Candidate Statement 2018-2020 Labor Archives Section Co-Chair

Conor Casey, MA, MLIS, CA 


Roundtable/Section Service

It was a pleasure serving as Labor Archives Section Co-Chair in 2011-2013, 2013-2015, and 2016-2018. In my terms, I coordinated our roundtable’s adoption of bylaws to ensure our compliance with SAA council policy, spearheaded an investigative effort to determine the viability of a topical cross-repository labor collections search portal, enhanced access to our updated LAR repository directory by helping to update it and host it on the Labor Archives of Washington website. I later migrated the directory into an online format and creating a labor repository map and make regular updates. New updates will result from a regional records survey of the Pacific Northwest that the Labor Archives of Washington is currently working on.


LAWCHA, NALHC Collaborations

Other projects to increase LAR’s visibility in SAA and in our researcher community included initiating and acting as editorial coordinator of a regular LAR-branded column in Labor Online in the online newsletter of one of greatest researcher stakeholder organizations, the Labor and Working Class History Association. As well, I helped coordinate several LAR-related sessions at LAWCHA’s 2014 conference as well the 2017 LAWCHA conference in Seattle (which highlighted the projects of the Labor Archives of Washington).

In 2017, at the suggestion and guidance of Reuther Director Erik Nordberg, the Labor Archives Section had a labor archivist retreat at the North American Labor History Conference. Several sessions were organized by LAS members. LAS made at least one successful session proposal for NALHC, and I am in the process of working to co-organize another Labor Archivists Retreat for 2018 at the conference.


SAA Program Sessions/LAS Annual Business Meeting

For three of the years I was co-chair of LAR, we had section member programs on the main SAA program that emphasized the dimension of labor collections in the archival enterprise. The sessions emphasize the intersection between labor, civil rights, and social justice collections. In my role as chair of two of those sessions, I pursued a strategy of drawing in as many LAR members as presenters as possible to showcase the diverse and interesting work of our section members and allow for broad participation of all of our good work. Those efforts were also aimed at ensuring LAR was seen as active and robust at a time when SAA Council was discussing doing away with smaller or inactive roundtables. With my co-chairs during my three different terms of service, Traci Drummond, Meghan Courtney, Catherine Powell, and Robin Walker; I helped coordinate Section meetings at SAA, recruiting speakers to complement our annual business meeting.

With Meghan Courtney, I helped co-admin the Labor Archives Section Facebook group, which is a resource for posting our projects and collections.


Labor Archives Resources

Finally, during my chairpersonship, I also added supporting documents such as Debra Bernhardt's How To Keep Union Records and resources of interest to labor unions and labor archivists to the Labor Archives of Washington website in concert with the LAR to expand access to researchers, fellow archivists, and labor movement members; a resource that became more important after the Meany Center—which has previously hosted a copy as well—closed its doors.


Professional History

My efforts to advance the LAR dovetail with my activities as founding labor archivist and director of the Labor Archives of Washington at the University of Washington, a position I began in 2010. 


From 2001 to 2008, I worked in various positions at the Labor Archives and Research Center at San Francisco State University--from intern to student assistant to archivist and curator of visual collections.


My time at the Labor Archives overlapped with my undergrad degrees in Anthropology and History and my MA in US History at San Francisco State.  Interest in pursuing a career in archives led me to first the Western Archives Institute in 2005 and through an MLIS in archives and academic reference, which I completed in 2008. I continued working at the Labor Archives and Research Center, then worked at Pixar Animation Studios’ Living Archives as a Research Archivist between 2008-2010, leaving to take my dream job as  Labor Archivist at the University of Washington Libraries Special Collections.


In my time as lead archivist and curator at the Labor Archives of Washington, I have led initiatives to survey the core of labor collections already at UW Special Collections assessing processing level and preservation need.



This survey resulted in the creation of a preliminary EAD finding aids for every one of our collections.  Next, we digitized scores of legacy print inventories, affixing them to EAD to enhance access and applying optical character recognition to them. We are currently marking these up into EAD, and the full text will become keyword searchable and indexed by search engines. During my time at LAW I have worked at “busting the backlog” via collaborative, iterative processing model that draws on our connections to students, volunteers, and a broad community of interest. In this way, we have performed triage preservation and enhanced physical and intellectual access to thousands of cubic feet of our unprocessed or minimally processed collections.


I’ve curated or co-curated eight exhibits, spearheaded digitization programs to populate for our dedicated topical labor portal, created and participated in community events, taught archival management workshops for the labor community, As well, I have given orientations to thousands of students and researchers on how to use primary source collections in labor.


Working with my advisory board, faculty, and community members, I have brought in hundreds of new collections, including acting as co-director of a digital archives/oral history project on the 15Now campaign in the Seattle area.

Finally, under the essential leadership of the Washington State Labor Council, we were able to secure state funding and expand our program to include a full-time assistant labor archivist that will allow me to expand the scope of my activities significantly. This initiative complemented the $650,000 raised by dozens of unions (including major gifts by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union) and hundreds of individuals to create and sustain LAW in its first four years. The Labor Archives began as a temporary three-year project, but now looks like it will be operating at increased capacity well into the future.


Vision for Future Service to LAS

If elected, I would like to continue to pursue collaborative projects with the Section and empowering LAR members to work on important projects within the roundtable. I’d like to continue pursuing the idea of a collective labor collections cross-repository discovery of related collections with broad involvement of Section members, possibly via a portal or more broad based contributions to Encoded Archival Context projects and re-approaching OCLC about an idea I proposed of adding this functionality to ArchiveGrid.  I think we should also revisit the idea of creating a labor history primary source set in the Digital Public Library of America.


Other ideas such as the project ideas raised at past section meetings could be pursued as Section projects as well. For example, one great idea that was suggested was for a comprehensive survey of labor collections as part of our documentation strategy (proposed Ben Blake).


Barb Morley suggested the idea of compiling a spreadsheet to help identify gaps in documentation and perhaps create a listing of endorsed labor archivists in different geographical areas that labor unions could draw upon to consult about their records. We should create committees or working groups to pursue these kinds of projects that go beyond the limits of our annual business meeting. As well, we need to continue trying to create sessions as part of the main SAA annual meeting that relate to labor collections and draw on LAS members to keep our work and the value of our collections in the public eye and to recruit new members.


Thanks for considering my nomination!