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Partners in Preservation: A framework for community-based archives and local history resources
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Partners in Preservation: A framework for community-based archives and local history resources

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Presented as part of the requirements for the MLIS degree at UCLA, 2008.

Presented as part of the requirements for the MLIS degree at UCLA, 2008.

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  • Good morning. Today I will be discussing a framework for large archival institutions and governments to support resources in community-based archives and local history collections in libraries and museums. This framework is based on my own experiences and research throughout the MLIS program. As an aside, I will not be addressing repatriation or the involvement of communities with regard to materials already part of a larger archive or special collections department. I will be exploring options to help self-identified groups maintain ownership of collections currently in their possession.
  • Traditionally, archives were established as repositories for the official records of governments, religions, and institutions. As sites of institutional memory, archives were privileged locations for the selection of materials to represent state and government histories. Standards for description, organization and access reinforced these dominant power structures and professionalized the archival field. Today, archivists have been influenced by social change to adopt popular ideas about balancing the archival record by acquiring and preserving materials that support the “human record”. Special collections fieldwork promotes the representation of multiple voices in the archive. Using a politically correct rhetoric of diversity and authenticity in the archives, archivists have had to make cultural and historical identity differences absolute.
  • As a result of this impetus to collect, archives have become more like competitive collectors of cultures. Large research archives and special collections units are overwhelmed with fieldwork, donor relations, processing and making accessible their enormous backlogs. In community-based archives and local history collections in libraries, archivists-by-default (Lone Arrangers) have to bear multiple responsibilities and feel overwhelmed by the pressure to donate their materials to institutions that are better prepared to preserve and describe their collections. Here we have Avery Clayton of the Mayme Clayton Library and Museum in nearby Culver City, where Mr. Clayton told me that his mother worked to defend her collection of African Americana from acquisition by nearby university archives and special collections. On the right is a photograph of unprocessed social movement materials at the Bancroft Library, taken by an archivist named Lincoln Cushing who argues that the materials are not used because they are not accessible.
  • These records have a symbolic and literal value in their local context. Community organizations and libraries are considered integral in the formation of local pride and historical identity, and archival records supplement and sustain collective memory. When in the larger institution, these records lose cultural context as well as research value. Research in topics such as genealogy, history, and the social sciences are enhanced when presented by native informants.
  • Native informants and community historians serve as valuable interpreters of local history collections and can help make connections between the materials, history, and people of a particular area. The pride and identity of a community can rest with its history. Historian Jeannette Allis Bastian argues that “a people cannot truly be masters of their own history and understand their identity unless they have access to their records.” This is a still from a documentary short entitled “Lynched and Forgotten” that I participated in regarding the 1916 mob lynching of six black citizens of my hometown of Newberry, Florida. The photograph shows the mob gathered around the victims, the only known record of the event. In this particular frame, Dr. Marvin Dunn, a noted professor of African American history in Florida, hands the photograph to the woman who now owns the land where the lynching took place.
  • For those representatives of archives and libraries wanting to keep their materials in their communities, I propose a multi-faceted framework to support the maintenance of these collections. Through collaboration, education, and funding, I believe archivists can stay true to their code of ethics to preserve and make available historical and documentary records of enduring value -- even records that are not in their possession.
  • Collaboration is a buzzword in all areas of library and archival science today, conjuring images of harmony and togetherness. In reality, the tenuous relationship between large and small archives is felt acutely when a small repository possesses a record of great value -- a “treasure” or a “gem.” By sharing resources, programs, and goals, community archivists will gain an understanding of larger institutions and feel that their contributions are valued.
  • Working together to create new events in both the institutional and community context, small and large archives can build alliances and networks of accountability. Knowledge networks, such an archival brain trusts and regional alliances, permit multiple voices in the archival paradigm.
  • Sharing resources through these collaborative networks can bring exposure to the historical record and native forms of self-expression. Programs such as inter-archival loan, which has been implemented through the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Area Research Center network, or traveling exhibits, bring attention to the records without extracting them.
  • Planning events together and publicizing these partnerships can bring more attention to both the large and small repositories, which in turn promotes a sense of pride among archive users. This cycle of buy-in and involvement that is rooted in community values and implemented by “non archivists” may lead to greater use of the archive. This is an event by the Asian Pacific archive and organization Visual Communications being publicized on the events page for the Japanese American National Museum.
  • The dissemination of archival standards and practice is imperative to the success of a community-based archive or collection. By sharing descriptive, organizational, and preservation standards, large institutions can help communities represent themselves in more meaningful ways.
  • Educational outreach by academic and government archivists can take the form of workshops, publications, online resources, and more. Intensive regional workshops, how-to-do-it manuals, and “cheat sheets” help ease the challenges of being a Lone Arranger. A one-stop resource website that includes a bibliography of resources, a calendar of workshops and training, as well as a discussion board can be a powerful and easily accessible tool for archivists-by-default.
  • When standards such as DACS (Describing Archives: A Content Standard), temperature and relative humidity statistics, or the Online Archive of California’s best practices for EAD are widely distributed and discussed, these become the default practices of a community-based archivist. On the other hand, non-traditional methods including Greene and Meissner’s More Product, Less Process for faster archival processing should be considered legitimate alternates to what is considered ideal.
  • By allowing native informants to explain and organize materials that they understand, the local archives, the library, and museum become places for community identity and pride. Self-esteem for the new archivist can develop into an attraction to the archival field, which may in turn lead to a new generation of academically certified archivists who are better equipped to speak for their own communities.
  • Funding is perhaps the most difficult to establish for a small archive or local history collection with a handful of records. Yet documentation and access depends upon supporting the recordkeepers of the community, which in turn results in empowerment and a renewed interest in local history.
  • Mandated government funding for small archives, such as the PAHR (Preserving the American Historical Record) bill, or setting aside funds from the LSTA (Library Services and Technology Act) grants given to each state through the Institute of Museum and Library Services, is key to the success of local collections. Money is perhaps the greatest factor in whether an archival collection is preserved, rehoused, and stored to minimal standards.
  • Permitting and promoting free or reduced admission to archival consortia and associations, as well as funding to support digitization projects can bring smaller collections to the forefront. Involvement in online archives such as the Online Archive of California can also bring attention to finding aids and resources in communities. The Center for Community Partnerships at UCLA’s UCLA in LA program sponsored Visual Communications’ effort to research and catalog its archival holdings documenting the Asian Pacific experience in Los Angeles.
  • When money is spent on description and access, attention is focused on the materials themselves and not the “safe keeping” of them. In effect, cultural memory is reified and communities sense the value of documenting themselves.
  • We must ask ourselves if we are prepared to revisit our ideas about the proper storage and description of archival materials, for the sake of communities that wish to own their own history. I suggest a framework of collaboration, education and funding in order to create better archival resources and to encourage trust between institutions and communities. Through the continued maintenance of these collections, the human record remains in context and communities are empowered.
  • I thank you for your consideration and welcome the panel’s questions and comments.


  • 1. Partners in Preservation: A framework for community-based archives and local history resources by Audra Eagle
  • 2. Archives today seek to preserve the human record Abbey Newsletter, Volume 14, Number 2, April 1990
  • 3. Archivists are overwhelmed and backlogged The Washington Post December 13, 2006 vs. www.docspopuli.org
  • 4. Materials out of context means loss for community and researcher www.flickr.com
  • 5. Community ownership bridges gaps and enriches lives
    • “ Lynched and Forgotten” by Isaac Brown
  • 6. Collaborate, educate and fund to promote knowledge and trust
  • 7. Collaboration builds alliances and fosters trust between large and small repositories
  • 8. Common goals and shared responsibility
  • 9. Networked resources http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/libraryarchives /
  • 10. Increase effective programs and publicity http://www.janm.org/events /
  • 11. Educating archivists-by-default democratizes standards and empowers communities
  • 12. “ We use the same standards as UCLA.”
  • 13. Widely-accepted practices
  • 14. Self-esteem and future archivists
  • 15. Funding brings greater access, encourages cultural memory and documentation
  • 16. Institution and government funding
  • 17. Digitization and consortia
  • 18. Cared-for collections bring further documentation
  • 19. Will we be able to support archives within communities? “ Lynched and Forgotten” by Isaac Brown
  • 20. Thank you.