Archivists on the Issues: Making Archives Visible Through Maps

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s post is by Eira Tansey, Digital Archivist and Records Manager at the University of Cincinnati.

This post is about the Repository Data project, an SAA Foundation grant funded project to assemble a comprehensive data set of US archival repositories. The research team consists of Ben Goldman (Penn State University), Eira Tansey (University of Cincinnati), and Whitney Ray (UNC-Chapel Hill). By contacting over 145 archival organizations, they have received data on thousands of archival repositories across the United States. They are still processing the data, but it will eventually be made accessible to the public. Read on!

As we previously noted, the only existing open data set for archival repositories – OCLC’s ArchiveGrid – lacks representation of many small archives, historical societies, and other nebulously-defined archives. As many of you know, inclusion in ArchiveGrid is primarily driven by having various descriptive data (MARC records, EAD finding aids, etc) online and crawlable to OCLC. This means that repositories with professional archivists on staff and the resources to make archival description available online are over-represented in the ArchiveGrid data set. In reality, there are many archives that don’t fit this description, and are therefore literally invisible to much of the profession.

This has been frustrating to us as we pursue our work on archival vulnerability to climate change. The institutions that are most at risk for sea-level rise and climate change influenced disasters are also the least likely to have professional staff and sufficient resources to sustain archival collections even in “normal” times – let alone during an emergency. And yet, these are the archives that weren’t visible in our first pass at mappingrepository vulnerability to climate change.

But now we’d like to show you the dramatic way in which our research project has uncovered how many archives exist – even if they aren’t putting their finding aids online.

This is the “Before” map, reflecting OCLC’s data – according to ArchiveGrid as of 2016, there are approximately 44 repositories in the state of Ohio:

Map by Eira Tansey

Although this data is not yet final, this is our beta data set for Ohio – i.e., our “After” map. You can see a dramatic difference in how many more archives have been revealed thanks to our efforts (and especially that of Whitney, our fantastic research assistant, who has done the heavy lifting in reaching out to archival organizations to compile and clean data). According to our preliminary* data, there are well over 500 repositories in the state of Ohio.

Map by Eira Tansey

I want to highlight that constructing archives as those repositories that participate in networked archival descriptive infrastructure tends to erase the visibility of small archives, especially those outside of major population centers. Let’s use southeastern Ohio – aka Appalachia – as an example.

The light-green counties are those that are part of the federally-defined Appalachian Regional Commission’s jurisdiction. (Clearly there are cultural constructions of Appalachia that do not fit in with these county delineations, but those aren’t as easy to find as open GIS data!)

In the “before” map, only 3 archives exist in Ohio’s Appalachian counties, and they are all associated with higher education: Marietta College, Youngstown State, and Ohio University.

Map by Eira Tansey

But in the after map, we see that there are roughly 100 (100!!!!!!!!!!) archives in Ohio’s Appalachian counties. Why the massive difference? Because our efforts to get as much data from local, regional and state archival organizations means we have pulled in dozens of small historical societies, public libraries, and museums.

Map by Eira Tansey

We haven’t done before and after comparisons yet with other states, but I anticipate they would look very similar to what we’ve seen with Ohio. Building the first comprehensive data set of US repositories is no small task, but we think the preliminary results speak for the importance of our work.

*We say preliminary because we still have some cleaning and minor de-duplication tasks left with our data.


Archivists on the Issues: Digital Accessibility in the Archives

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, Lindy Smith, Reference Archivist at Bowling Green State University’s Music Library and Bill Schurk Sound Archives.

Archivists spend a lot of time discussing, working on, and agonizing over outreach. We want people to know we exist and are doing the important work of providing access to documents, objects, and files that tell the stories of history. But once we meet that elusive goal of getting people to interact with us, what are we doing to make sure that experience is open to all potential users equally? By focusing on getting people in the door or clicking like, we may overlook the different abilities, experiences, and expectations our patrons bring to these interactions.

In this first of three posts, I will discuss improving digital access. I’m not an expert in this area, but I take accessibility very seriously and am working to educate myself and improve. My library has recently formed a task force to examine all our digital properties; being involved in that work has been a great learning experience. I’ve only scratched the surface in the great literature out there. I encourage you to do your own research and start making small changes locally. They can make a huge difference for users as well as increase potential audiences. We may have a tendency to think primarily of issues facing computer users with visual impairments, but the A11y Project reminds us that there are four categories to consider in making content accessible: visual, auditory, motor, and cognitive.

Existing standards can help prioritize changes. First is Section 508, a 1998 amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. If you work for the federal government, you’re probably familiar with this as it’s required for all federal agencies to meet these requirements. Some state and government institutions also require that employees meet these standards when creating web content. The other major standard is Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), a body that sets global standards for web content. Section 508 was updated earlier this year to better address new technology, WCAG 2.0, and other global standards.


Your collection’s website can be a great place to start since websites are a relatively finite and static collection of pages. Many of the principles applied to your website can be carried over into other digital content.

If your archives is part of a larger institution, your local IT and accessibility services departments can be great allies in making these improvements and they may be able to provide additional information and training based on local infrastructure. Chances are they’ll be delighted to help you be proactive in setting up good, accessible websites rather than reactively making changes when someone makes a complaint.  If you’re a lone arranger or working in a small archives, you can find lots of helpful information online and there may also be local resources in your community that you can take advantage of.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, there are tools like Siteimprove or WebAIM’s WAVE that can help you identify potential accessibility issues on web pages. They scan pages for situations that look like they might cause problems for your users so you can review them and make fixes as necessary.

Additional Resources

Social Media

Most of us use social media accounts for outreach and it is often the first point of contact, so content should be available to anyone who is interested. Social media also is often very current, so you can add in accessible options going forward without having to go back and fix past posts.

Each platform approaches accessibility differently and offers different tools. Take time to explore the options available and decide what makes sense for your content. If you never post videos, for example, you don’t need to worry about captions. If you post photos of documents, find out how to add alt text. Make sure your blog posts conform to best practices for general web content.

The following are links to accessibility information for some popular platforms:

You’ll notice some glaring omissions in the list above. Not all platforms offer good accessibility options or documentation, which is important to keep in mind when deciding which services to use for your archives. Broader guidelines and tips are in the additional resources directly below.

Additional Resources

Finding Aids

Many archives have collection descriptions online. This makes collections much more easily findable online and is a laudable goal, but the description also should be accessible to researchers who rely on assistive technologies like screen readers to navigate the virtual world. Finding aids can be tricky because they use a variety of formats and platforms: simple PDFs embedded in websites, HTML or EAD documents posted with style sheets, open source or proprietary software templates. Each presents opportunities and challenges.

In a 2013 study, Kristina L. Southwell and Jacquelyn Slater tested the accessibility of randomly selected online finding aids from ARL member libraries. The formats varied, but overall almost every finding aid had at least a few accessibility errors. Southwell and Slater’s article is highly recommended reading, as it offers specific examples of issues and the problems they cause for users. Perhaps things have improved in the five years since this study was published, but likely there are still many finding aids that inaccessible out there.

If you’re curious, do some research on the platform that your archives is using and look for documentation on their accessibility efforts or test your finding aids the way you would other web pages. You can search for a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT), which resources marketed to libraries and archives may provide, to help you make your assessment.

Additional Resources
  • Southwell, Kristina L. & Slater, Jacquelyn (2013). An Evaluation of Finding Aid Accessibility for Screen Readers. Information Technology and Libraries, 32(3), 34-46.

Digital Collections and Exhibits

Digital collections and online exhibits have a lot in common with other websites, but they also have unique issues. They have a higher concentration of images, digitized documents, and A/V files, which can require more mediation to be fully accessible. These items should have, respectively, detailed descriptions, searchable transcripts or OCR-created text, and captions or transcripts. In addition to digital objects, also consider the accessibility of the metadata that describes the objects and the platform that pulls it all together. As with social media platforms and collection management tools, take the time to research the accessibility documentation available from the platform you use for sharing your digital collections.

Tammy Stitz and Shelly Blundell developed a helpful rubric to help assess the accessibility of your digital collections. They draw on various standards, including Section 508 and WCAG 2.0, to help you make high impact changes. For example, audio content would ideally have sign language interpretation and synchronized captions, but if you’re only able to manage a transcript, that’s acceptable.

Additional Resources

Email Reference

Writing this post, I started with a list of all the ways that we digitally interact with our users; email correspondence was the only option that I had not previously considered accessibility. And why not? It’s the most personal, and accessibility should be just as much of a concern there as anywhere. Basic email text can be approached largely like any web content. I recommend knowing enough about your email client and its necessary features. Both Outlook and Gmail, two major email providers, have websites that offer assistance to make email accessible.

In addition to email’s text, think about what your links and attachments to those emails. When you share digitized content with your patrons via email, is it accessible? I have to confess, this isn’t something I had previously taken into consideration, but it’s worth a few small steps to try to increase accessibility. Even running quick OCR on PDFs or including brief descriptions of requested images is helpful.

If you have a good solution for this or are taking similar measures in your own work, I’d be interested to hear about it.

Additional Resources

Challenge: Make One Change

Many commonly discussed accessibility issues are focused on improving user experience using assistive technologies. This can seem abstract, so I encourage you to try it out. One commonly used assistive technology is a screen reader; your computer likely has one pre-installed (VoiceOver for Mac, Narrator for PC). If not, a variety of free programs and YouTube videos demonstrate how to use a screen reader. Turn it on and try it on some of your web content. You’ll soon understand why meeting accessibility criteria is so important. As an added bonus, many changes that improve accessibility also improve all users’ experience and can improve sites’ search engine optimization (SEO) as well. Everyone benefits from accessible websites!

Some problems may be difficult to fix or completely out of your control, but if you start by making a few simple but high impact changes, you can make a big difference for users. Create new workflows with accessibility in mind so it becomes an integral part of what you’re doing, instead of an afterthought. Develop good habits going forward and clean up previous work as you go. Be proactive in policies, instead of reactive. Add accessibility features to your list of criteria for new tools.

My challenge to all of you is to choose one thing, large or small, that will improve user accessibility this week. Maybe you sign up for web accessibility training locally, or start adding alt text to new blog images, or set up a department meeting to brainstorm a plan to improve your finding aids’ accessibility. Every little bit helps and makes it easier for larger audiences to access your content.

Archivists on the Issues: Reflections on Privilege in the Archives

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.

In Fall 2016, Michelle Caswell’s “Archives, Records, and Memory” class at the UCLA Graduate School of Information Studies collectively created the content for the poster “Identifying & Dismantling White Supremacy in Archives”(Caswell, Brilmyer, 2016).  The poster lists five areas to identify and take corrective action towards disassembling the power-structure of white supremacy.  The sections of the poster, identified as an “Incomplete List of White Privileges in Archives and Action Items for Dismantling Them” include appraisal, description, access/use, professional life, and education.  Each section lists privilege and possible actions to create a counteraction.  As an example, in the description section, one privilege is listed as “materials are described using my native language” and actions to counter this as a privilege are “Hire multilingual people as archivists and translators and translate finding aids into appropriate languages” and “Encourage, value, and give credit for language courses in MLIS programs and as continuing education” (Caswell, 2016).  In a related article, “Teaching to Dismantle White Supremacy in Archives,Caswell reflects on her experiences and consequential action to bring the conversation into her class as teaching faculty in a national political climate in which her colleagues and students expressed to her fear and anxiety about their rights as residents of the United States (Caswell, 2017).

Though the poster may have come out of a class exercise, it exudes a sense of professional activism.  It provides rules to live by, goals in daily archival work and easily accessible and relevant issues in archival work.  My own professional experiences have made me stop and reflect on the privileges from which I have benefited.

I am a project archivist at California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH), where the student population is less than 10% white; the largest populations are Latinx (69%) and Black (14%) per CSUDH Institutional Research, 2016.  The campus also has a large population of undocumented students, also known as “Dreamers.”  At the time of my arrival in Spring 2017, the campus Dreamer Success Center provided ally workshops, informational talks about the challenges of being an undocumented student, and discussions about the threatening nature of the United States’ current political climate.

In an admittedly naive attempt to create a professional space for allyship, I began to investigate the possibility of implementing an oral history project for Dreamers’ narratives, to be accessioned into the University Archives, unaware that this posed a potential risk not to myself but to contributors.  After some initial research and conversations with collaborators, and after wrestling with the responsibilities and possible consequences, I was directed by a concerned party to locate news about a Boston College Irish Republican Army (IRA) oral history collection and the 2016 government-ordered release of restricted content recorded in 2001.

Today, I reflect on my role as an archivist of color at a public university, how I found fear in my position, and the real implications of this particular attempt at inclusivity in the archives without a clear sense of action and acumen in the profession.  The fear I felt was the ease with which the information could be abused, as was the case with the aforementioned IRA oral history collection.

Previously, I experienced this same fear at a community-based private non-profit cultural archive.  In this instance, the emotion was based in possible consequences of increased access and deviation from a “normative narrative” of heroism and reverence.  There were potential tangible consequences to the fiscal health of the organization per se if increased access to content were viewed as the “airing the dirty laundry.”

These two experiences led me to cautious action moving towards inclusivity.  Why?  Chris Taylor’s article (2017), “Getting our House in Order: Moving from Diversity to Inclusion” creates a conversation on the impact of our training, our worldviews and experiences, and how our personal worldview is projected in our professional work (p. 23).  My own professional training and education is far from adequate to effectively maneuver in this conversation that is not yet rooted in any wide-scale and sustained conversations or representation by any governing organization or collective in the field of archives. In both of the aforementioned cases, I recognize a gnawing inadequacy of my professional-self.

With a movement towards dismantling supremacy in archives, there will be challenges and fear of change, and hesitation of being seen as a change-maker.  What is the professional and personal impact of these actions?  How does one engage with the political implications of disrupting an architecture, and what tools can I equip myself with that will diminish negative professional self-doubt, fear of consequences of change, and foster empowerment.  How do we complete the list of white privilege and structural oppression?  What can be built in its place and what authority does such new inclusive structure have?  Will/can archivists dismantle white supremacy in the archives alone, and should we do so, alone?

Archivists, contributors, users, are faced with personal and professional risks and consequences in an emotionally and politically charged topic that systematically misrepresented, and excluded communities of color.  My sense of fear is based in real daily experiences, not as case-studies or theoretical conversation.  Perhaps others feel fear, confusion, hesitation, exhaustion and other emotions that can deflate professional duty, and create a roadblock for future attempts to build a truly inclusive archive.



Hiding in Plain Sight: Archives and Popular Culture

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, 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. 

Lately there have been rumblings on the internet regarding the deadness and/or dying of the library and archival professions, which is nothing new, but it strikes me as a particularly myopic death knell considering the omnipresence of records-related headlines (emails, JFK, cyber-attacks, etc…) and the ongoing relevance of archival work, both traditional and digital. The professions are changing, as the nature of information creation and sharing changes, but our work and ideals remain crucial to a society that values the open exchange of ideas.

Since beginning my career as an archivist in 2015, I have developed a heightened awareness of the proliferation of archives, “the archive,” and archival documents represented in popular culture. I can’t binge watch my way through the latest Netflix series without at least once hitting an imaginary buzzer on the couch and yelling “Archives!” to anyone (or no one) who happens to be next to me. But at the same time, there is also something—or someone—missing in these moments of recognition: the archivist. Where are we in the popular imagination? The results of our work are everywhere, yet representations of actual archivists are few and far between. Of course, it is traditional in our profession to be behind the scenes and to leave no trace once we have “shuffle[d] the damn papers” (O’Toole, 1993).

This has led me to wonder about the role of the archivist in society, how we are seen or ignored, and how our work is vital to so many creative pursuits beyond the expected use of archival sources by historians. Archival materials are used by poets, visual artists, and filmmakers to deepen their work and as “the narrative marrow and aesthetic backbone” (Paletz, 2013) of their pieces.  In this post, I will explore one popular genre that notably relies on archives: the true crime documentary.

Beginning with Errol Morris’s seminal film, The Thin Blue Line (1987), modern true crime documentaries place records in a starring role alongside interviewees; these records are narratively and aesthetically significant.  In the last couple of years, such films have been everywhere: Making a Murderer, The Jinx, Serial (podcast), OJ; Made in America, and The Keepers, to name a few, and new titles continue to appear (such as Morris’s new film Wormwood).  

This notable trend builds upon a literary genre that has been popular for centuries—the crime serial—and modernizes it with an emphasis on theatrical legal drama (Silbey, 2010), records, and recordkeeping. The visual power of records is matched by their power to effect real change in the lives of the films’ subjects. In the case of Morris’s subject Randall Dale Adams in The Thin Blue Line, his exoneration came about as a result of the film; we see this happening again with The Jinx, the Paradise Lost trilogy, and the podcast Serial, which establishes a strong link between filmmakers’ use of archival resources and criminal justice causes that result in activism.

And with the proliferation of sources available online and in various media, filmmakers have access to materials beyond newsreels and photographs. Taking center screen in many of these true crime films are: home movies, cell phone records, police documents, interview transcripts, handwriting samples, and police interviews with suspects (custodial interviews).

In film, as in other visual media, records carry symbolic weight (O’Toole, 1993). In each of the docu-series discussed here, records constitute much of what is seen on screen. Having “gained independence from its conventional role as historical wallpaper” (Paletz, 2013), archival footage, and footage of archival materials, now drives the action.

Unlike the traditional guts and gore we have come to expect from crime stories, records convey a familiar, quotidian side of human logic that contrasts the inherent sensationalism of the genre. Records, representing truth, drive visual narrative and on-screen action; they also provide the viewer with access to potential answers and a satisfying resolution.


Examples of archives in pop culture includes:

The Jinx (HBO, directed by Andrew Jarecki, 2015)

Estranged real estate heir, Robert Durst, is the central figure in three murder cases: his wife, his neighbor, and his best friend, Susan Berman. His story is bizarre and ongoing. Oddly, it was Durst himself who approached Jarecki and offered access to his personal papers (3). Each episode presents records used to further the story in a variety of ways: 

  • Reenactments based on crime scene photos
  • Handwriting samples
  • Highlighted interview transcripts
  • Newspapers, crime photos, tabloids.

The crux of this series, and the subsequent re-arrest of Robert Durst, lies in the unearthing of a handwritten note from Durst to victim Susan Berman found in the personal papers kept by her stepson, Sareb Kaufman. Kaufman serves as a kind of amateur “citizen archivist” or keeper of records that link Durst to the murder of Susan Berman.

The Jinx, which is full of interviews and oral history interviews, is itself a new record of the crimes it represents, documenting the relationship between filmmaker and subject along with the subject’s continued role as suspect. The film is a well-constructed result of careful research and Jarecki credits many archival sources at the end of each episode.

Making a Murderer (Netflix, directed by Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi, 2015)

Created over 10 years, this series explores the life and trials of Steven Avery, a man convicted of murder and exonerated after 18 years in prison in 2003, only to be arrested and convicted of murder again in 2007. Many questions arise regarding the Wisconsin criminal justice system and local police department’s handling of Avery’s case(s) and that of his nephew, Brendan Dassey. The film’s focus on the legal system and court room activity also highlights the importance of evidentiary records over time and the need for adequate stewardship of legal and public records.

Pivotal use of records in the series includes:

  • Possible evidence tampering, case files and police evidence
  • Cell phone metadata
  • Police interviews and custodial interrogations
  • Court and police dept. documents

The filmmakers use of documents and police footage led to the overturned conviction of Brendan Dassey after his pre-arrest police interviews were found to show a coerced confession (Almasy, 2016). Like The Jinx, this series is a compilation of many years’ research and is itself documentation of Wisconsin’s criminal justice system and the Avery family.

The Keepers (Netflix, directed by Ryan White, 2017)

These clues to what [the past] was linger on in a place like this attic. These objects hold energy…Tom Nugent, Journalist, “The Keepers”

This is a series as much about memory as it is about solving a long-cold case. As the title suggests, its protagonists are keepers of memory, truth-seekers and literal stewards, collecting stories related to the murder of their teacher, Sister Cathy Cesnik. They also investigate the role of the Diocese of Baltimore in covering up sexual abuse at area schools.

The Keepers taps into what it means to steward ephemeral fragments of a larger story, delving into the psychology of memory, abuse survival, and the emotional work of recordkeeping.

Led by a team of citizen researcher-archivists and advocates, the women at the center of this series “went into this collecting information…every bit of scrap…every story” seeking answers where the absence of records leaves an endless trail of questions.  


Film invigorates archival records, inviting new eyes and reinterpretation. Records participate in the narratives and underpin the criminal justice causes and retrials instigated by these series.

These documentaries highlight records as active participants in ongoing investigations rather than mere static referents—but they do not rise magically from nowhere. Archival records, both analog and digital, require ongoing stewardship and preservation if they are to remain accessible to creators and researchers. We see stacks of papers and boxes pulled from shelves, but actual archives and archivists are often absent. There is no “popular” image of an archivist and yet we are more present than ever, however unseen we may be. Without records and their keepers, there are no stories to tell.

Other Viewing and Listening
  • The Thin Blue Line (Morris, 1988)
  • Serial (Koenig, 2014- )
  • Capturing the Friedmans (Jarecki, 2003)
  • OJ: Made in America (Edelman, 2016)
  • Paradise Lost Trilogy (Berlinger and Sinofsky, 1996-2011)



Almasy, Steve. ‘Making a Murderer’: Brendan Dassey conviction overturned., August 12, 2016.

Bagli, Charles V.; Yee, Vivian. On HBO’s ‘The Jinx’ Robert Durst Says He ‘Killed them all’. The New York Times, March 15, 2015.

O’Toole, James. The Symbolic Significance of Archives. The American Archivist, 1993. 234-255 

Palatz, Gabriel, “The Archives in Contemporary Documentary,” POV 83 (Fall 2011), available at

Silbey, Jessica M., Evidence Verité and the Law of Film (April 24, 2010). Cardozo Law Review, Vol. 31, No. 4, pp. 1257-1299, 2010; Suffolk University Law School Research Paper No. 10-23

Archivists on the Issues: Net Freedom and the Federal Communication Commission

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


On December 14, the Federal Communication Commission, also known as the FCC, is expected to hold a vote that will decide the fate of Net Neutrality. This vote will likely change the landscape of the internet (Giles 2017). After hearing about this vote, SAA’s President, Tanya Zanish-Belcher, wrote a letter to the FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai. In this letter, she writes that the removal of Net Neutrality rules undermined “…the ability of archives to provide equitable and unfettered access to our shared cultural heritage and will penalize users of archival information from many research communities…” (SAA 2017). To understand the gravity of this vote and how it will directly affect archives, we first must understand what Net Neutrality is.

When someone gets on their computer and wants to visit a website, their browser is connected to their chosen site by their internet provider, also known as the ISP. Currently, the user understands that they will be connected to their chosen site without the ISP interfering with the data they are receiving. This is the main idea behind Net Neutrality (Save the Internet). The rules that the FCC currently have in place guarantee that all websites operate on a level playing field (Feldman 2017). An ISP cannot provide a fast lane to those companies that have the ability to pay more for prioritization (Giles 2017).

Without Net Neutrality rules in place, many fear that ISPs like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon could “…block websites or content they don’t like or applications that compete with their own offerings” (Save the Internet). Services from libraries, archives, and other cultural heritage organizations that are increasingly providing access in a digital environment could easily be disrupted (Peterson 2014). Many of these organizations work with and provide voices to groups that express dissenting viewpoints. The fear is internet providers could be pressured to block websites that feature content that opposes the government or major companies (Newton 2017).

Right now it’s hard to know how many of these fears are justified since no one really knows what the internet will be like in the United States without Net Neutrality. The best way we can currently form an idea of what to expect is to look at other countries that operate without the rules we currently have in place. Fears about the suppression of dissenting viewpoints may not be completely unjustified. In 2005, a Canadian telecom company, Telsus, blocked access to a union website that was working to promote a strike against the company. If companies are able to privilege access to specific apps and websites without oversight, then certain brands and ideas may be granted dominance over others (Glaser 2017). This begs the question, what would happen to the voices of marginalized groups in America without the protections of Net Neutrality (Save the Internet)?  Would organizations working to preserve the history of marginalized groups have access to their websites and online resources limited?




Feldman, Brian. “Without Net Neutrality, What Happens to My Netflix?” Select All, New York Magazine, 21 Nov. 2017,

Glaser, April. “What the Internet Is Like in Countries Without Net Neutrality.” Slate Magazine, 8 Dec. 2017,

Giles, Martin. “Killing net neutrality is bad news for startups-and the customers they want to serve.” MIT Technology Review, MIT Technology Review, 7 Dec. 2017,

“Net Neutrality: What You Need to Know Now.” Save the Internet, Free Press,

Newton, Creede. “Digital advocates decry US plan to end net neutrality.” Al Jazeera News, Al Jazeera, 22 Nov. 2017,

Peterson, Andrea. “Why the death of net neutrality would be a disaster for libraries.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 16 May 2014,

“SAA Urges FCC to Preserve Existing Net Neutrality Provisions.”, Society of American Archivists, 4 Dec. 2017,


So SAA’s Going to Austin. Now What?

This post was written by Stephanie Bennett and the Issues & Advocacy Section’s Steering Committee, in light of the recent news that SAA was keeping its commitment to hold 2019’s annual meeting in Austin, Texas. 

With the announcement from SAA president Tanya Zanish-Belcher that SAA’s 2019 will be in Austin, despite a Council discussion about moving it, SAA members – and all archivists and humans who move about the world – have some thinking to do. And some work to do. Some of us – though not the Californian archivists among us – will attend the meeting. The I&A Steering Committee once more poses questions that we’ve been asking amongst ourselves:

  • How can we, as an organization and as individuals, support the activists of Texas?
  • Is it a betrayal of our personal beliefs or heteronormative myopia if we do attend, in part because we “pass” the Texas legislature’s guide of acceptable personhood?
  • As Eira Tansey points out, the battles between more liberal cities and restrictive, conservative legislatures are happening across the U.S.; where will our harassed queer colleagues find safe harbor?
  • Should we, how can we, support our professional organization(s) in the long run so that these choices between financial precarity or personal harm are no longer required? Does SAA need  (as writer Paulette Perhach called it) a F*ck Off Fund?
  • How can we work within the profession to change foundational systems of oppression? (And all of the questions we posed previously, really)

As an institution, SAA and its component groups, including the sections, have the responsibility to be mindful of how we spend our time and money – especially in Austin. We’ve been watching and listening as Representative John Lewis models the ethics and actions of “good trouble.” At Issues & Advocacy, we are committed to spending our money at LGBTQ-owned and -friendly businesses and establishments that recognize that black lives matter. We will seek opportunities to collaborate with queer archivists to do service and/or fundraising to benefit Texan activists and organizations fighting against the state’s restrictive and occasionally unconstitutional or overturned laws. And we welcome your ideas! If there is an event or organization that you would like to see supported or a topic that you would like to be discussed but do not have the bandwidth to undertake, let us know.

That said, the Society of American Archivists, as a 501(c)(3) non-profit, is not permitted to engage in “political campaign activities as defined by the IRS. We are not lawyers, but we do understand that  limits to SAA’s work exist, and, as a body within SAA, the limits for Issues & Advocacy’s work as well. But as individuals, we have the right to political activity and related speech. For those of us who will attend the meeting, we look forward to working in Austin, as both individuals and professional archivists.


Archivists on the Issues: Women Archivist Leaders and How to Become One

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today is the final post from Adriana Flores, Archivist and Special Collections Librarian at the University of Puget Sound, who has been blogging at Issues & Advocacy this year.

After attending the Society of American Archivists’ annual conference this past week, there’s no question that women are present in our profession. From the sea of cardigans to the long bathroom lines, women make their presence known. As I looked around at all the amazing female leaders in SAA, the idea of reaching that level of leadership myself seemed daunting. It made me wonder: do most women in SAA feel like they have the resources to claim leadership positions? Do we encourage women to seize leadership roles in SAA, and furthermore, at their own institutions? This blog post will reflect on some of the amazing role models of female leadership in SAA and highlight some resources and tips for those interested in climbing the leadership ladder.

Female Leaders in SAA History

If you look at the numbers of SAA leadership at the highest level, they tell an interesting story. Twenty of SAA’s 72 presidents since 1936 have been women; female presidency started with Margaret Cross Norton as the fourth SAA president in 1943. Since 1972, 7 out of the 9 executive directors have been women. Women archivists can look to this history of female leadership for inspiration as we progress along the leadership path outselves.

As I researched this post, I came across Michele F. Pacifico’s essay, “Founding Mothers: Women in the Society of American Archivists, 1936-1972,” in American Archivist. It is a wonderful read that explores the role that women played in SAA during its early years and highlights discrepancies between male and female membership and leadership.

Since SAA’s conception, women have been guiding and shaping it. In 1935, the American Historical Association created a “Committee of Ten on the Organization of Archivists” to establish a national organization of archivists (Pacifico 372). Two of those committee members were women. Pacifico writes:

Both [Margaret Cross Norton and Ruth Blair] had been active in the AHA Conference of Archivists and were interested in developing a separate professional organization for archivists. As early as 1929, Norton had encouraged archivists to detach themselves from historians. (372-373).

The vision and determination these women expressed is inspirational. Although their male counterparts outnumbered them, they were an integral part of developing the profession we are a part of today.

As archivists, we can learn a lot from Pacifico and the women she writes about. Although her essay was published in 1987, similarities to today shine through. She explains that between 1937 and 1972, only 10.9% of conference presenters and participants were women. She writes, “A close examination shows that year after year the same women were asked to present papers, chair sessions, or teach workshops” (378). During my time as an SAA member, I have seen people present year after year and I encourage more women to step forward and seize those opportunities.

Tips for Seizing Leadership Opportunities

  1. Apply to be an SAA intern for a section or committee. If you are a young professional and looking for a way to experience section leadership, apply to become a section intern. SAA emails about this annually in the spring.
  2. Find an SAA section you enjoy and put your name forward for elected positions. In “Roundtables as Incubators for Leadership: The Legacy of the Congressional Papers Roundtable,” Leigh McWhite writes, “For professional newcomers, the smaller scale of the roundtable environment will prove less intimidating than the much larger organization of SAA. Regardless, leadership often requires that you volunteer yourself” (309:6). Section steering committee nominations are open every spring, also. If you know you’re interested, email steering committee members to let them know.
  3. Write for a blog, section or regional newsletter, Archival Outlook or The American Archivist. Writing for an SAA or SAA-affiliated publication can be a great way to get your name out there, while not requiring the time commitment of section or committee service. Often publications will send out a call for pieces, but if you have a great article idea, contact the publication you are interested in.
  4. Present a poster or be part of a panel presentation at SAA annual conference. Posters are a great gateway to professional presentations if you are nervous about public speaking. That being said, archivists are a friendly bunch and often a supportive audience for people who have presentation jitters. Calls for annual conference presentations usually go out around October.
  5. Find a mentor who you want to emulate and ask questions! Mentors provide professional knowledge, guidance, and support. Even if you are only able to have an informational interview instead of an ongoing relationship, talking with someone who has a job or position that you’re interested in is invaluable. Seek out a colleague, a fellow alum from your graduate program, a professor, or another professional who you have connected with. SAA’s program might be a useful start, too. Mentorship can happen at any stage of your career. Don’t hesitate to reach out to people who can help you take the next step in your career.

I hope my findings and reflections on female leadership in SAA have invigorated you to take the next step in your own career and leadership journey.


Finding Our Voice: Advocacy in a Difficult Time

This post was written by Courtney Dean and the Issues & Advocacy Section’s Steering Committee, in light of several recent events.

In light of recent acts of white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, personal attacks on the SAA-run Archives and Archivists listserv, and reports of harassment against several SAA 2017 panelists whose sessions addressed diversity, inclusion, and the dismantling of white supremacy in archives, the I&A Steering Committee has been considering the following questions and invites you to join with us:

  • How can we work within the profession to change foundational systems of oppression?
  • What can we do, individually and collectively, when colleagues are being harassed for their work and/or their ethnicity, gender, etc.?
  • How can we as a section provide a platform for elevating traditionally marginalized voices in the profession?
  • How can we create a safer space for difficult and vulnerable professional conversations?
  • How can we further SAA’s goal of inclusiveness?

Over the coming weeks we will be brainstorming our role as section within SAA, but we would also like to hear from the profession at large. SAA Council’s statement in response to A&A listserv activity provided the following prompt: If you have ideas about 1) how the List might be improved or 2) any new communication tools that we might consider as an enhancement to or substitute for the A&A List, please send your ideas to SAA President Tanya Zanish-Belcher at

Today’s Council statement regarding the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, VA, echoes the invitation to email members of Council or Specifically, sending along resources that can be included in a “toolkit that will offer specific information and resources on how our profession can work with communities to identify, combat, and dismantle acts and symbols of white supremacy” may be useful.

The I&A section also encourages submissions to our blog addressing any of the above topics. We reiterate Council’s stance against violence and intimidation and are wholly committed to working towards an inclusive professional organization.

Further reading

#ThatDarnList: The Saga Continues, Concerned Archivists Alliance

This most recent controversy demonstrated that there is still a serious problem in the archival profession with the mythical concept of archival ‘neutrality’ and with some archivists’ inability or unwillingness to entertain the notion that we can still be unwelcoming or even hostile to minorities in the profession.

SAA Statement on white supremacist violence in Charlottesville

ALA Statement on white supremacist violence in Charlottesville

Rare Book School statement on white supremacist violence in Charlottesville

Community Response to Charlottesville, list of actionable items added to by all, compiled by Michaela Suminski

The Problem of Perception, Feminist Killjoys

Archivists on the Issues: Podcasts as Oral Histories

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s post comes from Samantha “Sam” Cross, the Assistant Archivist for CallisonRTKL.

If you have an issue you would like to write about for this blog series or a previous post that you would like to respond to, please email Please note that opinions expressed in Archivists on the Issues posts do not indicate an official stance of SAA or the Issues and Advocacy Section.


What I’m proposing isn’t that all podcasts are oral histories, but that podcasts should be considered another avenue of the oral history tradition. Oral histories, as a medium of historical study, have been a boon to historians, researchers, and archivists given the information they provide. Through the recounting of people who have actually lived through and experienced specific events or eras in history, we’ve been better able to flesh out the socio-economic and political nature of lives led that might have been forgotten – unintentionally or otherwise – by the written record.

In the past, however, oral histories were limited by the technology available. Having the right equipment with which to record required money and, unless you worked for a university with a large staff, transcription was a time consuming affair. On the user end, access to tapes and/or transcripts were dictated by institutional policy, which presented its own ethical problems when dealing with marginalized communities.

Technological advancements seem to be, in some cases, the great equalizer. Recording devices with good sound quality are relatively cheap, though most smart phones provide free downloadable apps for recording as well. Editing and transcription software is free to download on the internet and accessibility to audio, video, and transcripts have increased as more collections become digitized. The line between oral historian and podcast host is about as blurred as it can be. So what prevents us from accepting podcasts as a means of doing oral history? Well, I suppose we need to look at what podcasts are and how they’ve carved out their own niche in popular culture.

Podcasts, as a medium, evolved from the soundbite driven interviews of radio and television, but as the technology has improved podcasts have grown into a far more dynamic, narrative driven medium. Part of that narrative includes extensive and, in some cases, intimate interviews with celebrities or well-known public figures. These interviews then provide first-hand accounts of different eras of history and industries such as comedy, Hollywood, and politics. There are literally hundreds of podcasts available to download on iTunes, Soundcloud, Stitcher, etc, and very little stands in the way of participation. If you have a smartphone and a decent wifi signal, then a podcast you can record.

Perhaps that’s where the hesitancy lies, in the ubiquity of podcasts. There’s an overwhelming amount of data and hours of audio to sift through, but can we rely anymore on the hosts or panelists of these programs than we do on actual oral historians? With oral histories, at least there’s a purpose behind it that veils itself in attempting to add supplemental information to the current documented record. Podcasts are entertainment. They’re superfluous and disposable when compared to the weighty task of recording and transcribing the words of active agents who lived through events that shaped our society. And yet, some podcasts inadvertently accomplish the same goal even if that was never their original intent.

I’ve been a long time listener of the WTF with Marc Maron podcast. Granted, when Maron started his show, he didn’t know or anticipate what podcasts would become or where he would land with his listeners, but his transition from enraged comic to engaged interviewer was what got me thinking about the idea of podcasts as oral histories. Specifically episodes 358 and 359 when Maron talked with Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner, respectively. The comedic landscape as we know it began with Brooks and Reiner’s generation and the two are forever linked with the late Sid Caesar and his comedic force of nature. They are also the products of a bygone era of vaudeville and Catskill comedy. And while I understand the showmanship behind interviews for public consumption, the intimacy of a long form conversation shouldn’t be overlooked.

Have Brooks and Reiner provided similar answers to questions over their long history of giving interviews? Yes, but the context of those interviews, which theorists love to extol, are predicated on previous soundbyte driven formats. An appearance on a late night show or an interview in a magazine facilitates short, almost concise answers, which become practiced over time. But when the format expands and the limitations are loosened the results become a completely different animal. There’s also the matter of the host or interviewer’s intention. Again, it adds to the context of the piece. Maron’s goal, ultimately, is to understand the people who visit him in his garage/studio. Citing his own journey of self-awareness, his aim is to talk about what brought the interviewee to the moment of conversation. He tries to go deeper with his guests, sussing out who they are, where they come from, and the environment that shaped them. No audience, no real time constraints, just Maron and whoever’s on the other side of the mic. Historical value may not have been the primary goal, but as a byproduct it’s just as useful.

Podcasts, then, through the archival lens have tremendous potential to act as another form of supplemental material as well as a means by which our own passions might bear fruit. Kate Brenner recounts her revelation regarding the potential of podcasts as tools of oral history while listening to an analysis of an episode of Radiolab:

I was waiting outside a pizzeria for my delivery to be ready when the episode “Finding the Story When You Know Too Much” came on.  

The episode analyzed a Radiolab episode that I’d heard before, and really enjoyed because it used oral histories. Ostensibly, the point of this episode was that the producer of the piece on German POW camps in Iowa had to learn everything about the subject and then figure out how to whittle it down to a coherent podcast.

But that’s not what I heard.

I heard the story of a woman who was passionate about a subject, did all the research, and made an impeccable case as to why it should be made into a podcast. The dramatic climax of her narrative is getting rejected for the podcast, until she’s in line at security about to fly somewhere and gets a call from Radiolab. They want her to come in immediately to talk about her idea. She ditches her flight and goes to work on her episode.

Podcasts are not oral histories in the sense that hosts or production teams have a clear intention to create them. Instead, podcasts are conversations that provide just as much, if not more, supplemental information that historians and archivists alike can find value. Podcasts don’t have to carry the weight of academia nor do they require permission to be accessed. They are free (mostly) to be consumed but that doesn’t mean they are lacking in the necessary information or context needed to flesh out the historical record. If anything, the more podcasts that are made, the more potential we may have to find voices that might have been lost.

Archivist on the Issues: The Best of Both Worlds, Combining physical & digital primary source education

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s post comes from Adriana Flores, Assistant Archivist for Acquisitions at Boston University’s Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center.

If you have an issue you would like to write about for this blog series or a previous post that you would like to respond to, please email Please note that opinions expressed in Archivists on the Issues posts do not indicate an official stance of SAA or the Issues and Advocacy Section.


If you have been keeping up on current trends in the archival profession, then you have heard about teaching with primary sources. The topic has had a distinct presence at the past few annual meetings, particularly the Reference, Access, and Outreach section’s full-day unconference, “Teaching With Primary Sources,” happening for the third time in Portland. However, another trend has also sparked my interest: creating education programs that utilize digitized archival materials. These programs offer access to primary sources in a whole new way and force archival educators to re-imagine the ways we’ve taught archival intelligence in the past. Clearly, teaching with primary sources is a vast subject with many approaches.

As an early professional, I am torn over how best to bring materials to college students. Should students be brought into the reading room to handle our rare and exciting materials themselves or should our items be scanned so students can access them from the comfort of their laptop? Or should students be exposed to both? To explore this issue further, I reviewed current literature on primary source education that highlight projects involving both physical and digital primary sources.

First, a quick overview of teaching with primary sources. Many archivists are not professionally trained educators so new publications, webinars, and other tools are vital to the transition from custodian to educator. Professors often enjoy incorporating primary sources into their classes because it gives their students an opportunity to engage with their lessons in a new and exciting way. In Teaching With Primary Sources, authors Elizabeth Yakel and Doris Malkmus write:

Textbooks and lectures present information in an authoritative voice, striving for clarity and concision, but research shows that students learn best when they experience cognitive dissonance and must struggle to make sense of new information by integrating it into an existing framework or building one around. (p. 35)

When engaged with primary sources, students are forced to think beyond the pre-packaged information often found in textbooks or articles. This method of teaching presents numerous opportunities for archival repositories to become more involved in course curriculum on campus.

When teaching with primary sources, the first approach that archivists can employ is straight-forward: bring students into archives. By allowing students to see archival materials first-hand, to touch them, to even smell them, understanding of the item can completely change. Physical materials often spark an interest in history by making an event or idea seem more tangible. Additionally, by being in an archival repository, students are able to learn more about how archives work and how to do research, also known as archival intelligence. As described in “AI: Archival Intelligence and User Expertise”:

Archival intelligence is a researcher’s knowledge of archival principles, practices, and institutions, such as the reasons underlying archival rules and procedures, how to develop search strategies to explore research questions, and an understanding of the relationship between primary sources and their surrogates. (p. 52)

By bringing college students into the archival repository and showing them primary sources, the archivist is able to impart archival intelligence, which will hopefully impact their future research skills. Overall, working with physical archival materials can make a lasting impact on students, which is both exciting and rewarding for archival educators.

Another approach to teaching with primary sources involves digital surrogates, which can be used to create online collections or exhibits, and expose a wider audience to archival materials. These platforms oftentimes make students feel more comfortable with the process of using primary sources; students can access documents from the comfort of their laptops without the limitations of reading room hours. Additionally, these methods can be great for distance or online-only students who are unable to visit campus. Digital projects will only become more prominent in our profession and it is worth investing the time to learn how to implement them.

It seems that the best way to expose students to primary sources is through a combination of physical and digital methods. By doing so, instructors are able to broaden their students’ research skill-sets and foster comfort and confidence with both in-person and online research. Yakel and Malkmus write:

While online sources are increasingly being used as substitutes for physical documents, both educators and archivists have also used online and physical records in a complementary sense. Instructors may introduce documents online to familiarize students with the sources and then bring students into the archives to focus on some of the material aspects of the items. Likewise, archivists may begin by introducing students to the actual records and then have them finish assignments using online collections…In the end, the important thing for both primary source and archival literacy is that students understand the advantages and disadvantages of using only actual, only online, or both types of primary sources. (p. 44)

By using primary sources in multiple formats, students are able to gain complementary research skills that will help them throughout their college career and beyond.

Lastly, working with both physical and digitized primary source materials presents one more exciting opportunity: digital humanities projects. At Nebraska University, archivists worked with faculty to create a series of classes that explored the relationship between physical and digital primary sources. Their goal for their students was to “…personally work with collections and learn more about the benefits of archival research through use of the materials in potentially compelling interpretative projects, and the online world would be able to discover our collections digitally” (Brink et al, p. 163). Digital humanities projects hold a great deal of potential for what primary source education can look like in the future; these projects are creative, collaborative, and constantly evolving. If you are struggling for a way to connect with humanities professors on campus, this is a great place to start.

Teaching with primary sources cannot be ignored by college and university archivists. Both physical and digital sources have their benefits and disadvantages while teaching, but I believe an education program is strongest when they are combined. If you are interested in learning more, I highly recommend SAA’s Teaching With Primary Sources, ACRL’s Past or Portal: Enhancing Undergraduate Learning through Special Collections and Archives, as well as attending RAO’s unconference. Any success stories, ideas, or reading suggestions? Please leave your comments below!


Adriana Flores is the Assistant Archivist for Acquisitions at Boston University’s Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center. She graduated in 2016 with her MLIS from Simmons College, with a concentration in Archives Management. Currently, Adriana is also a contributor for SNAP’s “Year in the Life” blog series.


Sources Cited

Brink, Peterson, and Mary Ellen Ducey, Andrew Jewell, and Douglas Seefeldt.”Teaching Digital History through the University Archives: The Case of Nebraska U: A Collaborative History.” In Past or Portal?: Enhancing undergraduate learning through special collections and archives, by Eleanor Mitchell, Peggy Seiden, and Suzy Taraba, 163-68. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries, 2012.

Yakel, Elizabeth, and Deborah Torres. “AI: Archival Intelligence and User Expertise.” The American Archivist 66, no. 1 (2003): 51-78. Accessed April 20, 2017. doi:10.17723/aarc.66.1.q022h85pn51n5800.

Yakel, Elizabeth, and Doris Malkmus. “Contextualizing Archival Literacy.” In Teaching with Primary Sources, by Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe and Christopher J. Prom, 5-68. Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2016.