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.

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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.

Legis* Research Team: Updates Regarding Legislation and Legislator Actions

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 Katharina Hering, Mark Prindiville, Ashley Levine, and Lindsay Hiltunen.

In the past several months, I have focused on monitoring opposition against the Immigration and Custom’s Enforcement’s (ICE) “Visa Lifecycle Vetting Initiative” (VLVI), formerly called the “Extreme Vetting Initiative” (EVI) in and outside of Congress. On April 5, 2018, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security, Rep. Filemon Vela (D-TX), Ranking Member of the Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee, and Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY), Ranking Member of the Counterterrorism and Intelligence Subcommittee, sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen urging her to halt the VLVI. “The Trump Administration’s extreme vetting initiative must be stopped.  Not only will it be ineffective and inaccurate, but will certainly be discriminatory and unjustly target certain communities. ICE’s intention to build a program with unknown limits to search social media platforms demonstrates a disregard for privacy, due process, and the rights to free speech and free association. This initiative will undoubtedly chill free speech online.” In March 2018, citing concerns raised by the Brennan Center for Justice and other civil liberties and civil rights organizations about the Extreme Vetting Initiative, the Congressional Black Caucus, via letter, requested that DHS suspends all activities related to the VLVI.

Among the groups opposing the VLVI were the Archivists Round Table of Metropolitan New York (ART) and the Concerned Archivists Alliance.

Several civil rights, civil liberties and privacy rights organizations provide regular updates on the opposition against the VLVI, including the Center for Democracy and Technology, National Immigration Law Center, Georgetown’s Center for Privacy and Technology, and the Brennan Center for Justice, among others.

— Katharina Hering

Senator Gary Peters of Michigan voted in favor of banking deregulation on March 6, 2018, as well as his fellow Michigander, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, and 14 other Democratic Senators. Coincidentally, both Peters and Stabenow have history with banking lobbyists, as campaign and leadership PAC donations from securities and investments have been found via OpenSecrets.org. Peters has received $726,879, while Stabenow has obtained $587,939, ironically including corporate/PAC donations into the realm of the gender wage gap issue.
— Mark Prindiville

In following the activities of the TV, radio, and internet news program, Democracy Now!, the legislator, Tom Cotton (R-AR), and the legislation, H.R. 3923:  Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act of 2017 (Sponsored by Adams Smith, D-WA), failures of government accountability in documenting abuse of undocumented persons by government agencies (e.g. U.S. Immigrations Customs Enforcement, a.k.a. ICE) amid simultaneous efforts to bolster aggressive immigration enforcement policies, are increasingly apparent.

The Democracy Now! website dedicates a section entirely to reporting on immigration issues in the United States. Articles bearing headlines like, “Immigration and Customs Enforcement to Allow Jailing of Pregnant Women,” to, “Immigration Activists Fight to End ICE Arrests at Courthouses,” and, “17 States Sue Trump Administration over Census Citizenship Question,” highlight the current administration’s efforts to crackdown on immigration from non-European (i.e. non-white) nations, and terrorize undocumented people within the U.S. These reports underscore concrete steps taken by ICE to simultaneously increase surveillance of immigrant communities (through data gathering mechanisms, such as the “Visa Lifecycle Vetting” initiative), and double-down on aggressive detainment activities (raids on courthouses, communities, and sanctuary cities). ICE activities are shrouded in secrecy, while ICE leadership neglects to adequately explain its extralegal actions.

Tom Cotton’s legislative activities mirror those of the administration in which he serves. For example, last year Senator Cotton sponsored S. 354: RAISE Act, which aims to limit illegal immigration by significantly reducing several provisions of U.S. policy that encourage legal immigration. S. 354 would end the Diversity Visa Program, a State Department initiative that grants an additional 50,000 legal permanent resident visas each year from countries with low rates of U.S. immigration. This bill also aims to reduce the number of family-sponsored immigrants, as well as cap number of refugees around the world offered U.S. permanent residency to 50,000. Tom Cotton also sponsored S. 1720: RAISE Act, a bill to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to establish a skills-based immigration points system.

Meanwhile, since its introduction in October 2017, H.R. 3923:  Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act of 2017, has seen no action made in the House. This bill aims to provide standards for facilities where undocumented persons in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security (ICE) are detained. Since ICE’s inception in 2003, and up to 2015, 150 individuals died in the agency’s custody. Furthermore, the immigration detainee watchdog group, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), highlighted 14,693 reported incidents of sexual and physical abuse in ICE detention centers from 2010 to 2016, with just about 1 percent of these reports actually resulting in investigations. ICE has even reversed its policy of not detaining pregnant women, as reports of multiple confirmed miscarriages and  inadequate medical care in ICE detention facilities have come to light. This new policy follows President Trump’s Muslim Ban, “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” from January 2017, which has led to increased interior enforcement across the country.

— Ashley Levine

The most active monitoring I have been doing lately stems from the National Coalition for History. An active advocate for many important policy issues that impact archives, libraries, and other cultural heritage institutions, the National Coalition for History has been doing a lot of work to keep the issue of Humanities funding in the forefront. Member organizations represent thousands of historians, genealogists, archivists, teachers, students, and other stakeholders, so they are keeping current on issues that impact those professions and the communities served. Active social media campaigns have been highlighting some of these efforts, as well as collaboration with other non-profit educational organizations to encourage face-to-face and other modes of history-related advocacy. Current goals and accomplishments that impact the archives profession include working to prevent the elimination of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, an important source of funding for archives across the country, and leading the effort to pass the Presidential & Federal Records Reform Act. The National History Coalition has an active social media presence, so be sure to check them out on Facebook and Twitter, or historycoalition.org, to get a sense of current advocacy work and major accomplishments.

— Lindsay Hiltunen

Archivists on the Issues: Access and Inclusion in the Reading Room

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.

For my second in a series on Access and Accessibility in Archives, I will discuss physical access to collections and spaces. I did not want to cover physical accessibility since there was an SAA AMRT/RMRT Joint Working Group on Accessibility in Archives and Records Management that covered this in depth and has created excellent documentation for working with both patrons and professionals with disabilities.

My initial thoughts were unfocused, though I knew I wanted to touch on this idea of who is, and more importantly, feels welcome in our spaces. I have been thinking about this since last spring, when I attended a presentation on art education and museum outreach, and last summer, when I read Cecilia Caballero’s blog post, “Mothering While Brown in White Spaces, Or, When I Took My Son to Octavia Butler’s Exhibit.” My thoughts congealed into a more digestible mass in my brain after I attended a fabulous session at the Midwest Archives Conference annual meeting titled “Beyond Description: Toward Critical Praxis in Public Services,” featuring Anna Trammell, Cinda Nofziger, and Rachael Dreyer as panelists.

These three occurrences gave me a lot to think about regarding the people in our reading rooms and what we can do to increase access and inclusion to a wider range of patrons. I hope we as a profession can come up with solutions to improve access to our physical spaces.

Director Dialogue: In Conversation with Brian Kennedy

Last March I attended a public discussion between three art museum directors about how they approach art education at their respective institutions: Brian Kennedy, director of my local art museum, the Toledo Museum of Art; Gretchen Dietrich from the Utah Museum of Fine Arts; and Lori Fogarty of the Oakland Museum of California. Though I went looking for outreach ideas, I came out with many questions, which I summarized on my own [sadly neglected] personal blog shortly after the event.

The directors discussed how they conduct outreach to make their museums into community spaces, better anticipate user needs, and invite more of the people from their respective neighborhoods into their buildings. Libraries, especially public libraries, have served the role of community centers for decades and museums are now getting on board, but where does this leave archives among our GLAM counterparts?

Archival public spaces tend to be limited to utilitarian reading rooms and maybe exhibit space. What would it look like if we tried to build new kinds of spaces where people could interact with our collections in different ways? What if we focused on more than research needs and looked at other information needs we could fill? What if we built spaces that are comfortable and appealing to spend time in? What if people didn’t have to sit at an uncomfortable table in a silent, surveilled room to get access to our collections? I am sure some of you reading this are thinking, “We’re doing something like this!” I want to hear about it! Do you have a good model others can follow? Shout it from the rooftops (or @librarypaste on Twitter)!

Beyond Description: Toward Critical Praxis in Public Services

During the MAC session, Trammel, Nofziger, and Dreyer began by presenting the idea of taking a critical look not only at our collections and our profession, but also the public services our staffs provide, using Michelle Caswell’s instant classic “Teaching to Dismantle White Supremacy” as a basis to examine the barriers that keep some users from accessing archives. Caswell’s article provides a useful diagram to provoke thinking about ways white supremacy shows up in our work; the area on Access/Use is particularly relevant to this discussion, but it only scratches the surface.

The second part of the MAC session was an interactive activity where the room broke into groups and filled out a rubric that had a much longer list of types of barriers along with space to include a description of specific barriers to help guide the group discussions. The categories listed were as follows:

  • Technology (i.e. digital literacy)
  • Physical (i.e. vision or mobility challenges presented by public spaces)
  • Time (i.e. public hours, length of time required to conduct research, request and recall materials)
  • Financial (i.e. costs involved with accessing archives)
  • Documentation (i.e. registration requirements, identification required)
  • Policy (i.e. restrictions)
  • Identity (i.e. gender, sexuality, race)
  • Institutional/Systemic (i.e. whose interests & history are represented by holdings?)
  • Human Factor (i.e. customer service issues, approachability, etc.)

I found these categories to be excellent starting points to brainstorm.  For the sake of (comparative) brevity, I will not go into all of them here, but I want to talk through a few to give examples of how to use them as inspiration for brainstorming. Full disclosure: some of these came up or were inspired by my group’s discussion and did not spring fully formed from my own brain.

First example: Cost is a huge barrier. Obvious costs include memberships to private libraries and historical societies, photocopying or other reproduction services, or private researcher time, but hidden costs like parking, transportation, childcare, time off work, food and accommodations if researchers are coming from out of town are also present. It is great to collect materials from underrepresented communities, but if members of those communities cannot afford to come see and use materials from their own lives and experiences, we are still only serving people with the means to visit. To mitigate this, archives could provide research grants to members of the communities targeted in collection development projects. Institutions could also take their work directly to those communities, rather than continuing on relying on patrons to do all the work of coming to them.

A second barrier: Time. Many repositories have limited hours, often because of limited staffing or other concerns that are seemingly insurmountable, but we should take a closer look at ways to make ourselves more available outside “normal working hours” (or 9-12 and 1-4, or afternoons two days a week, etc.). People who work have to take time from jobs to visit, and if they have limited or no paid time off, this is a costly proposition, especially if their research needs require multiple visits. Archives can at least test extended or flexible hours as their circumstances allow. What if a repository closed on Wednesday afternoons in order to open Saturday afternoons instead? What if academic archives used students to stay open on weekends? My repository is somewhat unusual in that we have a circulating collection in addition to our special collections; so we have longer hours than most special collections – when school is in session, we’re open until 10pm five days a week and Saturdays and Sundays). We only have four full-time and one part-time staff in our department, so our terrific student employees keep things running on evenings and weekends. Sometimes staff members take an evening shift, but we flex that time and take it off during the week.

“Mothering While Brown in White Spaces, Or, When I Took My Son to Octavia Butler’s Exhibit”

I stumbled across Cecilia Cabellero’s post via Twitter last fall and it hit me hard. It is worth a read, because we can see some of these issues in action in a real person’s real life. Rather than try to rephrase her words with my own [white] words, take a minute to read her post and reflect on the issues she raises.

Cabellero mentions a specific library, but let’s be honest: this could be many of our repositories. She identifies it as being in a white space, as many archives and special collections are. Started by a wealthy white man for the use of other wealthy white men. A place where researchers need to have advanced degrees or letters of reference to access collections. Who is served by these policies? What is protected? For those of us with less stringent admission guidelines, what groups are we still keeping out? Do you require photo identification? Do you charge membership or usage fees? Many of our policies have good reasoning behind them and we are not likely to update them anytime soon. Are there better ways to communicate that to our users?

Cabellero was visiting an exhibit about Octavia Butler, a woman of color who wrote science fiction at a time when neither women nor people of color were particularly welcome in that genre (I am sure many would argue they still are not, but things have improved). Regardless of the library’s intentions, they created an environment in which a female writer of color did not feel comfortable or welcome or allowed to visit an exhibit with personal resonance.

One of Cabellero’s main points, as evidenced by the title, is her experience parenting in our spaces. This deserves some examination for archivists. Do you allow children in the reading room? If not, do parents who want to use your collections have other options? Childcare is expensive and may not always be available at convenient times. This disproportionately affects mothers, who often take on more childcare labor, especially during weekdays when archives tend to be open.

How often do we exclude as Caballero was excluded, or on similar but smaller scales? How often do our minor interactions with patrons leave them feeling unwelcome? I am sure I have unintentionally done this in my work. What kind of image do we project and how does that keep people away? How do we make archival spaces that are really for everyone?

It Take a Long Pull to Get There

I do not have nearly as many answers as questions, but let us have these discussions and attempt solutions that better serve all potential users. It won’t be quick or easy, but it will be worthwhile.

I’ll leave you with one final illustration. I studied musicology in graduate school and I often think back to a point that one of my professors, Dr. Gayle Sherwood Magee, made about the importance of representation and access, as illustrated by the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. A little background if you’re unfamiliar: it is very controversial because a group of privileged white men wrote about poor black characters so the script play into a lot of negative stereotypes: characters are beggars, drug dealers, abusive partners, etc. It gave African-American singers the opportunity to perform on Broadway, something that was still remarkable when Hamilton premiered with a diverse cast 80 years later, but none of the characters portrayed in the opera had access to be in the audience and watch their stories playing out on stage. Are we doing the same thing in archives by focusing our diversity efforts on our staffs and collections, and not the people coming into our reading rooms?

 

References

 

End-of-Year Steering Share: Accomplishments and What’s Next

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 from soon-to-be-outgoing (but still current!) I&A Chair Rachel Mandell, Metadata Librarian at the University of Southern California Digital Library.

Though we are not quite down to the final moments of the year (in terms of the SAA leadership schedule), we are indeed approaching the final push and thus, as I&A Chair, it is my final Steering Share. First of all, I want to thank everyone on the Steering Committee for being such a great team. You were all vital components of the work that we accomplished this year and working with you all was such a treat! I can’t wait to see/meet all of you in August!

I wanted to take this opportunity to briefly recap everything that we worked on this year and what we hope to continue next year.

Projects accomplished this year:

  • Blog series: Probably our most focused project. We really tried to add valuable content to each of our 3 blog series.
    • Steering Shares: Each Steering Committee member writes 3 posts throughout the year
    • Archivists on the Issues: 3 contributors each writes 3 posts about a topic of their choice.
    • Research Teams: Two research teams each write 3 posts.
      • News Monitoring Team: This year, the News Monitoring Research team, led by our very own Steve Duckworth, created monthly updates as well as more focused posts.
      • Legis* Team: We revamped the Legislative Research teams this year. We encouraged each member on the team to monitor topics of interest relating to legislation, legislators, and/or resources relating to discovering information.
      • Also had some additional guest contributors like Eira Tansey and international blog follower François Dansereau
  • #AskanArchivist Day: Our Steering Committee participated by taking turns monitoring our Twitter feed. It was great fun!
  • Social Media: Our amazing I&A Intern, Samantha Brown, took on handling our social media—and she rocked it! Thanks, Samantha! See us on Facebook and/or Twitter!
  • Archives Design Share Portal in collaboration with the Regional Archival Associations Consortium (RAAC): Just getting started with collaborators at RAAC—hoping to get more going soon!
  • Collaboration with DLF’s Labor Working Group: Two phone calls to touch base and a possible project on the horizon!
  • SAA Advocacy groups quarterly calls. Keep each other informed, run ideas by each other. Also helped CoPP edit /update SAA’s public policy agenda
  • Developing program for section meeting at Annual Meeting

Projects to continue next year:

  • Continue the blog series tradition!
  • Collaboration with DLF
  • Temporary labor in libraries/archives survey/study
  • Archives Design Share Portal

While in many ways it seems like I wasn’t able to accomplish as much as I wanted, I also  definitely feel proud of what we did work on this year and the new projects that we got started on. I look forward to watching Courtney Dean, our esteemed Vice-Chair, who was really more of a co-chair, take over next year.