Swimming in “media soup” with Special Collection’s Dale Stieber

Dale Stieber, of Special Collections & College Archives at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. September 22, 2021. Grace Meadows/The Occidental

Dale Stieber, director of Occidental Special Collections, has her hands full with different media and archival duties. Between library management meetings and helping Helena de Lemos, research librarian and head of Special Collections instruction, Stieber said she can be found gathering documents for class instruction, meeting with outside researchers and assisting students working on their senior comprehensives.

According to Stieber, Special Collections is a department housed in the Academic Commons that specializes in primary sources and other media to support the college’s academic missions.

The larger collection is comprised of many different items: rare books, stereoscopic images that create an illusion of depth, photographs from photographers documenting Northeast Los Angeles (NELA) in the 20th century, oral records of people living in Eagle Rock and Highland Park, a large detective fiction collection and artworks donated by alumni. According to Stieber, an alumnus recently donated an art piece by Salvador Dalí to the college and she has been busy figuring out how to store and handle it safely.

Dale Stieber, of Special Collections & College Archives, holds an old camera at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. September 22, 2021. Grace Meadows/The Occidental

Stieber said she wants to help people become more aware of the opportunities for knowledge in navigating mass media. Above all, Stieber said she organizes.

“I just always set off when people generally say to librarians, ‘Oh, I’m sure you did this because you like to read,’” Stieber said. “Yes, I value reading, but I think that’s cute, because so much of it is organizing.”

Stieber said she previously worked as a film producer and editor as well as the editor of a film arts organization but left the film industry because she did not think that the world needed another producer of media. Instead, she got her master’s degree in Information Studies from the University of California and decided to preserve media.

Right now, Stieber and the special collections office are working with the Black Alumni Organization to create The Black Archive Project which aims to record the experiences of Black students at Occidental throughout the years. She is also assisting the Obama Foundation in organizing a record of what Occidental was like when the former president attended. In addition, the Special Collections office has recently partnered with printmaking professor Jocelyn Pedersen to create a book with handmade prints of students’ lives during the pandemic. The book, which is about the same length of the quad when it is stretched out, is currently on display on the first floor of the library.

Dale Stieber goes through old rolls of film and other media on each shelf. Special Collections & College Archives in the Academic Commons at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Sept. 22, 2021. Grace Meadows/The Occidental

Stieber said being a librarian is making sense of something she calls “media soup,” and that her quest at this stage in her career is preserving information in her corner of the world in NELA. When former president Johnathan Veitch was still in office, Stieber said the college partnered with the Eagle Rock Valley Historical Society and the Highland Park Heritage Trust to keep a record of NELA.

“I can certainly advocate for the diverse media of preservation at Occidental and Northeast Los Angeles,” Stieber said. “It’s kind of the soup you swim in. Media literacy is understanding the soup.”

de Lemos said Stieber has been busier than ever since she took over the responsibilities of the assistant college archivist, as the past archivist left in the spring.

“She’s a very busy bee. She oversees the whole department,” de Lemos said. “She replies to many questions regarding the college history, people asking for photos, people asking for all kinds of information.”

Pedersen said her work is funded by an endowment set up by alumnus Lawrence Clark Powell ’28. According to Pedersen, Powell’s endowment funds both Special Collections and the college’s archives. Stieber has a lot of say in managing the funding allocations.

“She can be a bulldog in the best way. She’s been great. She’s very protective of this endowment, and making sure that it’s getting used the best way possible,” Pedersen said. “She’s always been a real advocate for me getting just treated the best and compensated the best.”

Above all, Stieber said she is passionate about keeping a record of her corner of the world.

This article was updated at 6:28 p.m. Oct.4 to remove a quote from Helena de Lemos that was previously attributed to Dale Stieber.