archives, etc., etc. ; reflections & extras on archival work

mar 15 ✧ 2023

things have still not slowed down at all and it's getting pretty exhausting... i'm taking time off next week since it's spring break on our campus, for my birthday. today is my last day at work until the 27th, which is a little scary. since i handle all the reference phone calls, reference and research questions, and research appointments, i try to make sure there's a record of anything outstanding or things that have happened but it always seems inevitable that Something happens while i'm away :'] today Was starting slowly but now we have three appointments (!!) all at 1 right after the lunch hour, which is super stressful. aghh. i think the break will be good but i know i'll just keep thinking about the reference questions that are happening and whatever else is going on while i'm away. oh yeah, and monday (the 13th) the library fire alarms went off while i was in the vault, alone. none of my coworkers were in that day... so that was terrifying. i was just hoping if it was a real fire i did everything in the archives ok. thankfully it wasn't an actual fire, but still--very scary 30 minutes. well. at the end of the day, i guess it's just. fingers crossed there won't be 18 billion things lying in wait for me when i get back

feb 20 ✧ 2023

ok. a crazy two weeks. lots and lots and lots of reference questions... agh!! busy periods are always a lot but i guess it's good to know we're wanted/needed, in a way. there were some good moments too, mostly with setting things up for the classes that stopped by to use the materials we have. also, had a bit of a win in an appointment being cancelled so i got a lighter morning than i expected...! hopefully... next week will be calmer...

feb 16 ✧ 2023

a group of descendants related to the colonizing missionary family that the institution is named after came to the archives on short notice—three women, all older. it was a barrage of questions that were often not connected, demanding a lot of attention from my supervisor and i to navigate and manage the conversation. the relevant collection is one of our most fragile, so it's always a bit more of a tense time when it gets pulled for use than others. but the whole time it was a lot of toeing the line of being polite and wanting to speak honestly about the collection and the mythical narratives that were made under an effort to colonize and impose power. in this instance my job is to simply provice access to material and answer questions, no matter how much i want to be more candid. it's a bit of a hard line to balance—between serving the public, patron service, and moral / ethical obligations, beyond even your own feelings (i.e., of your own best ability to not let harmful, racist narratives persist.) it can be very very taxing to couch constantly and match an energy that's the opposite of why you believe in—to be clear, it isn't "not talking about it" or coddling—it's a balancing act with what you can say to direct without telling. countless "i understand," "i see. but..." (which doesn't even begin to touch the amount of emotional labor library/collections employees of color (esp. WOC) experience on top of this.) at the end of the day we aren't here to convince anyone—i bring the materials out. you look at them. that's where it ends. if you want my interpretation you have to ask—like letting a vampire cross the threshold. but i almost always have to bite my tongue.

feb 15 ✧ 2023

i'm going to do a bit of a longer introduction for my first entry here—the rest will probably be a lot shorter! ^^

i've written elsewhere on my site that i graduated with an undergraduate degree in ancient history and classics. the archives i work at are focused on the eastern parts of washington, the northeastern corner of oregon, and somewhat into western idaho. the materials we have generally date ~1860s-present day. we have a stunning rare books and finely illustrated manuscripts collection, which houses our oldest material—a nearly 700 year old nuremberg chronicle!—and we also have an artist books/book arts collection. the specific place i work in, although drastically different than my focus of study, has a lot of "fraught history." it's housed in a predominantly white institution named after a colonizer (not to doxx myself too much), and the collections themselves had decades of eccentric (read: poor) management, too little intervention, too MUCH intervention, and general lack of resources/care. in the last two years we've finally developed publicly available finding aids1 for every collection, even if brief and top-level. that doesn't mean there aren't countless problems2 still plaguing the collections as a whole outside of the long, long history of white savior, manifest destiny, pioneer-worship narratives and agendas. so, despite the radical difference in focus, the content here touches on the aspects of history i am most deeply invested in—matters of colonization, imperialism, oppression, and structures of power, and contributing as much as i can to collective work that is anti-imperialist and dismantles those structures.

my approach to my work (as low level as it is, since i'm still a 'paraprofessional') is heavily informed by scholarship that aims to be restorative, reparitive, empowering, and uplifting, as much as it can be. michel-rolph trouillot writes in Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History the four moments of historical process that incur silences:

Silences enter the process of historical production at four crucial moments: the moment of fact creation (the making of sources); the moment of fact assembly (the making of archives); the moment of fact retrieval (the making of narratives); and the moment of retrospective significance (the making of history in the final instance).

so we must always recognize that the work is continually, perpetually creating silences. bias gets talked about a lot—humans are never, ever neutral, especially so in archival and historical work; these silences go hand in hand with that.

i worked on processing a LOT before i became a staff member—for 3 1/2 years. it was a lot of responsibility to give a student, looking back. my supervisors were incredible and always encouraged us to engage with and question the existing metadata and content we were revising, and implemented reparative description practices and philosophies around archival work.

so. long way to say this is the sort of bg and etc i'm coming from. i could write much much more but space is only so long. i promise the rest of the entries are very likely not going to be like this mini-essay. thank you for reading ♥

1 how you search/find a collection—describes what's in it, what it's about, to who or in what cases it would be useful, gives an overview of biographical/historical background, and often has an inventory of what's actually in the collection
2 earlier this week i grabbed a box from the vault and almost fell over from how heavy it was—its just full of random books, objects, with plastic wrap in it and random CDs too. an absolute nightmare to open LOL. beyond the anecdotal, we still have a lot of reparative work to do in description and in physical arrangement