Archivists on the News: The Archivist in an Accountable World

Archivists on the News is a new series featuring perspectives on current news. Our first post comes from Joel Horowitz, Special Collections Librarian at the Alexandria Library, Local History/Special Collections Branch. You can follow him on Twitter @PurpleArchivist.

“It is your duty to make sure that today’s radicals are not tomorrow’s employees.” So concludes the introductory video of Canary Mission, which seeks to document students and faculty expressing what it classifies as extremist views on college campuses. Users who have chosen to “defend freedom” are invited to submit video and social media evidence and open source records to their site because otherwise “a few years later these individuals are applying for jobs within your company.” Decades-old information has long been sought about political candidates, but preventive collection from college students with the stated goal of creating a blacklist or inspiring retractions is a significant step in that direction, and might face enormous challenges in proving authenticity in the face of politically motivated skepticism (Canary Mission would not comment on the length of time it plans to preserve information).

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Header image from Canary Mission’s website

In a previous era, personal papers were exactly that, personal. In fact, they were often purged (or “organized”) to remove embarrassing material before becoming available to the public through a professional organization. Today, more and more of our personal records are available in real time, and our lives examined as we live them to be treated as public records by those who choose. SAA advocacy guidelines have long focused on the privacy of information in government hands and letting “public leaders,” “public officials,” and “agencies” be held accountable by citizens. But we must also consider the accountability of citizens by citizens according to their own subjective values through the collection of our records to be preserved for our lifetimes, if not beyond, in public view.

Moving in the opposite direction, some states have banned the practice of demanding access to the social media accounts of job applicants or even taking off-duty political activities into consideration. More notably, groups like Ban the Box have sought to limit the consideration of even criminal records in hiring.

But are there costs to a highly private society? Recent years have seen a rise in the practice of “doxing,” in which an ordinary individual is exposed to public retaliation for acts they performed anonymously or in private. It’s typically associated with outing people from Unite the Right rallies or otherwise deemed racists, but a similar approach has been used for other things like being a gamer or, in an earlier era, being gay. Obviously, the level of stigma attached to the many behaviors and characteristics people are reluctant to admit publicly vary, which can obscure how common they are. A less private “accountability society” could make some stigmas disappear (as gay pride has helped to do), while making others more impactful (as Canary’s slogan hopes). In this way, privacy can be a question of trust in social norms.

Historians of privacy remind us that it is in many ways a relatively new thing, a creation of the 19th and 20th centuries that earlier ancestors had limited knowledge or experience with as we understand it. Privacy as a right in the United States has its origins in an 1890 law review article. Balloting became secret in America only gradually over the second half of the 19th century, but is now covered by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet political parties and their allies have massive databases of public and corporate information that they will probably keep on us forever, eroding the privacy of our political opinions. In a lengthy 2015 piece, Greg Ferenstein argues that privacy was once rare because it was difficult and inconvenient to maintain and is likely to be abandoned if those conditions return, as he expects to result from advances in medicine and other personalization technologies.

Such an outcome is not inevitable, and Europe is at the forefront of cementing the current order through its General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The European “right to be forgotten” is essentially a right to erase the history of one’s life, even when lived in public, so long as it is not yet vitally important to that public. Through the GDPR, Europeans are once again able to purge the modern version of their “papers” and present a curated, up-to-date, image of themselves, unless they fall under one of its exceptions.

China appears to be taking the opposite path from Europe. A place where social norms and social cohesion are highly prized, China is promising to restore “trust” in society by assigning a Social Credit Score to every citizen based on an analysis of available data. While a uniform government score based on our histories might prove tyrannical (and China’s isn’t yet), one could theoretically allow a variety of groups, interests, and communities to offer their own methods of scoring data, and each individual to choose the system whose opinion they value or need, which is not far from how we are privately evaluated today for things like credit, jobs, insurance, and dating. American society, too, is still grappling with the basic question of what, if anything, we should know about each other and when.

While a recent article by Ashlyn Velte on activist social media archives does point to emerging ethical debates and standards for donated materials, it may prove difficult for the profession to try to impose these standards on politically motivated collecting organizations pursuing goals many archivists support. Is it unethical for an archivist to participate in an accountability project or a public service for them to do so? Does it depend on the goals? The methods? Is it even our right to shape society so fundamentally by boycotting organizations that operate outside our guidelines, but within our laws? It isn’t clear the profession has official answers to these questions. But if these privately managed public digital archives might end up being assembled for long-term preservation by archival tools, archival methods, and ultimately digital archivists trained for the purpose, how can it not?

Editor’s note: I&A posted about the Right to Be Forgotten in 2016 in this research post.

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Steering Share from Rachel Mandell

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post comes courtesy of I&A committee past-chair, Rachel Mandell, Metadata Librarian at the USC Digital Library.

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

Currently, my favorite aspect of my job is being able to train and hopefully mentor new librarians/archivists. From chairing the search committee to training, to answering daily questions, I have been given the opportunity to reexamine my own practices and gain a fresh perspective on the field from someone who graduated from library school recently. Before accepting my current position, I worked a series of temporary jobs. During those project positions, I was never given the chance to train and supervise a new librarian. This has been an extremely rewarding experience and I am looking forward to taking on more leadership roles in the future.

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Enjoying the desert sun!

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

I first joined the I&A Steering Committee 3 years ago as the I&A intern. I had never served on an SAA Section and figured it would be a good opportunity to get a sense of what that would be like without too much commitment. At the time, I was working as a contract employee and had very little institutional support for any sort of professional development or any activities outside of my clearly defined job duties. That first year, I worked on a survey to figure out how to improve the Toolkit. By the time the election cycle for the next year came around, I had found myself in a permanent position, which encouraged library faculty to seek opportunities to serve on national committees. I spent the next two years serving as Vice-Chair and then Chair of Issues and Advocacy. It’s a great section, with broad interest and capabilities. As the current Past Chair, I am excited to see where the Steering Committee decides to focus its efforts.

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

In echoing the sentiments of many of my fellow steering committee members—the issue of relaying on contract employment and exploitative labor practices is one of the most pressing issues facing our profession. While we have a long road ahead in terms of shifting our own practices and beliefs regarding this situation, I feel reinvigorated by the statement issued by the Society of California Archivists for support of the open letter distributed by the temporary archivists from the UCLA special collections.

 

Steering share from Sara DeCaro

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post comes courtesy of I&A committee member, Sara DeCaro, University Archivist and Old Castle Museum Director at Baker University Library.

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

There are some great things about being a “lone arranger” at a small private college. I have a lot of control over what we collect and projects we choose to take on. I also have a good idea of where the gaps are in representation, and I can actively take steps to fill in those gaps. I noticed, for example, that we don’t have a lot of records from student organizations on campus. These can be a very rich source of information because student organizations often form to meet the needs of historically marginalized groups; that was definitely the case when our African-American student group formed here in the 1970s. I’ve had conversations with them and our fairly new LGTBQIA group about future donations, and the response has been positive.

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

Archives and archivists, generally speaking, seem to be chronically underfunded and viewed as somehow lesser, or not essential. I’m really tired of that, and I want to do something about it. I know that’s a broad statement, but even if this is just a small thing I can do to enact change, it’s important to me.

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

Diversity and inclusion, in both our collections and employment practices. I think one of the most basic things we can do as a society to correct years of injustice towards marginalized people is to make sure their legacies are preserved. Labor issues are also very important to me; I often feel that wages for archivists don’t reflect the level of training and education we have.

Intern Share from Kristin Hare

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post comes courtesy of I&A Intern Kristin Hare.

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

My favorite thing about the archives profession is archivists! I’ve reached out to total strangers through Twitter, listservs, and professional organizations for career advice, graduate school assignments, or with processing questions and I’ve never encountered anything but encouragement and a genuine willingness to offer any help they can. The archival profession is full of hardworking, kind professionals that will go out of their way to assist the new kids.

I also love the chaos of introducing yourself to an institutional archive for the first time. I interned with the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, South Carolina and my first encounter with their institutional archive was a rollercoaster of confusion, excitement, and feelings of rage towards scotch tape and paperclips.

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

I have a strong interest in the role of archivists as advocates for marginalized people, their histories, and records. The shift towards equitable access rather than equal access within the field is a movement that I firmly believe in and I’ve really enjoyed watching archives professionals advocate for change. I also feel a responsibility to consider how my own identity and values impact my work within the field. I think most would agree that neutrality as an archivist is nearly impossible. Getting involved with the I&A steering committee seemed like a great way to continue to learn about the diverse issues within archives and challenge myself professionally.

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

The inclusion and preservation of LGBT materials within archives is an issue that means a lot to me. During my graduate program, I researched the unique challenges archivists face when working with LGBT materials, including ethical concerns, cataloging and copyright issues, and privacy. I designed a research study to explore the information seeking behavior of transgender, intersex, and non-binary persons within South Carolina and I currently serve as a member of the South Carolina Library Association’s GLBT roundtable. I’m interested in the lack of representation and safe access to information within archives and libraries faced by LGBT persons and the steps professionals can take to bridge those gaps and improve services and programs for the public.

Steering Share from Samantha Brown

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post comes courtesy of committee member Samantha Brown, Assistant Archivist at the New-York Historical Society.

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

One of my favorite things about working in archives is that you get to be a bit like Sherlock Holmes. It’s the archivist job to go through everything and piece together the clues about who the creator of the collection was and how that creator used and organized the collection. Every item you look at contributes a new detail that you can use to solve your mystery. While solving that mystery, you get to learn about a topic you may never have known about before. An even if the collection deals with topics you’re familiar with, it may come at it from a completely different angle which will show you a new way to contextualize history. The fact that working in archives forces me to constantly learn and explore new ideas is something I love about the job.

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Hello!

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

After working as an intern for the committee, I knew that I wanted to join as a full member. My experience getting to work with everyone was so fulfilling that I didn’t want it to end after just one year. Working with the committee has allowed me to connect with other archivists and deal with issues that our profession is facing. Not only do we discuss the issues but we try to come up with concrete ways to solve the problems. While trying to get people who are scattered across the country to work together can be a struggle since we all have differing time zones and responsibilities, we all put in an effort to contribute something.

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

An issue that I have been thinking a lot about lately is the value of archival labor. It seems like a regular thing at this point to hear a story about how a researcher or historian visited an archive and discovered a lost piece of history. What so many of these stories neglect to say is who enabled that person to find that item. Even if a story acknowledges that the researcher used a finding aid or consulted with an archivist, there never seems to be any acknowledgment of the work that archivists do to make the materials available and accessible. This, to me, shows an inherent problem that archivists face. People may know we exist but they don’t know what we do or why it’s important. If the public at large doesn’t understand our work then they can’t value it. While they may think that the materials we work with are treasures, they fail to understand that those treasures can’t be preserved and accessed unless someone does some kind of work.  This lack of understanding can also contribute to the anger people feel when they can’t access something they want. Without understanding what we do, people can’t understand the framework we work within and how that can restrict use of a collection or material. By helping people understand what we do as archivists, we can help them gain a greater understanding of what archives are and why our work is so valuable.

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.

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.