When I first started my archives program last fall, everyone at my institution encouraged the new cohort to “get involved” in student leadership, professional organizations, conference activities and the like. There are the obvious reasons for doing this: professional development, networking, getting a pulse on important issues in the field and applying our skills to practical issues, to name just a few. But as I get deeper into my program and seek out ways to “be involved,” I am also realizing how important it is for student voices to be heard and amplified within LIS, particularly as we bring our truest selves and interests to our work.
My reasons for pursuing a career in archives are directly connected to my experiences as a queer person of color. From my undergraduate research on the gay and lesbian civil rights movement to my current interests in archival education and archiving social movements, working with marginalized communities and histories has informed my activism and my love for archives. For me, social justice is integral not only in my approach to the field but is my entire reason for being here. Conversations about the role of the “activist archivist” have a long tradition in archives but given the overwhelming whiteness of the profession and the continued marginalization of such perspectives within our field, what can we do? And as I move through my program, the question becomes very personal and morphs into what can I do?
The huge scope of our interests as students and humans have important impacts and implications for what is and is not being addressed at the professional level. As students, we have more resources than we often think to be able to connect with other student communities and professional networks of folks engaged in the same issues we care about. Particularly at a historical moment where students at all levels are protesting racism and systemic oppression at campuses across the country, LIS students have worked in solidarity to address the ways in which our professions can contribute to social justice work, a recent example being the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s 2015 LIS Education Symposium, organized and initiated by students. The Symposium generated a lot of conversation among practitioners and students about the importance of critical and anti-oppression approaches in LIS work. It also inspired students on my campus to initiate our own student-centered event which became the Diversity, Equity, Race, Accessibility, and Identity in LIS (DERAIL) Forum held last month at Simmons College in Boston, MA.
Working on DERAIL was an incredible experience and created a space where students from a variety of LIS fields were able to come together to discuss their work and why anti-oppression work (broadly and brilliantly defined) is essential to the future viability of LIS fields. What was also significant to me was the engagement from practitioners and the visibility and support for DERAIL from folks already working in the field. Working on DERAIL allowed me to see that there is a professional community supportive of these conversations and actions, and has allowed me to embrace and center the social justice imperative in my work. Connecting to my community of like-minded peers has been truly inspiring as I see how we as a group of students are contributing to the diversification of our fields demographically and ideologically in coming years.
Getting involved in student and professional networks has been incredibly affirming for me as someone accustomed to working on the margins of whatever field I am in. In this first almost-year of my program, finding community and projects that incorporate my overlapping identities has buoyed me when imposter syndrome and self-doubt settle in. Finding organizations or projects that excite you and connect to your interests, even if they may not seem connected to your specific program, is a critical way of building support and finding (or if necessary, carving) your own niche within your program. This is important in our own professional and personal development, but is also an important and very necessary way for us to show our the larger professional communities what is important to us as students and practitioners in our fields.
Librarians and archivists may not be required to be activists, but there are so many ways to contribute to the profession by showing up as your truest self and bringing your interests into the field. If DERAIL taught me anything, it is that student voices matter. We are not only future (and in many cases current) practitioners, but our communities-professional and otherwise-need us to amplify our voices to reshape librarianship and archives into fields that truly fulfill our commitments to making information accessible to all communities. If you are interested in further resources on critical approaches to librarianship and archives, I highly recommend the weekly #critlib (short for Critical Librarianship) twitter conversations, as well as the online journal In the Library With the Lead Pipe. In sum, identify what animates your interests in your work and run with it!