Archivists on the Issues: I’m sorry, can you repeat that? Navigating Archives while Hard-of-Hearing

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s post comes from Michelle Ganz, the Archives Director at McDonough Innovation,

Hard of Hearing (HoH) covers everything from not being able to hear certain vocal ranges or pitches to only being able to hear with the help of hearing aids or cochlear implants.

Every HoH person’s condition, and therefore experience, is different. Everyone has different coping techniques and strategies to navigate the world we live in and the environments we move through. I’d like to share my experience and how that has informed how I have navigated my professional life as a lone arranger.

I was born deaf in my left ear and have slightly diminished hearing in my right ear, especially in the higher tonal ranges. Until a few years ago I managed without a hearing aid but as I have gotten older the efforts to hear became exhausting and I decided it was time to get help. Before the hearing aid I spent a lot of time completely panicked that I was missing critical information at school, at work, and anywhere that wasn’t home. After the hearing aid everything is louder, but that doesn’t translate to easier to hear. If a room has a lot of white noise, electronics, or cross-talk all I hear is a cloud of indistinguishable sound. When I was first transitioning to the hearing aid I would often have to flee from group situations to sit in a dark room until I could calm down from the overstimulation coupled with even less understanding. Those moments have passed, but I still have problems every day with basic vocal interactions; even in seemingly quiet spaces. Having an invisible disability can make an already challenging situation feel insurmountable.

The type of active listening and hyper-awareness of my surroundings that I have to engage in every day is exhausting, stressful, and isolating.  Some days are better than others, but what really adds to the load is the constant reminders to others: of my disability, of the best ways to communicate with me, or the concessions that need to be made for me. At best this sets me apart from the rest of the team, and at worst I’m seen as a disruption to the normal flow of work. People require regular assertions that I am not making things up to take advantage of perceived ‘perks.’ I feel like I constantly have to apologize for being a ‘burden’ for requesting special accommodations or basic courtesies. This means that I don’t always tell people that I can’t understand them.  It means I spend a lot of time wondering if I misunderstood something or completely missed something I should have heard. It means when I ask people to repeat things sometimes I have to ask so many times they just give up and walk away. It means I’ve sat in meetings and wondered what the heck was going on because everyone mumbled and the pace was too fast for me to ask for everything to be repeated.

Wearing a hearing aid has helped tremendously, but it doesn’t fix all my problems. It is paired with my cell phone (which is awesome) so phone calls stream directly to my ear, but conventional phones are nearly impossible for me to use. Listening to webinars on my computer, participating in conference calls, and other routine uses of technology can be difficult or outright impossible. Regular interactions with my colleagues in our kitchen are always a struggle, especially when the coffee machine is doing its very loud fresh-grind thing. People get uncomfortable with being asked to repeat an offhand anecdote or comment so it’s just easier for me to smile and nod rather than try to figure out what they said. Meetings can be totally derailed by requests to repeat something, or even worse, having to have someone else repeat what was said.  My boss is quiet and often mumbles, and does not like to repeat himself. I have spent hours trying to figure out what I missed from one of our meetings. When I used to do teaching sessions questions from students were the most difficult part of the class. At my last archive I had to conduct a lot of reference interviews over the phone with researchers who were often elderly or had difficult-to-distinguish local accents. This was frustrating for the patrons, who just wanted quick answers, and frustrating for me since it often derailed outreach efforts.

I understand that the vast majority of people will go their whole lives without knowingly interacting with someone who is HoH. But hearing loss affects millions of people (many of whom don’t even realize they have issues) and hearing issues are going to become a more prevalent issue in archival spaces and in everyday life. Our world is filled with white noise; even reading rooms have a lot of ‘noise’ not noticeable to most people. If I deeply engrossed in my work and there’s a fan on I will not hear you unless you get my attention first.

I also understand that people can’t grow and change if they a) don’t realize they are doing something wrong and b) if they don’t know where to start. To that end here are some of the things that I would like everyone to know.

The recommendations I’m laying out here are ones that I believe you should adopt with everyone. I believe that if you use the same sort of approach with everyone you will move the onus of service back onto yourself. Take a look at the resources I’ve listed below like the diversity work group page as well as the access statement on disabilities currently being updated. But mostly, use common sense. None of the things I lay out here are complicated, costly, or even time consuming. They just take practice to become part of how you approach every interaction.

Make eye contact

It’s easier for me to know you are talking to me and not someone else in the room if you make eye contact before you start to speak. It’s also an important way for you to tell that I’m actually listening.

Don’t cover your mouth / Make it easy for your mouth to be seen

Lip reading doesn’t work like in the movies. You can only catch about 40% of what someone is saying and it’s really hard to figure out since your mouth makes the same motions for a lot of different words. BUT we do use lip reading to confirm that what we are hearing is matching what your mouth is doing.

Speak clearly / use a microphone

If you speak clearly and enunciate your words it will be much easier for me to understand you. If there is a microphone in the room please use it. See the great blog post by Jessie Ramey (link below) on this very topic. She addresses the issue of people who don’t use microphones.

Have an alternative method of communication via digital or physical notepad

There is nothing more frustrating than a communication barrier. Have an alternative method like the notepad on your phone or a piece of paper. For many hard of hearing people the higher registers and tones of a woman’s voice can be difficult to understand; don’t be insulted if we ask to speak with someone with a lower voice (and yes, this often means a male voice). And don’t assume that I know sign language. Most hard of hearing people do not.

Be understanding of involuntary noise or levels of loudness.

Hard of hearing people are loud. We usually don’t realize that we are making a ruckus or causing a disruption. I have no idea how loud I am, especially in a quiet room or if I’ve been intently working on something. I use outside stimuli to determine my own levels of noise; often I have grossly misjudged but don’t know until people around me react like a bomb went off. Be polite and we’ll do our best to keep it down.

Don’t assume, ask

I would rather you ask me a hundred times what I’d like you to do than you assume and get it wrong. Assumptions (or even worse, asking the person with me) are infantilizing and marginalizing.

I’ve spent my whole life dealing with being HoH, I spent my childhood hiding it, my college years learning how to advocate for myself, and my adult life working so that today’s and tomorrow’s kids don’t have to hide. But at the end of the day none of my efforts mean anything if able-bodied people don’t acknowledge invisible disabilities and take steps to ensure that they are treating everyone with respect.

 

Resources:

Working Group on Accessibility resources

The group has completed its task but the microsite has a ton of great resources and links to additional information.

Guidelines for Access Archives for People with Disabilities

The Approved guidelines for access. This is great resource to help you develop policies and to provide support with administration.

A Note From Your Colleagues With Hearing Loss: Just Use a Microphone Already

A fantastic blog post about the importance of things like microphones to HoH people.

 

There are a number of deaf and hard of hearing people on YouTube who have a ton of really great videos about their experiences. They explain a lot of things that HoH people deal with and review things like assistive technologies. I’m a big fan of Jessica Kellgren-Fozard and Rikki Poynter.

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Archivists on the Issues: Archivists: The Superheroes of Time Travel

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s post comes from Joanna Black, the Digital Archivist at the Sierra Club’s William E. Colby Memorial Library.

 

Data-entry-clerk
Woman Data entry clerk entering data for legitimate online jobs. Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

I am incredibly honored to release my first blog post as a contributor to the SAA Issues and Advocacy Section Archivists on the Issues Blog Series. In joining a distinguished pool of past writers, I hope to build on existing perspectives and suggest topics that reflect some of the broader issues archivists confront within an incredibly diverse profession. Whether one is a cataloger, digital asset specialist, processing archivist, or somewhere in between, it is imperative that archival professionals align the job with their own core values. As I reflect on the ways the archival profession creates positive change in the world and how many other livelihoods simply don’t — specifically those that utilize cheating, harming, or killing to advance a “bottom-line” — I can’t help but ask, “How do I hold my values in one hand and perform hours of data entry with the other, without losing sight of the greater goal?

 

It is early afternoon toward the end of a long work week. A spreadsheet stretches wide across two oversized computer monitors. I am dizzy from scanning rows, columns, and boxes, inputting endless metadata. I pause, close my eyes to reset my vision, and gaze back at my sheet. Though at times I crave a good spreadsheet, I can only sit with one for so long until I think, “What am I doing with my life?” I have to step back and remind myself that although the spreadsheet may sometimes be a challenging part of my job, it has great significance. In preserving the “stuff” of the past — context, provenance, metadata, the nitty, gritty details that breathe life into collections — I can draw a direct connection between the duties of my nine-to-five job and the values that drive my life.

 

time_travel
Time Travel by Randall Munroe

Without knowing it, time travel is what led me to a career in archives. While pursuing a creative writing degree at San Francisco State University and interning at the Poetry Center & American Poetry Archives, I became enthralled with archives and the notion ofaccessibility. In working with my first archival object — a 1967 recording of Allen Ginsberg chanting the “Wichita Vortex Sutra” — it became immediately clear to me that people need to know these materials from the past exist; otherwise, what’s the point of preserving them? At that moment, I knew working with archival materials had some kind of intrinsic positive power to connect people across time. By recognizing archivists’ ability to time travel through memory, my drive to correct the wrongs of the past by amplifying experiences of the historically silenced took on new momentum.

 

ImmigrantFamiliesSigns
LGBT families for immigration reform, by Christopher Edwards

As an archivist today, I’ve built upon my roots in creative writing and pursue work that supports positive social and environmental justice reform. For three years, I served as the head archivist at the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society, an LGBTQ non-profit that “collects, preserves, exhibits and makes accessible to the public materials and knowledge to support and promote understanding of LGBTQ history, culture and arts in all their diversity.” Since summer 2018, I have been serving as the first staff archivist at the Sierra Club’s William E. Colby Memorial Library, a special collections library documenting the club’s 127 year history in environmental justice. In both positions, I have been able to merge my personal and professional passions to build a more equitable, inclusive, and just world by protecting and disseminating truth through the archival record. Whereas creative writing was an early mode for these intentions to manifest, archival work serves my passions even more broadly. Archivists, much like poets, are truth tellers; we share not just the loud truths, but the quiet truths whispered by those whom history often erases.

 

DC-Climate-March-2017-1070304_(33977952010)
Photos taken at the 2017 DC Climate March on April 29, 2017, by Mark Dixon

At a Sierra Club staff meeting last month, the Executive Director of the organization spoke about some of the club’s most recent victories. At the conclusion of his speech he said, “Our job is to change what people think is possible.” For archivists — the superheroes of time travel, the truth tellers of the past — it is especially relevant. Our individual pasts, stories, and experiences have enriched an increasingly diverse profession strengthened by differences in perspective. And with these differences, we each come to the profession out of a personal desire to make the world a more equitable, honest place. When archivists uncover truths, they stitch a small thread into a massive cultural and historic fabric, changing the pattern of that fabric for centuries to come.

 

Any time the spreadsheet doldrums get me down, I take a moment to remind myself of why I got into the archives profession all those years ago. Being an archivist is more than just a job; it is a means of traveling through collective memory and defending truths. Knowing that the ramifications of archival work stretch across space and time, archival professionals can be secure in knowing that we are true time travelers fueled by a passion to spread truth and promote greater justice. This is our professional foundation. The spreadsheet is simply a brick.

Archivists on the Issues: An Update on UCLA temporary librarians

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s post comes from current and former UCLA Temporary Librarians. While all the contributors to this post currently hold or held archivist positions at UCLA, the term “librarian” is used since that is way the institution classifies these positions.  At UCLA, the term librarian is used to refer to a variety of academic staff. All staff under this umbrella term are afforded the same protections. For these reasons, the terms archivist and librarian are used interchangeably throughout the text.

UCLA_Entrance_Sign

Since writing an open letter to UCLA Library administration in June 2018, we have received support from colleagues from all over the country. Thank you. Our situation at UCLA, and the grievance filed on our behalf by our union UC-AFT, are still unresolved and we wanted to post a brief update.

The Situation

2013 MTV Movie Awards - Red Carpet

As archivists who are classified as temporary librarians, we are well acquainted with the many reasons why the practice of hiring on temporary contracts is problematic. Over the past five years, and maybe more, our department Library Special Collections (LSC) has had more temporary archivists than permanent. This undermines the professionalism, expertise, and worth of archivists, it damages our personal lives, it diminishes institutional knowledge, it inhibits long-term decision making, and it disrespects our donors, users, and collections. These reasons and more are detailed further in the temporary archivists’ open letter to UCLA Library administrators.

LSC is continuing to capitalize on promises of “processing, preserving, and making [collections] accessible” to attract funding during UCLA’s Centennial Campaign. LSC’s funding and staffing priorities, however, tell a different story: one in which curatorial and collection development positions are given the lion’s share of endowments and funding, while archival work is addressed only once, through the creation of a relatively paltry general “fund to support the processing of high-priority collections.” (And let’s call that what it is: funding for more temporary hires to deal with processing that administration has promised to high-priority donors without regard for our staffing constraints and existing priorities.) The UCLA Library continues to respond to core and ongoing departmental needs by systematically under-staffing the Collection Management unit of LSC, which manages the work of archivists and catalogers, with precarious temporary positions, while ignoring and denying the effects of such a practice.

LSC continues to create and fill curatorial positions while its Collection Management staffing reaches critically low levels, as archivists’ contracts continue to expire. Administration has attempted to obscure this by blurring archival responsibilities in the department’s recent positions, in this way undermining professional boundaries and devaluing the work of processing archivists, as well as creating an undue burden for these positions and providing no roadmap for processing work in the long term. The concentrated effect of these decisions and hiring practices is to deprofessionalize our jobs as archivists- and, given UCLA’s size and status, is bound to have far-reaching effects on our profession as a whole.

Grievance process

Our union UC-AFT filed a grievance on our behalf in May 2018. The grievance alleges that UCLA Library is in violation of Article 18 of our contract, which details specific conditions for the hiring of temporary librarians. We have exhausted Steps 1-3 of the grievance process, as well as a preliminary “informal” meeting that occurs prior to Step 1. At each step of this process, we have reiterated the ongoing and permanent nature of our work and cited the widespread professional support that our case has garnered. At each step, Library Human Resources (LHR), UC Labor Relations, and, most recently, the UC Office of the President (UCOP) have denied our requests, citing a variety of ever-changing justifications. As of earlier this month, UC-AFT has voted to bring our grievance to arbitration.  

To date, we have not received any direct response or acknowledgment from library administration. This lack of response has been particularly disappointing.

UC-AFT includes abuse of temporary appointments in bargaining

UC-AFT Unit 17 Librarians have been engaged in bargaining with the University of California since April 2018. At its fourth bargaining session in July, UC-AFT proposed changes to Article 18 of our MOU, regarding Temporary Librarian appointments. Drawing on our experience, the Temporary Librarians helped draft the language changes and gave testimony on the necessity of the proposed changes.

The current contract language on Temporary Appointees addresses the issue by attempting to limit the scenarios in which temporary appointees are appropriate. However, UCLA continues to abuse and misapply this article by exploiting various loopholes, which we felt were necessary to close. The suggested changes include limiting the situations in which hiring temporary appointments are appropriate to three scenarios: filling in for a librarian on leave, filling in for a temporarily assigned librarian, and time-limited projects fully funded by extramural funding (i.e., grant funding) or external funding (e.g., donor-funded). They also seek to require UC to inform temporary appointees whether they will be re-appointed within a specific timeframe, as well as give more notice if they will be released early — the latter coming with the right for the employee to have an informal hearing before the release. We felt it was important for the UCOP team to hear firsthand from temporary librarians about the deleterious effects of exploiting the temporary provision and hope that the UCOP team values hearing directly from affected staff.

Future updates

If you would like to continue to get updates on the UCLA temporary archivists, please sign up here: https://tinyletter.com/UCLAtemps

Links to additional information/coverage

Daily Bruin articles:

https://dailybruin.com/2018/07/29/submission-ucla-librarys-reliance-on-temporary-workers-is-inefficient-unethical/

https://dailybruin.com/2018/08/05/editorial-uclas-disregard-for-its-librarians-shows-once-again-its-exploitation-of-workers/

https://dailybruin.com/2018/07/27/librarians-bargain-with-ucop-about-academic-freedom-temporary-positions/

Professional support:

Leadership of the DLF Working Group on Labor’s Statement on UCLA Archivists

SCA Statement in Support of Temporary Archivists at UCLA: https://ift.tt/2zpl4bR

 

Archivists on the Issues: Restrictions and the Case of the University of Michigan

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

As archivists, we are constantly weighing the rights of record creators and donors against the needs of researchers. Sometimes balancing these differing needs can lead to a struggle that puts archives and libraries in the middle. We can find an example of this in a recent news story involving the University of Michigan’s Bentley Historical Library.

The Bentley Historical Library’s story begins with the John Tanton Papers. The finding aid for the collection describes Dr. Tanton as an environmental, population control, and immigration reform advocate who has held leadership positions with the Sierra Club, Michigan Natural Areas Council, Wilderness and Natural Areas Advisory Board, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Advisory Commission, Little Traverse Conservancy, and the Environmental Fund [1]. What makes him a controversial figure was his work with the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and NumbersUSA. While working with these organization, Dr. Tanton worked to reduce both legal and illegal immigration and opposed bilingualism in public schools and government agencies [2,3]. In addition to this work, Dr. Tanton also created a publishing company called The Social Contract Press which notably published The Turner Diaries which was a race war fantasy novel that is seen as a key work for members of the American white supremacist movement [2].  

Part of what makes this collection newsworthy is the fact that half of the collection is sealed. While boxes 1 through 14 are open to researchers without any special restrictions, boxes 15 through 25 are sealed until April 6, 2035 [3]. This presents a problem for Hassan Ahmad, a Virginia-based immigration attorney, who is trying to gain access to the whole collection. Mr. Ahmed believes that the collection could contain materials that show the relationship between anti-immigration groups and white nationalists as well as the influence that some of groups that Dr. Tanton has worked with are having on the White House [4]. The link between Dr. Tanton and the White House may very well exist. President Trump’s senior adviser Kellyanne Conway, transition aid Lou Barletta, policy adviser Julie Kirchner, and immigration advisor Kris Kobach all have ties to FAIR, an organization that Dr. Tanton founded and was a chairman of [1,4].

Believing that the sealed parts of the collection could hold important information and should be part of the public debate, Mr. Ahmed filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the University of Michigan in December 2016 but the request was denied as was the request to appeal the decision [3,5]. Both the original request and the appeal were denied on the basis of Dr. Tanton’s donor agreement with the library [3]. After being denied his FOIA request, Mr. Ahmed sued the University of Michigan to gain access to the restricted parts of the collection [3]. When the case was brought before a judge, the University of Michigan filed for a motion to dismiss the lawsuit based on the fact that parts of the collection were sealed due to the collection’s donor agreement [5]. While information about the donor agreement was disclosed in court, information about the donor agreement was not included in the collections finding aid [1,5]. The judge, Stephen Borello, ruled that since the collection was a private donation and not being used for a public purpose, the University of Michigan could not be compelled to open the collection [3]. Mr. Ahmed proceeded to appeal this ruling as well and is arguing that the university can’t use donor agreements to keep documents sealed. As of right now, he is scheduled to appear in court again in late September or early October when a ruling on his appeal will be made [3].

If Mr. Ahmed wins his appeal, the results could have a massive impact on archives and researchers. Without the ability to guarantee that parts of a collection can remain restricted, archivists may not be able to persuade people to donate or house their collections in an archive which will make it harder for the materials to be preserved and accessed. Access doesn’t just mean that someone can use the materials for their research but also that they can find the materials. A private person may have a collection that is helpful to someone’s research but a person looking for those materials may never be able to find it if an archive can’t create a way for those materials to be found. The work of archivists to arrange and describe collections plays a crucial role in a collection’s findability. If donors are too worried about giving their materials to archives because archivists can’t provide the donors with any guarantees then researchers lose out as well.

While this case holds risks for archives and archivists, it also teaches us something as well. Finding Aids need to be more than just a list of items and folder titles, they need to give researchers a preview of what the collection holds. One of the reasons that Mr. Ahmed wants to access the restricted materials is because he doesn’t know what is there. The finding aid’s description for the restricted materials only includes series and subseries titles with very little other information. If there was a way to know what could be found in the unrestricted  parts of the collection as compared to the restricted parts and what differentiated those parts of the collection then maybe there could be a way to work with Mr. Ahmed so that he could find what he is looking for in a different way. Other members of the organizations that Mr. Ahmed is interested in may have unrestricted collections at other institutions. Otis L. Graham Jr., another founding member of FAIR, for example, has some his collections housed at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The best result for both the researcher and archive, in my opinion, would be to find a way to help the researcher with their request without breaking the donor agreement. If this isn’t possible then I wonder why a box and folder list is even provided for the restricted materials. Why tell people that you have something if you’re unwilling to tell them about it? Without more information in the finding aid or speaking to the staff at the Bentley Historical Library and investigating their policies around arrangement and description, it’s difficult to know why the collection has been handled in this particular way. For now, we, as archivists, can look at this situation and use it to change how we both deal with collections and researchers.

 

Works Cited

  1. John Tanton Papers Finding Aid. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library, 14 Jun 2013, https://quod.lib.umich.edu/b/bhlead/umich-bhl-861056?view=text
  2. “John Tanton” Southern Poverty Law Center, www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/individual/john-tanton
  3. Peet, Lisa. “Attorney Sues for Access to Tanton Papers in Closed Archive.” Library Journal, 18 Sept. 2018, https://www.libraryjournal.com/?detailStory=180918-Tanton-Papers
  4. Frazen, Rachel. “Why Is the University of Michigan Fighting to Keep an Anti-Immigration Leader’s Papers Secret?” The Daily Beast, 3 Sept. 2018, https://www.thedailybeast.com/why-is-university-of-michigan-fighting-to-keep-anti-immigration-leaders-papers-secret
  5. Warikoo, Niraj. “University of Michigan Oct.  Blocks Release of Hot-Button Records of Anti-Immigrant Leader.” Detroit Free Press, 28 Oct. 2017, https://www.freep.com/story/news/2017/10/17/university-michigan-blocks-release-anti-immigrant-records/732133001/

 

Archivists on the Issues: Intellectual Access to Archives

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.

In my final post on access and accessibility in archives, I am examining intellectual access. By this, I mean the language, theory, practices, and other non-physical barriers that exist in archives. Once a patron has navigated the obstacles of digital access and physical access that I discussed in my previous posts, they finally make it to our reading rooms either in person or virtually and want to use our collections. What gets in the way of this process?

Description can often get in the way, sometimes through its absence and sometimes through its presence. When description is non-existent or not online or not accessible or too minimal to be useful, it is detrimental to access. This is not news to anyone. But sometimes seemingly great description can also be a barrier to access. Say you have an important, highly used collection and you decide to write a DACs-compliant EAD finding aid at the item level, post it online with excellent SEO and cross list it in all appropriate union catalogs. It is a thing of beauty. It has extensive notes, a detailed inventory, and follows archival standards. It is easy to find. If you know where to look.

But then you have an ESL patron who speaks limited English and cannot read it all. Or a seventh grader working on a History Day project who has a middle school reading level and does not understand some of the terminology. Or a patron who is completely unfamiliar with archival description and does not understand the complicated series structure or how to use the detailed information you have painstakingly input. Based on my experience in various reading rooms, these kinds of casual patrons make up a significant portion of our users.

There’s something to be said for gaining familiarity with the systems in place, but for the patron who only wants to make one visit to see something for personal reasons or the student using it for one class, or the patron who is frustrated by a first visit and never comes back, our systems are exclusionary. We cannot write description for everyone, but it is important to recognize that language, reading level, structure, jargon, and many other factors can hinder access for some users.

Many of these issues can be mitigated with good reference help, but this leads to another question I think about often: how do we determine an appropriate balance of labor between patrons and archivists? How much do we require them to do and how much are we willing to do for them? What is policy mandated and what is grey area? What can we change to improve the patron experience? Obviously, patrons need to take the first step to make contact. They need to provide information about the subject of their interest or the items they’d like to request. They need to adhere to any established policies regarding registration information, payment for reproduction, collection handling, etc. Archivists have to respond to requests, pull requested materials, and explain necessary paperwork and policies.

But between this is a whole world of negotiation, personal preference, and available resources. How much time do (can) we spend with a single patron? Where do we draw the line? I like to think that we should be willing to take more on ourselves as the gatekeepers to make things easier and more pleasant for our patrons, but that is not fair when so many of us are already overloaded with work. On the other hand, it is not fair to put all of the work on our users, especially when it is our policies that are creating extra work for everyone.

Many archives have policies regarding remote research time, but what about patrons who require additional assistance with finding aids or computers or microfilm readers or handling fragile collections or the photocopier? How do we ensure smooth hand offs to other archivists when schedules require that multiple staff members be involved? How do we enforce policies that require official ID cards when we are trying to reach out to user groups that may not possess them? How do we respond to concerns about patron confidentiality when we are storing information about patrons and their research topics? How do we reassure patrons who feel targeted by security policies that require surveillance?

How might we rethink our policies and procedures to make things easier for everyone involved? While it is not a magic bullet or a possibility for everyone, there is something to be said for tapping into aspects of industry or libraries that are already familiar to our patrons. Along these lines, there are some technological solutions to help streamline the reading room experience. The biggest and best known in Aeon, which is a great product, but prohibitively expensive for most of us. Other archives have come up with in-house solutions using existing free products, like Trello or Google Forms.

At my institution, we have been working with our web developer, access services department, and catalogers to come up with a solution that allows us to treat special collections materials like ordinary library materials. Briefly, our web developer came up with a button that is enabled in our catalog on materials that have the Lib[rary] Use Only status that allows users to request items for future use. It generates a form that collects name and contact information as well as the date they would like to use the item(s) that is emailed to the appropriate collection. Patrons can also request items on site without scheduling them ahead of time. We use the emails as pull slips and place the items on our hold shelf. When the patrons arrive, we set up a courtesy card in our ILS (Integrated Library System- we use Sierra) that allows them to use only special collections materials (a proper courtesy card with ordinary borrowing privileges has an associated fee but a special collections card is free). We then check the materials out to their account while they’re using it on site and check it back in once they’ve finished. We explain at the time of checkout that they are not allowed to leave our floor with the items and we have not had any issues with this. The one drawback is that we do not yet have all of our special collections in the catalog, which is where our fabulous catalogers come in to create records. We are also in the process of implementing ArchivesSpace and are hoping that our developer will be able to create a similar request feature for use there. All special collections will eventually be represented in both places.

Obviously, a solution like this is only available to archives with access to an ILS and some developer time. If you are interested, our web developer has made the request button code available on GitHub. But if you think outside the box, you may be able to come up with your won solution with the resources available to you. Libraries have been using similar systems for decades to track use and it is past time for archives to do the same.

My posts here have been much more question-based than answer-filled, but these are important issues with lots of room for discussion. I look forward to continuing that discussion with any of you who are interested and hope you will take the opportunity to use some of these questions to help examine your own work.

Archivists on the Issues: Archives as Art, Part 2

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s post comes from a 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. This is the second half of a 2-part essay.

Art critic Hal Foster puts a fine point on the “archival impulse at work internationally in contemporary art” in his much-cited 2004 essay, “An Archival Impulse,” published in the journal October, a publication established by Rosalind Krauss in the early 1980s as a forum to discuss post-structuralism and politically conscious art. In this essay, Foster highlights the work of three international artists: Tacita Dean, Sam Durant, and Thomas Hirchhorn.

Stating at the beginning of his discussion “the examples [of the archival impulse in art] could be multiplied many times,”[6] Foster’s discussion of these artists’ work outlines a shift in the archival mode in art within the last fifteen years and a resurgence of its popularity among artists. He says, “Archival artists seek to make historical information, often lost or displaced, physically present. To this end they elaborate on the found image, object and text, and favor the installation format.”[7] He emphasizes the face-to-face nature of these artworks, as opposed to using electronic means of connection such as the Internet. He also differentiates archival art from the institutional critique, which focuses on the museum, such as Broodthaers’ work. These artists use collected materials to create quasi-archives, such as Hirschhorn’s altars and kiosks and Dean’s collected photographs of “sound mirrors” built in Kent between 1928-30 to act as warning systems in case of air attacks, which were soon replaced by more reliable radar systems. Dean’s photography collects images of outmoded objects and gives them a place in the present moment, in effect removing them from time and place and including them in a catalog of “failed futuristic visions” that can only be recovered via the archive.

Foster asserts that the archival impulse in these artists’ work attempts to “probe a misplaced past, to collate its different signs” and the purpose of their work is to give presence to historical objects in a positive way that “turn[s] excavation sites into construction sites…it suggests a shift away from melancholic culture that views the historical as little more than traumatic.”[8] Foster’s view of the archival trend in contemporary art may not strictly adhere to a traditional definition of “archive” but it expresses the archive’s role of importance as a physical and symbolic entity that is inseparable from our understanding of and interactions with time.

There are many more examples of archival influences in contemporary art, and the complex relationship between artists and archives will continue to serve as muses to one another in new and unexpected ways. Archives are never a single thing; they can be aesthetic, political, personal, fictional, historic, and eternally present. For this reason, they will continue to inspire artistic and cultural works.

 

Further Reading on Archives in/ as Artistic Media
  • Breakell, Sue, “Perspective: Negotiating the Archives,” Tate Papers, Spring 2008: https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/18316767.pdf
  • Enwezor, Okwui,  Archive Fever—Uses of the Document in Contemporary Art (New York: International Center of Photography, 2008)
  • Holzer, Jenny. War Paitnings, (WALTHER KöNIG, KöLN, 2015)
  • Merewether, Charles, ed.. The Archive (Boston: Whitechapel and MIT Press, 2006)
  • Raad, Walid, The Atlas Group Archive (website), accessed http://www.theatlasgroup.org/
  • Raad, Walid, and Eva Respini (ed.), Walid Raad, (New York: MoMA, 2015)
  • Spieker, Sven. The Big Archive: Art from Bureaucracy (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008)
  • Thompson, Michael,  “The 2014 Whitney Biennial: the Book as Medium in Contemporary American Art,” Bibliographical Society of America, The University of Chicago Press (2015), especially pages 175-181
References

[6] Foster, Hal. “An Archival Impulse,” October, MIT Press, 2004, 3-22

For more international examples see also:  De Jong, Ferdinand and Elizabeth Harney. “Art From the Archive,” African Arts (Summer 2015), vol. 48, no. 2, 1-2; and Jolly, Martyn. “Big Archives and Small Collections: Remarks on the Archival Mode in Contemporary Australian Art,” Public History Review, vol. 21, 2014, 60-85.

[7] Ibid., 4

 

Archivists on the Issues: Archives as Art, Part 1

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s post comes from a 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. This is part 1 of a 2-part essay.

To conclude my blog series about archives as prominent cultural and artistic influences, I’ll turn to the visual arts, a broad and varied category, to be sure. As an archivist at an art museum, I am highly aware of the importance institutional archives can have within museums as historical records of the museum itself, or as repositories for artists’ archives, but there are also countless examples of archives, archival materials, and archival practices as major forces within an artwork, or the artwork itself.

To consider the archive as an artistic medium in and of itself, it is helpful to begin with James O’Toole’s essay, “The Symbolic Significance of Archives,” an important piece of writing by an archivist on the aesthetic and transformative qualities inherent in the role of some documents. His examination of archives as symbolic entities casts light on a side of the archival profession that had not yet been given much attention by archivists themselves, although many visual artists have been working in “the archival mode” since the early 20th century. Archivists are trained to care for records of enduring value and emphasis is placed on “utilitarian motivations for the making of written records” [1]. O’Toole begins his discussion with an invocation of Frank Burke’s 1981 essay, “The Future Course of Archival Theory in the United States,” in which he provokes archivists to consider archives beyond their practical operations and use, and to ask larger, more philosophical questions of the profession, such as “what is the motivation for the act” of recordkeeping and making.

O’Toole’s very question suggests that there is more to records than their practical uses, however dismissed these uses may have been by the majority of archivists who agreed with Lester Cappon’s conjecture that there is nothing to theorize about; the job of the archivist is to “shuffle the damn papers.”[2] Indeed, the conversation about archival theory that Burke began in the late 20th century seems to have caused some rancor among many archivists who stick firmly to the school of thought that archival records are purely practical. This, O’Toole argues extensively, excludes the role of archives and records as symbolic objects. By examining examples from history, such as the Declaration of Independence and the Domesday Book, O’Toole demonstrates the manner in which a document can change from being a record that is useful in the traditional sense, into a record whose use extends beyond practicality and conveys meaning symbolically. Since the very essence of an archival document lies in its having transitioned from primary to secondary use, it follows that the secondary use is not necessarily always going to be practical in the evidentiary sense.  O’Toole’s discussion concludes, significantly, by affirming that archival records can have both practical and symbolic uses; one side is not more important than the other, and if we value archives and archival materials solely for their practical features, we are missing half the picture.

In the twentieth century, the use of archival materials as artistic media became increasingly popular, particularly with the arrival of conceptual art and structuralism on the scene. In her seminal lecture, A Voyage on the North Sea” Art in the Age of the Post-Medium Condition, art critic and professor of art history at Columbia University, Rosalind Krauss presents a discussion of art that does not belong to classical modes and mediums like painting and sculpture, but incorporates any number of expressive modes.[5]  She describes a break from traditional classifications and a movement toward mixed media, video art, installations, readymades (like those made by Marcel Duchamp), collections, and conceptual art. The latter might even lack physical form; the ideas and contextual performance are the artwork.

Krauss focuses on the work of Belgian poet and artist Marcel Broodthaers, who created a fictitious museum called “The Museum of Modern Art, Eagles Division” around which he built collections of objects, such as an installation of stuffed eagles and other objects pertaining to the eagle, much like one might see presented in a natural history museum. Each object is labeled, not with information about its species, but with the admission (joke?): “This Is Not a Work of Art.” Broodtaears picks up where Duchamp left off, creating an imaginary museum, structured around readymades and antiquated modes of display, poking fun at art world expectations and conventions. Broodthaers’ work is often referred to as “institutional critique,” a form that attempts to call out the inner workings of establishments such as the museum and archive; official spaces that command respect, embody some degree of power (financial, intellectual), and authority.

This shift has made the work of many contemporary artists possible such as the work of Lebanese-American artist, Walid Raad. While Broodthaers re-envisions the colonialist structure that names, categorizes and capitalizes upon fine arts, Raad reimagines the archive as a structure wherein truth is not tied to fact while still relying on archives’ hydra-like power to tell many stories at once.

References

[1] O’Toole, James. “The Symbolic Significance of Archives,” The American Archivist, 1982, 234-255

[2] Ibid., 235

[3] Craig and O’Toole, 98

[4] Ibid., 98

[5] Krauss, Rosalind, A Voyage on the North Sea: Art in the Age of the Post-Medium Condition (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1999), 5

Archivists on the Issues: Answering the call for inclusivity

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s post comes from regular writer Summer Espinoza, her last for the year. Summer is the digital archivist at California State University, Dominguez Hills where she is working on a California State University Archives project.

This is my third and final blog post for the Archivists on the Issues series. It would be more scholarly of me to share research, but I hope you (reader) can excuse my personal, introspective and non academic discourse here.

One of the most important attributes I carry in this life is that of a brown-skinned human (insert Library of Congress subject headings as you please). My brown skin has guided my experiences in my academic and personal education. My research interests today are guided by the way external and self identifiers have constructed and shaped my life and career. If you are midway through a sigh right now, I empathize. I sometimes catch myself with this same reaction because, in fact, I sometimes cringe at the fact I am so invested in this identity politic.

My duties as an archivist have guided me towards descriptive cataloging, perhaps by the same token of the fluidity and interpretive nuances of identity politics. Let me relate this conversation to my current work with the California State University System Archives Digitization Project. I have created subject headings for persons of color and I have also made use of the equally dodgy “Caucasians” subject heading. My methodology (if you can call it that) when creating a subject heading for ethnicity (non- “Caucasian”), is to look for published articles, newsletters, or records of events in which a notable person has been commended for work in a community, often by a community with which they identify. I take these cues and with all the best intentions, I apply a Library of Congress or local vocabulary term, and hope for the best. This has not, however, caused me to create particularly accurate or authoritative headings, for example Mexican American, Chicano and/or Latino and Black or African American, Chinese American or Asian American.

The “Caucasians” subject heading has given me extreme pause. I approached the task of descriptive cataloging for photographic prints of European Americans with an apology first: “I’m sorry I am labeling you this way.” Why am I sorry? I am sorry because in the back of my mind is this little kernel of negativity toward the word “Caucasian.” Why am I using this word in the first place?

Up to the point of this project, I had not fully acknowledged the history of this word, and upon further investigation I found the term is rooted in eighteenth century racial classification. How and why am I blindly following the notorious Library of Congress (out)dated subject headings? Not to mention the word as both anachronistic, archaic, and still very much alive in our modern societal vocabularies in human classifications.

Much like my first post, I express these reflective (and yes, negative) experiences to better understand the role of my own history and how it interacts with my professional responsibilities.

In a recent listserv call for panel proposals for a visual arts conference, a cataloger posed some very compelling questions about the ways in which descriptive cataloging of an artist interacts with the cataloging of their artistic works.

This led me to more questions, but primarily this one: why do we as archivists believe that the (best) answers to our initiatives to be inclusive and diverse rest solely in our professional circles? Did we and do we currently believe that we are the best and only source of expertise in the digital environment? Do we not look outward to other disciplines for marketing and development, content expertise, and so forth? Are we the first group of professionals to tackle inclusivity? What do we generally understand about cultural inclusivity on a professional level, and are we trained and educated enough to move beyond initiatives and policies that do not mean much to the everyday archivist?

Let’s not pat ourselves on the back too quickly as we circulate these documents amongst our ranks, let us share our shortcomings for the better.

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.

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