Mid-Year Steering Share: Dealing with Controversial Collections-the Remnants of Racist Artifacts and Objects

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post is from Issues & Advocacy Section chair Hope Dunbar, an Archivist at SUNY Buffalo State. The Mid-Year Steering Share was developed to discuss projects currently active or recently completed, either personal or professional.

The materials that comprise the Lester Glassner African American Experience Collection were gifted to the SUNY Buffalo State Archive & Special Collections in 2009 upon Mr. Glassner’s death. From his late teens onward he collected dime store memorabilia and other pop-culture artifacts until his collection amassed many rooms within his New York apartment and numbered into the hundreds of thousands. A significant portion of his collection centered on black memorabilia—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Collection items range from 1850 to 2005 and include a staggering span of African American depictions in pop culture within the United States.


Upon the donation of the collection, the Archives & Special Collections had to determine how this material would be treated. Would it be displayed? Would it remain in the collection? Many items, most of the collection, depict patently racists images ranging from Sambo, Mammy, Uncle Rastus, and general “pickaninny” depictions. Archivists and librarians adhere to codes of conduct and ethics developed by both regional and national organizations, including SAA. We are taught through coursework and practical experience the complex nature of archival assessment and collection development, however we are rarely told what to do with offensive items. If we have tackled such topics, it is likely in our direct work with donors, patrons, and administration, as opposed to a formal introduction through classroom instruction.

In this instance, the Archive & Special Collections decided that the act of repressing such images would be to pretend such images, and consequently such opinions, did not exist. Instead, we framed the collection through the lens of discussion. These artifacts exist, they were produced to a mass market, and they depict cultural understandings of a historical period. Lester Glassner’s collection is extensive because he documented a full range of African American depictions through various time periods. He insisted the collection remain intact to provide context to the patron and student. Later items include positive representations such as African American Barbies, Santas, action figures, soldiers, and individual character depictions, such as Star Wars’ Mace Windu, Kendra from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Morpheus from The Matrix.

A selection are displayed in the main reading room and students who visit the department are encouraged to join the active discussion as we talk about the background and how the collection informs or clashes with their cultural perspectives. In addition, our collection page includes the historical background of the collection written by a former archivist in the department, again, to give context to the items.

Mid-Year Steering Share: Michiana Memory

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post is from Steering Committee member Alison Stankrauff, Archivist and Associate Librarian at Indiana University South Bend. The Mid-Year Steering Share was developed to discuss projects currently active or recently completed, either personal or professional.


The St. Joseph County Public Library, Indiana University South Bend Archives, and the IU South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center have worked together for three solid years on a successful grant to add more materials to the Michiana Memory history website. Through the three years, documents and photographs have been added to create the Civil Rights and African American History Collection, the LGBTQ Collection, and the Historic Newspaper Collection.

Michiana Memory is the St. Joseph County Public Library’s website to provide free access to special historical materials. Anyone with an internet connection can visit the website to browse, search, and download materials such as yearbooks, postcards, photographs, and items. Michiana Memory is designed as a research and exploration tool for those studying or interested in the history of South Bend and surrounding communities.

In January 2014, the St. Joseph County Public Library reached out to the IU South Bend Archives and the IU South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center to combine their collections related to local African American and civil rights history. The combined archives launched online in February 2015. Since then, thousands of guests from all around the world have accessed the materials.

Renewal of the LSTA Indiana Memory Digitization Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services of the Indiana State Library means that sponsoring agencies will be able to include more materials than ever. This includes oral histories about local African American and Latinx history, and as of October—LGBTQ History Month AND American Archives Month—also includes the first collection of LGBTQ history in the Michiana community.

Access to these important historical records is meaningful and exciting for the organizing partners. With three years of funding, we’ve had the opportunity to include voices not yet heard before: local Latinos and folks from the LGBTQ community. Joe Sipocz, Manager of Local & Family History Services at the St. Joseph Public Library, said, “I am thrilled that we are able to continue our collaboration to include more voices through our work together.”

Adding more online access to these materials is especially important now because it takes place during the city’s sesquicentennial celebration as well as Indiana’s bicentennial. As South Bend celebrates its 150 year history, it is especially important that we recognize how our city overcame civil rights issues – specifically the practice of segregation in our public spaces, and how we continue to evolve our city’s embrace of LGBTQ people.

Guests can access the collections now by visiting http://michianamemory.sjcpl.org.

Proposed Changes to Mexican Law Threaten Records Access and Use

This post provides information about the work that SAA’s Latin American and Caribbean Cultural Heritage Section has been doing regarding proposed changes to a Mexican records law. If you have an issue you would like to write about for this blog, please email archivesissues@gmail.com.

Last year, a records law was proposed in Mexico that, although it was introduced in an attempt to improve recordkeeping transparency, is not in keeping with democratic practices nor does it provide appropriate accountability. As such, archivists, historians, scholars, and other interested parties have raised concerns that these changes to the current system will likely limit access to records and not improve the transfer of records. Nearly 4300 people signed a letter in late November presenting their concerns to legislators and the National Archive’s director.

Thanks to the work of the Latin American and Caribbean Cultural Heritage Section, particularly former co-chair Margarita Vargas-Betancourt and current co-chairs George Apodaca and Ana Rodriguez, archivists without Spanish language skills can read up on the issue on LACCHA’s microsite and blog. The posts are brief but illuminating and provide links to the activism conducted by concerned parties.

Mexican achivist Enrique Chmelnik, president of the Association of Mexican Private Archives and Libraries and director of the Center for Documentation and Jewish Research in Mexico, spoke at LACCHA’s annual meeting about this legislative issue. Chmelnik also presented at the Diversity Forum about the history of Mexican Jews and the work of the Center of Documentation and Research of the Jewish Communities in Mexico.

Mid-Year Steering Share: Bringing It In – To The Blog

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post is from Steering Committee member Stephanie Bennett, Collections Archivist at Wake Forest University.

Since it’s already been almost 6 months since the annual meeting, the Steering Committee members will be checking in about work we’re doing with the Issues & Advocacy Section and in our daily work. I’m gearing up for a very active year at work, but I’ve been kicking off the year thinking more about my contributions to the I&A Steering Committee and specifically this here blog.

Blogging is a really useful exercise for me personally and professionally. I am a lifelong journaller and blogged through college and beyond, and though I drift away from dedicated writing at times, I always come back. Putting my thoughts down and then editing to organize more coherently and concisely is a great way to make sense of issues, myself, and the wider world’s many dynamics.

I value providing the information and also am grateful for colleagues who are involved in the labor of blogging: research, writing, editing, choosing photos, double-checking links, etc. I hope y’all enjoy and employ the information shared here, and I hope the writers get value from the exercise of writing and publishing through more connections, more conversations and views on vital issues, and other opportunities that enrich their work and our profession.

Many other sections (formerly known as roundtables) have blogs, plus individual archivists too. How can we as a profession bound together through the Society of American Archivists make use of this work and not duplicate our efforts? I don’t have any true solutions except improved communication and open doors. Personally and through my work with I&A and the Collections Management Tools Section, I aim to boost the work of colleagues so that we’re all operating with as much information as our brains can stand. 

A reminder – I&A has an open blogging policy: if there is an issue you are passionate about and want to write about, we are here. If  you’ve attended a conference and you’d like to encourage more opportunities like it, we are here. If you have another idea entirely related to archivists and archives, email us – we are here to support archivists and our work. Many issues intersect in and with archives, which means many roads lead to and through professional conversations.

Our Research Teams are currently getting off the ground, so I look forward to reading the fruits of their labor on issues that we all wish we had more time to dig deep and research. Steering Shares will continue our committee’s reflections on a variety of issues and tasks. I would love to hear more about useful conferences and themes in ICYMI (In Case You Missed It) posts. And the Steering Committee is stirring up some great Archivists on the Issues posts about things we’ve heard about and fielding posts sent in to us.

Maybe one of you is currently pondering how to connect all these Section and SAA blogs (I have counted 12?) so that we see and talk to each other more often, not just at each other. When lightning strikes, I am ready and waiting to hear about the epiphany! In the meantime, I am optimistic about the work we can do together and separately in 2017.

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.

Steering Share: Alison Stankrauff

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post is from I&A Steering Committee Member Alison Stankrauff. She is an Archivist and Associate Librarian at Indiana University South Bend. 

Alison Stankrauff 2016
Photo by IUSB Michael McCombs

What was your first job in a library, archive, or museum?

My first job in an archive was as a student worker at the Walter P. Reuther Library Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs at Wayne State University. I was working through the Archives Administration and MLIS program at Wayne State. I worked with the amazing Detroit News and Free Press Collection – scanning its glass and acetate negatives for preservation, putting them into acid-free enclosures, entering metadata into the system. I loved that job and working with the amazing archivists and staff at the Reuther. I kept the negatives’ original paper enclosures (instead of recycling them) and then did detective work on bicycle rides around the city – I learned SO much about my beloved Detroit’s history!

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

I feel very connected to making sure that the wider world know about archives – and primary sources, and the institutions that house them – are so important. They’re far from a luxury or a secondary concern for our society. Archives and professionals to properly care for and make these collections accessible are essential to a democratic society. I feel that archives and trained professionals are ever more important as we move forward to a presidency that questions verifiable data and information.

What is one major issue you see archives tackling in the next five to ten years?

I’d love to see the archival programs throughout North America really tackle and incorporate more classwork for students about teaching with primary sources. Another SAA group I’m active with, the Reference, Access, and Outreach Section (RAO), is taking this on. I’m a member of RAO’s Teaching with Primary Sources Working Group (TPS) and we are surveying archives masters programs throughout America and Canada to see how they’re teaching and what they’re teaching – or not. We hope to publish our survey, so stay tuned!

What archive issue means a lot to you?

I think, per my answer about joining I&A, our cultural institutions are increasingly under attack in ways that we’ve not experienced previously or anticipated. So I think that working with other archivists and information professionals to advocate for archives is key going forward. As a lone arranger in a woefully under-funded institution, I need all the help and extra voice that I can get to lend support to my message!

Describe and share an interesting archive you have come across over the years.

This past summer, I visited Bulgaria on one of my fantastic cycling vacations. I went there directly following the LGBTQ+ Archives, Libraries, Museums, and Special Collections conference in London, where I was presenting our LGBTQ+ Collection with other small archives from the U.S. I was able to visit an amazing archive of the Shumen Mosque in northeastern Bulgaria. This was an honor and the experience impressed itself upon me in so many ways.


What Can Archivists Do about Concerns Regarding Federal Climate and Environmental Data?

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. 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. Please note that opinions expressed in Archivists on the Issues posts do not indicate an official stance of SAA or the Issues and Advocacy Roundtable.

This post is by Eira Tansey, University of Cincinnati and a leader in the Project Archivists Responding to Climate Change (ProjectARCC).

Shortly after the US election results, many who rely on federal climate and environmental data became very concerned about the continuing public availability of this data in the new administration. I am among this group myself, as my research partners from Penn State and I use data sets from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to map climate change risks to American archival repositories. In the past few weeks, institutions such as the University of Toronto and the Penn Environmental Humanities Lab began to organize hackathons in order to seed the End of Term Web Archive project with climate and environmental webpages, and determine ways to effectively copy large data sets. The issue gained steam over the weekend when climate journalist and meteorologist Eric Holthaus began tweeting about it, and has gained major news coverage with stories in the Washington Post and Vice.

As a leader within ProjectARCC (Archivists Responding to Climate Change), I had reached out to individuals at Toronto and Penn to get more information about their projects as soon as I heard about them, including the role of librarians and archivists in their efforts. Representatives from the University of Toronto and Penn joined last night’s monthly ProjectARCC conference call to update us on their efforts.

Things are moving very swiftly on all fronts, so additional posts will be forthcoming as information and efforts are updated.

What is already in place?

Fellows from the Penn Environmental Humanities Lab began raising the issue of vulnerable environmental data with a hackathon earlier this month. The Lab is now quickly organizing on many of the issues associated with downloading and distributing the work of copying the many data sets scientists rely on. You can read their initial vision here, their preliminary take on how not all data sets may be equally vulnerable, and yesterday’s update regarding their taking over the initial crowdsourced spreadsheet that Eric Holthaus started, as well as their collaborative work with the University of Toronto.

The University of Toronto is hosting a “guerrilla archiving” event on December 17. This event will focus on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) page URLs that will be seeded for the End of Term project.

What is next?

The folks at Penn and Toronto have received a massive outpouring of interest. Which is great! It also means that they need time to organize their efforts and evaluate offers of help, storage space, etc., most effectively. You can visit Penn’s #DataRefuge website, which went live December 13, to learn more about efforts as they evolve.

Beyond the work that is coming out of the Toronto event on December 17, Toronto and Penn are planning to develop a toolkit so other institutions can host hackathons.

The Penn folks are currently setting up contacts with many organizations’ representatives, including the Society of American Archivists.

How can you help?

The Penn #DataRefuge project now has a “I’d like to help” form. You can submit your response hereTo nominate .gov pages for the End of Term Web Archive, you can use the End of Term Nomination Tool.

Why are people so worried about this to begin with?

Several departments and agencies within the federal government, including EPA, NOAA, Department of Interior, Department of Energy, and National Aeronautic and Space Administration (to name but a few), create myriad and massive data sets related to monitoring pollution of air and water, weather patterns, energy usage, and tracking indicators associated with climate change (ocean temperature and acidification, sea level modeling, and global temperature records).  

The incoming Trump administration is signalling that it will likely be hostile to the established consensus science on climate change, as well as existing pollution regulations. The President Elect has denied global warming’s reality and has selected a series of people that have a legislative or business record of undermining environmental regulation and efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Many proposed appointees have extensive ties to the fossil fuel industry, including the EPA nominee (Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma Attorney General) and the Secretary of State nominee (Rex Tillerson, ExxonMobil CEO). Multiple meta-surveys of climate science papers have established that climate change is real and primarily driven by human activities. Recent publication on this extensively documented issue includes one published in April 2016, showing that between 90-100% of climate scientists themselves are in consensus on the causes of global warming. 18 of America’s prominent scientific organizations are in agreement on the science showing that climate change is primarily driven by human activities.

Researchers are worried that funding will be cut from existing federal environmental and climate monitoring and research efforts, but also about continued access to currently public data sets. It remains to be seen whether recent Open Government initiatives that increased public access to federal data will receive the same level of support in the next administration. If data sets are removed from public access, this could mean that researchers would be required to file FOIA requests for access. During the Bush administration, with similarly extensive ties to the fossil fuel industry, scientists documented dozens of instances of scientific advice manipulation, restrictions on federal scientists’ work, and cutbacks on public access to environmental information (the most famous case is probably the proposed closure of EPA libraries). Some Canadians are alarmed by what could happen in the United States, given how the Harper administration reduced public access to federal environmental data there.

For now, researchers are in wait-and-see mode, but most are erring on the side of being overly cautious—hence why so many have mobilized to copy currently available data as fast as possible.

For questions about this work’s current status, please feel free to contact eira.tansey@uc.edu.

Steering Share: Rachel Mandell

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post is from I&A Vice Chair Rachel Mandell. She is Digital Archivist at California State University, Dominguez Hills.

Rachel Mandell

What was your first job in a library, archive, or museum?

As an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, I worked in Doe Library, the university’s main library stacks. The student library employees switched tasks every hour of our shifts; tasks included re-shelving books, collecting discarded books or belongings left behind by patrons, and participating in larger projects like shifting books. Re-shelving books involved gathering an entire library cart full of books and first arranging them in the proper Library of Congress order before bringing them back to the stacks. One of my favorite memories of that job was competing with my fellow student workers to see who could put together an entire cart the quickest without any mistakes!

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

Last year, I served as the Issues and Advocacy Intern. As a project archivist, I have found it difficult to acquire institutional support for professional development opportunities outside of my current position. I saw the internship as a great way to get involved in SAA, without taking too much time away from my daily tasks. After spending a semester working with the Issues and Advocacy team, I was hooked! It’s a great way to stay up to date with important archival issues and stay connected to larger archival community!

What is one major issue you see archives tackling in the next five to ten years?

I would love to see linked data incorporated into the archival field. In the linked data environment, connections between data points are created with links that are machine accessible rather than human accessible. The library community has already begun to tackle this issue. By using encoding schemas such as BIBFRAME created by the Library of Congress, the library catalog gets transformed into something more than structured information. These links become actual “things” that are connected to each other. For example, exposing library metadata as linked data means it could be crawled by search engine bots and included in user search results along with articles from Wikipedia and the Internet Movie Database (IMDB). In the archival environment, we can imagine using linked data to connect many different vocabularies to a collection of materials. We don’t need to risk interoperability by choosing one vocabulary over another, because we can link to many. Through linked data, we can make our projects more dynamic and flexible.

What archive issue means a lot to you?

My current work on the Japanese American Digitization Project at California State University, Dominguez Hills deals with an archival issue that has become very important to me: accurate archival description. The controversy surrounding how the Japanese American experience in the 20th century was historically and typically described by government agencies such as the War Relocation Authority is very present in this project. For example, internment is not a preferred or even an accurate term when describing nearly 120,000 people who were forced to leave their homes; internment refers to the legally permissible detention of enemy aliens in the time of war. So it is extremely problematic to apply this term to the unlawful incarceration of American citizens — and nearly 2/3 of those people incarcerated were U.S. citizens. As archivists, we have the power to describe and therefore perpetuate a particular perspective of history. Archival description should not be taken lightly. Terminology and description are power tools.

Describe and share an interesting archive you have come across over the years.

While living and working in Vienna on a Fulbright grant, I spent part of my time learning how to digitize Super 8 mm films at the Austrian Film Museum. In addition to the already impressive collection housed in the Film Museum’s archive, I was introduced to their wonderful collection of home movies and other ephemeral films. Ephemeral films are a very interesting archival artefact. They are defined as films with a limited purpose and not meant to endure– and include amateur, institutional, industrial, educational, and other films. They are often discovered by collectors or hobbyists, however there is often very little known about these films. One way that the Austrian Film Museum is tackling this issue of limited metadata, is to digitize the films and incorporate them into online platforms. An example of one such platform is the Ephemeral Films Project, which focuses on ephemeral films from the Austrian Nazi era. Researchers, historians, and other interested users can view the digitized films and actually provide feedback if anything is known about the film such as locations within the film. By crowdsourcing metadata, we can discover more about these unique and rare films.

Steering Share: Daria Labinsky

darialabinsky_smallSteering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post is from I&A Steering Committee Member Daria Labinsky. She is an archivist at the National Archives in St. Louis, who works primarily with 20th century military personal data records.

What was your first job in a library, archive, or museum?

As an undergrad at Northwestern, my first work-study job was to shelve books at the Evanston Public Library. The next year I was promoted to QC’ing data entry into the brand-new electronic catalog! I checked the entered data and metadata against what was on the cards and made edits when needed. I remember falling asleep sitting in front of an open card catalog drawer, and my supervisor waking me up. She was amused.

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

I attended the Archives Leadership Institute in June, and Barbara Teague taught the classes on advocacy. She mentioned that getting involved in some kind of advocacy committee, or joining a group that champions a specific issue, is a way to share your opinions through a collective voice. As a federal employee I sometimes feel constrained when it comes to being able to speak out about issues that affect our profession, and I think I&A can aid others who may feel the same way. I was a member of the General News Research Team last year and have been monitoring issues that impact archives and libraries for years.

What is one major issue you see archives tackling in the next five to ten years?

Efforts to make archives and the profession more diverse and inclusive will grow stronger. It’s exciting to see how the archiving of social media continues to enable the voices of historically marginalized people to be saved and shared. More needs to be done; we need to raise awareness by educating current archivists and those who control archival purse strings. And we also need to work harder to retain people once they’re hired. Quite a few people are writing eloquently about these kind of topics, but Jarrett M. Drake’s and Bergis Jules’ blogs are two of my must-reads.

What archive issue means a lot to you?

The destruction of records that should be permanent is a significant problem. In “Institutional Silences and the Digital Dark Age” Eira Tansey writes, “ … because those with the most power within organizations are rarely the same individuals tasked with carrying out records mandates, there will always be archival silences despite archivists’ and records managers’ best efforts.” The problems she sees in public universities are probably more prevalent in government agencies. Sometimes creators deliberately destroy records; sometimes it’s inadvertent—out of ignorance, accidentally during a move, or because they assume incorrectly that someone or some system is archiving their emails for them. In a perfect world laws requiring public employees to save the records they are legally mandated to save would be strictly enforced. We need to step up and make sure our elected officials know why enforceable records management policies are important, and we need to continue to educate records creators on how to integrate archival best practices into records management.

Describe and share an interesting archive you have come across over the years.

The holdings of the National Archives at St. Louis contain many, many interesting items. One of our most recent acquisitions are the Research and Experimental Case Files, records compiled during Army tests of potential chemical agents and/or antidotes on volunteers conducted during the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. These records provide fascinating written documentation by test subjects who were under the influence of a variety of drugs. Although the reports are sometimes humorous—patients’ acid trip drawings are not uncommon—there’s an undercurrent of tragedy within them. Just how “voluntary” were the tests for those subjects who were inmates in Holmesburg Prison? What kind of physical and mental health problems did the participants later experience? The files shed light on another troubling chapter in our history.

Note: The contents of this message are mine personally and do not necessarily reflect any position of the federal government or the National Archives and Records Administration.

Steering Share: Hope Dunbar

Steering Shares are anpic-small opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post is from  I&A Chair, Hope Dunbar. Hope Dunbar is currently an Archivist at SUNY Buffalo State in Buffalo, New York.

What was your first job in a library, archive, or museum?

My first foray into the world of special collections and archives was at the Newberry  in Chicago. I was chosen to participate in a small undergraduate seminar taught by the current Director of Exhibitions and Major Projects, Diane Dillon. The seminar highlighted novelty in the early republic and after just a few short weeks I was hooked. I loved the materials, I loved the staff, and most of all I loved that for the first time during my history degree I felt like I was connecting with my subject matter. There is something to the physicality of an artifact or book to drive home the reality of history and how close we are to a subject the surrounds us daily. After the seminar I became an intern, after the internship I became a summer page, and after the summer I became a full-time employee.

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

I eventually left the Newberry to complete a law degree at DePaul University, College of Law in Chicago and subsequently try my hand in the federal sphere. My time at the Dept. of Justice, Dept. of State, and Dept. of Education taught me the essentiality of advocacy and a strong voice, especially in relation to legislation and government. With many voices trying to be heard, there are ever present challenges to successful advocacy. I&A is an essential platform to allow a common voice that addresses everyday concerns archivists experience. We strive to equip archivists with tools for success to advocate for themselves and their department or institution on every level.

What is one major issue you see archives tackling in the next five to ten years?

Like many people in our profession, I worry about the inefficient or nonexistent capturing of early born digital materials, especially in relation to small institutions. Our collective history is less paper based than ever before. The hurdles to properly preserving digital materials are higher, more costly, and subject to obsolescence. My fear is that fifty or a hundred years from now we will look back at this period and have limited or incomplete materials to understand underrepresented or underfunded communities based on the shift from paper to digital.

What archive issue means a lot to you?

Access, access, access. If an institution has hidden collections, unprocessed collections, or no user access; in some ways that collection does not exist. This position is especially relevant when looked at through the lens of advocacy. It is more difficult to advocate for collections that do not provide a direct benefit to an institution or patron base. Exposing collections can be as simple as a general list on a library webpage or local state or professional association portal. A list and description can go a long way to informing patrons, scholars, and the public that they may want to contact an archivist for more information.

Describe and share an interesting archive you have come across over the years.

I currently work in the Archives & Special Collections at SUNY Buffalo State. We have a truly amazing, and arguably under-processed, LGBTQ collection donated by Dr. Madeline Davis and local community members. It is unique to the region and documents the LGBTQ community going back in some instances to the early 1920s. Part of this collection is a selection of around 150 historical t-shirts made or acquired for marches, rallies, and community events. Many t-shirts are original creations and the only documentation to early LGBTQ activities. We are currently digitizing our collection to contribute to a project called Wearing Gay History that was founded to show both the distinctness and interconnectedness of queer identities across geographic lines; to bring visibility to smaller queer archives across the country; and to uncover often ignored history of diverse LGBTQ cultures. Recently, Wearing Gay History was also added to the Digital Transgender Archive containing around 29 institutions. Both Wearing Gay History and the Digital Transgender Archive are wonderful examples of cross-national institutions bringing together collections on a specific topic.