As we move through our individual degree programs, it is incredibly easy to get bogged down in the details of assignments, the job-hunt, and attempting to maximize our time in school, let alone preparing for the job hunt. It is easy to lose sight of the reasons why we bothered entering into the broadly defined information sciences to begin with. I have recently been reflecting on the distance I have covered between writing my perky, inspired statement of purpose, and the work that I am doing in and outside of my program now a full year and a half into it (my program is a dual degree, three year program). I very much entered into archives because I sincerely believe in the revolutionary potential of archives to support social justice work, and since I entered my program last Fall, my perspective is both more nuanced and less idealistic than when I started. I have sought out community and fought to create space for myself and my communities on campus and in this field. Maintaining a connection to why I want to pursue archives has also required that I retain a connection to myself in an environment that is often hostile or resistant to the work that me and my like-minded student peers see as valuable in this field.
At least partially triggering my personal and academic check-in was a keynote address from the always wonderful archivist Jarrett Drake at the first Community Archives Forum held at UCLA last month (keynote transcript part 1 and part 2). The entire keynote is worth reading, as Drake builds on Michelle Caswell’s work in proposing a “liberatory” archive predicated on belonging and believing. This means both inclusion as a process and not just an end goal, but also believing in the necessity of radical approaches to archival practice that de-center the archivist as an authority and instead refocus on the conceptual and practical tools archivists can contribute to community-centered projects. Drake is primarily focused on the role of archivists in community archive projects, however his attention to the affective dimensions of our work resonated with me and underscored my ongoing interest in re-shaping a field whose traditions are predicated on the exclusion of (queer, non-white) people like me.
Positioning archivists as “current and future memory workers” is a powerful act, precisely because it eludes the false neutrality of archival work that continues to be asserted in our professional organizations and curriculum. Whether or not you plan to work in community archives, understanding the nuance of your work in supporting business-as-usual or in disrupting systemic inequity is a critical point that all LIS students should have to confront at some point, archivists or not. Unfortunately, most LIS and archival programs do little to position the information/memory worker within the larger systems of power we will have to confront and engage with in the course of our work.
I spend a substantial amount of my time thinking about how archival education is a process-of-becoming; the taking on of a professional identity and importantly a social role with present and future implications. I came to this work from a social justice/activist background and it always surprises me how little exposure there is for students in my program to the social and highly political dimensions of our work.
As an (almost) end of year post for me, I would like to follow up on on posts from other HLS contributors earlier this year, affirming the value of self-reflection as a way of centering ourselves in our work. This self-reflection is important not only for staying motivated when things seem dire (can you tell this is the middle of my semester?!), but also for propelling ourselves into a future that we want to live in and can actively shape. Despite the problems of elitism, misogyny and racism within academic spaces, I have drawn so much strength from my community of student peers who continue to make me believe in a future community of professionals where I not only belong but am valued for my contributions and on my own terms.
I leave y’all with the sincere belief in a better future for our allied professions and for the contributions we can all make to them. Although I am less idealistic in some ways about how my academic training can prepare me to engage with these critical issues, I have renewed strength of purpose and belief in my ability to forge a path within archives that is in alignment with my personal convictions and my vision of the world I want to create for myself, for my friends, family, folks I have yet to meet and folks I will never meet.
Photo sourced from Twitter user Johnetta Elzie.