The Society of American Archivists Student Chapter at SJSU Presents: Levis. Original People. Original Jeans. Original Archive. A discussion with Levi Strauss & Co. Historian Tracey Panek. Panek is the corporate historian for Levi Strauss & Co. and was kind enough to spend the evening with the SAASC at San José State University sharing her exciting job as the historian and manager of the Levi Strauss Archive. Her presentation focused on how she was able to bring the archive into the digital age.
The archive is located in San Francisco in Levi’s Plaza. According to Panek, the archive is the best collection of vintage garments in the world. She became the corporate historian for Levi Strauss in 2014 and was challenged with the monumental task of bringing the archive, referred to as The Vault, into the 21st century. She was given only one year to complete this. The archive had existed for about 24 years by the time Panek took over. The archive tracked everything on paper in dozens of large binders. To access the information in the archive, one would have to get in touch with either the historian or the archivist or go visit the archive in person.
Panek also manages the museum which is located at Levi’s Plaza. It is basically a recreation of their archives. The exhibition is called “Experience the Archives”. The archive itself is not open to the public. Employees are the primary users of the physical archive and the virtual vault tool is only for employees. They very rarely give anyone else access to the archive.
So how did Panek bring the archive into the 21st century? She used a 3-phase method.
Phase 1: Convert to Electronic Tracking. Upgrade equipment and processes. There was no working scanner on the premises before this process started.
Phase 2: Create Digital Assets. They closed the archive for a month and brought in a company to photograph everything. The garments are the most important part of the collection.
Phase 3: Upload into Digital System. The Virtual Vault: Digital Archives. The Virtual Vault now has over 150,000 digital assets. Having digital access to the archive has been incredibly important during this pandemic since Panek and her team are not in their offices.
Panek had a special treat for attendees at the end of the presentation. She was able to show a new acquisition to the archive: the only known pair of inside-out Levi’s 501 Button Fly jeans. One of the perks of her work is finding such cool pieces.
The SAASC at San José State University would like to thank Tracey Panek for her exciting and informative presentation. Missed the presentation? Watch it here on the SAASC’s YouTube channel. Remember to subscribe!
What was your favorite part of the presentation? Leave a comment!