Category Archives: archives

my first publication: “Preserving Digital Cultural Heritage: A Call for Participatory Models”

A few months ago at Hack Library School, I wrote a post about my experiences on both sides of the peer-review journal process.  I’m happy to share that a paper I originally wrote for my preservation management class was published in Library Student Journal this month.  If you get a chance, I would love for you to read it and share feedback!

Additionally, I’m slowly writing a paper mentioned previously on historical archivists of color.  Due to time and resource restraints, the paper definitely won’t delve into many of the issues I wanted to look into — but it’s a start to what will hopefully turn into a long-term research project.

I also just returned from the 2nd Annual Joint Conference of Librarians of Color (JCLC) and hope to write up some thoughts on that experience soon.


what have i been up to?

CC image courtesy of simon.hucko on flickr

I realize that I’ve seriously neglected this blog — I have been writing, it just hasn’t been here.  Here are some of my past posts over at Hack Library School:

What I learned from the peer review process

Tips for your job or internship application

Questioning the Final Research Paper

Say what? Things I haven’t learned in library school

This summer and fall, I’ve decided to focus on research I’ve been meaning to do for a while.  I feel that very little literature on archival history exists, especially compared to the amount out there on library history, and I’d like to contribute what I can.  My plan is to research historical archivists of color — who they were, what work they did, what obstacles they faced, etc. — and I’ll need all the help I can get!  Once I have a better defined focus (e.g. time period, definition of archivist), I’ll definitely put a call out for names and all the resources I can find to learn about these individuals.  Please feel free to go ahead and give me any suggestions.


Posted by on June 11, 2012 in archives, diversity


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more than just numbers: pluralizing LIS education

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


new beginnings

Okay, so I didn't actually move to another city -- but you get the point.

Okay, so I didn't actually move to another city -- but you get the point.

The end of 2011 is upon us, but changes have already begun for me.  I started a new job last week!  I’m now Reference Archivist at the National Anthropological Archives, which is where I’ve been volunteering since September 2010.  This experience should give me more ideas of things to write about, but recently my attention has been focused more at Hack Library School (we’re currently looking for more writers, so I encourage you to apply!).

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Posted by on December 12, 2011 in archives, library school


so, what exactly does an archivist do?

This post is inspired by how many library school students and librarians have no real idea of what archivists do and why — a description of archives doesn’t seem to make it to any intro classes. Below is a brief overview.

What are archival records?

A record is information that has been stored in a fixed form, which includes paper, photographs, film and sound recordings, and electronic files. Important to a record is its content, structure, and context. Content is all the information that is contained in the record. The content of a record is fixed, so that it can be reviewed again – its stability is what makes a record significant to memory. A record’s structure is the physical form it is contained in and the organization of its content. Context is all the conditions that surround a record’s creation, storage, or use – and context is very important to archivists.

We create and use countless records in our everyday life, but not every record is considered archival. Archives simply cannot keep all records ever created, so one of the main responsibilities of an archivist is to determine if a record should be preserved because it has enduring value.

Archival records document the activities of its creator – whether that’s an individual, group, or organization – and these records serve as direct evidence of the creator’s activities. Because the content of the records serve as evidence of these activities, they have enduring value. Archival records serve a purpose other than the one they were originally created for.

What exactly is an archives?

The term “archives” can refer to the archival materials themselves, organizations that collect archival materials, the archival profession, and a building that houses archival materials. The word “archives” is and can be used interchangeably in reference to any of those definitions.

What are the main responsibilities of an archivist?

An archivist’s work involves many different parts of managing an archival collection. Some archivists perform all of the responsibilities described below, but archivists in larger institutions may focus on just a few of these.

Appraisal and Acquisition
I mentioned appraisal earlier – archivists appraise records to determine if they have enduring value and should be preserved in the long-term. While archival records may be worth money, archival appraisal is not concerned with monetary value but the value of the record’s content. Appraisal is subjective because part of the selection process looks to see if records fit within the archives’ mission and purpose. If an archivist decides that a collection should be part of the archival institution, the materials are acquired and transferred through a process called accessioning.

Archivists arrange the archival materials in order to provide access to researchers. In arrangement, archivists intellectually organize the records and make sure the physical organization reflects that intellectual arrangement. Especially important to archivists during this process are the concepts of provenance and original order. Provenance is the relationship between a record and the individuals or organizations who created, maintained, or used it. To maintain provenance, archivists try to ensure that records are kept according to their origin and not mixed in with other collections. Original order is keeping records in the same order in which the creator arranged them. Maintaining both provenance and original order is necessary to preserve the records’ context. This context can be crucial to a researcher, which is why archivists try so hard to maintain it.

In the description process, archivists try to create an accurate representation of an archival collection’s content and how it is arranged physically. In addition, archivists provide information about the creator and the context of the records’ creation. This description information is generally brought together in a finding aid, which serves as a researcher’s guide to the collection.  In most archival collections, materials are not described at the item level.

Archivists also facilitate the physical preservation of archival records. This often happens during the arrangement process. For example, to ensure paper records don’t deteriorate, they are stored in acid-free folders and placed in acid-free boxes. Metal items such as paper clips and staples may be removed because they will rust, damaging the paper. The facility where archival records are stored usually have temperature and humidity controls.

Reference and Outreach
All the steps described before this – appraisal, acquisition, arrangement, description, and preservation – are all for the purpose of archives being used in the present and future. In order for researchers to use archives to their fullest potential, they often need reference assistance from archivists. Reference assistance can include how to interpret finding aids, how to properly handle archival material, and if there are archival collections other than the one the researcher is reviewing that would be relevant or helpful.

Why do archivists do all this tedious work?

One main, historical reason for archival work is to enable public accountability of government activities. To ensure an open democracy and government, citizens must have access to the records created by the government. As evidence of government activity, these records have a very specific enduring value and must be preserved. This archival purpose dates back to the French Revolution, which serves as a key event in the history of archives.

Another reason for archival work is a commitment to preserving different aspects of history. Institutional archives collect records that document the activities of their parent organization, such as businesses and universities. These records have enduring value because they provide necessary institutional history for the organization itself. Other archives collect records based on specific themes or academic disciplines, such as anthropology, African American history, or Asian art.

To sum up what an archivist does and why

Basically, an archivist ensures physical and intellectual control of records that have enduring value. Archivists do this for many reasons – such as to facilitate public accountability of government, to ensure the history of cultural heritage is not forgotten, or to maintain institutional history. Archives do not simply store records — archives are meant to be used! Archivists perform all those responsibilities in order for people to access and use records.


Posted by on September 27, 2011 in archives, library school