Reading: Critical Archival Studies

The most recent issue of the Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies is a special issue focusing on critical archival studies.  The issue is edited by Michelle Caswell, Ricardo Punzalan, and T-Kay Sangwand and it is completely open access.

The journal issue tackles the ways in which “records and archives serve as tools for both oppression and liberation.”  Many of the articles discuss archives in the context of social justice, community activism, and human rights. The introduction defines critical archival studies as:

those approaches that (1) explain what is unjust with the current state of archival research and practice, (2) posit practical goals for how such research and practice can and should change, and/or (3) provide the norms for such critique. In this way, critical archival studies, like critical theory, is emancipatory in nature, with the ultimate goal of transforming archival practice and society writ large. As an academic field and profession, critical archival studies broadens the field’s scope beyond an inward, practice-centered orientation and builds a critical stance regarding the role of archives in the production of knowledge and different types of narratives, as well as identity construction. (p.2)

The application of critical theory has the potential to change the shape of archival practice and highlight the politics and power relationships involved in archival collecting.  The articles in the issue are largely focused on the work of archivists engaged with marginalized communities. I’m still working my way through the issue but so far Anne J. Gilland’s article of “A Matter of Life or Death: A Critical Examination of the Role of Records and Archives in Supporting the Agency of the Forcibly Displaced” and Jamie Anne Lee’s “A Queer/ed Archival Methodology: Archival Bodies as Nomadic Subjects” have both been excellent reads.

Shingwauk Historical Site Tours

Since 2010 part of my job has included providing historical site tours focusing on the history of the Shingwauk and Wawanosh Indian Residential Schools that were located on the site which now houses Algoma University.

In the past few years I have been giving between 80-100 tours to a range of audiences, including : K-12, post-secondary students, community groups, professional development groups, government employees, and others. These tours are often paired with an education presentation , a talk from a residential school survivor, or a hands-on educational activity. The tours aren’t meant to provide a complete historical narrative but rather serve as a starting point for discussing the history of residential schools in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and Canada more broadly.

A glimpse of what the average tour includes can be seen in the “Where You Live: Shingwauk Historical Tour” video recently created by Shaw TV Sault Ste. Marie.

TRC Task Force Survey on Reconciliation Action & Awareness in Canadian Archives

The Response to the Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Task Force (TRC-TF) of the Steering Committee on Canada’s Archives has released its survey on reconciliation action and awareness in Canadian archives.

This survey is open to all members of the Canadian archival community regardless of their role, employment status, the size of their archives, or whether they classify their archives as a ‘formal’ or ‘informal’ repository. Multiple responses from archivists within a single large institution are welcome.

The survey aims to gather and then review institutional policies, best practices, and related perceptions existent in archives across the country as they pertain to engagement with, and support for Indigenous community members and researchers. The results of this survey will be used to identify potential barriers to, or practices in support of, reconciliation efforts between the Canadian archival community and Indigenous communities across Canada.

The survey can be accessed until July 21, 2017 at: http://unbc.fluidsurveys.com/s/TRC-TF-Survey/

Active History Archives Theme Week

Archives Venn DiagramI’m overjoyed by how the Active History Archives Theme Week has come together.  This week emerged after the ‘secret archives’ new story and the subsequent response from the archival community.  The goal of the theme week is to foster discussion between archivists and historians.  Posts in the week tackle issues of archival labour, how private records end up in archives, the legacy of colonial collecting practices, collaboration within archives, and archival outreach.

The theme week includes the following posts: (I’ll update with hyperlinks to the posts once they are live on Active History)

Many thanks to all of the fantastic archivists who contributed to this series.

Open Offices and Dedicated Project Time

Book and clock near candleI’ve worked in an open office setup for the bulk of my professional career.  This has typically meant sharing an office space with multiple co-workers and students.  It has also meant working in a space that is open to the public.  In 2015 there was around six or eight months where I had an office to myself, though I tended to have an open door policy.

Recently, after some internal discussions the space that I work in is no longer open to the public every single hour that I’m there. The new public hours have only been in operation for a bit over a week – but is essentially means half my time is spent with an open door and the other half the office door is shut.  This week has got me thinking a lot about the value of closed doors, dedicated processing time, and carving out time for specific projects.  I had forgotten how much value there is in having a door that can be closed.

I like the flexibility of being able to help people when they drop in.  But I’m also really valuing the time I have carved out each day to work on longer term projects, processing that can’t be done in a public space, and the ability to have phone calls without worrying if someone is going to walk in.

When you are front line facing it can often become challenging to dedicate time to non immediate needs – the needs of patrons, rightly, come first.  Having staff you can rotate off with or a dedicated space away from patrons can be a huge boon in terms of finding time to do all the other tasks associated with archives aside from research requests and public programming.

I’d be interested in hearing how others balance front line facing roles with other aspects of archival practice. I think is particularly a challenge in small shops where one person does almost everything – from accessioning to reference – and that individual needs to set their own schedule and boundaries.

Archives As Activism: The Case of Residential Schools

I’m on a podcast! Given my obsession with listening to podcasts it might not be surprising that I’m very excited to have been part of a podcast recording.

Recently Scott Neigh of Talking Radical Radio interviewed Skylee-Storm Hogan and I about the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre, activism and archives, and more broadly about documenting social movements.  Our conversation was partially inspired by my recent Active History post on “Archives As Activism” which discusses some of the current trends around archiving and documenting social movements in Canada.

You can listen to the full episode online via the Rabble Podcast Network.

Kinda related: I would love to be part of an archives or Canadian history podcast — anyone want to team up to create some awesomeness? 

Listening: Historically Yours Podcast

podcast scrabble tiles

Image by Nick Youngson used under CC BY-SA 3.0

My podcast listening has changed drastically over the past couple of months – mainly because I’m no longer spending two hours a day in the car.  I’ve become a bit more selective in what I listen to and I’ve also changed up when I’m listening.  I’m now spending more time listening to podcasts while at the gym, walking, or doing physical processing while at work.  The fact that I’m occasionally listening while moving archival boxes around or labeling folders makes the Historical Yours podcast all the more perfect.

Historical Yours is a podcast created by the University of Iowa Libraries and Special Collections.  It is hosted by Outreach Librarian Colleen Theisen and each episode features Theisen and a guest who “will read one historic letter, research the context, and discuss the role of letter writing past and present.”  I love concept behind this podcast and it’s focus on a one off letter that has no associated context.  Each podcast is like a mini-historical research research project or scavenger hunt looking to provide context to a lone piece of correspondence.

The podcast is based on a unique collection held by University of Iowa of which is comprised of thousands of single letters.  The letters have zero context about who wrote them, who they were sent to, or who held on to them over the years.  Historically Yours draws attention to this collection but also tries to fill in some of the context that isn’t currently found within the thousands of letters in the collection. It’s a bi-weekly podcast with only a few episodes released so far but I highly recommend having a listen and I look forward to hearing more episodes as they are released.

Indigenous people want museums to heed TRC’s calls to action

Sophia Reuss recently wrote an article on  how “Indigenous people want museums to heed TRC’s calls to action: Cultural institutions have an important role to play in Canada’s reconciliation process.”  Reuss’ piece looks at the role museums and archives play in caring for and presenting materials relating to Indigenous communities and the need to the heritage field to critically responsd to the TRC Calls to Action.

Reuss’ article incorporates comments from Jay Jones, the current president of the Children of Shingwauk ALumni Association and myself.  Jay and I both discuss the unique history of the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre and the important of Indigenous community perspectives in managing collections.  Jay and his entire family are an inspiration and I am constantly grateful to be able to work with them through my involvement with the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre.

AAO Tour: Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives

CLGA Reading Room

CLGA Reading Room

One of the highlights for me at this year’s Archives Association of Ontario conference was the tour of the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (CLGA) located in Toronto. The CLGA was amazingly well represented at AAO with two of their staff members presenting, a site tour on the conference program, and numerous CLGA volunteers involved in the conference.

The CLGA tour included an interesting discussion of the history of the organization – the early grassroots connection to Pink Triangle Press, police raids of archival collections, and the challenge of gaining recognition as an archive and as a non-profit organization.  Jade Pichette, the Volunteer and Community Outreach Coordinate led the tour I was on and they did an excellent job of integrating stories of resilience, community history, and challenge into the tour.

It was also intriguing to see what the CLGA has done to cope with it’s location in a historic house and to work around challenges of space, lack of environmental controls, and accessibility. I love the fact that CLGA is also a community space and has partnered with other organizations to put on artistic performances in their space, allow meeting space to be used by community groups, and create other engagement opportunities within their space.  Similarly, I was impressed by the movement to reach people where they are – and put CLGA collections in other visible community spaces through exhibitions and programming.

The tour also allowed for a peak at the range of material held by CLGA.  The archive has an extensive archival collection but it also has a well developed library, poster collection, audio-visual holdings, portrait collection, vertical file/clippings collection, and a reading room.  The range of the material in the archive also speaks to the ephemeral nature of much Queer* history, the event orientation nature of some community collections, and the value of saving community memories associated with mediums other than paper.

Personally, I was also really happy to see that the CLGA tour also started with introductions and provided participants a chance to express their preferred pronouns. The CLGA staff were also very active on Twitter throughout the AAO conference and encouraged folks to add their pronouns to their name tags.

The seemingly small change to adding pronouns to name tags can be huge and can go a long way to make begin to make conference spaces more welcoming for trans, non-binary, gender fluid, and other folks. This is something I would really like more organizations to take note of include in plans for upcoming events.

Collaborative Archival Practice: Rethinking outreach, access, and reconciliation using Wikipedia

I had a great time at the 2017 Archives Association of Ontario conference last week.  If you’re interested in the talk Danielle Robichaud and I gave relating to Wikipedia, archives, and reconciliation work our slides are now online.

It was great to meet Danielle in person (and yay for twitter connecting us virtually long before this conference). Many thanks to all who came to our talk.  If you have questions relating to our presentation, using Wikipedia in archives, or Wikipedia editing as reconciliation work feel free to reach out to either Danielle or I.