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Reflections on the ACA Conference from a Student Perspective

22 Aug 2023 9:07 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

by Michael Carelse and Sophie Penniman


My name is Michael, and I am in my second year of the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) Dual Master of Archival Studies and Library and Information Studies. I recently had the pleasure of attending the 2023 annual conference of the ACA as part of the Emerging Voices student session, where I presented a paper on the relationship between records management and social justice, using RCMP records retention and disposition as a case study. 

Michael presenting at the Emerging Voices session. Photo by Sophie Penniman.

ACA 2023 was a really great experience. I went into the conference grateful to have been accepted to present in the student panel and to have received funding from ACA to attend, but not exactly sure what the student panel would entail, or what it would feel like to be “sectioned off” with other students rather than to present as part of the general conference program. It ended up being the perfect conference experience, and I’m so happy to have been part of the student panel. I was surprised at how well attended the panel was, and how interested people were in hearing “what the students are thinking about.” I was also really interested in what my two co-panelists were presenting on, and it ended up being a really cool panel featuring three different perspectives on documentation, equity, and justice in the contemporary world. Al Cunningham Rogers proposed an archival approach to the appraisal and the preservation of graffiti in Toronto, and Adam Williamson explored issues related to the loss of cultural heritage objects in the context of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Both presentations offered new and generative frameworks for thinking expansively about different types of records, archives, and memory institutions. 

Overall, I found the conference program fascinating, with presentations ranging from new ideas and theories, to reports on current initiatives in the field. I was particularly interested in one panel that gathered representatives from Library and Archives Canada, the National Archives of the US, and the National Archives of the UK, all presenting on current initiatives to engage critically with archives, to improve archival services and harness the affordances of new technologies, and to engage teachers in promoting archival education in schools. 

In between sessions, the breaks and dinners were also a great opportunity to meet people, and I had the pleasure of spending time with fellow students, as well as professionals at every career stage, including some very friendly people from the ACA executive. My fond final memory of the conference is of my dinner table getting up to join the dance floor on the last evening of the conference, and I look forward to seeing many of those faces again over the years. 


My name is Sophie, and I graduated from the dual Master of Archival Studies and Library and Information Studies program at UBC this past May. Like Michael, I had the opportunity to both attend and present at the ACA conference in Charlottetown; I spoke in a session on accessibility for people with disabilities about my experiences as a neurodivergent archival student and the importance of widening conceptions of provenance to accommodate neurodiverse perspectives in records. 

Sophie posing before their presentation at the session on Accessibility and Representation in Archives for People With Disabilities. Photo by Lisa Snider.

One thing that struck me while attending the conference was the myriad ways that archivists conceptualize archival work to ensure it is relevant to all. As someone whose archival experience has largely come from a classroom context, I was very keen to hear more about how conceptions of archives are applied in real-world settings. From an archival outreach initiative at the University of Saskatchewan (presented by Ann Liang and Lindsay Stokalko) that creatively used a Gay Bob doll from their archives to promote user engagement with the Neil Richards Collection, to a presentation in the student session by Al Cunningham Rogers on the considerations around preserving graffiti in an archives, I was inspired by the wide range of ways archives can and do meet societal needs. 

Something that also surprised me was how much I benefitted from the social aspects of the conference beyond the presentations and plenaries. While as an introvert I did find myself having to step back occasionally, I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to connect with archivists across North America and beyond, working in a variety of contexts. I expected to network and have fun at the social events, but I found a lot of value in connecting with archivists from different generations, backgrounds, and employment settings.  

From formal to informal settings, the ACA Conference resonated with me as a way to imagine and reimagine archival work with other people who share this passion. In all, being able to attend and present at ACA 2023: Belonging in Charlottetown was a wonderful opportunity as a recent archival graduate, and I’m looking forward to coming back in the future. 

Michael and Sophie at a picnic at Beaconsfield Historic House in Charlottetown during the conference. Photo by Isabel Carlin.

Michael Carelse is in his second year of UBC’s Dual Master of Archival Studies and Library and Information Studies. He has worked as a Collections Assistant at the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre, and as a Graduate Academic Assistant for InterPARES Trust AI. 

Sophie Penniman is a recent graduate of the Dual Master of Archival Studies and Library and Information Studies program at the University of British Columbia, which is located on the traditional lands of the Musqueam people. They currently work as a Graduate Academic Assistant on the InterPARES Trust AI project, which studies the use of AI in archives, and their interests include personal archives, constructions of identity through records, and storytelling.  

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