooks, but holding a corrected manuscript from a childhood-favorite author, examining original artist sketches, or reviewing handwritten correspondence introduces entirely new opportunities for learning and discovery.
As my time spent in Georgetown Library’s special collections progressed — first, doing research for coursework, and then, becoming a research assistant employed by the department — I was able to better know the collections, support researchers, and encourage professors to bring their classes into special collections. I then had an epiphany: I want to do what my supervisor does. A Master’s in library science became my next logical step. That degree was from the University of Maryland, College Park.
The writer Terry Tempest Williams’ reflections on the natural world, spirituality, and most anything are captivating. Not to be that English major, but E.M. Forster and Jane Austen’s scene-setting and social commentary is superb. And then Nora Ephron, for every form of writing she did.
How much Malibu history have you consumed since taking that position?
A great deal. I continue to familiarize myself with local history by going through our finding aids on the Online Archive of California, reading historical accounts of the region in newspapers and biographies and getting familiar with the remarkable historical photographs of Malibu in our collection. Many of these are shared online through Pepperdine Libraries Digital Collections. The more I hear and come across, the more strands and stories and stores I realize are out there.
Are you intrigued by Malibu? This place has a lot of layers.
Very much so! There are plenty of waves in this place’s history, many of which overlap. It has been such a privilege to start connecting with, and not just learning about, the different communities and their various aspects.
I don’t want to list subcultures for fear of excluding any…
Well the surfers rule.
… I won’t argue with who I see on the water every morning on my drive up! But Malibu is such a singular locus of hobbies, passions, vocations, and perspectives. While debates over development are not new here, neither are the tangible demonstrations of care for neighbors in difficult times.
How extensive is the Malibu Historical Collection at Pepperdine?
We have more than 30 distinct archival collections that comprise the Malibu Historical Collection. These range from correspondence and albums from individuals to records from community organizations and issues of local newspapers and surf periodicals.
We also have designated Malibu Historical Collection books spanning memoir, surfing, architecture, food, and history of the Chumash people and the Spanish periods. In addition to examples of Malibu Tiles, we also house reference works on the short but distinguished run of the Malibu Potteries.
One of our special collection objects I find especially endearing is our collection of Frederick Rindge’s original manuscript poems …
That Rindge dude was kind of a hippie. An early 19th Century hippie.
… a la the envelope poems of Emily Dickinson, Rindge jotted poems on whatever scrap of paper was at hand as he strode and rode the 13,300 acres of the Malibu Rancho.
Another favorite of mine is a series of photographs of Mary Nogueras Frampton, who some readers might remember for her local coastal conservation efforts, as a teen staring adoringly up at Gregory Peck.
Have you made any significant finds so far?
My favorite finds are those that enable me to pick up on threads of work from co-workers and predecessors in this role. As I have processed different historic materials, joined different events in the community and started having conversations with different individuals, interconnectedness is always reinforced.
This summer, a Ph.D student from Florida visited the archive to reference issues of Surfer Magazine and Surfing Magazine for his dissertation. In December, someone visiting the collections pointed out to me a photo of a friend in the community from our historic Malibu Times photo collection. Thanks to my colleagues in our digitization lab, that friend now has a digital copy of that image. This morning, I shared information with a researcher about Malibu records for a property that his grandparents used to own.
What do you hope to find?
We are always interested in acquiring, describing, and preserving collections in order to best share them with students, external researchers and community members. This could look like photographs (we are eternally grateful to donors who label on the reverse with names, dates and locations), any journals or accounts of time spent in Malibu or truly the materials that provide a sense of your Malibu.
Any missing links out there you are yearning to uncover?
Going back to your point about the layers of Malibu, we are keenly interested in understanding more about what drew people to Malibu, what keeps them here and what they put up with because being here is still worth it, particularly from the earlier days of modern Malibu history to present.
Are you actively looking to unearth more Malibu history?
Yes! Whether someone is a fountain of stories or they are interested in making the Malibu Historical Collection the long-term home for their physical materials, we would be interested in hearing from them.
What tactics and techniques have worked for you so far?
Exploring. Everything from checking our online finding aids (what archivists call collection guides) to pulling a box of records or checking out books in our stacks. A lot of cross-referencing with other resources, from Pepperdine colleagues with roots in the greater Malibu community to resources like our fully digitized run of past issues of The Malibu Times and past local papers. This exploration helps provide us with a sense of some of the core issues that matter to the Malibu community.
What message would you like to send out to the people of Malibu?
We are here and interested in you and your stories! That can certainly take the form of archival materials like papers, bulletins, diaries, photographs, and more. Ultimately, we hope to make connections and archive materials that allow us to tell the story of Malibu and its community through the decades. Special collections are most special when people are able to engage with them.
We look forward to all we can do together.
Your readers can reach me at [email protected] or (310) 506 4836.
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