ICYMI: Society of California Archivists Annual General Meeting

Our ICYMI series provide summaries of presentations, publications, webinars, and other educational opportunities that are of interest to I&A members. 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 archivesissues@gmail.com. The following is from Rachel Mandell, I&A’s past-chair and Metadata Librarian at the USC Digital Library.



Last month I attended the Society of California Archivists Annual General Meeting, which was held in Long Beach, California from April 24-27, 2019. I found much of the program to be of interest to our Issues & Advocacy members as many of the presentations and events were focused on inclusivity and diversity. The reception for the event was held on the Queen Mary ocean liner, which was fun for archivists and ghosts alike.

        One of the highlights of the conference was Michelle Caswell’s plenary discussing a feminist standpoint appraisal of archival materials. She argued that instead of continuing to allow historically dominant perspectives of what should, and should not, be considered of significant archival value, we ought to adopt a new way of appraising archival materials. The historically dominant perspective– which favors white, English-speaking, straight, men—continues to dominate when archivists from oppressed communities are left out of appraisal discussions and policies. What is even more likely than archivists from the underrepresented or oppressed perspectives being left out of the conversation, is archivists’ attempt to achieve a “value neutral” view of archival materials. Professor Caswell completely dismantles this belief that neutrality can be achieved and adds that this goal of neutrality in fact reinforces the current, oppressive structure.  Boom! I am so inspired to read forthcoming publications and eventually put into practice a new set of questions that we need to ask ourselves when conducting archival appraisal.

        Another exciting event that I want to highlight was the Labor Brown Bag lunch! In the last year, Issues and Advocacy has been very focused on labor issues faced by archivists. SCA is also joining the conversation! This brown bag lunch was an informal discussion and brainstorming session about forming a new SCA working group to monitor and address ongoing labor issues.

        Other talks related to inclusivity and diversity included:

“Building Belonging: Strategies for Diverse and Inclusive Collection Development, Inreach, Outreach, and Instruction”     
Zayda Delgao, Sonoma County Library
Robin M. Katz, University of California, Riverside
Craig Simpson, Son Jose State University

“Putting it Out There: Engaging Communities and Enhancing Access to LGBT Collections”

“Campfire: Practicing Inclusive Archival Description”
Noah Geraci, University of California, Riverside
Cyndi Shein, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

“Empowering Indigenous Communities through Inclusion”
Kelsey Martin
Stefani Baldivia, California State University, Chico
Celestina Castillo, Occidental College
Lylliam Posadas

“No Reprocessing Without Representation! Discovering Hidden Narratives During Routine Work”
Linh Gavin Do, Go For Broke National Education Center
Jamie Henricks, Japanese American National Museum
Lauren Longwell, Loyola Marymount University
Kate Wilson, Saint Mary’s College of California



Brought to you by Vice Chair Courtney Dean on behalf of the Issues & Advocacy Section Steering Committee

During the 2018 ALA Annual Conference, ALA Council passed an amendment to the Library Bill of Rights that explicitly defended the right of hate groups to use library meeting room spaces. For the full text, see the information on ALA’s site.

This is something the I&A Steering Committee has been following closely. While neither SAA or I&A have made official statements on this issue, the Steering Committee felt it important to provide our membership with a roundup of information, resources, and petitions related to the recent ALA controversy. We searched for links from a variety of perspectives and found the below, listed in alphabetical order by title. Please feel free to leave links to additional readings in the comments.


Draft Resolution to Rescind Meeting Rooms: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights, Melissa Cardenas-Dow and other ALA Councilors

Further Response on ALA OIF Hate Group definition response, unsigned

Libraries Can’t Afford to Welcome Hate, Alessandra Seiter

My Bought Sense, or ALA Has Done It Again, April Hathcock

Petition to Revise ALA’s Statement on Hate Speech & Hate Crime, authored by the We Here community

Rethinking “Intellectual Freedom”, Carrie Wade

We Oppose Welcoming Hate into the Library: An Open Letter to ALA, Concerned Archivists Alliance

ICYMI: Archives Association of Ontario Annual Meeting 2017

Our ICYMI series provide summaries of presentations, publications, webinars, and other educational opportunities that are of interest to I&A members. 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 archivesissues@gmail.com. The following is from Sara Janes, University Archivist for Lakehead University, Ontario.

The 2017 conference of the Archives Association of Ontario was held on the University of Toronto Campus, April 26-28. The theme, “Come Together: Meaningful Collaboration in a Connected World,” felt relevant to the participants as we discussed ways to work with each other and with the public to better support archives and communities across the province.

Focus on decolonization and Indigenous issues

Decolonization and indigenous issues were a significant theme, particularly as archives are beginning to respond to the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and are engaging with Canada 150 celebrations. In one plenary session, Michael Etherington, of the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto, spoke about those calls to action, and the frequent disconnect between colonial institutions and Indigenous people and communities; in the other, Raymond Frogner, Director of Archives at University of Manitoba’s National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, spoke about the impact of Indigenous thinkers such as George Hunt on archival theory and practices.

Responses to the TRC, engaging with Canada’s colonial past and present, and social justice issues were well represented throughout the conference, and these themes were often tied in with discussions around acquisition, archival management, and digital outreach, as well as working groups formed within various organizations.

Focus on collaboration and partnerships

Other presentations highlighted collaboration and cooperation between institutions. Papers touched on: collaboration for acquisition and collection development, appraisal of government records, sharing resources for digital preservation, teaching courses using archival material, online outreach and collaborative exhibits, and the work of student and young professional organizations. Overall, the program was excellent, and attendees found it difficult to choose between sessions.

Talks were also held on the past, present, and future of the Archives Association of Ontario, giving members a chance to learn more about how this organization has been shaped over the years and its plans for the future. In particular, this included a report on the first year of the Provincial Acquisition Strategy, and feedback on how to continue building cooperation between archival institutions in the province.

Other highlights

The formal side of the conference was supported by a variety of other opportunities for socializing, networking, and learning. Four archives tours were held: to the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto, the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library and University of Toronto Archives, and the John M. Kelly Library Conservation Studio. The opening reception was held at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, and attendees had many opportunities to catch up with each other during breaks and at pub nights.

The Banquet, held at Hart House, celebrated 20 years of the Archives and Records Management program at the University of Toronto iSchool. The Awards Lunch was held at at the Faculty Club, and honoured Suzanne Dubeau, Nick Ruest, the Hudson’s Bay Company, and the Hastings County Historical Society.

Many of the conference presentations have been posted online, and a Storify is also available.


Sara Janes is University Archivist for Lakehead University. She has an MLIS from McGill University, and has worked in archives and records management for ten years, with a focus on digital records issues, outreach, and education.


ICYMI: Personal Digital Archiving, 2017

Our ICYMI series provide summaries of presentations, publications, webinars, and other educational opportunities that are of interest to I&A members. 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 archivesissues@gmail.com. The following is from Chelsea Gunn, a doctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Computing and Information.

At the end of March, I traveled to Palo Alto to attend Personal Digital Archiving (PDA), hosted this year by Stanford University Libraries. This was my second time attending PDA (my first being last year, held at the University of Michigan) and my first time presenting at the conference. Over the course of two full days of presentations and one half-day of hands-on workshops and museum tours, professional archivists and dedicated amateurs alike approached personal digital archives from a range of perspectives, some familiar, and others entirely new to me. From a logistical standpoint, the single-track symposium format removes concerns about choosing one session over another, and well-placed breaks throughout the day allow pauses for reflection and conversation. In a day of densely-packed panels, pacing is particularly important, and moments for pause were especially appreciated.

As someone who specifically studies personal digital archives, attending PDA when possible has become something of a no-brainer for me. However, the range of ways in which presenters interpreted personal digital archives make this a conference that I think information professionals focused on other areas would also find relevant, both to their work and their own acts of personal record creation and preservation. The first day’s keynote speaker, Gary Wolf, raised questions about the long-term preservation of quantified self data, while the second keynote, delivered by Kim Christen, explored the personal archives of indigenous groups using the Mukurtu platform. Questions of sustainability, ownership, and access were common threads throughout each of these seemingly different talks, and these questions set the tone for many of the presentations that followed each day.

A number of this year’s presentations explored different approaches archivists have taken to working with and learning from donors and communities of practice; for example, accepting the born-digital materials of a composer, documenting the careers of dancers, or working with individual collectors of video games to inform archival best practices. Others (including my own) identified some of the challenges and opportunities related to preserving quantified self or lifelogging data, and how such data may fit in with the rest of our personal digital archives. Others still investigated the archival functions of specific formats, such as screenshots or animated GIFs from GeoCities websites.

I was particularly excited to hear from staff from the Salman Rushdie digital archive at Emory University on their experience moving from a high-profile discrete project to a comprehensive born-digital archives program. I had not previously been familiar with Jennifer Douglas’s work on intimate archives and online communities centered around grief, but was deeply moved by her presentation. A panel on PDA and social justice, grounded in the work of Copwatch and citizen documentation gave me a great deal to think about, and felt truly timely, as did a presentation on collecting documentation of student activism on college campuses.

The presentations closed with a retrospective panel, featuring Cathy Marshall, Mike Ashenfelder, Howard Besser, Clifford Lynch, and Jeff Ubois. Their discussion touched on the history of PDA and the buckets that presentations could generally be placed in – including outreach and activism, documentation strategies, community history, lifelogging, digital humanities, and storytelling. They noted that for many attendees, personal archives are not necessarily their professional responsibilities, but instead often a passion project. They concluded with a conversation about how PDA can be more accessible and inclusive in the future, and it occurred to me that that commitment to inclusivity is one of the aspects of PDA that I have most appreciated so far in my acquaintance with this conference.

At the risk of over-editorializing, or relying on cliché, the personal is absolutely political, and for many, it may feel more so now than ever. I appreciated the experience of being in an environment in which a breadth of perspectives related to the acts of creating or preserving personal records could be discussed. As individuals, we can engage with records (or own or others’) in diverse and deeply personal ways. The PDA conference and community provides a supportive space in which those myriad ways can be investigated alongside one another. While I don’t yet know the details of next year’s conference, it’s one that I encourage archivists (and others) to keep an eye out for and attend, if possible.

For a deeper dive into conference content, I highly recommend looking through the session descriptions and author bios on the conference schedule, as well as reading through the #PDA2017 hashtag on Twitter.


ICYMI: NHPC Camping Con, “Outside Public History”

Our ICYMI series provide summaries of presentations, publications, webinars, and other educational opportunities that are of interest to I&A members. 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 archivesissues@gmail.com. The following is from I&A Steering Committee member Stephanie Bennett, Collections Archivist, Wake Forest University.

This past fall, I spent a long weekend, 2016 October 7-9, at a National Council on Public History camping conference in Great Smoky Mountains National Park with the theme “Outside Public History.” It was a conference focused on public history in the outdoors, in honor of the National Parks centennial, aimed at discussing “issues related to historic and contemporary public history as it took/takes place in outdoor leisure spaces.” Notably, this was a *camping* conference – we all slept in tents at a couple of group campsites in GSMNP – for those familiar with the park, in its Cades Cove area.


Many of my archives colleagues across America have spoken highly of NCPH annual conferences, so I was excited to be able to attend an NCPH event. This conference had a lot of pros for me: it was local-ish – a less than  6-hour drive; gave me an opportunity to engage with historians, which as Collections Archivist is a treat; focused on physical spaces, which I’m into and which I think we could do more with given our collections related to the University and Baptist churches; involved campfire and s’mores; and as a bonus, was very reasonably priced. So I packed up my tent, sleeping bag, and a cooler (to be stored in a car because BEARS), and headed to Tennessee. I was able to carpool with a group of graduate students from NC State, one of whom was my tent mate for the weekend, and heard about their scholarship, interests, and music tastes (#Hamiltunes).

The conference was really excellent. It was small – about 45 people, I believe – so we were able to meet and hear from almost everyone there. We were all there together, so we were all equally damp, unshowered, and attired; it leveled the playing field in ways that normal conferences cannot. Dinners were provided but we brought our own breakfasts and lunches, often sharing among the group. In the mornings and at breaks, we drank coffee and tea fresh from the camp stoves in our own cups. Most sessions involved taking in the scenery in short walks.

As with most conferences, I didn’t attend a session that I didn’t like. On Friday, Brian Forist, a PhD student at Indiana University, gave a talk on “two-way interpretation” (basically, how parks share historical and natural information) that had me thinking about the way we present information in archives. Do we leave room for a variety of understandings, or do we put non-factual information in a way that makes it seem more factual, set in stone? Interpretation literature might be of interest to archivists exploring that aspect of our field.

I also loved hearing about what archival information people were using and how they were finding those materials. One of the NC State graduate students, Derek Huss, had studied Appalachian Trail Conservancy newsletters looking at 1970s thru-hikers experience of the trail, and others’ perception of them. If those newsletters were digitized using OCR, Derek or others would be able to perform an in-depth textual analysis of the newsletter’s presumed change in tenor over time.

For those of us very engaged in improved diversity and inclusion in our communities, Saturday night’s keynote is of interest. Led by Dr. Tamaria Warren, an environmental specialist for the US Army, we discussed Dr Carolyn Finney’s book Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors and how that affects us all, as individuals and in our professional pursuits. Dr. Warren discussed her research into African-American perceptions of environmentalism in Detroit and Columbia, SC, as well, which was really interesting. When you hear the world “environmentalist,” what comes to mind? And what can we learn from those preconceptions in order to communicate better about environmental pursuits?

Again, the nature of campsites allowed these conversations to be open – although (as a quick-to-talk person, I’m always thinking about this) probably more could have been done to encourage the quieter folks to speak up. The small size also allowed us to really see each other, break bread, talk s’more innards (Reese’s cups are not to be trusted, I don’t care what anyone says) and history, public spaces, new theories, etc. I was amazed at how many attendees were first-time campers; struggling with gear, talking about leave no trace practices, and shared dampness were good icebreakers.

On a personal, smaller note: I became really aware of how much one person can save with reusable utensils, mugs, plates, and napkins. I am now more committed to traveling with a mug, water bottle, and even my spork in tow because: why not?

More information about this inaugural (but hopefully not last!) Camping Con are available on its Twitter feed and the conference website (there were no printed programs), as well.

ICYMI: “Diverse and Inclusive Metadata: Developing Cultural Competencies in Descriptive Practices” sessions at the American Library Association Annual Conference

Our ICYMI series provide summaries of presentations, publications, webinars, and other educational opportunities that are of interest to I&A members. We keep a running list of upcoming events. If you’re interested in writing a post for ICYMI, please refer to our sign up sheet. In this post, Liz Woolcott and Anna Neatrour recap the “Diverse and Inclusive Metadata: Developing Cultural Competencies in Descriptive Practices” program, held during the American Library Association Annual Conference this past June.

The Association for Library Collections and Technical Services (ALCTS) Metadata Interest Group met at the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference in June for the “Diverse and Inclusive Metadata: Developing Cultural Competencies in Descriptive Practices” program. The Metadata Interest Group sponsored two sessions featuring four speakers discussing diversity and inclusivity in metadata practices.

Hannah Buckland, from Leech Lake Tribal College, spoke first about the “Impacts and Limitations of Culturally Responsive Subject Headings in Tribal College Libraries.” (Her slides are available here: http://connect.ala.org/node/256170) Ms. Buckland first described the issues facing small, underfunded libraries and the reliance on established controlled vocabularies (like the Library of Congress Subject Headings or LCSH) to create records for collections. The Bezhigoogahbow Library, of which she is the director, serves both the college as well as the local community and relies on grant funding for all of its support. Ms. Buckland remarked that grant funding can be obtained for programs, but rarely covers metadata or cataloging, which are the “unseen” services. Therefore, there was a heavy reliance on established records, headings, and classifications. However, many of these cataloging elements are Eurocentric and do not recognize many Native American tribal designations, languages, or customs. For instance, they do not usually reflect Native American tribes that are not federally recognized, but view themselves as distinct from other tribes. She described the issues surrounding the use of subject headings and classification schemes for Native American topics. As an example, Ms. Buckland cited the classification of Ojibwe language material, which is prominent at the Leech Lake Tribal College, as being classified under PM, which is a Library of Congress call number category that is also used to describe “artificial languages.”

Rachel Wen-Paloutzian, from Loyola Marymount University, presented on “Hidden Stories, Inclusive Perspectives: Describing Photographs of Jewish Refugees in Shanghai.” (Her slides are available here: http://connect.ala.org/node/256171) Ms. Wen-Paloutzian spoke about a project to archive a collection of 600 photographs backlogged in the Department of Archives and Special Collections at Loyola Marymount that documented the Jewish refugee experience in Shanghai, China, between 1937 and 1949. The project can be viewed here: http://digitalcollections.lmu.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/sjrc She discussed the ethical challenges of assigning both descriptive metadata and controlled vocabularies to photographs based on the assumptions or interpretations of metadata specialists who may not have experience with the culture. For example, making the assumption that all subjects depicted in a photograph were, indeed, Jewish refugees or presuming relationships between subjects in a photograph. She discussed the use of crowdsourcing to both help identify images and counter misinterpretations in the metadata. Ms. Wen-Paloutzian emphasized that in order for diverse viewpoints to be reflected, professionals need to develop awareness of the cultural context and see metadata as not static, but responsive, adaptable, and dynamic.

Sharon Farnel, from the University of Alberta, started up the second session on Diverse and Inclusive Metadata with her presentation: “Digital Library North: Engaging with Communities to Develop Culturally-Appropriate-and-Aware Metadata.” (Slides are available here: http://connect.ala.org/node/256025) Ms. Farnel presented on Digital Library North (https://sites.ualberta.ca/~dln/), a site dedicated to providing increased information access in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region. Partnering with the Inuvialuit Cultural Resource Centre, the site is designed to serve six communities that are geographically dispersed. Farnel explored practices of gathering descriptive information about cultural heritage materials while partnering directly with a community. Issues of privacy and acknowledgement are deeply important. Existing frameworks for knowledge management are likely to contain hidden biases that don’t accurately represent the materials connected to the community.

Tiewei Liu, from California State University, Fresno, wrapped up the session with her presentation “Creating Inclusive and Discoverable Metadata: Practices at Fresno State.” (Slides are available here: http://connect.ala.org/node/256026 ) Ms. Liu described emerging practices in building an inclusive institutional repository at Fresno State, designed to reflect the diverse student and faculty body at the institution. Issues of disambiguating name authority records are dealt with by engaging directly with researchers. Liu also discussed future directions and needs for institutional repositories in developing inclusive metadata, including the need for a comprehensive authority tool, and interest in developing a multilingual search interface.

Inclusive metadata is an area of growing interest and concern for many people in technical services. The sessions sponsored at ALA sparked a great deal of discussion between the speakers and the attendees. One common theme that emerged was that through incorporating inclusive practices and partnering with the larger community, metadata becomes not just of higher quality and more comprehensive, but also more discoverable. The session planners are hopeful that this conversation will continue and will contribute to the development of a larger community-driven tradition of inclusivity and awareness in developing descriptive metadata.

You can see the Twitter conversation for these sessions at Storify: https://storify.com/LizWoolcott/diverse-and-inclusive-metadata-creating-c

Anna Neatrour is a metadata librarian at the University of Utah Marriott Library. She received a BA from Kalamazoo College and a MS in Library Science from the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign. She has worked on a variety of digital collections and initiatives in the mountain west region, including the Western Soundscape Archive, the Western Waters Digital Library, and the Mountain West Digital Library.

Liz Woolcott serves as the Head of Cataloging and Metadata Services for Utah State University Libraries and has worked in cataloging and metadata coordination for 12 years.  She currently serves as Vice-Chair of the ALCTS Metadata Interest Group and is the co-founder of the Library Workflow Exchange.  Her research interests include workflow analysis, project management, and impact assessment.

ICYMI: Simmons College DERAIL Forum Highlights Student Research and Advocacy in Archives and LIS

Our ICYMI series provide summaries of presentations, publications, webinars, and other educational opportunities that are of interest to I&A members. We keep a running list of upcoming events. If you’re interested in writing a post for ICYMI, please refer to our sign up sheet. In this post, Des Alaniz, Joyce Gabiola and Caroline Gardner recap the DERAIL Forum, held at Simmons College.

The first-annual Diversity, Equity, Race, Accessibility and Identity in LIS (DERAIL) Forum held on March 26th at Simmons College in Boston, marked the culmination of several months of student-coordinated efforts to address social justice and inclusion within the Simmons College School of Library and Information Science (SLIS) and beyond. In April 2015, DERAIL logistics coordinator and SLIS archives student Joyce Gabiola virtually attended University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign’s (UIUC) LIS Education Symposium and was inspired by the coordinators’ leadership and efforts to empower students to critically examine LIS education. In their first semester of graduate school, Joyce wrote their first research paper about implementing “diversity” in core LIS curriculum because they realized “it was unlikely that we were going to explicitly address how race, ethnicity, white privilege, white supremacy, class, gender, sexuality, dis/ability, and intersectionality play a structural role in information, technology, workplaces, and in our relationships with colleagues.” After the Symposium, Joyce felt a similar event could be one way to fill this void at Simmons.

While DERAIL was originally intended to create a safe space for SLIS students to engage in meaningful conversations on topics not explicitly addressed in our classrooms, we also implemented a virtual component to allow Simmons faculty/staff, LIS educators and students at other institutions, and practitioners to participate. Although in-person attendance was intentionally limited to current students and recent alumni (within one year of graduation), DERAIL found tremendous support and interest from virtual attendees (and non-attendees) – both LIS professionals and students in other MSLIS programs – who were able to watch DERAIL via live-stream and participate in discussions through moderated Twitter chats and GoToWebinar. In addition, we were honored that a graduate student from Queens College in New York attended in-person, as well as one of the coordinators of UIUC’s LIS Education Symposium.

The wide range of topics presented at DERAIL represent the existing research, interests, and concerns of current students and recent alumni. Some of the presentations examined librarians and LIS professionals as workers (Professionally Underpaid: Systemic Issues in the LIS Field), the meaning of accessible libraries in policy and practice (Accessible Libraries: Essential and Often Forgotten), and the deployment of ‘diversity’ language in LIS outreach efforts (Words of Welcome: The Language and Structure of Diversity Policies and Initiatives in LIS Outreach). Archival student perspectives were also represented, in oral history projects (Inknography: Challenging the Model Minority Stereotype with Tattoos and Oral Histories) discussions about the role of archives in providing resources for anti-racism work on college campuses (Race, Archives, and Campus Communities), and a panel specifically centering on reconsidering the relationships between archives and archival users (Coming In Like a Wrecking Ball: Deconstructing Archival Authority).  All the presentations were critically engaging and highlighted the biases and systemic inequities in the standards and culture of the professions as well as in the curricula of graduate programs. At DERAIL, our views were challenged and the knowledge we’ve gained in our classes and work environments was shared with members of our student and practitioner communities. These critical conversations continue to affect how we approach our work as students, new graduates, and emerging professionals.

DERAIL provided the rare opportunity for LIS students to discuss their research on “uncomfortable topics” that impact our experiences as patrons, practitioners, educators, and students of information environments. For organizers, presenters, and attendees, DERAIL not only shaped our relationships to our fellow students and participants, but also brought wider recognition of the value of student contributions to the development and reconsideration of “professional” domains. All presentation slides and handouts are currently available online at the DERAIL Forum Program. Follow the Forum on Twitter (@derailforum) to receive info on DERAIL 2017!

Joyce Gabiola recently earned a MSLIS in Archives Management at Simmons College, where they were instrumental in the School of Library and Information Science’s creation of the Dean’s Fellow for Diversity and Inclusion as well as the Task Force for Diversity and Inclusion. They are an ARL/SAA Mosaic Fellow, ARL IRDW Scholar, and ALA Spectrum Scholar. Joyce is excited to begin the doctoral program in Information Studies (Archives) at UCLA this Fall.

Desiree Alaniz is a dual degree master’s student in Archives/History at Simmons College and served as Communications Coordinator for DERAIL 2016. She also blogs at Hack Library School and tweets @litlegoldenage.

ICYMI: Grant Cycles, Deadlines, and Labor Advocacy

Our ICYMI series provide summaries of presentations, publications, webinars, and other educational opportunities that are of interest to I&A members. We keep a running list of upcoming events. If you’re interested in writing a post for ICYMI, please refer to our sign up sheet. In this post, Hilary Barlow recaps the session, “Grant Cycles, Deadlines, and Labor Advocacy” from MARAC’s Spring 2016 conference.

At the MARAC April 2016 conference in Pittsburgh current and former project archivists came together in the roundtable “Grant Cycles, Deadlines, and Labor Advocacy: The Changing Work of Project Archivists.” The presenters discussed precarious work in archives, how project archivists can advocate for themselves, and how supervisors of project archivists can advocate for their employees. Many attendees were current and former project archivists, with a few supervisors of projects archivists chiming in as well. The session notes for this roundtable can be found here  and the presentation itself can be found here.

Four archivists led the roundtable. Rosemary K. J. Davis is the Processing Archivist for the Samuel French Collection at  Amherst College. Rachel Mattson is the Manager of Special Projects at the Archives of La MaMa Experienmental Theatre Club in New York City, where she started as a project archivist. Elliot McNally was the Project Archivist for the University at Buffalo’s Poetry Collection and is now a Special Collections Librarian at Savannah College of Art and Design. Alison Reynolds is the William Henry Seward Project Archivist at the University of Rochester.

The presenters consistently reported taking on more responsibilities than the initial job description mentioned, and worked independently on their respective projects with varying levels of institutional support for professional development. They reported some advantages to the project archivist model, noting that one can learn a wide variety of skills in a relatively short period of time. Project archivists also work with a wide range of faculty, donors, and other heritage professionals. They often manage their own projects with a degree of independence, and those projects are frequently the most high-priority and sought-after collections at their repository.

Nonetheless, with these advantages come significant concerns. Because project archivists are only around for so long, the presenters observed that it was difficult to form long-term professional relationships. They also found committee work challenging when their contribution to the repository was expected to be short-term. The aforementioned independence can be isolating, and the lack of a promotion path and overall instability is very taxing.

Reynolds recommended that archivists know what kind of skills they want to develop and seek opportunities to build those particular skills during the course of their project. Mattson found her experience improved when she found a group of supportive professional peers in her area. McNally advised project archivists to get to know people in management and be frank about day-to-day needs, such as proper equipment.

When it came to creating a more supportive working environment for project archivists, McNally recommended that supervisors be receptive to their employees’ needs and pass along postings for longer term positions. Mattson called for a systemic re-evaluation of how processing projects and archives themselves are funded. She urged archivists to look past the perpetual cycle of grant applications for individual projects, compare American cultural heritage funding models to those in other countries and advocate for more funding from taxes towards cultural heritage in the United States.

Hilary Barlow is a Preservation & Digitization Technician at Penn State University and a Volunteer Archivist at the Centre County Historical Society. She recently completed her Master of Information degree in Archives & Records Management at the University of Toronto.

ICYMI: SAA’s Initiative for Cultural Diversity Competence Webinar

Our ICYMI series provide summaries of presentations, publications, webinars, and other educational opportunities that are of interest to I&A members. We keep a running list of upcoming events. If you’re interested in writing a post for ICYMI, please refer to our sign up sheet. In this post, Megan Miller recaps AACR’s weninar SAA’s Initiative for Cultural Diversity Competence.

The Archivists and Archives of Color Roundtable held a webinar featuring Helen Wong Smith’s discussion of SAA’s Initiative for Cultural Diversity Competence. Several members of MARAC’s Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion were able to attend the webinar; it is available for viewing at https://iastatelibrary.adobeconnect.com/_a1044384041/p28i8rt2in5/?launcher=false&fcsContent=true&pbMode=normal.

In the webinar, Wong Smith discussed the history and context of SAA’s cultural competency efforts, beginning with the May 2014 Council meeting’s choice of diversity as a “mega-issue” for discussion and Wong Smith’s suggestion to introduce cultural competency training. She touched on other developments, including the organization’s strategic plan, Elizabeth Adkins’s presidential focus, and the publication of the Diversity Reader, as promising developments in recent years. Wong Smith also included video of an address she gave at the 2015 annual meeting in Cleveland.

“Culture” is defined as a group with unique knowledge; cultural competency is applicable beyond racial and ethnic categories. Wong Smith noted a host of experiences and assumptions that may be bundled into one’s culture, using the metaphor of an iceberg to distinguish between overt markers (such as language, food, and holidays) and less obvious factors (such as body language, family roles, aesthetics, and self-concept). She offered a definition of cultural diversity competence: “The ability to function with awareness, knowledge, and interpersonal skill when engaging people of different backgrounds, assumptions, beliefs, values, and behaviors.” Cultural competency has a very real impact on archivists’ ability to do their jobs; for instance, archivists with public facing roles should be especially aware of how patrons (including infrequent users of archives) may interact with authority figures.

Wong Smith defined a continuum of cultural competency: destructiveness, incapacity, blindness, precompetency, competency, and proficiency. Becoming culturally competent is an ongoing process requiring proactive effort—including, crucially, conversation and consultation with individuals belonging to those cultures. She outlined five stages individuals and institutions pass through: self-reflection, personal competency, diversity-competent individuals, effective teamwork, and a culturally competent organization. She also cited cultural diversity competency skills: understanding culture as multilevel and multidimensional, understanding barriers to communication, practicing culturally centered communication, and designing and implementing organization-wide cultural competence.

During the chat following the formal presentation, Wong Smith solicited feedback on ways in which cultural competency training might be most effectively disseminated. (Despite expressions of interest, she suspects that cultural competency training, like ethics, could prove less popular that options like the DAS curriculum, particularly if fees were attached.) She expressed a hope that training as many individuals as possible, at the national and regional level, would result in a trickle-down effect, increasing archivists’ awareness of the need for cultural competency and the availability of training. Noting an aversion to hiring from within communities being served, Wong Smith cited Hawaiian institutions’ tendency to hire mainland professionals and academics, who often treat their positions as stepping-stones and depart after a few years.

She also addressed thorny organizational issues, including Council’s general lack of diversity and her decision to avoid highlighting subjects such as white privilege early in her advocacy efforts. Wong Smith remains conscious of the need to tailor her message to the audience, and that the road to cultural competency within the profession is a long one.

Megan Miller is the Digital Imaging Technician at the Chemical Heritage Foundation and a member of MARAC’s Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion.

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The great F. Bueller once commented at the end of his infamous day off: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around for a while, you could miss it.” Sadly that is all too true when it comes to all of the amazing advocacy presentations and webinars and publications. It’s pretty hard to keep track of all of those possibilities, let alone attend/listen/read them. That’s why I&A is asking you to be our Bueller…reviewer.

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