Steering Share: Steve Duckworth’s second year with I&A

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. his post comes courtesy of committee member Steve Duckworth, University Archivist at Oregon Health & Science University.

Hello again. This is my second year on the I&A Steering Committee and I’m excited to be back and helping continue the work of this group. This year, I’ll continue to oversee our news monitoring efforts, but we’re going to turn away from the monthly list of news reports and have a few people blog on news items of interest to them. This, I hope, will result in a more focused look at a few topics rather than a really shallow overview of a ton of topics.

For my first Steering Share this year, I’ll attempt to avoid repeating my answers from last year, even though my thoughts haven’t really changed much.

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Steve having fun with mold.

What is your favorite thing about your job or the archives profession?

I still really enjoy mentoring students and new professionals, and hope to do more of that as my career continues to grow. But another thing I really enjoy about this profession is the archival community. For the most part, I’ve met amazing people with great ideas and a drive to do something about them. I’ve been lucky enough to have great mentors of my own and am constantly meeting people that I want to collaborate with on some project or another. I am learning to limit those projects to what I can actually handle in a given time period, but the ideas are still great and that positive energy helps keep me going.

What made you want to join the I&A Steering Committee?

I’ve been involved with I&A for a few years and, again, the people have been great to work with and really keep me wanting to stay involved. This committee is involved in a lot of issues that I feel are important not just to archives, but also to humanity – climate change, labor practices, open records, and truth in information exchange. It’s a great way for me to work within the profession, but know that the work I’m doing has some further reach.

What is an archival issue that means a lot to you?

Last year, I wrote about labor issues here. This is an area that I’ve continued to focus even more on in the past year – and I think some of these issues are becoming bigger and more widely spoken about. In the past year, the UCLA Project Archivists have spoken out loudly about the structure of that institution’s labor practices. I’ve continued to advocate for better labor practices for student employees. And I even advocated for myself when I felt I was not being fairly paid by my own institution. I think advocating for ourselves may be even harder than advocating for others – people don’t want to come off as needy or pushy or selfish. But I think we need a bit more push in this profession. What we do is important and we need to push others to understand the value of that work and stop accepting the status quo.

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Steering Share: Hello, from Summer Espinoza

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post comes from I&A steering member Summer Espinoza, Digital Archivist at California State University, Dominguez Hills

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“El Archivo”

How did you first get involved in archives?

I have enjoyed history from an early age. I used to visit my local public library’s reading room to listen to records and gaze upon all the “old materials.” As a child, my father also took me to antique shops where I learned to appreciate history from antique vendors, and sometimes take home a piece. The first time I discovered my own history was at my local library in a 1918 phone directory of my hometown– I found my great-grandparents’ street address.

It wasn’t actually until after I completed my degree that I connected these influences in my early life to my decision to earn an archives and records administration degree from San Jose State University.

At one of my first paying positions at a cultural heritage organization close to my hometown, I found a record of my great grandfather’s work as a citrus picker in materials not yet identified as having archival or historical value. I took it as a sign that I had landed in the right place.

What made you want to join the I&A Steering committee?

Last year I contributed to the “Archivists on the Issue” blog series. It was both challenging and rewarding to explore my professional interests. It was an opportunity for me to think more deeply about my experience as a practitioner and about my personal values and ethics relating to community records and personal identity politics.

On a recent MLK day (an observed holiday) I was at work. I had students from a local university campus in the archives at the cultural heritage organization for which I was the director of the archives. I remember thinking, “this is absolutely where I should be on this day. ” I was engaged in providing access to records of significant value to the history of oppression and exclusivity in our nation. In my own quiet way, I want to continue being an activist and this section gives me that opportunity.

What is an archival issue that means a lot to you?

I am very interested in practitioner experience in creating inclusive archives. In my first  “Archivists on the Issue” blog I wrote of the sometimes taxing and always relevant ways in which practicing inclusivity in daily work can create hesitation, confusion, and deflation of professional duty. I think within the theoretical ideas of inclusivity, as archivists, we often forget or minimize the connection to personal ethics, morals, and also emotion.

Steering Share: Chair, Courtney Dean

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This kick-off post comes from I&A Chair Courtney Dean, Head of the Center for Primary Research and Training in UCLA Library Special Collections.

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I&A Chair, Courtney Dean, at the “Archives on the Hill” event

How did you first get involved in archives?

My undergraduate degree was in History but strangely enough I never visited my university’s Special Collections (where, incidentally, I now work!). After school I worked for a number of years in community mental health where I dealt a lot with documentation compliance, record retention schedules, and record requests- things I now know are fundamental to records management. At the time, I was considering pursuing a PhD in History but serendipitously kept meeting people who had gone through MLIS programs. Their jobs sounded so cool! This was also around the same time I learned about community archiving efforts such as the Queer Zine Archive Project (QZAP) and about nascent institutional efforts to document subcultures like Riot Grrrl. When I discovered that the UCLA Information Studies program had a strong social justice focus, I was completely sold.

What made you want to join the I&A Steering Committee?

Last year I served as Vice-Chair of the I&A Section and I’m really proud of the work we did, including serving as a platform to amplify discussions of inclusivity, barriers to access, and labor issues. Former Chair, Rachel Mandell, and I even got to take our advocacy efforts to D.C., where we participated in the “Archives on the Hill” initiative, sponsored by SAA-CoSA-NAGARA-RAAC. While I’m of the opinion that change can start close to home, I also strongly believe we can and should leverage our national professional organizations to engage in community and coalition building, and to provide a space to have the conversations we need to be having as a profession. I’m really looking forward to the work we have planned for the coming year, and all of our potential collaborations both inside and outside of SAA.

What is an archival issue that means a lot to you?

If you know me, you know that I’m currently devoting a lot of energy towards increasing the visibility of the proliferation of temporary and contract labor in GLAM organizations, and the resulting deleterious effects on individuals, institutions, donors, researchers, and the profession as a whole. It’s encouraging that conversations are becoming less siloed- there was a mention of temp labor in OCLC’s 2017 report entitled Research and Learning Agenda for Archives, Special, and Distinctive Collections in Research Libraries; in SAA President Tanya Zanish Belcher’s recent Off the Record blog post on invisible labor; and there were excellent discussions in several of the section meetings at SAA in August including Issues and Advocacy, the SNAP and Manuscripts Sections joint meeting, and the College and University Archives Section. Stay tuned for a forthcoming I&A survey that we hope will ground the conversation in current data.

Archivists on the Issues: Restrictions and the Case of the University of Michigan

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s post comes from Steering Committee member Samantha Brown, an Assistant Archivist at the New-York Historical Society.

As archivists, we are constantly weighing the rights of record creators and donors against the needs of researchers. Sometimes balancing these differing needs can lead to a struggle that puts archives and libraries in the middle. We can find an example of this in a recent news story involving the University of Michigan’s Bentley Historical Library.

The Bentley Historical Library’s story begins with the John Tanton Papers. The finding aid for the collection describes Dr. Tanton as an environmental, population control, and immigration reform advocate who has held leadership positions with the Sierra Club, Michigan Natural Areas Council, Wilderness and Natural Areas Advisory Board, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Advisory Commission, Little Traverse Conservancy, and the Environmental Fund [1]. What makes him a controversial figure was his work with the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and NumbersUSA. While working with these organization, Dr. Tanton worked to reduce both legal and illegal immigration and opposed bilingualism in public schools and government agencies [2,3]. In addition to this work, Dr. Tanton also created a publishing company called The Social Contract Press which notably published The Turner Diaries which was a race war fantasy novel that is seen as a key work for members of the American white supremacist movement [2].  

Part of what makes this collection newsworthy is the fact that half of the collection is sealed. While boxes 1 through 14 are open to researchers without any special restrictions, boxes 15 through 25 are sealed until April 6, 2035 [3]. This presents a problem for Hassan Ahmad, a Virginia-based immigration attorney, who is trying to gain access to the whole collection. Mr. Ahmed believes that the collection could contain materials that show the relationship between anti-immigration groups and white nationalists as well as the influence that some of groups that Dr. Tanton has worked with are having on the White House [4]. The link between Dr. Tanton and the White House may very well exist. President Trump’s senior adviser Kellyanne Conway, transition aid Lou Barletta, policy adviser Julie Kirchner, and immigration advisor Kris Kobach all have ties to FAIR, an organization that Dr. Tanton founded and was a chairman of [1,4].

Believing that the sealed parts of the collection could hold important information and should be part of the public debate, Mr. Ahmed filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the University of Michigan in December 2016 but the request was denied as was the request to appeal the decision [3,5]. Both the original request and the appeal were denied on the basis of Dr. Tanton’s donor agreement with the library [3]. After being denied his FOIA request, Mr. Ahmed sued the University of Michigan to gain access to the restricted parts of the collection [3]. When the case was brought before a judge, the University of Michigan filed for a motion to dismiss the lawsuit based on the fact that parts of the collection were sealed due to the collection’s donor agreement [5]. While information about the donor agreement was disclosed in court, information about the donor agreement was not included in the collections finding aid [1,5]. The judge, Stephen Borello, ruled that since the collection was a private donation and not being used for a public purpose, the University of Michigan could not be compelled to open the collection [3]. Mr. Ahmed proceeded to appeal this ruling as well and is arguing that the university can’t use donor agreements to keep documents sealed. As of right now, he is scheduled to appear in court again in late September or early October when a ruling on his appeal will be made [3].

If Mr. Ahmed wins his appeal, the results could have a massive impact on archives and researchers. Without the ability to guarantee that parts of a collection can remain restricted, archivists may not be able to persuade people to donate or house their collections in an archive which will make it harder for the materials to be preserved and accessed. Access doesn’t just mean that someone can use the materials for their research but also that they can find the materials. A private person may have a collection that is helpful to someone’s research but a person looking for those materials may never be able to find it if an archive can’t create a way for those materials to be found. The work of archivists to arrange and describe collections plays a crucial role in a collection’s findability. If donors are too worried about giving their materials to archives because archivists can’t provide the donors with any guarantees then researchers lose out as well.

While this case holds risks for archives and archivists, it also teaches us something as well. Finding Aids need to be more than just a list of items and folder titles, they need to give researchers a preview of what the collection holds. One of the reasons that Mr. Ahmed wants to access the restricted materials is because he doesn’t know what is there. The finding aid’s description for the restricted materials only includes series and subseries titles with very little other information. If there was a way to know what could be found in the unrestricted  parts of the collection as compared to the restricted parts and what differentiated those parts of the collection then maybe there could be a way to work with Mr. Ahmed so that he could find what he is looking for in a different way. Other members of the organizations that Mr. Ahmed is interested in may have unrestricted collections at other institutions. Otis L. Graham Jr., another founding member of FAIR, for example, has some his collections housed at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The best result for both the researcher and archive, in my opinion, would be to find a way to help the researcher with their request without breaking the donor agreement. If this isn’t possible then I wonder why a box and folder list is even provided for the restricted materials. Why tell people that you have something if you’re unwilling to tell them about it? Without more information in the finding aid or speaking to the staff at the Bentley Historical Library and investigating their policies around arrangement and description, it’s difficult to know why the collection has been handled in this particular way. For now, we, as archivists, can look at this situation and use it to change how we both deal with collections and researchers.

 

Works Cited

  1. John Tanton Papers Finding Aid. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library, 14 Jun 2013, https://quod.lib.umich.edu/b/bhlead/umich-bhl-861056?view=text
  2. “John Tanton” Southern Poverty Law Center, www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/individual/john-tanton
  3. Peet, Lisa. “Attorney Sues for Access to Tanton Papers in Closed Archive.” Library Journal, 18 Sept. 2018, https://www.libraryjournal.com/?detailStory=180918-Tanton-Papers
  4. Frazen, Rachel. “Why Is the University of Michigan Fighting to Keep an Anti-Immigration Leader’s Papers Secret?” The Daily Beast, 3 Sept. 2018, https://www.thedailybeast.com/why-is-university-of-michigan-fighting-to-keep-anti-immigration-leaders-papers-secret
  5. Warikoo, Niraj. “University of Michigan Oct.  Blocks Release of Hot-Button Records of Anti-Immigrant Leader.” Detroit Free Press, 28 Oct. 2017, https://www.freep.com/story/news/2017/10/17/university-michigan-blocks-release-anti-immigrant-records/732133001/

 

Legis* Research Post: A Look at Bipartisan Support for GLAM Funding

 

The Legis* Research Team monitors the intersection of archives issues and legislative resources and concerns, legislative bills, and individual legislators. This post, part of our Research Post series, was written by Laurel Bowen, University Archivist at Georgia State University. 

This year, for my work on the Legislative Research team, I looked at the activities of Michael Turner (R-OH), Joe Crowley (D-NY), and my own representative Hank Johnson (D-GA) in the 115th Congress (2017-2018).

From work on a previous Legislative Research Team I was familiar with Michael Turner as a successful advocate of legislation that promotes historic preservation, a field that often employs archivists. As mayor of Dayton, Turner stimulated economic development by rehabilitating housing in Dayton’s historic neighborhoods–and preserved that community’s history in the process. In Congress, Turner founded (2003) and became co-chair of the Congressional Historic Preservation Caucus. His legislative efforts resulted in the bipartisan Preserve America and Save America’s Treasures Act (2007), which provides “bricks and mortar” support to preserve historic buildings and grant funds for nationally significant collections and historic properties.

I was impressed not only by the bipartisan nature of the legislation but by the pragmatic feet-in-the-clay linking of hard headed economic development with history and culture. As archivists, we often appeal to the hearts and minds of potential funders, and we join with libraries, museums, and the history profession to make our case. Those who work in historic preservation and the park service can point to the “real world” benefits of economic redevelopment and increased tourism to entice public funding. If the archives profession joined forces with historic preservation and national park service professionals (who frequently include an archives component in their projects), we might all see better funding in an often discouraging political environment.

If a Republican from a city can be a supporter of historic preservation, I wondered if more ideologically liberal representatives from cities would be even more ready to support funding for historic preservation and, by extension, archives. I chose Joe Crowley (New York City) and Hank Johnson (Atlanta) to find out.

Amid the current administration’s proposal (for another budget year) to eliminate NEH, NHPRC, IMLS, NEA, and Save America’s Treasures, and cut other historical and cultural funding sources, the lobbying group Preservation Action worked with Turner’s Historic Preservation Caucus (HPC) to advocate for the Historic Preservation Fund.

Crowley, it turns out, is a member of that group, as are Georgia Democrats John Lewis and David Scott. In March 2018 the HPC circulated a letter to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies that called funding for the Historic Preservation Fund “an economic and historical imperative.” Crowley and Lewis were early signers. Included in the funding were continued grants to a “Civil Rights initiative that preserves, documents, and interprets the sites and stories” of that movement. Scott and Hank Johnson also signed. With continued lobbying this July, the House of Representatives passed the FY 19 Interior Appropriations Bill, with amendments that increased funding for the Historic Preservation Fund to $101.41 million.

Looking further, I discovered that Crowley is a member of the Congressional History Caucus, a group that works with the National Coalition for History. The Society of American Archivists is a member of the Coalition. Johnson’s legislative website shows he has helped provide NEH grants for libraries, scholarships for young artists, and a grant from the Historic Preservation Fund for renovating the historic West Hunter Street Church.

While it’s hard to judge what ideological bent might be more likely to predispose a legislator to support historic preservation, parks, museums, libraries, archives, and history, it seems clear that support can be bipartisan if presented in a way that engages a representative’s interests.

But then there may also be unanticipated events.  I remember seeing the news. But the names didn’t register.  Joe Crowley—fourth ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, chair of the Democratic caucus, member of the Congressional History Caucus and the Historic Preservation Caucus, was defeated in his district’s primary election by a “28-year-old Latina activist running her first campaign.”

Post revised 2018 August 21. 

Archivists on the Issues: Intellectual Access to Archives

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s post comes from regular writer for I&A’s blog, Lindy Smith, Reference Archivist at Bowling Green State University’s Music Library and Bill Schurk Sound Archives.

In my final post on access and accessibility in archives, I am examining intellectual access. By this, I mean the language, theory, practices, and other non-physical barriers that exist in archives. Once a patron has navigated the obstacles of digital access and physical access that I discussed in my previous posts, they finally make it to our reading rooms either in person or virtually and want to use our collections. What gets in the way of this process?

Description can often get in the way, sometimes through its absence and sometimes through its presence. When description is non-existent or not online or not accessible or too minimal to be useful, it is detrimental to access. This is not news to anyone. But sometimes seemingly great description can also be a barrier to access. Say you have an important, highly used collection and you decide to write a DACs-compliant EAD finding aid at the item level, post it online with excellent SEO and cross list it in all appropriate union catalogs. It is a thing of beauty. It has extensive notes, a detailed inventory, and follows archival standards. It is easy to find. If you know where to look.

But then you have an ESL patron who speaks limited English and cannot read it all. Or a seventh grader working on a History Day project who has a middle school reading level and does not understand some of the terminology. Or a patron who is completely unfamiliar with archival description and does not understand the complicated series structure or how to use the detailed information you have painstakingly input. Based on my experience in various reading rooms, these kinds of casual patrons make up a significant portion of our users.

There’s something to be said for gaining familiarity with the systems in place, but for the patron who only wants to make one visit to see something for personal reasons or the student using it for one class, or the patron who is frustrated by a first visit and never comes back, our systems are exclusionary. We cannot write description for everyone, but it is important to recognize that language, reading level, structure, jargon, and many other factors can hinder access for some users.

Many of these issues can be mitigated with good reference help, but this leads to another question I think about often: how do we determine an appropriate balance of labor between patrons and archivists? How much do we require them to do and how much are we willing to do for them? What is policy mandated and what is grey area? What can we change to improve the patron experience? Obviously, patrons need to take the first step to make contact. They need to provide information about the subject of their interest or the items they’d like to request. They need to adhere to any established policies regarding registration information, payment for reproduction, collection handling, etc. Archivists have to respond to requests, pull requested materials, and explain necessary paperwork and policies.

But between this is a whole world of negotiation, personal preference, and available resources. How much time do (can) we spend with a single patron? Where do we draw the line? I like to think that we should be willing to take more on ourselves as the gatekeepers to make things easier and more pleasant for our patrons, but that is not fair when so many of us are already overloaded with work. On the other hand, it is not fair to put all of the work on our users, especially when it is our policies that are creating extra work for everyone.

Many archives have policies regarding remote research time, but what about patrons who require additional assistance with finding aids or computers or microfilm readers or handling fragile collections or the photocopier? How do we ensure smooth hand offs to other archivists when schedules require that multiple staff members be involved? How do we enforce policies that require official ID cards when we are trying to reach out to user groups that may not possess them? How do we respond to concerns about patron confidentiality when we are storing information about patrons and their research topics? How do we reassure patrons who feel targeted by security policies that require surveillance?

How might we rethink our policies and procedures to make things easier for everyone involved? While it is not a magic bullet or a possibility for everyone, there is something to be said for tapping into aspects of industry or libraries that are already familiar to our patrons. Along these lines, there are some technological solutions to help streamline the reading room experience. The biggest and best known in Aeon, which is a great product, but prohibitively expensive for most of us. Other archives have come up with in-house solutions using existing free products, like Trello or Google Forms.

At my institution, we have been working with our web developer, access services department, and catalogers to come up with a solution that allows us to treat special collections materials like ordinary library materials. Briefly, our web developer came up with a button that is enabled in our catalog on materials that have the Lib[rary] Use Only status that allows users to request items for future use. It generates a form that collects name and contact information as well as the date they would like to use the item(s) that is emailed to the appropriate collection. Patrons can also request items on site without scheduling them ahead of time. We use the emails as pull slips and place the items on our hold shelf. When the patrons arrive, we set up a courtesy card in our ILS (Integrated Library System- we use Sierra) that allows them to use only special collections materials (a proper courtesy card with ordinary borrowing privileges has an associated fee but a special collections card is free). We then check the materials out to their account while they’re using it on site and check it back in once they’ve finished. We explain at the time of checkout that they are not allowed to leave our floor with the items and we have not had any issues with this. The one drawback is that we do not yet have all of our special collections in the catalog, which is where our fabulous catalogers come in to create records. We are also in the process of implementing ArchivesSpace and are hoping that our developer will be able to create a similar request feature for use there. All special collections will eventually be represented in both places.

Obviously, a solution like this is only available to archives with access to an ILS and some developer time. If you are interested, our web developer has made the request button code available on GitHub. But if you think outside the box, you may be able to come up with your won solution with the resources available to you. Libraries have been using similar systems for decades to track use and it is past time for archives to do the same.

My posts here have been much more question-based than answer-filled, but these are important issues with lots of room for discussion. I look forward to continuing that discussion with any of you who are interested and hope you will take the opportunity to use some of these questions to help examine your own work.

Archivists on the Issues: Archives as Art, Part 2

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s post comes from a regular writer for I&A’s blog, Cate Peebles. Cate is the NDSR Art fellow at the Yale Center for British Art, where she works with permanent-collection-related born-digital records. This is the second half of a 2-part essay.

Art critic Hal Foster puts a fine point on the “archival impulse at work internationally in contemporary art” in his much-cited 2004 essay, “An Archival Impulse,” published in the journal October, a publication established by Rosalind Krauss in the early 1980s as a forum to discuss post-structuralism and politically conscious art. In this essay, Foster highlights the work of three international artists: Tacita Dean, Sam Durant, and Thomas Hirchhorn.

Stating at the beginning of his discussion “the examples [of the archival impulse in art] could be multiplied many times,”[6] Foster’s discussion of these artists’ work outlines a shift in the archival mode in art within the last fifteen years and a resurgence of its popularity among artists. He says, “Archival artists seek to make historical information, often lost or displaced, physically present. To this end they elaborate on the found image, object and text, and favor the installation format.”[7] He emphasizes the face-to-face nature of these artworks, as opposed to using electronic means of connection such as the Internet. He also differentiates archival art from the institutional critique, which focuses on the museum, such as Broodthaers’ work. These artists use collected materials to create quasi-archives, such as Hirschhorn’s altars and kiosks and Dean’s collected photographs of “sound mirrors” built in Kent between 1928-30 to act as warning systems in case of air attacks, which were soon replaced by more reliable radar systems. Dean’s photography collects images of outmoded objects and gives them a place in the present moment, in effect removing them from time and place and including them in a catalog of “failed futuristic visions” that can only be recovered via the archive.

Foster asserts that the archival impulse in these artists’ work attempts to “probe a misplaced past, to collate its different signs” and the purpose of their work is to give presence to historical objects in a positive way that “turn[s] excavation sites into construction sites…it suggests a shift away from melancholic culture that views the historical as little more than traumatic.”[8] Foster’s view of the archival trend in contemporary art may not strictly adhere to a traditional definition of “archive” but it expresses the archive’s role of importance as a physical and symbolic entity that is inseparable from our understanding of and interactions with time.

There are many more examples of archival influences in contemporary art, and the complex relationship between artists and archives will continue to serve as muses to one another in new and unexpected ways. Archives are never a single thing; they can be aesthetic, political, personal, fictional, historic, and eternally present. For this reason, they will continue to inspire artistic and cultural works.

 

Further Reading on Archives in/ as Artistic Media
  • Breakell, Sue, “Perspective: Negotiating the Archives,” Tate Papers, Spring 2008: https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/18316767.pdf
  • Enwezor, Okwui,  Archive Fever—Uses of the Document in Contemporary Art (New York: International Center of Photography, 2008)
  • Holzer, Jenny. War Paitnings, (WALTHER KöNIG, KöLN, 2015)
  • Merewether, Charles, ed.. The Archive (Boston: Whitechapel and MIT Press, 2006)
  • Raad, Walid, The Atlas Group Archive (website), accessed http://www.theatlasgroup.org/
  • Raad, Walid, and Eva Respini (ed.), Walid Raad, (New York: MoMA, 2015)
  • Spieker, Sven. The Big Archive: Art from Bureaucracy (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008)
  • Thompson, Michael,  “The 2014 Whitney Biennial: the Book as Medium in Contemporary American Art,” Bibliographical Society of America, The University of Chicago Press (2015), especially pages 175-181
References

[6] Foster, Hal. “An Archival Impulse,” October, MIT Press, 2004, 3-22

For more international examples see also:  De Jong, Ferdinand and Elizabeth Harney. “Art From the Archive,” African Arts (Summer 2015), vol. 48, no. 2, 1-2; and Jolly, Martyn. “Big Archives and Small Collections: Remarks on the Archival Mode in Contemporary Australian Art,” Public History Review, vol. 21, 2014, 60-85.

[7] Ibid., 4

 

Archivists on the Issues: Archives as Art, Part 1

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s post comes from a regular writer for I&A’s blog, Cate Peebles. Cate is the NDSR Art fellow at the Yale Center for British Art, where she works with permanent-collection-related born-digital records. This is part 1 of a 2-part essay.

To conclude my blog series about archives as prominent cultural and artistic influences, I’ll turn to the visual arts, a broad and varied category, to be sure. As an archivist at an art museum, I am highly aware of the importance institutional archives can have within museums as historical records of the museum itself, or as repositories for artists’ archives, but there are also countless examples of archives, archival materials, and archival practices as major forces within an artwork, or the artwork itself.

To consider the archive as an artistic medium in and of itself, it is helpful to begin with James O’Toole’s essay, “The Symbolic Significance of Archives,” an important piece of writing by an archivist on the aesthetic and transformative qualities inherent in the role of some documents. His examination of archives as symbolic entities casts light on a side of the archival profession that had not yet been given much attention by archivists themselves, although many visual artists have been working in “the archival mode” since the early 20th century. Archivists are trained to care for records of enduring value and emphasis is placed on “utilitarian motivations for the making of written records” [1]. O’Toole begins his discussion with an invocation of Frank Burke’s 1981 essay, “The Future Course of Archival Theory in the United States,” in which he provokes archivists to consider archives beyond their practical operations and use, and to ask larger, more philosophical questions of the profession, such as “what is the motivation for the act” of recordkeeping and making.

O’Toole’s very question suggests that there is more to records than their practical uses, however dismissed these uses may have been by the majority of archivists who agreed with Lester Cappon’s conjecture that there is nothing to theorize about; the job of the archivist is to “shuffle the damn papers.”[2] Indeed, the conversation about archival theory that Burke began in the late 20th century seems to have caused some rancor among many archivists who stick firmly to the school of thought that archival records are purely practical. This, O’Toole argues extensively, excludes the role of archives and records as symbolic objects. By examining examples from history, such as the Declaration of Independence and the Domesday Book, O’Toole demonstrates the manner in which a document can change from being a record that is useful in the traditional sense, into a record whose use extends beyond practicality and conveys meaning symbolically. Since the very essence of an archival document lies in its having transitioned from primary to secondary use, it follows that the secondary use is not necessarily always going to be practical in the evidentiary sense.  O’Toole’s discussion concludes, significantly, by affirming that archival records can have both practical and symbolic uses; one side is not more important than the other, and if we value archives and archival materials solely for their practical features, we are missing half the picture.

In the twentieth century, the use of archival materials as artistic media became increasingly popular, particularly with the arrival of conceptual art and structuralism on the scene. In her seminal lecture, A Voyage on the North Sea” Art in the Age of the Post-Medium Condition, art critic and professor of art history at Columbia University, Rosalind Krauss presents a discussion of art that does not belong to classical modes and mediums like painting and sculpture, but incorporates any number of expressive modes.[5]  She describes a break from traditional classifications and a movement toward mixed media, video art, installations, readymades (like those made by Marcel Duchamp), collections, and conceptual art. The latter might even lack physical form; the ideas and contextual performance are the artwork.

Krauss focuses on the work of Belgian poet and artist Marcel Broodthaers, who created a fictitious museum called “The Museum of Modern Art, Eagles Division” around which he built collections of objects, such as an installation of stuffed eagles and other objects pertaining to the eagle, much like one might see presented in a natural history museum. Each object is labeled, not with information about its species, but with the admission (joke?): “This Is Not a Work of Art.” Broodtaears picks up where Duchamp left off, creating an imaginary museum, structured around readymades and antiquated modes of display, poking fun at art world expectations and conventions. Broodthaers’ work is often referred to as “institutional critique,” a form that attempts to call out the inner workings of establishments such as the museum and archive; official spaces that command respect, embody some degree of power (financial, intellectual), and authority.

This shift has made the work of many contemporary artists possible such as the work of Lebanese-American artist, Walid Raad. While Broodthaers re-envisions the colonialist structure that names, categorizes and capitalizes upon fine arts, Raad reimagines the archive as a structure wherein truth is not tied to fact while still relying on archives’ hydra-like power to tell many stories at once.

References

[1] O’Toole, James. “The Symbolic Significance of Archives,” The American Archivist, 1982, 234-255

[2] Ibid., 235

[3] Craig and O’Toole, 98

[4] Ibid., 98

[5] Krauss, Rosalind, A Voyage on the North Sea: Art in the Age of the Post-Medium Condition (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1999), 5

ICYMI: #NoHateALA

Brought to you by Vice Chair Courtney Dean on behalf of the Issues & Advocacy Section Steering Committee

During the 2018 ALA Annual Conference, ALA Council passed an amendment to the Library Bill of Rights that explicitly defended the right of hate groups to use library meeting room spaces. For the full text, see the information on ALA’s site.

This is something the I&A Steering Committee has been following closely. While neither SAA or I&A have made official statements on this issue, the Steering Committee felt it important to provide our membership with a roundup of information, resources, and petitions related to the recent ALA controversy. We searched for links from a variety of perspectives and found the below, listed in alphabetical order by title. Please feel free to leave links to additional readings in the comments.

 

Draft Resolution to Rescind Meeting Rooms: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights, Melissa Cardenas-Dow and other ALA Councilors

Further Response on ALA OIF Hate Group definition response, unsigned

Libraries Can’t Afford to Welcome Hate, Alessandra Seiter

My Bought Sense, or ALA Has Done It Again, April Hathcock

Petition to Revise ALA’s Statement on Hate Speech & Hate Crime, authored by the We Here community

Rethinking “Intellectual Freedom”, Carrie Wade

We Oppose Welcoming Hate into the Library: An Open Letter to ALA, Concerned Archivists Alliance

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.