Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post is from I&A Chair, Hope Dunbar. Hope Dunbar is currently an Archivist at SUNY Buffalo State in Buffalo, New York.
What was your first job in a library, archive, or museum?
My first foray into the world of special collections and archives was at the Newberry in Chicago. I was chosen to participate in a small undergraduate seminar taught by the current Director of Exhibitions and Major Projects, Diane Dillon. The seminar highlighted novelty in the early republic and after just a few short weeks I was hooked. I loved the materials, I loved the staff, and most of all I loved that for the first time during my history degree I felt like I was connecting with my subject matter. There is something to the physicality of an artifact or book to drive home the reality of history and how close we are to a subject the surrounds us daily. After the seminar I became an intern, after the internship I became a summer page, and after the summer I became a full-time employee.
What made you want to join the I&A Steering Committee?
I eventually left the Newberry to complete a law degree at DePaul University, College of Law in Chicago and subsequently try my hand in the federal sphere. My time at the Dept. of Justice, Dept. of State, and Dept. of Education taught me the essentiality of advocacy and a strong voice, especially in relation to legislation and government. With many voices trying to be heard, there are ever present challenges to successful advocacy. I&A is an essential platform to allow a common voice that addresses everyday concerns archivists experience. We strive to equip archivists with tools for success to advocate for themselves and their department or institution on every level.
What is one major issue you see archives tackling in the next five to ten years?
Like many people in our profession, I worry about the inefficient or nonexistent capturing of early born digital materials, especially in relation to small institutions. Our collective history is less paper based than ever before. The hurdles to properly preserving digital materials are higher, more costly, and subject to obsolescence. My fear is that fifty or a hundred years from now we will look back at this period and have limited or incomplete materials to understand underrepresented or underfunded communities based on the shift from paper to digital.
What archive issue means a lot to you?
Access, access, access. If an institution has hidden collections, unprocessed collections, or no user access; in some ways that collection does not exist. This position is especially relevant when looked at through the lens of advocacy. It is more difficult to advocate for collections that do not provide a direct benefit to an institution or patron base. Exposing collections can be as simple as a general list on a library webpage or local state or professional association portal. A list and description can go a long way to informing patrons, scholars, and the public that they may want to contact an archivist for more information.
Describe and share an interesting archive you have come across over the years.
I currently work in the Archives & Special Collections at SUNY Buffalo State. We have a truly amazing, and arguably under-processed, LGBTQ collection donated by Dr. Madeline Davis and local community members. It is unique to the region and documents the LGBTQ community going back in some instances to the early 1920s. Part of this collection is a selection of around 150 historical t-shirts made or acquired for marches, rallies, and community events. Many t-shirts are original creations and the only documentation to early LGBTQ activities. We are currently digitizing our collection to contribute to a project called Wearing Gay History that was founded to show both the distinctness and interconnectedness of queer identities across geographic lines; to bring visibility to smaller queer archives across the country; and to uncover often ignored history of diverse LGBTQ cultures. Recently, Wearing Gay History was also added to the Digital Transgender Archive containing around 29 institutions. Both Wearing Gay History and the Digital Transgender Archive are wonderful examples of cross-national institutions bringing together collections on a specific topic.