Steering Share: Meet Courtney Dean

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post comes courtesy of the past-chair of the I&A committee, Courtney Dean, the head of the Center for Primary Research and Training in UCLA Library Special Collections.


1) What was your first experience working with archives?

As an undergrad I wrote a paper on the history of May Day in Boston using mircrofilm copies of old newspapers, but that’s as close I got to anything remotely archival for a long time. When I was thinking about grad school I came across the Queer Zine Archive Project (QZAP) and the Riot Grrrl collection at Fales and was disabused of the notion that archives are stuffy and elite. Then I found out “archivist” was an actual job and was completely sold. My grad school internships were at the Wende Museum of the Cold War, Pacifica Radio Archives, and LACMA. I worked with artifacts and artworks; ¼ inch audiotapes; and institutional records. While in grad school I also worked in the Center for Primary Research and Training in UCLA Library Special Collections, a program I now head. There I had the opportunity to work on collections from the June L. Mazer Lesbian Archives as part of their partnership with UCLA Library.  

2) What do you hope to gain by being on the I&A Steering Committee?

This is my third(!) and last year on the Steering Committee and I hope to contribute to both the continuity and sustainability of the section and its ongoing work. So much volunteer work is thankless and burnout-prone, but I’ve always appreciated how I&A’s charge is broad enough for folks to pursue issues of importance to them. The enthusiasm of my fellow steering committee members is infectious, and I look forward to pushing forward conversations around issues facing the profession. 

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

Fair and ethical archival labor has been something I’ve been passionate about for a long time- everything from paid internships to temp labor to salary transparency and barriers to entry in the profession. Aside from I&A, I participate in the Digital Library Federation’s (DLF) Labor Working group, co-chair the Society of California Archivists (SCA) Labor Issues Task Force, and am on the organizing and issues committees for the librarian unit of my union. Right now a lot of this work involves data collection, which can hopefully be leveraged to better advocate for change. Like others have mentioned, I’ve also started thinking more and more about the environmental impact of the profession- flying to conferences, digital storage, etc. 

4) What can we find you doing outside of the archival profession?

Way too much of my free time has been devoted to archives adjacent activities, but I’m trying to get better with boundaries and work life balance. I play guitar in a punk band called Red Rot, just joined a rad book club, and am obsessed with my cat, Walrus. (My other feline bff Potato just passed away last week which was really hard.) I’m also currently watching Deadwood for the first time.


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