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POLL: What does diversifying the archival record mean to you?

Most archivists agree that diversity in the archival record is important, but what exactly does that look like? SAA's Diversity Committee wants to know. Send us your thoughts. Ask your friends and colleagues. Pass the question on to your professional interest groups. Answers can be sent to saahq@archivists.org with the subject line "Diversifying the Archival Record" or posted publicly below on or before November 8.

The SAA Diversity Committee is working on a project to gather case studies that illustrate diversity in the archival record and would like to collect broad member feedback on what that means from a variety of perspectives. Information will help inform a call for case studies and will be shared with other diversity-related actions across the organization (see SAA's 2013-2018 Strategic Plan http://www2.archivists.org/governance/strategic-plan).

Comments

Rebuttal comment on conservatives

In response to the comments about the lack of archivists documenting the conservative voice. Your comments may be partly true. However, these comments bears closer examination. I have been to many archival conferences and notice that the majority of archivists are white. Historical statistics indicate that most white voters are in the Republican Party. This does not necessarily indicate the political persuasion of the archival community. But I suspect that it does. Case in point. Several years ago, the SAA had several sessions on diversify the profession, and how to bring more minorities into the profession. Guess what? The room was almost empty. You would think at a major conference with hundreds in attendance the room would be at least half full.

But, this issue is to be debated at another time. This is the second time that I have heard about the lack of documenting the conservative movement by an archivist. It was pointed out, by a fellow archivist,  that the Tea Party is fully supported and funded by the Republican Party. You may have missed John Boehner's statement, the current Speaker of the House of Representatives on the Tea Party's battle over the budget in 2011 "There is no daylight between the Tea Party and me."

Certainly, there needs to be a place for the conservative to be in the archival record. But do you think that the consevative would turn over their documents to an institution?  The same obstacles that were evident collecting "Occupy Wall Street" will mirror with the conservative records. This is one area that they share in common.

Diversifying the record will include the representation of the mosaic of America. We need a diverse community to do it.                   

Diversifying the archival record

While I believe the purpose of this inquiry is to discover ways to enlarge the spectrum of materials related to broader multicultural  or marginal bases of personal voices, the call to digitize "as many materials as possible" raises 2 conundrums in my view: 1) what types of novel questions will now be considered when making appraisal judgments and 2) does digitization change the value of what is digitized and, in the end, alter or diminsh the authenticity of the original record? In other words, are archivists inserting themselves into the "record" by making judgments as to what the record "should" be as opposed to what the record is? Do we follow the path of the US government and establish quotas? Do we "bus" collections to distant repositories to make them more diverse? Do we devote more resources to those repositories that specifically house collections from what might be considered marginal voices?(And aren't those really the most interesting? So, if we digitize them are we doing so for entertainment's sake as opposed to informational purpose?) Are we archivists or are we anthropologists?

does diversification include

documenting the conservative political movements in the US? I've noticed that archivists were very quick to start capturing information about the Occupy movement (which has quickly faded away) while apparently ignoring the organic growth and affect of the Tea Party movement upon the US political scene. Why is that? Is it because many archivists are not politically conservative or are opposed to the conservative political movements?
if archivists are truly concerned about diversification of the archival record they need to be sure to collect information that they do not agree with or support.

Be willing to be uncomfortable

Striving for diversity in the archival record requires interrogating our own biases and wading into parts of our unexamined lives that may make us uncomfortable. It involves looking critically at our mission statements, collecting policies, processing techniques, descriptive standards, access policies, and grant funding requirements, and determining how they may (unintentionally?) exclude people and entire institutions. It means asking, what privileges do I experience in my own life that blind me to the experiences of others? It requires owning privilege, and not defensively stating, "Well, we're all minorities in some way." Archivists, I've observed, seem to derive comfort in viewing ourselves as powerless, when we actually do wield a great deal of power over others. 

To answer these questions, we can't limit the conversation to archivists and our traditional researcher base. We need to ask the people with whom we aren't conversing, and then actually listen to them and acknowledge their concerns as legitimate. That might mean beginning a dialogue with those for whom archives mean nothing -- and possibly justifiably so -- and finding out what it would take for them to invest in the archival record, as donors, researchers, and advocates. What is preventing them from engaging with us? Are we willing to change it? Can we?

If archivists wish to reflect a pluralistic society, we need to respect other ways of being and seeing. Perhaps this would involve a more post-custodial advisory role for the profession. It might involve studying the information-seeking behavior of non-traditional researchers. It might involve community-developed access policies. We could look to other societies that are also struggling with issues of pluralism, and learn from their successes and their failures. Australia, Canada, Malaysia, and South Africa immediately come to mind.

My particular diversity-related concern is how the archives profession is documenting contemporary poverty in the U.S. One in five American children live in poverty. In 2113, what records will American archives have to document the daily lives of people in 2013 struggling with food scarcity, unemployment or underemployment, affordable housing shortages, and inescapable personal debt? I'm not talking about saving government records or the records of non-profits that deal with poverty issues. I mean personal archives. What would it take on the archives profession's part to document such a fundamental aspect of early 21st century American life? Massive deployment of personal digital archiving education? Distribution of subsidized external hard drives?

In terms of attracting a more representative sample of society to the archives profession, which would also help achieve diversity goals, SAA could more forcefully advocate for higher wages/salaries and actively discourage exploitative "internships." That might make being an archivist a more attractive career option. 

Relationship to history, choices, appraisal

As archivists, I believe we always need to keep our eyes on contemporary views of history and research. "Diversity" can mean a great deal of different things. Most often, I think of it as referring to underrepresented groups in the historical record. However we embrace the term, we do so in the light of present-day needs and interests of researchers (our audience, or "users").

Being that the digital world is exploding with archival data, we'll also need to discern our own decision making processes as we highlight certain information in digital exhibits. Archival material of any sort can have extra resonance when presented in an exhibit, especially on the web. Extra vigilance to a balanced and wide historical viewpoint is crucial -- though perhaps not entirely possible.   
 

Getting Beyond Diversity

I think we need to be careful throwing around the word "diversity"--it smacks of the emphasis placed, in the 80s and 90s, on "multiculturalism," which was mostly a nice way of saying "tokenism."  I know intentions here are not nefarious, but historically marginalized or underrepresented groups have good reason to be skeptical of placing their items of cultural heritage in an archival repository--these archives have not been especially friendly toward their objectives, needs, or historical importance. 

More than "diversifying" the archives, I think we need to sit down and have serious conversations with the entities whose collections we are eager to get our hands on: what are THEIR priorities? How can we, in our limited capacity, help them archive their goals?  Will members of their organization have any input as to how their records are organized, accessed, published?  If not, then are we not potentially causing more harm than good to separate already oppressed or struggling groups from their records?  What would a community archive look like and how would its practices differ from the seemingly more superficial "diversity" treatment?  How can we align ourselves to be supporters of underrepresented groups and their efforts toward preserving their own historical record, rather than co-opters of the very materials they've created?

This is a topic near and dear to my heart.  Please understand I mean no offense, but do believe archivists need to engage with these uncomfortable, unflattering, self-critical elements of our profession.  There has been a good deal of recent scholarship on community archiving, much of it (rightly, in my opinion) emphasizing a shift away from diversification and toward support/allyship with the groups whose records we seek.  Perhaps what is in order is a professional ally program in which archivists provide concrete training to interested groups on how to store, preserve, care for their materials, without the pressure to later donate them to one's repository.  Maintaining physical and intellectual control over these items is rightly a priority for many groups.  Revising our deed of gift requirements to include options for them to maintain control over their items--however complicated it may be--might be in order. 

Though the archive may be eager to break free of its ivory tower, it must first establish a trust relationship in which it proves it truly does have the best interest of historically underrepresented groups as first priority.

Training the record creators and their heirs how to preserve

Here! Here! I absolutely love what you have said! Voices disappear not because they aren't donated to repositories. They disappear because they aren't preserved. Memory is a wonderful thing but preservation trumps memory. Time and fate play their hands into what turns up in archives. Preservation on the front end gives marginal and "diverse" voices a greater chance in battling those two determinants.

Diversifying the archival record

I believe that diversifying the archival record is vital to passing on our history to future generations. That being said, here in the South I believe that along with that diversity comes the responsibility to present the archival record in a culturally sensitive and responsible manner. Here's what I mean by that. I am the Archivist for an all-girl's private school. Our school was founded in 1902.  I was assigned the task of creating display boards to hang in different parts of the school for our students. It was decided that the boards would begin as far back as we had materials for, and continue on to the present. In my researching for photographs, I found some items that, while being acceptable at the time they were taken, would be if used in these displays, culturally insensitve in today's society.  While those photos are certainly a part of the school's archival record, it is my responsibilty as an Archivist to ensure that the school's archival record is preserved as a part of the history of our school and the social climate of that era. However, I believe it is also be my duty to be aware of what should and should not be made public, keeping in mind that it is my job to honor the culture of the past, present, and future.

 

 

diversifying the archival record

From the online Merriam Webster dictionary, diversity means: "the quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas, etc.; the state of having people who are different races or who have different cultures in a group or organization."

To apply this to "the archival record", that would mean incorporating different forms and types of archival record as well as coverage of a variety of cultures, races, and perspectives.

To me, the most pressing aspect of this is incorporating digital content, in as many forms and formats as we are able to effectively manage, selecting that which is most critical to the record of multiple perspectives, races and cultures as possible.