What does the future hold?

Yesterday I attended the symposium: Women’s Archives/Women’s Collections: What does the future hold? We gathered at the Newcomb College Institute at Tulane University. The Director of the Center, Sally Kenney kicked off the symposium and shared some artifacts from her career as both an activist and a Political Scientist. Tanya Zanish- Belcher invited us to consider three themes as we participated in the day’s sessions:

1. The need for renewed collaboration with Historians, Women’s Studies scholars and librarians.
2. The importance of accessibility for women’s archives and women’s collections.
3. Citizens as archivists.

Tanya underscored that as technology changes, the historical record evolves as well and we, as archivists, must consider the ramifications of the concepts that those with the resources will be the ones to save the historical record. These themes and a historical perspective on women in archives can be further explored her recently published book with Anke Voss, Perspective on Women’s Archives.

The format of the first session was an interview with Beth Myers, who is the Head of the Walter P. Reuther Library of Labor and Urban Affairs by Carin Mason, who is the First Curator of the Iowa Women’s Archive. One of the key questions that Beth commented on during her interview was “women are present everywhere [in collections] but are they visible everywhere?”

Leslie Fields spoke next about her Wikipedia editing project at Mount Holyoke College, where she is the Director of Archives and Special Collections. Her efforts attempt to correct the statistic that 9/10 editors are men and there exists a lack of information about prominent female figures in the College’s history. By enlisting students, faculty and staff to research these figures using the department’s collections and then creating or editing Wikipedia pages about them, Leslie believes not only does the project meets the library’s goal of working with students to develop digital literacy skills, it also meets the College’s goal of providing students with curriculum to career opportunities.

Courtney Dean, Angel Diaz and Stacy Wood shared they experiences working with and developing a community archives with the June L. Mazer Lesbian Archives in California. Most significantly, this project involved the UCLA archives, the volunteers at the Mazer archive and staff at the Center for Women’s Studies on campus. Wile the Mazer maintains their archive, a select number of collections were moved to UCLA for processing and digitizing as part of a grant. Issues of controlled vocabulary, shared authority and deeds of gift were a few of the challenges the staff encountered. They hope that as this phase of the project winds down, the staff at UCLA can promote the collection and encourage its use, particularly by undergraduates at the University.

Natalia Fernandez shared her work at the Oregon Multicultural Archives, which is part of the Oregon State University archives. She works with communities across the state to help them preserve their records. Sometimes groups choose to donate their records, but often Natalia assists them and trains them in archival best practices. Keeping lines of communication open, and making intentions clear from the beginning was the big take away for me from Natalia’s presentation.

Kelly Wooten offered concluding challenges to us, as archivists, and five strategies.

1. Build community trust with individuals and organizations from under documented populations.
2. Provide open access to materials and consider changing perception of access.
3. Capture digital and group generated content (e.g. Twitter, text messages, etc.)
4. See into the future and stay head of the curve, or just keep up!
5. Seek out and develop diversity of existing collections and archivists/librarians as a profession.

1. Cultivate ambassadors and build community relationships (even just with other archives).
2. Assess and address power differentials between donors, archivists and researchers.
3. Create meaningful engagement with donors.
4. Combine old and new formats to create more seamless access.
5. Seek, encourage and support diversity in the profession.

After dinner we heard from Lucinda Manning, Fernanda Perrone and Tanya Zanish- Belcher about the history of women in SAA and the development and evolution of the Women’s Collections roundtable. I was struck by Tanya’s memories of sitting in a room together in a circle or at a restaurant and simply sharing ideas without a formal program. Although as she rightly pointed out the schedule for SAA gets more packed each year, I wonder if there would be interest in bringing back this informal, but meaningful engagement.

I’d love to hear your ideas!


  1. […] On Tuesday, I attended the Women’s Archives Symposium, sponsored by the Newcomb Institute and Archives. This program was organized to coincide with SAA’s publication of my newly edited book (with Anke Voss), Perspectives on Women’s Archives (Society of American Archivists, 2013). I gave introductory remarks and listened to panel presentations and discussions organized around themes we raised in our introductory essay. There were 60 attendees and one of the participants blogged about the day: http://lori.birrell.us/2013/08/14/what-does-the-future-hold/ […]

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