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more than just numbers: pluralizing LIS education

22 Dec

I just finished reading an awesome article from a recent issue of American Archivist“Educating for the Archival Multiverse.”  While the article focuses on archival education, librarians have a lot to learn from it too.  The underlying argument is that diversifying the LIS profession has traditionally meant recruiting larger numbers of people from minority racial and ethnic groups (and trying to achieve representation in professional organizations), yet that “approach, while important, overlooks the systemic nature of the problems it seeks to address, that diversifying the student population without expanding pedagogy and practice perpetuates a lack of awareness and consideration of the perspectives, behaviors, and needs of many different communities.”

The term diversity itself is examined, for it emphasizes a division between the majority group and all other marginalized groups — the authors instead choose to use pluralism, which doesn’t privilege any one group over another.  Furthermore, the authors ask, “How do we move from an archival universe dominated by one cultural paradigm to an archival multiverse; from a world constructed in terms of ‘the one’ and ‘the other’ to a world of multiple ways of knowing and practicing, of multiple narratives co-existing in one space?”

That question really summarizes the foundation of my scholarly inquiry.  I seem to always start my research papers by explaining how cultural groups have different understandings of LIS concepts — whether it’s access, privacy, ownership, etc. — and how archivists must address the profession’s Western limitations in processing cultural records.  Yet this initial step of recognizing that there are multiple perspectives and understandings of archival concepts, standards, and practices has never been mentioned or discussed in any of my classes so far.  And that’s a drag.

“Educating for the Archival Multiverse” proposes eight objectives for pluralizing archival education, and I’m just going to touch on the three that stand out the most to me.

  • Historicize and Contextualize Archival Theory and Practice: students need to be taught the history and context of our current standards and practices, grounding them within a specific historical place and time so students know how those key concepts were culturally derived
  • Expand Existing Curricula to Focus on Core Archival Concepts and Values as Well as Processes:  rather than focusing on archival processes (e.g. appraisal, arrangement, and description), examining core concepts such as trust, accountability, ownership, authenticity, access, and permanence can help educators address different cultural understandings
  • Strengthen Community Engagement:  educators should invite speakers representing different perspectives and experiences to present to the class; schools can create partnerships with community archives for students to learn and practice in different settings

I highly recommend this article to anyone interested in how LIS education (and really, the profession) needs to be diversified in more ways than just numbers.

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Posted by on December 22, 2011 in archives, diversity, library school

 

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