Story and Photo by Paul Vang
June 14, 2023
photo taken by Paul Vang, Aubrey Jaap at the Butte-Silver Bow Archives
“Every day we learn new things about Butte, and we get to share that with our community,” is how Aubrey Jaap, the new director of the Butte-Silver Bow Archives, sums up both her job and her agency’s mission.
Aubrey has been a part of the BSB Archive since 2007 when she got her first exposure to the facility as a high school intern. Since then, after graduating from Montana State University – Billings, with a degree in Public Relations, she has continued at the archives, working her way up to assistant director under Ellen Crain, the previous director, to succeeding Ms. Crain, after she retired last year.
Aubrey was born in Moses Lake, Washington, and as an elementary school student, moved to Butte in the 1990s, when her parents came to Butte to work at the then-new ASiMI silicon chip plant. She and her husband, Nate, have three daughters.
Aubrey loves her work at the Archive and says, “I love working with people and helping them make connections to their past. I appreciate how people of Butte have a love for, and a strong connection, to that history.”
As for making changes in the Archive’s operations, Aubrey says she hasn’t made many changes and tries to stay true to her predecessor’s example. “I love Ellen’s principles and her ethics of community service.”
That doesn’t mean that things aren’t changing. Aubrey says a new emphasis at the archives is to build capacity for online research, as the archive continually gets requests for information from all over the U.S. Another ongoing challenge is finding storage room, as there is a continuous flow of donations of collections to the archives. At a minimum, someone will be screening new document donations for duplicates.
A recurring feature at the Archives is historical exhibits, featuring displays of artifacts from the past. Some exhibits that come to mind include a display of World War II artifacts, featuring many items owned by Butte veterans, a display of Jewish culture in Butte, and an exhibit on flyfishing through the years and the many people in Butte who were active in the sport. As it happened, I had a few items in my flyfishing collection (or pile of junk, in my wife’s terms) that were part of the exhibit.
A new exhibit scheduled to open on June 2, coinciding with the June Artwalk, is an exhibit called “Play.” Aubrey says the entire staff has been involved with this project. The exhibit will show Butte people at play, including both children and adults. The exhibit will show people participating in informal recreational activities. The show will intentionally not include organized sports, though Aubrey notes that organized sports will be the theme of a future exhibit.
Aubrey says the Archive has many, many items in its collections, and adds, “We love to create exhibits to show some of the things we run across.”
Te B-SB Archive operates with a small staff of three full-time and three part-time employees, plus a long list of volunteers who provide a lot of service and energy to Archive operations. They do many things, such as answering phones, greeting visitors, and sorting through collections. Aubrey points out that many volunteers also have a lot of historical information and insights on the Archive’s collections. Lindsay Mulcahy, the Archives’ assistant director, oversees the volunteers.
In addition to the main Archives building on Quartz Street, in 2013 the Archive took over management of the Clark Chateau on West Broadway, and another two staff members manage the building and organize activities in the building. As a member of the Butte Symphony, I’ll mention that the Symphony’s office is located in the Chateau. One of the Chateau’s recent activities has been a series of concerts on the theme of New Songs for Butte Mining Camp.
The Archives is a busy place with up to 5,000 visitors annually, plus many research requests, including many from people doing serious academic research. In addition, the Archive annually funds two fellowships to fund research visits. This is funded by a gift from the estate of Carrie Johnson, a former Butte resident who also had a home in Virginia. She donated her Butte home to the Archives, which subsequently sold the building and invested the proceeds to fund research fellowships. The same source also funds an annual stipend for historical research.
A popular Archives program is the twice-monthly Brown Bag Lunches which present a wide variety of programs by local and national experts, authors, and others. These programs were launched in 2011, after the completion of the rebuilt archives.
Another recent initiative was working with Butte CPR (Citizens for Preservation and Revitalization) to come up with self-guided walking tours of historical Butte. Another new program is Walking through History, scheduled for July through September, highlighting Butte walking trails and history.
On a personal note, I’ll mention that I have been an Archives fan for around 25 years, back when the Archives were housed in a creaky, old wooden-floored building that had previously been a fire station. The Fire Department designated the building as surplus, and the Butte-Silver Bow Archives were established there in 1980. The building was rebuilt and expanded in a major project that was overwhelmingly supported by Butte voters. The B-SB Archive may not be the only city archive in Montana, but it’s likely second only to the Montana Historical Society for the size and importance of its collections.
For Director Aubrey Jaap, the large second-floor reading room, with its shelves full of century-old bound volumes of newspapers, is her happy place in the building, with people delving into the past, or taking breaks to look out the large windows at the rooftops of uptown Butte or looking beyond the Summit Valley towards the snow-capped peaks of the Highlands Mountains.
Like her predecessor, Ellen Crain, Aubrey thinks she has found a lifetime job as director. “I think this is a wonderful place, and I love to be able to work with the community in a variety of different ways.
She concludes, “We never get bored here. There is always something new. I really enjoy that.”