Archivists on the Issues: Answering the call for inclusivity

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s post comes from regular writer Summer Espinoza, her last for the year. Summer is the digital archivist at California State University, Dominguez Hills where she is working on a California State University Archives project.

This is my third and final blog post for the Archivists on the Issues series. It would be more scholarly of me to share research, but I hope you (reader) can excuse my personal, introspective and non academic discourse here.

One of the most important attributes I carry in this life is that of a brown-skinned human (insert Library of Congress subject headings as you please). My brown skin has guided my experiences in my academic and personal education. My research interests today are guided by the way external and self identifiers have constructed and shaped my life and career. If you are midway through a sigh right now, I empathize. I sometimes catch myself with this same reaction because, in fact, I sometimes cringe at the fact I am so invested in this identity politic.

My duties as an archivist have guided me towards descriptive cataloging, perhaps by the same token of the fluidity and interpretive nuances of identity politics. Let me relate this conversation to my current work with the California State University System Archives Digitization Project. I have created subject headings for persons of color and I have also made use of the equally dodgy “Caucasians” subject heading. My methodology (if you can call it that) when creating a subject heading for ethnicity (non- “Caucasian”), is to look for published articles, newsletters, or records of events in which a notable person has been commended for work in a community, often by a community with which they identify. I take these cues and with all the best intentions, I apply a Library of Congress or local vocabulary term, and hope for the best. This has not, however, caused me to create particularly accurate or authoritative headings, for example Mexican American, Chicano and/or Latino and Black or African American, Chinese American or Asian American.

The “Caucasians” subject heading has given me extreme pause. I approached the task of descriptive cataloging for photographic prints of European Americans with an apology first: “I’m sorry I am labeling you this way.” Why am I sorry? I am sorry because in the back of my mind is this little kernel of negativity toward the word “Caucasian.” Why am I using this word in the first place?

Up to the point of this project, I had not fully acknowledged the history of this word, and upon further investigation I found the term is rooted in eighteenth century racial classification. How and why am I blindly following the notorious Library of Congress (out)dated subject headings? Not to mention the word as both anachronistic, archaic, and still very much alive in our modern societal vocabularies in human classifications.

Much like my first post, I express these reflective (and yes, negative) experiences to better understand the role of my own history and how it interacts with my professional responsibilities.

In a recent listserv call for panel proposals for a visual arts conference, a cataloger posed some very compelling questions about the ways in which descriptive cataloging of an artist interacts with the cataloging of their artistic works.

This led me to more questions, but primarily this one: why do we as archivists believe that the (best) answers to our initiatives to be inclusive and diverse rest solely in our professional circles? Did we and do we currently believe that we are the best and only source of expertise in the digital environment? Do we not look outward to other disciplines for marketing and development, content expertise, and so forth? Are we the first group of professionals to tackle inclusivity? What do we generally understand about cultural inclusivity on a professional level, and are we trained and educated enough to move beyond initiatives and policies that do not mean much to the everyday archivist?

Let’s not pat ourselves on the back too quickly as we circulate these documents amongst our ranks, let us share our shortcomings for the better.

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News Highlights: 2018 June

The I&A News Monitoring Research Team has compiled this list of recent news stories relating to archives, archivists, archival issues, and archival representations. This list was curated by SAA Issues & Advocacy News Monitoring Team, which includes Dana Bronson, Rachel Cohen, Samantha Cross, Shaun Hayes, and Beth Nevarez; it is managed by Steve Duckworth. More links and information are available in this month’s Google doc.

Acquisition, Preservation, & Access

Archival Finds & Stories

Digital Archives, Technology, & the Web

Exhibits & Museums

Human & Civil Rights, Equality, & Health

News Monitoring Team: Indian Schools and Historical Othering

The News Monitoring Research Team works on archives and archivists issues in the news. This post, part of our Research Post series, was written by Steering Committee member and team coordinator Steve Duckworth.

For our last official News Monitoring Team post of the season, I thought I would step out of my role as the Coordinator of the News Team and talk a bit about something from a story that popped up last month. The article, turned up by one of the News Team members, focuses on the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, an “Indian” boarding school in Carlisle, PA that operated from 1879 to 1918.

This struck a chord with me as issues around America’s indigenous peoples and archives and cultural artifacts have been on my mind frequently in my career, ever since my first full-time position with the National Park Service in Alaska and lasting through to today as I work in the Pacific Northwest and hear about projects and programs around the historical mistreatment of these communities (not to mention the similar information coming from Canada). But I had also just read Kate Theimer’s recent post on the Carlisle Indian School and the text of her talk, “Archiving Against the Apocalypse,” for the Canadian-American Archives Conference. I also spent a good chunk of my life living in Philadelphia and Allentown, PA, so a confluence of things held this story in my mind.

While curating an exhibit on public health in the early 20th century last year, I stumbled upon the theory of eugenics, which I’ll admit I hadn’t really ever heard of (and I’ve spent a lot of my life in school). Turns out the U.S., during the later parts of the 1800s and early parts of the 1900s, was really into the idea of creating a purer race of people. Sound familiar? Yeah, American eugenics actually inspired Hitler and that whole Nazi race-purifying thing. Doctors, government workers, and regular Joes alike were all into the idea of weeding out “defective” and “undesirable” traits through controlling who got to reproduce through court-ordered sterilization and segregation, and with “child guidance” clinics that remind me of more recent gay conversion institutions. This didn’t end all that long ago; Oregon’s eugenics board lasted until 1983, having carried out its last sterilization in 1981.

Indian schools were a slightly earlier version of population control. White, European-Americans of the 1800s wanted to assimilate indigenous people into their culture. They thought if they removed youths from their families, language, culture, and traditions, and trained and educated them in European style, they could eventually breed out the “savage” aspects of their people. It was a way of exterminating the indigenous people of their new country that was considered more civil and socially acceptable than all out murder or war. Though, as you can see from recent reports, beatings, illness, and death were all common outcomes for these students.

The Carlisle school was America’s first, off-reservation boarding school, but it wasn’t the last. Twenty six boarding schools were established across the country, along with hundreds of private religious schools. Over 10,000 children attended the Carlisle school alone, with estimates of over 100,000 children total throughout the system. Canada’s similar system, the Residential Schools, lasted into the 1970s and had over 150,000 “students.” (Canada’s system was also more heavily documented and the government has been a lot more public about speaking out about it, most likely due to the unprecedented class-action lawsuit survivors brought against the government.)

So, first eugenics got stuck in my mind, and now I keep learning about more and more ways in which atrocious acts have been committed, for this reason or that (have you listened to the Seeing White podcast series?), which all really boil down to othering certain groups to keep the white people on top – assimilation, cleansing, separation, racial purity, etc. And I think, damn, we humans are really horrible (this, itself, is not really a revelation for me, but more of an expansion).

But humans can also manage to do some good here and there. So, and here I relate it back to archives, it’s painful to learn of this history, but it’s refreshing (in a way) to read stories of how archival records and cultural history are being used to return remains, artifacts, memory, and culture to people who have been wronged by our country (and others) – and perhaps even provide some healing to the wronged. These acts of restitution provide some concrete examples that can be used to influence archival ethics and practices today and perhaps encourage people to look up and out from their lives and small worlds, to see far afield and take in the big picture of all of us on this planet and what we’re doing to each other.

My goal here isn’t so much to bring about change through this short post, but more to add another voice to the education on happenings such as this and to help make connections between what we do in our daily work that could potentially have a huge benefit. Also I want to urge people with these types of historical records (or even more contemporary records), to not hide from the past. Face it and work to better the future.

 

Resources and additional information

Listed chronologically, starting with the most recent

 

Steering Share: Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen (for now)

Steering Shares  provide an opportunity to learn more about the I&A Steering Committee and the issues that the committee members care about. This final post comes from committee member Stephanie Bennett, Collections Archivist at Wake Forest University.

I signed up for I&A elections back in 2016 with a cavalier “I probably won’t win.” But I was very excited by I&A’s level of activity and the importance of our work buoying archivists and our work in so many ways: socially and governmentally, our use and language of labor, etc etc. When I managed to win and join the Steering Committee, I was – and have been – thrilled to continue this work and the level of activity that has come to be the norm for the I&A Section.

Over the last two years, I’ve learned more about how the Society of American Archivists works as part of my steering committee work. It’s an imperfect institution (aren’t all institutions?) but it’s populated by us – archivists who are pushing our profession to contribute to society in useful, unique ways, open new avenues of research and theory, move toward equity and justice in our institutional and professional practices. Corporate bodies are best reserved for name authority files, in my view, but I am warmed and spurred on by the individuals who populate and inhabit SAA in order to leave the profession better than they found it.

I look forward to continuing the work, though off this committee. Archivists, whether we pay SAA dues or attend national meetings, whether we work within the section or external to it, are a powerful community of knowledgeable experts. Our daily work, our records expertise, our historical perspectives are all powerful assets and activities. These we can share with one another, with our local non-archivists, with communities that have long been harmed through enforced invisibility and/or mistreatment.

If you have an axe to grind, an archival issue that is not discussed enough in our field, I hope that you find the I&A committee and its tools a welcoming place to share information and build community around that concern. We offer this blog, social media feeds, an annual meeting, and anything else you want to build or make use of in order to education and organize. I am grateful every day for the work of my colleagues around labor, for example. I did not grow up steeped in those concepts or language around work and solidarity, but being an archivist helped me become aware of imbalances and issues. By reading my colleagues’ articles and Twitter musings, and then beginning to join conversations and act, I am able to be a better advocate for the hours of labor we put in to make our corner of the internet rich in information and beautiful (or at least useful) metadata.

Thank you for the space you provide for these discussions, Issues & Advocacy, and thank you for your contributions, archivists and archives workers! I am a proud alumna of this steering committee.

News Highlights: 2018 May

The I&A News Monitoring Research Team has compiled this list of recent news stories relating to archives, archivists, archival issues, and archival representations. This list was curated by SAA Issues & Advocacy News Monitoring Team, which includes Dana Bronson, Rachel Cohen, Samantha Cross, Shaun Hayes, and Beth Nevarez; it is managed by Steve Duckworth. More links and information are available in this month’s Google doc.

 

Acquisition, Preservation, & Access

Archival Finds & Stories

Exhibits & Museums

Human & Civil Rights, Equality, & Health

Security & Privacy

The Profession

Steering Share: The Year in Review

Steering Shares  provide an opportunity to learn more about the I&A Steering Committee and the issues that the committee members care about. This post comes courtesy of committee member Steve Duckworth, University Archivist at Oregon Health & Science University.

For my last Steering Share this year, I’m taking a bit of a look back at the past year or so of my professional life. It’s my first year as a Steering Committee member, but it also marks roughly my first year as a University Archivist and of being actually in charge of stuff. (It also marks the near-end of considering myself a “new professional” even though I still very much feel like a newbie.) I’ve actually been here a year and a half, but the first 6 to 8 months were a muddle of trying to figure out where I was and what I was doing. My experience before coming into this position was all in processing collections and I absolutely loved doing that. But there are some perks to being a more responsible type of archivist, too.

I love the work of processing collections – learning about a person’s life and work, learning in-depth history about an organization, creating order from what often appears to be a sea of mismatched paper documents, crafting well-written findings aids that help people access those collections. And while I do miss being so immersed in that work (and having less overall responsibility in general – and fewer meetings), what I enjoy about this job is still related to that first archival love.

I manage a small team of people that do most of our processing work. I get to choose what collections are next in the processing queue. I meet with donors and learn about their lives, or their parents’ lives. I get to work on improving description and access for collections, and try to standardize the work we’re doing across all of our holdings. Possibly my favorite aspect of this job is training and mentoring library school students. I’ve always enjoyed teaching, and though I’m not teaching in an LIS program (anybody need an adjunct?), I am getting to impart my knowledge of how archival processing can work and of how it can be better. I also have the pleasure of learning from those students and having their knowledge and new ideas keep my perspective fresh.

While managing the archives here, I’ve also gotten to implement some major changes in my short time in this position. Since I’ve started, we’ve implemented web archiving with Archive-It, migrated from Archivists’ Toolkit to ArchivesSpace, and sorted out a processing workflow for born digital records with the help of the extraordinary training from a Digital POWRR Institute. I’ve published a peer-reviewed journal article and served as a peer reviewer myself, presented at a regional conference and at two national conferences, and I’m about to present a paper at an international conference. I curated my first exhibit. And I’ve started to learn the limits of my ability to manage multiple projects and committee requirements, while still keeping open the ability to say YES to exciting opportunities that pop up from time to time.

As the next year unfurls, I’m hoping to work more on incorporating teaching from and with the archives at my institution (which has never been much of a focus here), enhancing our digital holdings in a new digital repository structure, wrangling in our large medical artifacts collection, planning out the space of our (potential) new reading room, and helping the employees of the University get a better grasp on records management (even though that is emphatically not my job). So, while it’s been a whirlwind of sorts – moving from Processing Archivist to University Archivist – and I admittedly miss the pleasures of the former roles, there is enjoyment to be found amidst the higher stress level, including the increased ability to help make positive changes at my institution and in the archives profession.

Steering Share: Reflections on a Year as Committee Intern

Steering Shares  provide an opportunity to learn more about the I&A Steering Committee and the issues that the committee members care about. This post is by I&A Intern Samantha Brown. Along with serving as I&A’s intern and Social Media manager, Samantha works as an Assistant Archivist at the New-York Historical Society.  Thank you for your year of service, Samantha!

While it seems like my internship started just yesterday, almost a whole year has gone by. Never having served on a professional committee before, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started. I wasn’t sure if I would just be observing the committee’s work and working on my own small project or if I would be taking an active part in the committees work. Much to my surprise, I was warmly welcomed to the committee and treated like any other member.

In our first meeting, new members were assigned jobs that they would be fulfilling throughout the year. Since I had worked on social media as a graduate assistant, I was assigned the job of managing the committee’s Facebook and Twitter pages. As the job was explained to me, managing the pages would consist of sharing articles that discuss issues and advocacy within the world of archives and sharing new posts from the committee’s blog. After hearing this, I assumed the job would be easy and wouldn’t take too much time away from my work.

Overall, my committee assignment was relatively easy. The difficult part wasn’t finding content or managing the pages but juggling my responsibilities. Since I am working on strict processing deadline for contract position, I didn’t have any time during the day that could be devoted to searching for articles to post on the committee’s social media pages. At first I tried mult-tasking, trying to search for articles while Archivists’ Toolkit loaded or while I was waited for a file to load on my computer. I quickly discovered that this would not give me nearly enough time to find what I need. Instead, I decided that I would take a half hour to search for articles when I arrived at work. If I couldn’t find anything during that time then I needed to move on with my day and possibly make another attempt at finding something during my lunch break.

Taking this tactic worked well for creating social media posts but did not work as well for the other responsibilities that I had as a committee member. Throughout the year, committee members were expected to write blog posts and participate in any projects that happened to arise. This posed a problem for me since my current position does not allocate time for worked that is not directly related to processing our project. To make everything work and accomplish everything I needed, I had to fit things in where I could. For me, this meant I had to write blog posts on my days off and work on projects, such as #AskAnArchivist Day, on my lunch break.

Despite my struggle to fit everything in, I really enjoyed my time on the committee. Everyone was friendly and encouraging. No one ever made me feel like my opinion was of less value since I was an intern. In the future, I would be love to work on a committee again and become an active member of the archives community. From this experience, I’ve learned what it means to be part of a professional community and how to coordinate competing responsibilities. If was given this opportunity again, I would not hesitate to take part.

 

News Highlights, 2018 April

The I&A News Monitoring Research Team has compiled this list of recent news stories relating to archives, archivists, archival issues, and archival representations. This list was curated by SAA Issues & Advocacy News Monitoring Team, which includes Dana Bronson, Rachel Cohen, Samantha Cross, Shaun Hayes, and Beth Nevarez; it is managed by Steve Duckworth. More links and information are available in this month’s Google doc.

Acquisition, Preservation, & Access

Archival Finds & Stories

Digital Archives, Technology, & the Web

Exhibits & Museums

Human & Civil Rights, Equality, & Health

Security & Privacy

Steering Share: A Look into LAAC’s ArchivesNOW Mini-Conference

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This end-of-year post comes from I&A Vice Chair/Chair Elect Courtney Dean, a Project Archivist at the University of California at Los Angeles Library Special Collections.

As I mentioned way back in the fall, in my very first Steering Share, I am one of the co-founders of the Los Angeles Archivists Collective (LAAC) which is a local professional org that focuses on community building, skill-sharing, and outreach, with a particular emphasis on supporting students and new professionals.

Several weeks ago we held our first ever mini-conference, entitled ArchivesNOW, at UCLA Library. Co-sponsored by LAAC, the UCLA Library, and the UCLA Department of Information Studies, the day featured a host of presentations by MLIS students and early career professionals, addressing current issues in archives. The goal of the event was to provide space for the voices of students and new professionals, and to foster conversations from their unique vantage point. We aspired to facilitate open and honest discussions that led to awareness, reflection, and interrogation, and by all accounts, we were pretty successful!

pins
Photo by Angel Diaz. ArchivesNOW2018 swag!

The day started with a rousing keynote from Rebecca Goldman, College Archivist at Wellesley College in Massachusetts and the driving force behind the establishment of SAA’s Students and New Archives Professionals (SNAP) Section in 2012. (She also runs the amazing webcomic Derrangement and Description.) Taking inspiration from Obazi Ettarh’s “Vocational Awe and Librarianship: The Lies We Tell Ourselves” and Miya Tokumitsu’s Do What You Love and Other Lies About Success and Happiness, Rebecca posed a number of provocative questions, including:

  • How does the career path of new archivist affect archivist identity- and vice versa?
  • How do we fight unreasonable expectations of new archivists, especially young archivists?
  • How do new archivists build a professional identity without sacrificing all their other identities?
  • Does social media create an unrealistic image of archives work and archivists’ lives?
Rebecca
Photo by Sharon Farb. Keynote by Rebecca Goldman, bringing the truth.

(Video of Rebecca’s entire keynote will be available soon on the ArchivesNOW Speakers page!)

The morning session, “Getting Ready for Work,” included Jessica Maddox, Accessioning Archivist at the University of Nevada, Reno discussing her transition from student to accessioning archivist; Noah Geraci, Digital Assets Metadata Librarian at UC Riverside on getting started with [computer] programming for archivists; Alyssa Loera, Head of Digital Services and Technology at Cal Poly Pomona on teaching expectations in academic libraries and archives; and Karly Wildenhaus, MLIS Student at UCLA, on denormalizing unpaid positions in archives and libraries.

 

Karly
Photo by Snowden Becker. The real financial COST of working for free on a graduate intern, from Karly Wildenhaus.

Session 2, “Archival Dilemmas: Collection-Based Case Studies,” featured Carolina Meneses, a former Metadata Technician at the University of Miami, and incoming UCLA MLIS student, discussing the practices and challenges of archiving performance; Julia Hause, Archival Studies Student at UCLA, on reviving the Salton Sea History Museum; Jonathan Naveh, MLIS/Media Archival Studies Student at UCLA on the problems that arise when processing pornography; and LAAC’s own Grace Danico, on creating diversity and inclusivity through outreach and collaboration in LAAC’s Acid Free Magazine.

Session2
Photo by Courtney Dean. Angel Diaz introduces the afternoon panel.

The day ended with paletas and Snowden Becker, co-founder of the international Home Movie Day event and the nonprofit Center for Home Movies, and currently the MLIS Program Manager in UCLA’s Department of Information Studies. Snowden teased out some of the main themes of the day, encouraged everyone to fight for more salary transparency (“that’s how the man keeps us down!”), and challenged us to think critically about what constitutes “professionalism.”

snowden
Photo by Sharon Farb. Snowden Becker and our main takeaways.

Be sure to check out #ArchivesNOW2018 on Twitter for all of the hot takes. Community notes from the day available here.

As I approach my transition into the I&A chair position, I will be bringing with me an agenda filled with many of the issues that arose at ArchivesNOW. You’ll continue to hear about all of I&A’s ongoing dynamic projects, but expect an increased focus on things like the deleterious effects of unpaid internships and temporary positions on our profession; cultural humility; and, of course, cats. See you in D.C.!

 

Archivists on the Issues: Societal Logic from Archives, a Dying Concept

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s post comes from a new regular writer for I&A’s blog, Summer Espinoza. Summer is the digital archivist at California State University, Dominguez Hills where she is working on a California State University Archives project.

The archives’ role in collective memory making is hardly a new topic, but how does that translate into actual social concepts? The article “History, Society, and Institutions: The Role of Collective Memory in the Emergence and Evolution of Societal Logics” in the Academy of Management Review (2016) theorizes that archival documents have something to do with what emerges as widely accepted logic.

In their article, authors Ocasio, Mauskapf, and Steele define the various concepts, occurrences, documents, archives, and historical events, that lead to the formation of societal logics. Societal logics itself is defined by the authors as “historically constituted cultural structures generated through the collective memory of historical events.” Some of the more widely accepted societal logics are defined in the following categories: family, religion, the state, the market, professions, community, and corporation.

In this model, occurrences yield documents, some of which make it to archives, and historical events are where it all comes together. Historical events are created through the retrieval and interpretation of materials in the archives on a larger scale. What we archivists do in our classification, general handling, and other processing activities is create metanarratives. To Ocasio, Mauskapf, and Steele, these metanarratives are the foundation for the creation and normalization of societal logics. Metanarratives can create both common and conflicting stories or perspectives of historical events; again, historical events are the retrieval and analysis of materials in the archives.

In their larger hypothesis, the authors trace the beginnings and acceptance of institutions formed from historical events and societal logics. Some examples include business models and companies created during the Civil War, the transcontinental railroad’s effect on collective memory and corporate logic, and legal cases affecting the interpretation of law.

Sure, this is a great elevator speech – “my work affects societal logics” – but can we really look to historical practices in the archives to continue this hypothesized influence of archival processes in the creation of metanarratives, historical events, and societal logics? What do the effects of self-publishing and even the stronger influences of “the self” in 2018 societal logics have on archival resources human and otherwise? Are archivists really “in the game” now, or are there other professions with more agile processes who will maintain historical events?

Will strong, and sometimes conflicting metanarratives of movements like #metoo, #takeaknee, and #marchforourlives be sought as historical documents in archives? In Kenneth E. Foote’s 1990 article “To Remember and Forget” in The American Archivist similarly acknowledges the temporal and spatial bridges archives support in collective memory. In this same article though, Foote acknowledges radical historian Howard Zinn’s 1970 statement that archivists neglect collections outside mainstream society. Here we are as a Society of American Archivists, forty years later,  identifying non-mainstream collection-building as “radical” and “inclusive.” That is not to say that mainstream societal logics haven’t changed and grown as well.

Collective memory, as a concept of study, is multidisciplinary and wide-ranging.  In their article, “The Memory Remains: Understanding Collective Memory in the Digital Age” in Science Advances (2017), the authors observe that the Internet, and more broadly, digital technologies, has impacted the way in which occurrences are recorded and also the Internet’s impact on the way in which collective memory – and therefore societal logics in the longer term – can be observed and measured “at-scale.” Where do and when do archivists and archives meet information systems professionals and data scientists to be relevant in data-driven or digital societal logics?  How do such studies impact the theorization that societal logics are derived from metanarratives interpreted and analyzed by historical events in the archives? Perhaps there is a future in theory-building in archives for such interdisciplinary work on a larger scale.

I hope in this small attempt to take a peek outside of my day-to-day work, I have stumbled upon something worth investigating– the future of the sources of historical events and metanarratives. Does the professional archivist have a responsibility, as a matter of advocacy for the profession today, to contribute to the field of collective memory theory in the digital age of self-centric and wider spheres of societal logics categories?  I do believe relevant as a matter of issue and advocacy in the Society.

 

Sources:

Foote, Kenneth (1990). To Remember and Forget: Archives, Memory, and Culture. The American Archivist: Summer 1990, 53(3), 378-392.

García-Gavilanes, R., Mollgaard, A., Tsvetkova, M., & Yasseri, T. (2017). The Memory Remains: Understanding Collective Memory in the Digital Age. Science Advances, 3(4).

Ocasio, W., Mauskapf, M., & Steele, C. (2016). History, Society, and Institutions: The Role of Collective Memory in the Emergence and Evolution of Societal Logics. Academy of Management Review, 41(4), 676-699.