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.