The Greater Love

As Valentine’s Day approaches, I can’t help but think about love. Not just romantic love, but also a different kind of love … the love one has for a profession! As you can probably tell by the existence of this blog, I’m a little bit (well, quite a lot) in love with archives. I love archival materials; I love archival practice and theory; I love the archival profession as a community; I love the purpose archivists serve in society; I love how dynamic and interdisciplinary the archival field is, the list goes on and on. Despite this all-encompassing love I have for anything and everything archival, my boyfriend and I recently had a discussion that made me ask myself, “what is my greatest love?”

heart

In preparation for my upcoming master’s graduation in May, I’ve been applying for many different archivist jobs as well as some PhD programs. My boyfriend has been my sounding board as I apply for various opportunities and interview for positions. One day he asked, “What matters to you most when taking an opportunity in archives—the archival collections you’ll be working with or simply archival practice itself?” His question made me think. Which is the greater love? Is it the love of a specific collection or the general love of preserving history and making it available? If the greater love is the former, the most important aspect of any new opportunity is the subject matter I’ll be dealing with.  If the greater love is the latter, the subject matter is arbitrary; my fulfillment comes from protecting history—regardless of what it is—and making it accessible to others for years to come.

So again, I ask myself, “which is the greater love?” Well, I could go with the preferred phrase of archivists and say, “it depends.” However, in this case, I don’t think it does. I can honestly say that my greater love is for archival practice—collecting, preserving, and making history available to users. I love protecting the past, and I love helping people use records of the past to fulfill various purposes. Yes, it’s always wonderful when a collection is particularly exciting to me because it makes some of the tedious parts of being an archivist much more bearable. However, I know that deep down, I am meant to be an archivist, and this calling is not dependent upon which collection I happen to be working with at the time. In fact, I have a feeling my archival career will lead me to and through many different collections, subject areas, and environments throughout my lifetime. I’m just along for the ride!

This is my assessment of what drives me as an archivist and an information studies professional. Other archivists may feel the opposite way, and that is totally okay. Let’s talk about it. What is your greatest love when it comes to being an archivist? What keeps you motivated? What keeps your archival heart beating when you go to work/school every day?

I’d love to hear from everyone on this one!

“And, on many of these occasions, I have been taken aback by the awe that the ordinary practice of archival techniques can inspire nonarchivists. Part science, part art, and—when done properly—part showmanship, our ability to quickly understand and evaluate the record…. So too is our ability to satisfy research inquiries by applying our complex understandings of how and why the historical record is created. Perhaps in modesty, or perhaps because we devalue the everyday and familiar, we fail too often to appreciate our unique archival skills and capabilities.”

~John Fleckner, ‘“Dear Mary Jane’: Some Reflections on Being an Archivist”

Making the Mosaic

One of the main reasons why I’ve been able to expand my knowledge and understanding of archives over the past year is because of my 2015-2017 Association of Research Libraries/Society of American Archivists Mosaic Fellowship. This unique fellowship strives to increase diversity in the field of librarianship and archives. It provides recipients with graduate school tuition, a paid internship, conference money, it also pays for recipients to attend the annual Association of Research Libraries (ARL) Leadership Symposium. This year, the Symposium took place from January 7-10 in Boston, MA. Aside from being totally terrified of northern winter weather (y’all know I’m a southern gal), I was very eager to see what the Symposium had in store. I will not even attempt to discuss everything we talked about during our three-day conference, but I would like to highlight one specific concept that propelled each and every conversation we had. That concept is diversity.

Although the conference mostly focused on diversity in libraries, we also touched on diversity in archives. Some of you may wonder, what does diversity in archives even mean? Well, you can look at it from many different angles. Cultural diversity exists in archival collections; for example, think about the community archives of an ethnic group (http://www.flatrockarchives.com/) or perhaps a collection of recorded oral histories from immigrant families (http://www.libertyellisfoundation.org/oral-histories). Social diversity exists in archival collections; consider archival institutions that solely focus on documenting women’s history (https://www.radcliffe.harvard.edu/schlesinger-library) or LGBTQ history (http://www.clga.ca/). Political diversity exists in archival collections; take for example the existence of presidential libraries and archives like the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library in Atlanta (http://www.jimmycarterlibrary.gov/). Even beyond the archival content itself, diversity in archives may also refer to patrons as well as archivists. This type of diversity is just as important. It requires all of us—students, historians, government officials, archivists, librarians, donors, and others—to acknowledge our own cultural and social backgrounds and to be aware of the perspectives and/or biases we may hold because of these backgrounds.

We’ve established that diversity is important. However, it’s one thing to say it, another thing to live it. I had a few discussions with some participants at the ARL Symposium about how diversity is treated within library/archives education. While I listened to a few of my colleagues lament over the lack of diversity courses within their graduate programs, all of the sudden I realized that my graduate program suffers from the same sickness! Don’t get me wrong; I love my archival studies program to pieces (and you should too! Check it out at http://www.clayton.edu/mas), but it currently doesn’t offer a course dedicated to diversity within the archival profession. The Master of Archival Studies program at the University of British Columbia does not seem to have a diversity course either (http://slais.ubc.ca/programs/courses/course-list/). The same thing goes for Drexel University’s Post-Master’s Archival Studies Specialist degree (http://online.drexel.edu/online-degrees/information-sciences-degrees/spec-as/index.aspx#curriculum). New York University’s master’s degree in history with an archival concentration does not have a specific diversity course either (http://history.as.nyu.edu/object/history.gradprog.archivespublichistory). At the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, I did notice an offering for a library science course in community archives (LIS590CA), but the course catalog currently lacks a description for the course (http://www.lis.illinois.edu/academics/courses/catalog#500level).

Obviously, this is neither a comprehensive list of library science/archival studies programs nor a comprehensive list of course offerings. I do think these examples demonstrate a wide-scale absence of diversity courses in library and archival education programs. To be fair, I would imagine that most library science programs and archival studies programs discuss diversity issues as a part of other courses. In my program, we discussed diversity particularly in the appraisal course. This is a great start, but I truly feel that offering a course solely dedicated to diversity issues in the archival profession would not only enhance archival education but would also provide a safe space for the necessary and sometimes controversial discussions that come up as we discuss ways to document our increasingly diverse society. I know I’m not alone when I say this. According to the Society of American Archivists Guidelines for a Graduate Program in Archival Studies, core archival knowledge “should incorporate an international and multicultural perspective.”[1] Likewise, archival education should include courses focusing on knowledge of the profession such as “records and cultural memory” as well as contextual knowledge such as “social and cultural systems.”[2]  As we can see, diversity is not just a side piece in the world of archival education. It’s completely crucial to the continuation and success of our profession.

Did you take a diversity course as a part of your archival degree program or library science program? If so, how was it? Did you find the course eye-opening?

Mosaic-Tiles

 

[1] “Guidelines for a Graduate Program in Archival Studies,” Society of American Archivists, accessed January 12, 2016, http://www2.archivists.org/gpas.

[2] Ibid.

Archives matter because you matter

During my undergraduate years at the University of Georgia, I had an English professor named Dr. Ron Baxter Miller. He said something in class I’ll never forget. With boldness, he stated, “English matters because the human condition matters.” As a humanities student myself,  I took this quote and its logic with me through my undergraduate years and into my graduate school career. Now, as I work toward graduating with my master’s degree in archival studies next year while also continuing to gain experience as a practicing archivist and an archival scholar, I’d like to amend Dr. Miller’s quote and declare that “archives matter because the human condition matters.”

Just this week, I’ve experienced situations that demonstrate how and why archives matter. On Tuesday, I began a new internship at the Robert W. Woodruff Library, Atlanta University Center. My job is to process the collection of Dr. Bernard Bell, a prolific and accomplished African American literary scholar. I was an English major in undergrad, so naturally, I was excited to begin working with this collection merely because of its content. I did not anticipate, however, the incredible convergence between Dr. Bell’s life and my own. Not only did Dr. Bell have personal relationships with writers whom I love and respect the most, such as James Baldwin, but I recently found a manuscript draft of a textbook Dr. Bell co-authored and realized that I used this very textbook during one of my English classes at UGA!  And you’ll never guess who taught that class … Dr. Ron Baxter Miller. Archives brought us full circle.

In addition, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published an article a few days ago exposing an amazing archival discovery hidden for years in a small town in North Carolina. A newly discovered reel-to-reel tape holds the fifty-five minute speech that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave to a group of high school students in Rocky Mount, NC in 1962. On this tape, Dr. King uttered his iconic phrase, “I have a dream,” which suggests that it was this group of students, not the quarter of a million attendees at the March on Washington, who first heard of Dr. King speak of his dream. Archives brought a new history to light.

Archives matter because people matter. Archives matter because our stories matter. Archives matter because the human condition matters.

Why do you think archives matter? ?? Let’s start a conversation!

Also, here’s a link to the Dr. King story: http://www.myajc.com/news/news/king-had-a-dream-before-the-dream/nnR8C/?icid=ajc_internallink_myajcinvitationbox_feb2014_accessdigital_post-purchase#872f5a41.4118745.735839