Division of Archives and Records Service
Archives Administration ca. 2009

Our History: The State Archivists of Utah

Jim Kichas
October 23, 2019

As noted in the last two blog posts in this series, the Utah State Archives and Records Service has seen its fair share of change from its inception as a program within the Utah State Historical Society to its emergence as a discrete division within Utah’s executive branch. The changes and opportunities that have impacted our agency have been navigated by several different leaders, each of whom will be highlighted in today’s post.


WILLIAM R. PALMER (1947-1949)

William R. Palmer and a Paiute baby; Cedar City, Iron County, Utah

William R. Palmer is often credited as the first State Archivist of Utah, even if the position he was filling was unofficial at the time. Palmer had been a member of the Works Progress Administration’s Historical Records Survey where he saw firsthand the need for an overarching government records program in the state. Later, as a member of the Board of State History, he expressed this need, and in 1947 the board appointed Palmer to serve as Utah’s first State Archivist. He held this role for two years, during which he traveled extensively around the state performing basic archival work that included copying and microfilming government records. His activities ceased in 1949 when the Utah Attorney General advised the Historical Society to seek an official legal mandate from the State Legislature that clearly authorized and tasked the agency with performing this archival role for the state. Legislation to this effect was passed in 1951.

EVERETT L. COOLEY (1954-1960)

After the passage of the 1951 legislation that authorized the Utah State Historical Society to administer a state-wide archival program, it took another three years before the agency was able to secure dedicated funding for that program and a State Archivist to administer it. When they did, they selected Dr. Everett L. Cooley who immediately went to work developing a master plan for the program. In addition, Cooley advocated for further legislation that would clarify the State Archives roles and responsibilities even further. In 1957 the military records section of the National Guard was transferred into the custody of the archives program, but staffing and space constraints would limit the growth of the program under Cooley, who resigned his position as State Archivist in 1960.

T. HAROLD JACOBSEN (1963-1983)

Everett Cooley left his position as State Archivist in 1960 to join the history and political science department at Utah State University. One year later, in 1961, he returned to the Utah State Historical Society as its director. In 1963 Cooley appointed T. Harold Jacobsen to serve as the next State Archivist of Utah. Jacobsen’s experience was primarily in the microfilming of records and he set to work on building a robust microphotography program administered within the larger state archives program. The most defining event of Jacobsen’s career as State Archivist came in 1969 when, upon a recommendation from the Little Hoover Commission’s review of the organization of Utah’s government, the State Archives was moved out of the State Historical Society and made its own division of government. Initially, the new Division of Utah State Archives and Records Service found its home in the Department of Finance where Jacobsen continued to develop microfilming services, as well as expand the division’s records management program. In 1981 the state legislature approved the establishment of the Utah Department of Administrative Services and the Utah Division of Archives and Records Service was moved under it. Before leaving his position as State Archivist in 1983, Jacobsen had overseen two major moves of the State Archives within Utah’s government bureaucracy, as well as shepherded the growth of internal programs that would continue to develop and strengthen the agency in the years ahead.


The first woman to serve as the State Archivist of Utah was Liisa Fagerlund, who took over as director of the agency in 1983. Her tenure was brief but memorable as she oversaw an aggressive push to professionalize staff and services. Included in this professionalization effort was an emphasis on developing a records management program that included records analysts specifically tasked with working with governmental entities on their records management issues. During Fagerlund’s tenure, she also oversaw the move of the Division’s record holdings out of the basement of the State Capitol and into a warehouse space in West Valley City. In addition, she was responsible for overseeing the move of State Archives staff and services out of the Capitol and into a renovated agriculture building on the Capitol campus.

JEFFERY O. JOHNSON (1988-2002)

With the departure of Liisa Fagerlund, the State Archives had a two-year interlude of interim directors before Jeffery O. Johnson was selected as the fifth State Archivist in 1988. Johnson had previously served as the manager of the State Archives Reference Bureau before his appointment as director. In his tenure, the State Archives continued to modernize its approaches to records management, records processing, and description, and reference services. One of the more important events in the history of the agency took place under Johnson when, in 1991, the Information Practices Act was revised, culminating in the passage of the modern Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA). This law still serves as a primary source mandating much of what State Archives does (and how we do it).


Bob Woodhead is seated second from left.

With the departure of Jeff Johnson in 2002, the position of State Archivist was held briefly by Robert Woodhead who had previously held senior leadership positions in the Department of Administrative Services and the Division of Facilities and Construction Management. Though his tenure was brief, it was under Woodhead’s leadership that the State Archives secured funding from the legislature to build a new, specialized building and Research Center on the Rio Grande Campus in downtown Salt Lake City.


Patricia Smith-Mansfield arrived in her position as State Archivist just as the agency was preparing to make its move into its new building on the Rio Grande Campus in downtown Salt Lake in 2003. Previously, Patricia had served as a Deputy Director for the Division of State History. During her tenure as State Archivist, she oversaw many important developments that set a trajectory for the institution’s future. In 2006 the State Archives established its Digital Archives program which has resulted in over 1.5 million images being put online for public access. In 2007 the State Archives was mandated by the State Legislature to act as the administrator for the Public Notice Website. In 2012 the State Archives was tasked with serving as the support agency for the Government Records Ombudsman. And in 2014 new legislation mandated the State Archives to serve as the administrator of the Open Records Portal. In addition to these initiatives that have established the State Archives as the central hub for government records transparency, Patricia also oversaw several important projects related to the management and preservation of the State Archives physical record holdings. In 2012 the State Archives moved over 120,000 boxes being stored at the leased State Records Center in Decker Lake to a larger, state-owned building in Clearfield. And, in 2017, Patricia helped advocate for funding to expand the State Archives repository which resulted in growth space for 25,000 additional cubic feet in the permanent collection. At the time of her retirement Patricia was honored as pivotal figure in the professional community, receiving both the 2017 Utah Manuscript Association’s Everett Cooley Career Achievement Award, and the 2018 Conference of Inter-mountain Archivists Life-Time Achievement Award.


With Patricia Smith-Mansfield’s retirement in 2017, Kenneth R. Williams was selected as the eighth State Archivist in Utah’s history. Ken arrived in the position with over 25 years of experience at the State Archives, having previously served as a cataloger, State Records Center Manager, Processing Section Manager, and Assistant Director of the agency. During Ken’s tenure, the State Archives has taken an approach of aggressively looking at ways to modernize and improve its services and systems. In addition to overseeing the completion of State Archives repository expansion project, Ken has spearheaded internal audits of the Records Management and Digital Preservation programs, both of which have culminated in invaluable recommendations that are being used to plan the organization’s future. During his brief tenure, Ken has also been responsible for investing heavily in institutional outreach and staff professional development, taking the clear position that the State Archives’ best investment in its future is through the growth and development of its employees.

The Utah State Archives and Records Service has grown and evolved quite a bit since it first launched as a wise (if not yet mandated) suggestion from William Palmer to the Historical Society’s Board in 1947. It has been furthered along in its mission to manage, preserve, and provide access to Utah’s government records by a series of visionary leaders, each of whom has left their indelible stamp on the institution. Join us next week for the final blog in this series where we will explore what the next 50 years of our organization’s history could look like!


Nimer, Cory L. and Daines, J. Gordon III (2012) “The Development and Professionalization of the Utah State Archives, 1897-1968,” Journal of Western Archives: Vol. 3 : Iss. 1, Article 5. 

Johnson, Jeffery O. (1984) “Utah State Archives History,” Mormon Americana: A Guide to Sources and Collections in the United States. Provo: BYU Studies, 1984.