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In the Field:  The ACA Blog

Contemporary archivists are engaged in a broad range of work within the field of archives. Whether through their work environment; through initiatives in the digital realm; through their involvement with communities to document, preserve, and provide access to their records; and through other outreach endeavours, archivists are involved in a variety of spaces. In the Field is a place for discussion about the wide range of issues encountered and raised in these spaces related to archives, archival education, and archival interventions. 
For more information on proposing or submitting a blog post please read and complete the submission form We look forward to reading your contribution! 
Catherine Barnwell, In the Field Editor 
The ACA Communications Committee

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  • 8 Jun 2023 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    by Cameron Hart

    In celebration of the International Archives Week theme “#ArchivesUnited,” the ACA Public Awareness and Advocacy Committee has coordinated with Canadian professional archival associations to present a special series of blog posts. This series will run on the ACA blog, In the Field, from June 5-9 and aims to uplift the work of our colleagues across Canada by showcasing new initiatives, providing transparent solutions to key issues, and identifying exciting opportunities for collaboration.

    In 2022-23, despite continuing challenges, SCAA continued to show our commitment to refining and improving our services for all our members, which include individuals and institutions from across the heritage field. The inclusion of several Working Groups to the Boards this past year reflects this commitment.

    The Indigenous Working Group replaced the Diversity Working Group, which involves Indigenous members to steer the group, and the chair acts more as a support role in providing resources. A mandate for the working group is still being worked on. Initiatives are in place to encourage new First Nations/Metis organizations to join SCAA, including the continuation of the waiver of institutional membership fees. Future initiatives around examining archival practices, particularly those regarding outdated language used in archival description, are another of their priorities, along with connecting with the Council of Nova Scotia Archives to discuss their Reconciliation framework, particularly their environmental scan of membership. An SCAA Board Member is a co-chair of the “Response to the Report of the TRC Commission Taskforce” of the Steering Committee on Canada's Archives in response to Call to Action #70. The framework document was released in 2022.

    The Revenue Working Group was part of SCAA’s 2020-24 Strategic Plan. A group was formed to investigate other forms of self-generated revenue, so as not to wholly rely on the generous funding of the SaskLotteries/SaskCulture, which is approved through the 2023-24 fiscal year. The group is reviewing membership dues and will look to include a variable institutional scale as well as introduce a retired/student/non-salaried category. Another potential source is the publication of one of SCAA’s public awareness projects, the Unforgettable: Extraordinary Items from Saskatchewan’s Archival Collections book project. This coffee-table book includes articles by archivists and researchers along with photographs of items found in Saskatchewan’s archival collections.

    As work continues with the MemorySask database, a MemorySask Working Group is being established and they will review and refine policies and procedures to make MemorySask a more powerful tool to research portions of the Saskatchewan history and culture.

    Our Archives Advisor has been limited in site visits due to the pandemic, but the Advisor has begun to travel again, and the addition of Zoom videoconferencing has enabled them to hold many of these meetings virtually. Their activities go beyond site visits, though, and the following is a sample.

    Archives Week is an annual event held by SCAA. Activities in February 2023 saw the return of in-person events for many members, and so saw the return of the Archives Week grant program. Institutions holding Open Houses, exhibits, workshops, etc. could again get small grants from SCAA to promote and support their events. SCAA continued to help create YouTube videos to help institutions promote themselves.

    The administration of our Institutional Grants Program saw 18 applications submitted from SCAA member institutions this year. These included requests for preservation, digitization, and general archival work, but also support for projects to help make archival collections more accessible to the public. After adjudications a total of just over $38,000 was distributed to institutions.

    SCAA’s Professional Development and Travel Subsidies saw individual members supported to attend virtual workshops, conferences, webinars, or other educational offerings.

    The SCAA facilitates and encourages learning in the archival field by offering Educational Workshops and presentations throughout the year. In addition to basic archival practice presentations by our Advisor, additional subjects of interest were presented by experts in the field. The workshops and presentations this past year included:

    • A presentation about “Reconciliation through the Treaty Relationship” by Annie Battiste of the Office of the Treaty Commissioner.
    • A webinar was led by Lisa Snider (consultant) for institutions contributing to the MemorySask database.
    • A multiday workshop on preservation of physical material was presented by Iona McCraith, former AAO Preservation Consultant.

    The SCAA Board of Directors in 2022-23 is:

    President: Mark Vajčner, retired University of Regina, Archive & Special Collections

    Vice-President: Donald Johnson, Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan
    Treasurer: Jeremy Mohr, Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan
    Directors: William Shepherd, Swift Current Museum
    Stevie Horn, Saskatoon Public Library History Room
    Erin Grant, Métis Nation Registry of Saskatchewan
    Sheldon Krasowski, Office of the Treaty Commissioner
    Crista Bradley, University of Regina, Archive & Special Collections

    SCAA is a proud member of SaskCulture, and gratefully acknowledges funding from Sask Lotteries. SaskCulture and SCAA’s support reaches lands covered by Treaties 2, 4, 5, 6, 8 and 10; traditional lands of the Cree, Dakota, Dene, Lakota, Nakota and Saulteaux peoples, as well as the homeland of the Métis.

    About Cameron Hart: After graduating in history and political science from D'Youville College, in the US, in 1996, he attended UBC's SLAIS (now iSchool) in 1997-99. In 1999 he moved to Saskatchewan on contract, and in 2009 became the full-time Archives Advisor for the SCAA, a position he continues to hold.

  • 7 Jun 2023 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    by Katrina Swift, Archives Advisor for the Council of Archives New Brunswick

    In celebration of the International Archives Week theme “#ArchivesUnited,” the ACA Public Awareness and Advocacy Committee has coordinated with Canadian professional archival associations to present a special series of blog posts. This series will run on the ACA blog, In the Field, from June 5-9 and aims to uplift the work of our colleagues across Canada by showcasing new initiatives, providing transparent solutions to key issues, and identifying exciting opportunities for collaboration.

    With rapidly changing formats and the widening distribution of news media, tracking the history of provincial news publications has reached a critical juncture.

    On October 18th, 2021, with this pressing issue in mind, the Council of Archives New Brunswick (CANB) hosted a New Brunswick Newspaper Forum with collecting institutions (museums, libraries, and archives) from across New Brunswick to discuss current collecting and preservation practices and challenges. The meeting also looked at ways to move forward in a coordinated manner in the area of newspaper collection and preservation in the province.

    Institutions in attendance highlighted the need to have information from New Brunswick newspapers accessible in one place. The closest thing the province had was the New Brunswick Newspaper Directory, which was originally a 1996 book/directory created by Helen Craig but had subsequently been built into an online database hosted by the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick (PANB). However, the directory had fallen into disuse and was in desperate need of revision.

    The solution decided upon at the meeting was to update the New Brunswick Newspaper Directory and improve the online database so that it was more easily searchable and accessible. Thus began the New Brunswick Historical Newspapers Project. The goal of this project is to centralize all known information and holdings of newspapers published in New Brunswick from the earliest publication (the Royal St. John’s Gazette and Nova Scotia Intelligencer in 1783) to the present day. It is a collaboration between CANB, PANB, and the University of New Brunswick (UNB) Libraries, with the support of many libraries and archives across the province, country, and continent. The data collected on newspaper holdings will be of all formats – hard copy/print, microform, and digital – and will be collected and staged on the New Brunswick Historical Newspapers Project website, hosted by UNB Libraries.

    Over the past several months, the team working behind this project has been reaching out to institutions across the continent who had previously been known to hold historical New Brunswick newspapers, from small museums to the Library of Congress, to verify data to accurately reflect which institutions still hold what papers. Along with this work, institutions are being asked to add any of their additional newspaper holdings. The next phase of the project will involve doing a call-out to institutions province-wide. This way, all holdings not previously captured in the New Brunswick Newspaper Directory will be represented.

    This project will be of key use to libraries, archives, museums, and researchers working in the field of New Brunswick studies. It will also identify and flag provincial newspapers worthy of digitization to improve access to these amazingly rich sources.

  • 6 Jun 2023 10:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Submitted by ASA’s Advocacy and Outreach committee

    In celebration of the International Archives Week theme “#ArchivesUnited,” the ACA Public Awareness and Advocacy Committee has coordinated with Canadian professional archival associations to present a special series of blog posts. This series will run on the ACA blog, In the Field, from June 5-9 and aims to uplift the work of our colleagues across Canada by showcasing new initiatives, providing transparent solutions to key issues, and identifying exciting opportunities for collaboration.

    The Archives Society of Alberta (ASA) faced significant funding cuts from the provincial government in the past few years. Our funding cut from Alberta Culture impacted our operating budget and our capacity to support our members. Not only did this impact our staff and direct operations, but we were forced to eliminate project grants to our member institutions, which has a cascading impact on our member’s ability to continue their work.

    Prior to this funding cut, the Advocacy and Outreach committee, then called Communications committee, wanted to change its focus. The committee was producing calendars and other activities which did not have the best impact for advocacy and outreach work. We recognized that in order to ensure the long-term stability of the ASA, and to restore our funding, we would need to make sure the public, and even more crucially funders, understood the importance of archives and the services we provided. The committee was unsure of where to start to improve its efforts so sought board approval to seek out an advocacy consultant to help shape our work.

    The first step the consultant took was to fully understand the work we do, and what communications strategies we have used previously, to identify the strongest advocacy messaging going forward. They conducted a series of interviews with a sample of our members as well as our funders to learn their perspectives and where they thought improvements could be made. The consultants also looked at the work of other related professional associations, in order to get an environmental scan.

    Based on this information, the consultant developed a “Communications and Advocacy Strategy,” a road map, and suggested key messages for the ASA and its members. One of the key components of that plan was to activate and empower all of our member institutions to advocate for archival work in our province, which are the first steps the committee has been taking.

    We are working on an advocacy toolkit that will include general information on archives and archivists, information about our association, information for institutions to use, a media pitch and an elevator pitch – elements that members can utilize quickly and easily. We will continue to work ourselves, and with our members, to advocate for the ASA.

    For the ASA, we had to start considering advocacy as a solution to the financial cuts we were facing. We know going forward that we need to fight for our organization and profession, and to make the importance of the ASA clear to our communities and our funders. It was an intimidating process to set out on, as in the busy work of archives, communications so often end up being run off the side of someone’s desk rather than being a focus. But for archives to stay relevant and remain a priority in policy and in funding decisions, we will need to start advocating for ourselves, and ensuring that our value is recognized.

  • 5 Jun 2023 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    In celebration of the International Archives Week theme “#ArchivesUnited,” the ACA Public Awareness and Advocacy Committee has coordinated with Canadian professional archival associations to present a special series of blog posts. This series will run on the ACA blog, In the Field, from June 5-9 and aims to uplift the work of our colleagues across Canada by showcasing new initiatives, providing transparent solutions to key issues, and identifying exciting opportunities for collaboration.

    This past year has been a challenging and exciting time for the AABC. From managing MemoryBC to developing Disaster Response Kits and conducting site visits for archives across the province, the AABC continued its key initiatives and developed new ones. Reflecting on this year’s International Archives Awareness Week theme #ArchivesUnited, collaborating with those within and outside of the archival profession has been essential to the ongoing work of the AABC.

    At the end of April, the AABC hosted a hybrid conference in collaboration with ARMA VI on the topic of "Access Ability: Exploring Themes of Access in Archives and Information Management." It was exciting having an opportunity to gather virtually and in-person for a full day of wonderful presentations. For more information on the conference, including links to presentation slides, see the AABC website.

    Throughout the year, a core piece of the AABC’s advocacy and outreach efforts is educational programming. In the past year, the AABC ran three distance education courses: Introduction to Archival Practice, Managing Archival Photographs, and Managing Plans and Drawings. Over the past year the AABC also offered courses by outside experts on copyright and describing electronic records. In addition, the AABC continued hosting online webinars on a variety of topics meant to help support daily work in archival settings, including: “Archives 101 for Summer Students,” “Creating Archival Exhibits,” and “A+ Teaching with Primary Sources from the Archives.”

    Thanks to grant funding from the BC Arts Council, the AABC was also able to teach two offerings of the “Archives 101: Archival Practice for Indigenous Organizations” workshop. This workshop was attended by 61 participants representing 28 different Indigenous communities and organizations throughout BC and from across Canada. This workshop has an organic foundation and is continually being updated and revised each time it is offered as workshop content is developed based on discussions with community knowledge keepers and pre/post-workshop surveys that identify training priorities, questions, and issues that participants are managing.

    The AABC also continued hosting “Roundteas,” free online gatherings to talk about emerging archival issues and learn about different types of archival collections that are managed by Archivists throughout the province. The informal roundtable format is a participatory discussion meant to mimic getting a tea or other beverage with colleagues. Recordings of some Roundteas are available on the AABC website. Recent topics include: “Artist Archives From A to Z” and “Nursing Archives in BC.” 

    In British Columbia, the provincial Archives Awareness Week (AAW) runs the third week of November. Last year, the AABC offered a week of virtual programming, including a collaborative film screening and Q&A with the filmmakers and film participants of Unarchived with the ACA’s Public Advocacy and Awareness Committee. Additional AAW events included an Indigenous Archives Forum and a student networking session.

    Archives Awareness Week was also an opportunity to bring together archivists from across the province to an engagement session with the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation (MIRR) and the UBC Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre (IRSHDC). MIRR, the IRSHDC, and the BC Archives are supporting Indigenous communities across the province as they lead the way to locate, document, and protect burial sites associated with former Indian Residential Schools and Indian Hospitals in BC. With the goal of supporting connections between communities and local archives, this session included a discussion of potential research barriers and challenges, as well as considerations of how archives in BC and Indigenous communities can work collaboratively to locate, access and transfer Residential School records. The IRSHDC is working with MIRR, to create lists of repositories (archives, libraries, museums, and other organizations) that hold records related to each school. The IRSHDC is looking to collaborate with archives, libraries, museums and other repositories to enhance these lists. More information about contributing to this important work and a recording of the engagement session is available here.

    None of this would have been possible without the AABC’s British Columbia Archival Education and Advisory Service Coordinator, Lisa Glandt; British Columbia Archival Network Service Coordinator, Lisa Snider; Financial Manager, Angela Brain; and the amazing network of AABC volunteers. As we’re sure many can relate to, the AABC is navigating the constraints of limited resources and capacity, but through it all we are bolstered by the dedication of our tireless contractors and volunteers. Moving forward, the AABC looks forward to continuing our programming and outreach efforts and welcomes the opportunity to partner with archival workers and organizations from across the country.

  • 2 Jun 2023 10:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The ACA 2023 Annual Conference is fast approaching! The ACA blog, In the Field, is featuring the profile of a few members who will be presenting at the 2023 conference. Today we are featuring the profile of Sarah Hanahem, graduate student at McGill University.

    Q: What is the title of your conference presentation? 

    Sarah: The title of my presentation is “How Donor-Archivist Relationships Helped Shape the Foundation of the McGill University Archives.” Through accession files, I tried to analyze the relationships between the first university archivist at McGill University and donors. 

    Q: Can you walk us through your academic and professional path? 

    Sarah: I first completed a bachelor's degree in communication at Université de Montréal (U de M) with a minor in comparative literature. Only in my last year of university did I come across the archival profession. I started with a year-long certificate in Archival Studies also at U de M. In 2021, I started the Master of Information Studies at McGill University, and I graduated in June 2023. I was lucky enough to work for McGill University Archives, the Quebec Lesbian Archives, and Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, where I still work. 

    Q: What brought you to the field of archival studies and practice? 

    Sarah: During the last year of my bachelor's degree, I read Archive Fever by Jacques Derrida for a class. I think this was the first time I was confronted with the meaning of archive and how it can shape memory. I registered for the Archival Studies certificate at the Université de Montréal the following year!

    Q: What does the theme of the ACA 2023 conference, Belonging: Considering archival bonds and disconnects, mean to you in terms of overall archival orientations and practice?

    Sarah: The theme Belonging: Considering archival bonds and disconnects, for me, refers to this need to feel represented in archives. I think this idea of representation needs to orient our practices as archivists, from the acquisition to the communication and use of archival documents. We should also identify gaps in current collections and find ways to fill them or at least publicly acknowledge them. 

    Q: Can you tell us about your research approach and perspectives?

    Sarah: The research project I completed for my Master’s used a data collection approach. I looked at over 80 accession files and tried to identify trends that could inform the relationships between archivists and donors. I was mostly interested in power imbalances and how these relationships led to gaps and silences in the archives. 

    Q: What are you most looking forward to at this year's conference?

    Sarah: I'm looking forward to seeing live presentations and engaging with my peers in person for the first time in a few years! I'm also looking forward to seeing how people interact with the theme of the 2023 conference through their presentations. Finally, I'm also looking forward to getting feedback on my own presentation.

  • 19 May 2023 10:55 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    by Siham Alaoui


    In a technological context in constant evolution, heritage institutions such as GLAMs (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums) are nowadays adopting novel approaches to facilitate easy access to cultural information to their users. Whether on digital public platforms, portals, applications or systems, information is used in various contexts, including for leisure, research, or public interest purposes. While some users would consume cultural resources such as online resources (e.g., books, periodicals, manuscripts, etc.), others would prefer to have access to administrative information relating to the operational activities of heritage institutions (e.g., transactional documents, budgets, contracts, annual reports, etc.). Thus, users—notably citizens, researchers, students, journalists, artists, and civil society members—make use of information differently according to their needs. 

    However, despite the availability of cultural resources online, either on institutional websites or on specific platforms, many challenges arise regarding the discoverability of cultural content, its relevance, and its reusability. To address this, heritage institutions have adopted a new path to tackle those challenges and ensure, by disclosing information in an open, structured and reusable form, to better satisfy users’ informational needs. Releasing open culture data is viewed as an alternative to increase the visibility of these institutions, their activities, and relationships with their users. In that sense, information professionals, namely librarians and archivists, are encouraged to join up their efforts by creating collaborative projects to make culture data open, reusable, and discoverable. This contribution sheds light on the particularities of open culture data and highlights key strategies information professionals should adopt to manage their lifecycle and make them discoverable to users. 

    1. Open culture data: What is it about?

    Open culture data refers to the data that are related to heritage institutions’ activities (Eastermann, 2014; Sennouni, 2017). Culture data is published in an open form, that is, in a structured and reusable form, under a specified licence like Creative Commons, which allows the remixing, reuse, and reappropriation of these data by various users (Open Knowledge Foundation, n.d.). These data can be extracted from information resulting from operational activities, bibliographic and archival description of digital cultural resources, as well as the big data generated from applications and various information systems.

    To be considered open, culture data should meet several requirements, chief of which are the following: structure, discoverability, intelligibility, reusability, and availability in a linked form (Open Knowledge Foundation, n.d.). Open culture data should be structured, that is, released in its primary form and in appropriate technological formats (.xls or csv: Comma Separated Values). By publishing data in these technological formats, it is possible to make data more interoperable, which means increasing their compatibility with many technological environments and multiplying their chances to get aggregated to other documentary resources online (e.g., applications, information systems, social media, etc.). The purpose of the multiple aggregations of open culture data is to diversify the perspectives from which it is used, according to users’ informational needs. For that purpose, open culture data should be discoverable, a characteristic that pertains to their relevance to satisfy users’ needs. 

    Discoverable open culture data means they are relevant enough to meet the users’ respective interests. For instance, journalists’ informational needs are different from artists’ and researchers’ needs. Accordingly, data should be published in an appropriate language to increase their linguistic accessibility. The enriched data description should contain metadata meeting the users’ intellectual and digital abilities. Yet, making data more discoverable is not sufficient to guarantee its usability, since they also need to be intelligible from the user’s perspective. 

    Open culture data should be intelligible. This means that appropriate metadata should be associated to those data published on public portals. More specifically, metadata should not be only related to the topic covered by those data, but it should provide enough description of several other elements. The institution’s name, the release date and the last modification date, the geographical and chronological coverages, and the conditions of data use are a few examples of metadata that should be added to the description of data to make the latter more intelligible. These metadata make it easier to reuse open culture data, as they provide users with a better understanding of the conditions that justify the creation of data and their release online.

    To make open culture data more discoverable, they ought to be released in a linked form. Following the logic of the semantic web, releasing data in an open and linked form allows users to explore possible links between online resources and enrich their experience (St-Germain, 2017). By way of illustration, linked open data can help researchers discover similar scientific reports realized by the same cultural institution they are looking for in their research projects. Similarly, historians can benefit from these data to discover other heritage institutions holding manuscripts or other historical material they are using in their retrospective research.

    All the above characteristics make open culture data more reusable. Reusability refers to the faculty of data to be exploitable and consumable by users. By publishing open data in a structured, discoverable, intelligible and linked form, users can benefit from open culture data according to their own preferences. Users should be informed about the types of (re)use they are allowed to make of the released culture data, either for general information needs or for specific purposes, such as leisure, accountability, scientific, or retrospective research. 

    2. Opening up culture data: Why?

    Opening up culture data aims to achieve several goals that support heritage institutions in their respective roles. Of note, releasing culture data in an open form supports transparency, helps generate public value, and reduces expenses relating to GLAM activities (Alaoui, 2020).  In terms of transparency, heritage institutions are public entities that must abide by freedom of information access regulations (Alaoui, 2020). By releasing their administrative data in an open and reusable form, they anticipate users’ needs in terms of access to accountability information. For instance, publishing data about financial transactions, users’ information behaviour, collections, and partnerships both at local and international levels would help users, especially journalists and researchers, to support their research with relevant data that holds evidential value. 

    Releasing culture data in an open form can also help heritage institutions generate public value by fostering collaborations with their users. Publishing data about cultural resources, such as bibliographic and descriptive data relating to books, manuscripts, periodicals and other documentary resources, can help users to identify documentary resources and engage in collaborative projects with heritage institutions (Estermann, 2014). For instance, the latter can organize joint initiatives and invite users to get involved in the collaborative description of resources. By using collective intelligence, users may be engaged in crowdsourcing activities, aiming to stimulate the value of cultural resources by adding appropriate metadata, such as locations, chronological data, and thematic metadata to make resources more discoverable online. In the same vein, citizens can be involved in developing mobile applications; they can help heritage institutions increase the value of cultural content by designing applications for leisure purposes for children and teenagers, for instance, or by developing interactive maps or platforms for retrospective purposes (e.g., historical research). 

    Open culture data can also be used by heritage institutions to promote their resources (Alaoui, 2020). By adopting several marketing approaches, those institutions can benefit from each other’s published data to identify, using appropriate metrics (e.g., number of downloads per resource, clicks on web pages, users’ login frequency, etc.), the most relevant resources and the less popular ones. The latter can be subject to an appropriate marketing strategy to make them more visible to users. 

    Last but not least, increasing efficiency is also one of the aims of opening up culture data. Heritage institutions have limited resources, a problem that justifies the need for collaboration initiatives between those institutions and their users. Publishing data about operational activities, such as use of financial resources, can help other institutions and users understand resources management issues and get engaged in various collaborative projects. For instance, realizing financial campaigns, including crowdfunding campaigns, as well as opening calls for donations of materials (e.g., recorders, laptops, storage material, CDs, USBs, etc.) are a few examples of how opening up cultural data can increase the efficiency of heritage institutions. 

    Releasing culture data in an open form can help heritage institutions increase their visibility and enhance their users’ loyalty. In doing so, many actors are involved and pursue different tasks regarding the creation, management, release, and storage of open culture data.

    3. Open culture data: Who is involved and how?

    In addition to users who consume data according to their respective interests, information professionals, that is, librarians and archivists, are the experts who ensure the lifecycle management of open culture data. Librarians are engaged in data curation, which means that they ensure the processing of data as a content. Through curation practices using international normative frameworks such as FRBR (Functional requirements of bibliographic description), FRAD (Functional requirements of author description), and FRSAD (Functional requirements of subject author description), they ensure the link between the described resource and its author, as well as its subject. By using these normative frameworks, librarians ensure data are more discoverable and published in an open and linked form. 

    In order to ensure the quality of open culture data, especially by releasing them in a linked form, archivists can use the RiC (Records in Contexts) normative framework, which is published by the International Council on Archives and is inspired from the other frameworks stated above. Instead of focusing only on content, archivists should ensure the description of the activity that generated culture data. The use of RiC’s framework combines the description of data (datasets) from the perspective of the content, the container, and the context in one place. It describes the conditions of data creation and their properties as archival objects (Alaoui, 2021). Archivists also ensure the adoption of measures regarding the secure preservation of datasets by choosing the appropriate strategies to document the traceability of data and their secure long-term preservation.

    Information professionals’ tasks are also supported by IT experts who ensure the technical requirements regarding the structuration of data and their interoperability in various digital environments. They are also involved in designing platforms and portals where data are published and managed. IT specialists have an ergonomic role in the process of open culture data management, since their role is to design platforms that are ergonomic enough for users. They also play a key role in technical security of data management systems by suggesting best practices to protect personal data extracted from online systems.

    All these experts have the role of executing commands from top management, who elaborate policies and strategies regarding the disclosure of open culture data. These regulation tools concern the prioritization of data to disclose, according to financial considerations, the relevance of data and users’ needs. Experts can make choices regarding strategic orientations of heritage institutions, based on their annual strategic plan and the needs of their partners (e.g., cultural industries, public officials, etc.). They also set goals in terms of public resources use, such as financial, material, technological, and human resources. 

    Figure 1 summarizes the different points discussed above on open culture data:


    Figure 1: Open culture data : what, who, why and how?

    4. Towards a collaborative approach: How can information professionals join their efforts in open culture data lifecycle management?

    Open culture data projects require a collaboration between many actors that together form an ecosystem. They interact with each other and co-create initiatives using various technological tools. In order to help heritage institutions achieve their goals in terms of releasing open culture data and generating public value from it, the open culture data ecosystem should be well designed and integrate specific configurations involving many actors. This ecosystem involves three key components: (1) people, (2) technologies, and (3) initiatives.

    Figure 2: The open culture data ecosystem

    4.1. The open culture data ecosystem: people

    Open data release requires the development of collaborative projects between archivists and librarians. Working together, they ensure the extraction, description, preservation, and dissemination of cultural data according to generally accepted standards. While librarians describe data from a subject perspective, archivists do it from a contextual perspective aiming to underline the activities that the data describe. As mentioned earlier, the use of international standards can help these professionals join up their efforts to make a complete curation of culture data in a manner that meets the users’ needs both from an archival and a library science perspective. 

    While doing so, many strategies should be adopted by information professionals to better understand users’ needs. Librarians can suggest various ways to understand the user’s information behaviour, and how the interaction with open culture data is described, chiefly by answering the following question: “What type of culture data is the most requested and used?” The use of key indicators mainly used by librarians to develop their collections can be beneficial to release more relevant data. Furthermore, the development of a better digital literacy is also an activity where librarians are mostly solicited. Archivists, on the other hand, can collaborate with librarians in providing a more complete description of culture data, since the archival description covers the activity that produced these data, as well as the subject of these data.

    4.2. The open culture data ecosystem: technologies

    While managing and releasing open culture data, information professionals make use of IT platforms and systems aiming to manage the lifecycle of data. In that sense, they may solicit IT experts to design technological platforms that are not only effective in terms of performance but also user-friendly. In fact, in the aim of making the appropriate use of data released on public portals, those technological means should be easy to use, especially by users who do not have advanced digital skills. Furthermore, they ought to integrate web 2.0 features, such as comments, scales and short surveys, to make it easier for users to share their experience with heritage institutions. Open culture data should also be released in an open and reusable form, in compliance with open technological standards aiming to ensure the interoperability of data with various digital environments. 

    The design of appropriate technological tools by IT experts in collaboration with archivists and librarians, as well as users, can help institutions integrate lean approaches in their everyday work. It is viewed as a key success factor in the implementation of IT technologies regarding information use and, more specifically, in the context of using open culture data in designing applications and website development.

    4.3. The open culture data ecosystem: initiatives

    Making open culture data more visible by generating public value from publicly available datasets means using them in innovative projects. It is particularly the case of hackathons, those technology-centered initiatives inviting users, such as developers and web designers, to build design projects on mobile applications that facilitate public life. For instance, open culture data can be used to design applications that identify cultural heritage institutions according to geographical patterns or even according to the cultural resources they offer to users. This helps citizens become more familiar with what their institutions can offer to them, making it easier for those institutions to gain more visibility. 

    To do so, hackathons are to be supervised by experts, such as IT specialists, archivists, and librarians. IT experts have the role of ensuring the technological quality of web developers’ outputs, especially by assessing the interoperability of data and programs in various digital environments. Librarians and archivists have a semantic role in supervising open culture data initiatives. It is necessary to ensure that users have the correct understanding of the data produced online and to evaluate the extent to which they have made the correct interpretation of it. As metadata specialists, information professionals can join up their efforts to provide a better understanding of data released on public portals.

    Open culture data ecosystems involve many actors who interact with each other and make use of their digital abilities while using specific technological resources to generate public value from released data. To ensure a better achievement of open data release objectives, information professionals should collaborate with each other in the lifecycle management of data, as well as in the supervision of its use. 


    Digital transformation has led heritage institutions to adopt new strategies to make their resources more discoverable and their activities more visible. With the technological developments and the social pressures regarding freedom of information access, these institutions have started to release their data in open and reusable forms. Open culture data allows users to get more familiar with heritage institutions’ activities and their cultural offerings. They can make use of these data in various contexts, according to their interests. However, to ensure a better reuse of these data, information professionals should reduce the gaps between them and build on collaborative initiatives that make it easier to master the data lifecycle management. While archivists are concerned with the contextualisation of data and the description of the activities they are related to, librarians can add more value to this description from a subject point of view. They can also suggest relevant strategies providing a better understanding of users’ needs through the study of their online information behaviour. These two actors can solicit IT experts to assess the technological quality of data and the platforms where they are released. Therefore, openness calls for bridging the gap between information professionals and encourages them to work together to make heritage institutions more visible.

    Siham Alaoui is a PhD candidate in archival science and public communication at Université Laval, Québec (Canada). She holds a bachelor's degree in Information Science (obtained in 2013 from the School of Information Science, Morocco) and a master's degree in Information Science (obtained in 2015 from the Université de Montréal). She is interested in digital documentary mediation (information and data management), particularly in the current context of universities’ digital transformation. She is the author of several scientific and professional articles published in specialized journals in information science (e.g., Archives, Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science, Documentation et Bibliothèques, Comma). She has also given papers and lectures at conferences and symposiums.


    Alaoui, S. (2021). La norme RiC (Records in Contexts) : fondements, applications et enjeux pour la pratique archivistique. Les Cahiers de la documentation(1), 20-31. 

    Alaoui, S. (2020). La publication des données culturelles ouvertes au Québec : le cas des bibliothèques. Revue Argus 48(1), 12-20. 

    Estermann, B. (2014). Diffusion of open data and crowdsourcing among heritage institutions: results of a pilot survey in Switzerland. Journal of theoretical and applied electronic commerce research 9(3), 15-31. Available at:

    International council on Archives (2019). Records in contexts: a conceptual model for archival description. Available at:

    International federation of library associations and institutions (2013). Functional requirements for authority data: a conceptual model. Available at:

    International federation of library associations and institutions (2011). Functional requirements for subject authority Data (FRSAD): a conceptual Model. Available at:

    International federation of library associations and institutions (2009). Functional requirements for bibliographic records. Available at:

    Open knowledge foundation (n.d.). What is open? Available at: (Accessed 2 October 2022)

    Sennouni, A. (2017). La Data au service de l’innovation dans les services d’information documentaires (SID) universitaires nationaux. Revue française des sciences de l’information et de la communication(10). Available at: 

    St-Germain, M. (2017). Étapes pour le développement d’un projet de données ouvertes et liées en bibliothèque. Documentation et bibliothèques 63(4), 35–45. Available at:

  • 8 Mar 2023 10:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    by Chase Nelson

    What does it mean to be an activist? Is an activist someone who takes to the streets, linking arms with allies to collectively call for what is right? Do they integrate into a community in order to understand the problems that plague it and search for equitable solutions? Do they educate friends, family, co-workers, and acquaintances about important causes? The Canadian Oxford Dictionary (Oxford University, 2005) defines activism as “the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about social or political change”—but what does “vigorous campaigning” look like?  
    International Women’s Day, celebrated on March 8th, is a product of the vigorous campaigning of working-class women in the early 20th century. The Socialist Party of America called for the first National Women’s Day in 1909 in honour of widespread demonstrations and organizing around working women’s rights and welfare. Clara Zetkin vigorously campaigned for an International Women’s Day at the 1910 International Conference of Working Women, leading to its first celebration in Switzerland, Germany, Denmark and Austria in 1911. On February 23rd, 1917 (March 8th in the New Style dating system), a Women’s Day demonstration in Russia against food shortages and rights abuses under the autocratic Romanov dynasty grew to such great heights that it led to the Tsar’s abdication from the throne a week later. March 8th was formalized as International Women’s Day by the Soviet Union in 1922 and celebrated as a holiday in communist countries around the world for decades; the United Nations formally recognized the day in 1975 (Haynes, 2019). 

    [Portrait of Dina Golovanevskaya] (5 Oct. 1942), Dr. Dina Golovanevskaya fonds,

    Dr. Dina Golovanevskaya, whose records are newly available on the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre’s (VHEC) collections website, was likely one of the millions of women honoured during annual Women's Day celebrations in the Soviet Union. Born in 1919 in Odessa, Ukraine during the height of the Russian Civil War, Dr. Golovan (as she often referred to herself) was a staunch patriot, decorated military veteran, and distinguished medical professional.

    As many archivists do, I came to meet Dr. Golovan not face-to-face but through the records and objects she left behind. She was one of the first individuals to donate personal records to the VHEC back when it was the Vancouver Holocaust Centre Society in the early ’90s. She donated copies of photographs, a couple of letters from friends, and a few Russian-language publications from visits to Holocaust memorial sites. Last year, as part of a Library and Archives Canada Documentary Heritage Communities Program (DHCP) grant to digitize our legacy holdings and make them accessible in our collections catalogue, I reached out to Dr. Golovan’s daughter Erika Galinskaya to see if we could swap out some of the copies for originals. 

    [Photograph of laboratory students in class] (1952), Dr. Dina Golovanevskaya fonds,

    We received much, much more: military records, speeches, articles, identification documents, certificates, correspondence, medical paraphernalia, the original photos, and then some. From these records and conversations with Erika, we can tell a story of a woman who served in the front lines of some of the fiercest battles against fascism, dedicated her life to the medical profession, and committed to community service and advocacy until the end. 

    Dr. Golovan served in the Red Army as a captain of medical service alongside other Jewish medical professionals from the Battle of Stalingrad to the fall of Berlin in 1945. After the Second World War she advanced in the medical field; she worked as the Head of Laboratories at a hospital in Odessa for fifteen years, all while raising her daughter Erika as a single mother (her husband Jakob passed away in 1949 from complications from wounds received during the War).  

    [Photograph at a Remembrance Day event] (11 Nov. 1989), Dr. Dina Golovanevskaya fonds,

    While Dr. Golovan’s love for her country was great, antisemitic bureaucracy prevented Erika from getting a merited job as a musician. The mother and daughter immigrated and settled in Vancouver in 1976, where Dr. Golovan committed to community work and quickly became a pillar in Jewish and Russian volunteer organizations. She was an active member and elected officer of the Shalom Branch #178 of the Royal Canadian Legion and the Workers for Zion. She frequently sent letters, published articles, and gave speeches on topics she felt were important, from the defunding of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra to the beauty of her native Odessa. While many of her medical certifications were not recognized by Canadian institutions, she never failed to address herself as “Doctor,” even inscribing the title in pen on articles where she was featured. She was a staunch advocate against antisemitism and Holocaust denial; she published multiple articles in the Jewish Western Bulletin and frequently corresponded with editors and politicians about egregious cases. Just weeks before she passed away in 1997, Dr. Golovan sent a letter to the Bulletin and the North Shore News condemning the latter for publishing articles by Doug Collins, a noted Holocaust denier; a version of the letter was published in the Bulletin.  

    I’m unsure if Dr. Dina Golovanevskaya identified as an activist. Based on her records, however, it is quite apparent that she was a campaigner of vigorous extent. Learning from Dr. Golovan's life and the history of International Women’s Day, I am moved to honour this day by going beyond the recognition of a particular gender identity. Rather, we must recognize the continued oppression of the world’s most marginalized classes and celebrate individuals identifying as women around the world who tirelessly advocate for a just and better world for all. 

    Community Forum Sunday examines seniors survey [select portion]. Dr. Dina Golovanevskaya fonds (RA079). Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, Vancouver, BC. 


    Haynes, S. (2019, March 7). The radical reason why March 8 is International Women’s Day. Time. 

    Oxford University. (2005). Activism. In K. Barber (Ed.), The Canadian Oxford Dictionary (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. 

    Chase Nelson (he/they) is a recent graduate of the UBC School of Information's Dual MASLIS program. He currently works as a Collections Assistant at the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre.

  • 7 Feb 2023 2:14 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Denise Dale, Emily Lonie, Sonia Nicholson, and Sylvia Stopforth 

    In last week’s blog post, we introduced our writing group, Archivists Who Write. Today we want to share a little more about each member of the group and about the why, how, what, and where we write.  


    Why do I write? Simply put, I have to. Not because anyone tells me I have to, but because I just have to. I have to chase the feeling. When I put pen to paper (or more accurately fingers to keyboard), there is a feeling of excitement, satisfaction, and purpose that seems to exist only in the formulation of story. When I write, I am seeking a hidden well of ever-shifting creativity, desperately hoping that it hasn’t run dry. When I find it, it is pure joy and excruciating frustration in equal measure – and that’s what’s so beautiful about it.  

    Writing is bringing life to the characters in your imagination. It is the attempt to convey the disordered chaos in your mind, in some sort of discernible (and enjoyable) order. And what are archivists if not controllers of chaos, order-makers, organizers? But I found, in that ordering of documentary chaos, in the rigid application of theory and practice, there were few moments of pure creativity. For many years, I felt satisfied by those precious few moments. But eventually, the dam burst and a story spilled out. I didn’t know where it came from, but it demanded to exist. I listened and I wrote. And I kept listening. It was short stories at first. One even made it into print. But it wasn’t until my love of film led me to screenwriting that I found my form of choice. I wrote my first feature film in three weeks. I couldn’t stop. There was an urgency to it that was thrilling. And I have been chasing that feeling ever since.  

    It was during this time that I was welcomed into this incredible writing group, affectionately known as Archivists Who Write. Despite how lonely, how solitary the act can feel, writing is the hope of connection. As much as the characters live in my mind, as much as I feel that I have seen the film I’ve written on the page, there is always a second life to be found in the sharing. Allowing a person to read your words is an act of faith. But, my goodness, it can be rewarding, nourishing, inspiring. When you allow others to embrace your characters, love them as you do, they become truly alive. Being part of this group has given me confidence that when I seek the well once again, it will be full.  

    – Emily's fiction can be found in the literary magazines Pulp Literature (Issue 21) and Door = Jar (Issue 7), and her thoughts on archives can be found at As for her screenplays, Hollywood hasn't come knocking ... yet. 


    “Shut up and write!”  

    Not my words, of course! But thinking about the “how” of writing, that workshop title seems on point. Because beyond that directive, to stifle your inner critic and just get on with it, “how” is personal. How it starts, how it unfolds, how it evolves. It’s a process that matures with practice and time. One that incorporates genre “rules,” how-to books, podcasts, writing festivals, support groups like “Archivists Who Write,” one-on-one help (dramaturg, anyone?), or discovering how others hone their craft. And if it helps, here is my “how”—at least as far as playwriting goes. 

    The shift from non-fiction writer to “junior” playwright began after attending a series of important but difficult productions. It started something like this: 

    DON and DENISE enter the lobby from the theatre. 

    DON: I mean… what sort of play has counsellors standing by? 

    DENISE: That one girl was crying. 

    DON: Did you know it was going to be about … that?  

    DENISE: (hesitantly) Well, you know, it’s Studio B, not the Mainstage, so … 

    DON: For once, I’d just like to go to the theatre— 

    DENISE: (cuts off) and not be traumatized? 

    DON: —and laugh. 

    DENISE: Tell you what: I’ll write you a play. Make you laugh. How does that sound? 

    DON: Traumatic. 

    DON and DENISE exit. 

    DENISE figures out how to write a play. 

    “How” is fuelled by ideas, sparked perhaps by overheard conversations, a nugget in the news, or work in the Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums (GLAM) sector.  My first play Weed’em and Leap (professional reading, Sept. 2021) combined the antics of a library book cart drill team with a collection de-selection project gone awry (spoiler alert: Shakespeare’s First Folio accidentally gets thrown out!). 

    Before an idea turns into dialogue, it turns into a one sentence premise. Here’s an example from my current play-in-progress: The Trouble with Henry is a comedy about a librarian who champions freedom to read after a banned book, Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, is discovered languishing on the library shelves. 

    Sounds ho-hum? Maybe. But now, premise done, the real fun begins because as Canadian playwright/dramaturg Caroline Russell-King told me during one of our Zoom sessions, “Nobody goes to the theatre to see ordinary.” Let’s get into the fun that didn’t make into that premise ... It’s 1961, librarian Rae is on probation, Henry Miller shows up (in a bathrobe), and so does Rae’s tipsy mom, the RCMP, and Canada Customs. And then there’s Mrs. Marshall who manages to sign out Tropic of Cancer, only to return it at the worst possible moment. All that comes out in the plot details. 

    For some, plotting involves post-it notes or chapter summaries. For me, a plot chart appeals to my sense of order by funnelling the creative chaos in my head into neat columns and rows, detailing each scene. Charting makes it easy to spot and rectify plot snags. And snags not caught likely won’t get past Archivists Who Write as they diligently follow the plot and can be relied upon to nurture and gently nudge (aka “shut up and write!”) as needed. 

    Finally, the “actual writing” begins, effortlessly, because most of the hard work has been done. Dialogue flows as characters come to life. Written directives stage a world filling with laughter and fun. As the action ramps up from the inciting incident, pausing briefly for intermission, fingers fly across the keyboard full tilt towards the climax before the curtain falls.  

    All part of how. 

    – Denise is co-author of two books on information management with numerous articles published in magazines like MoneySense and Reader’s Digest

    Weed’em and Leap by Denise Dale, professional reading, produced by Dramaturgy On Demand, Sept. 2021.


    Like an alchemist, I am preoccupied with the idea of transmutation. But it’s not the glitter of gold that draws me. Rather, it’s the way that stories take true things—things like lived experiences, indefinable yearnings, emotional landscapes—and turn them into a kind of lie in order to tell a deeper truth.  

    And it doesn’t stop there, because the right story, told in the right way, can root itself in our hearts and forever transform the way we see the world, ourselves, and those around us. 

    Change upon change. 

    I’ve wanted to be a writer since I first understood that real, flesh-and-blood people created these magical things called “stories.” But that dream felt far too grand for the likes of me.  

    Determined to work in a writing-adjacent field, I took myself off to school to get the necessary degrees (a BA in English Literature followed by a Master’s in Library and Information Studies) and worked as a research librarian and archivist for more than twenty years. On the whole it was a good fit, this business of preserving and ordering at least a few of the tributaries belonging to the great river of human stories rushing over and around us. 

    But that wild old wish refused to be channelled. In 2019 I finally gave myself permission to own the dream.  

    If you’ve made the attempt yourself to capture some quicksilver vision in a net of words, you know how frustrating it can be. There’s always that blasted gap between how you imagined it and what it looks like, lying there on the page, unmoving. But those occasions when you nearly get it right make it all worthwhile. And I’m thankful beyond words (ironically) for the privilege of trying. 

    To date I’ve written everything from essays and articles to literary shorts and even microfiction, but my heart belongs to novel-length stories—particularly those works of speculative fiction that wade into the realms of fairy tales, fantasy, and science fiction. I find that sometimes the greater the distance between reality and the story-world, the sharper the light the writer is able to shine back onto that reality.  

    As the inimitable Isabel Allende observed, “You can tell the deepest truths with the lies of fiction.” 

    – Sylvia has had several short pieces published and is currently seeking representation for a young adult trilogy that blends elements of science fiction with the dark, alchemical glitter of fairy tales. Visit her at


    Where you are is who you are. The further inside you the place moves, the more your identity is intertwined with it. Never casual, the choice of place is the choice of something you crave.  

    Frances Mayes, Under the Tuscan Sun 

    Confession time: I hated history—aka social studies—in school. It was too vague. Distant. Impersonal. I maintain to this day that if the curriculum had focused on local history, I would have found my career much sooner. 

    As a community archivist, the work I do is directly related to the places where I work, live, and play every day. For example, the house that used to be behind mine was the home of a Saanich resident killed in the First World War. The same house where his widow spent the rest of her many years, never remarrying. Our lot was empty until the late 1950s or early 1960s; I picture her husband cutting across it before he enlisted, on his way to his job as a plasterer. Maybe he brought back flowers for her using the same shortcut.  

    There’s no way to know all of that for sure. But archives capture more than facts. They hold stories. The rest is left to our imaginations. 

    My writing regularly explores themes of identity, family, and place; of these three, the latter in particular. It makes sense, really. These are the same themes that cross the desks of archivists daily.  

    And it’s this intersection of place and people that draws me in. Relationships. Home. How they’re all connected. Every record in our care represents a small piece of someone’s story. Someone who walked the same streets I do. Who loved. Lost. Deserves to be remembered. Becoming obsessed with finding them can be an occupational hazard. 

    This is the premise—with an added twist—of my debut novel. Aptly titled Provenance Unknown, its two locations (my Saanich, Vancouver Island, neighbourhood and Paris, France) have personal meaning. My experiences influence every page as the main character, an Archives Assistant named Michele, travels these places I know so well. Saanich’s Rutledge Park and Cloverdale corridor. The Pereire neighbourhood of Paris, where my husband and I enjoyed our own adventures in the City of Light. She’s there. 

    Past and present. In person. On paper. These places move inside me. Define me. At times, it’s hard to separate fact from fiction.  

    I wouldn’t want to.  

    – Sonia 

    If you happen to be in the Victoria, BC, area, join us for the Spring launch of Sonia’s novel! Details forthcoming at


    We are Archivists Who Write. Four writers, each on a unique literary journey. But it all boils down to an irresistible pull to the work and a desire to let the words out into the world, all with the comfort of knowing that a supportive suggestion, a potential plot point, or a carefully considered comma is but a Zoom call away. 

    Because, as L.M. Montgomery’s Anne put it, “Next to trying and winning, the best thing is trying and failing.” Our little writing group encourages the trying and consoles over the (real or perceived) failing, but most importantly, our group inspires the doing! 

  • 31 Jan 2023 10:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Denise Dale, Emily Lonie, Sonia Nicholson, and Sylvia Stopforth 

    All archivists write. They compose everything from administrative histories to website content, from online exhibit narratives to academic papers. But some archivists are drawn to create and explore fictional landscapes as well. They may anchor their new worlds in scenes or characters that draw on their professional expertise, or they may go completely off-piste, delving into half-imagined futures or poetic fantasies. But wherever the imagination leads, the business of creativity is fuelled by support groups like ours, “Archivists Who Write.” 

    In a recent In the Field ACA blog post, Amy Tector, another archivist/author, emphasized the importance of writing groups. We agree and hope that by sharing some of the who, what, where, why, and how of our experience we may inspire others to forge such connections. Here’s our story.

    Once upon a time; or, how it all began … 

    After nearly twenty-five years as an academic archivist and librarian, Sylvia Stopforth decided to take the plunge into writing full-time. At a regional gathering of British Columbia (BC) archivists, she reconnected with Denise Dale, another hybrid archivist-librarian, who works at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. When Sylvia half-reluctantly confessed her foolhardy plan, Denise confided that she was working on a script for a play. Sylvia took note. 

    A little while later she noticed the name of Emily Lonie on the cover of a literary journal in which Sylvia had previously published a story. It appeared that in addition to serving as Coquitlam City Archivist, Emily also dabbled in writing short stories. And it turned out that was just the half of it! 

    Sylvia reached out to Denise and Emily and suggested they meet to chat about their various writing goals and interests. They gathered over breakfast on a wintery Richmond morning in late 2019. The connection was effortless and immediate. They agreed to make it a monthly event and started sharing their work with one another, for discussion and feedback.

    COVID silver linings 

    And then … COVID arrived. It would have been easy enough to call a halt. Reconnect after the pandemic. (After all, it would be over in a few weeks. Months, at most. Hah!) But they’d already learned that there’s something addictive about sharing one’s dreams, and they weren’t ready to give it up. So, like the rest of the world, they shifted from in-person to in-pixel meetings. 

    Then Emily mentioned a community archivist on Vancouver Island who had completed a novel and who might be interested in joining the group. Since they were now meeting online, the lack of proximity was a moot point.   

    Sonia Nicholson turned out to be the perfect addition.

    Clockwise from top left: Sonia Nicholson, Sylvia Stopforth, Emily Lonie, Denise Dale.

    The “R” word 

    Since then, the foursome has met nearly every month, life and schedules permitting, and all agree it’s been terrific. More than terrific. Necessary. 

    Why? Here’s the thing … 

    With few exceptions, writing is a solitary endeavour. This makes it ripe picking for that pesky internal critic—the one that keeps telling you that you are an imposter, your work is rubbish, and your most cherished goals are nothing but pipe dreams. A group of trusted colleagues can drown out that critic—or at least transform it into a useful part of a larger chorus.  

    It’s incredibly encouraging to have friends with whom to share ideas, celebrate successes, and commiserate over rejection.

    Oh, the rejection … 

    There is so much of it, whether you’re submitting poems or short stories to literary journals, entering your play in contests, or querying a novel to find an agent who can connect the dots to a publishing contract. 

    So having a writing/critique group is not just a nice thing. It’s a necessary thing. A PFD: a Personal Flotation Device for those who’ve decided to push out to sea on a craft made of their own words… 

    How to connect? 

    Keep your ears open for prospective contacts. Check out local libraries and independent bookstores for announcements about writing groups, book launches, or featured writer-visits. Seek out writing groups online. (We’ve provided a few links below to get you started.) Sign up for webinars or seminars offered by writers, local community groups, or your school district’s continuing education program.  

    If the budget permits, attend a writers’ conference or a writing retreat.  

    While it can be scary to step out of your comfort zone, to own the dream requires a certain willingness to be vulnerable, which helps others to open up as well. And without risk, it’s hard to build trust. 

    So don’t be afraid to share. It’s amazing how a chance bit of chit-chat can open up possibilities. “Archivists Who Write” is a testament to that, so be brave!  

    Finding the time 

    For most of us, finding time is the biggest hurdle.  

    On occasion, members of our group had no new work to share, because life happened. Family needs escalated. Ribs were broken (true story). Annual reports or grant applications followed someone home from the day job.  

    Some time ago, a group member (name withheld to protect the slightly embarrassed) took nearly a decade to write an epic fantasy novel, with a sizeable cast of characters. At one point, the gap between opportunities to write was so long, she forgot a main character’s name. She also found it necessary to maintain a spreadsheet of characters she’d killed off in order to avoid any unintentional—and potentially awkward—resurrections. 

    Sometimes small pockets of time can be sewn together. The average literary novel is 80,000 words in length. If you manage to write just 300 words five days per week, you could have the rough draft of a novel completed in a year! 

    If writing a book isn’t in the cards—or doesn’t feature on your cherished list of writing goals—there are flash and micro fiction websites that publish stories anywhere from 100 to 1000 words in length. And many literary journals are looking for poetry as well as prose. 

    The key thing is to begin. Get a few words down and keep going! 

    Weaving the threads 

    All four members of this group were drawn to the Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums (GLAM) sector. And all are serious about wanting to improve their writing craft, about producing work and getting that work out into the worldwhatever that looks like. So clearly, there are some common threads. But their differences are equally important and have a way of enriching and broadening one another’s creative horizons.  

    In terms of their careers, they range from near-retirement to mid-career pinnacles. Some have children and some don’t. Some are fearless plungers, while others (names withheld to protect the cowardly) are reticent toe-dippers. Strong views are favoured by one or two, while others are quite comfortable, thank you very much, perched on the fence, considering issues from every possible angle. Morning meetings are welcomed by some, and taken stoically, with coffee thick enough to support a spoon, by others. 

    This group provides proof of concept for that well-known saying about shared sorrows being halved and shared joys being doubled.  

    Each member has benefited from constructive critiques, brainstorming sessions, and offers to make connections. They’ve generously shared ideas, tips, and techniques, so they’re not all constantly reinventing the wheel. 

    In terms of the writing, some have strung together lopsided, sentimental stories since they could hold a pencil, while others have come to this dream more recently. The projects they are currently working on vary wildly and include a soon-to-be-published novel featuring a protagonist who happens to be an archivist.  

    But more about those projects and “Archivists Who Write” in our next post to In the Field. 

    To be continued… 

    A few writing organizations to get you started:

    Denise Dale (MLIS) is the Archives Librarian at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. An avid theatre-goer, Denise aspires to take her writing from the page to the stage. She is a member of Playwrights Guild of Canada. 

    Emily Lonie (MA – Public History) is the Executive Director of the Vancouver Heritage Foundation and was formerly Coquitlam’s City Archivist. In her spare time (when she can find some), she enjoys inventing characters and crafting scenes for her screenplays. 

    Sonia Nicholson (BA, French and Spanish) has worked in community and religious archives for fifteen years and is particularly interested in advocacy and outreach. Her writing includes everything from poetry to essays to short stories to novels.  

    Sylvia Stopforth (MLIS) is a writer and word-obsessive who worked for more than twenty years as an archivist and research librarian in the post-secondary sector. Some of her short stories have been published, and she’s currently working on a novel. 

  • 17 Jan 2023 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By J.J. Ghaddar (1)

    This post (Part II of II) is based on presentations I delivered over the last year virtually, in Rome and in Accra. See Part I for more details.

    For over a decade, I have been tracing the roots of archival studies in western imperialism and white supremacy, with a focus on settler colonial and apartheid state formations. I share with you this journey by telling you about my excavations of three histories: that of the modern archival profession; of archiving in settler Canada; and of the Vienna Convention on Property, Archives and Debt (1983). In the process, I outline the importance of thinking about place in relation to the provenance of archives and records in colonial contexts, as part of amplifying the struggles of indigenous peoples to reclaim colonized lands and histories, and to overcome the archival legacies of colonialism.

    From Archival Fictions to Repatriation: Third World Decolonization & the Vienna Convention (2)

    After tracing the archival fictions we tell ourselves about the history of the modern archival profession in Europe and Canada (see Part I), I shifted my interrogations to the history of the global debate over archival repatriation and displaced archives during the era of Third World decolonization in the 20th century, when newly independent states and anticolonial movements spent decades working to repatriate and protect archives and other material heritage from the First World. These efforts were part of an all-sided offensive to end western imperialism and decolonize the global order, including through diplomatic initiatives like the Vienna Convention. Third World actors from the eminent Algerian jurist and diplomat, Dr. Mohamed Bedjaoui, to formations like the Non-Aligned Movement were at the centre of crafting the Convention in international sites that included the UN, the International Law Commission, UNESCO and the International Council on Archives (ICA). Liberation movements from Algeria to Namibia were also involved. All of them consistently articulated a fundamental connection between archival decolonization, cultural and heritage preservation, communication and information equity, economic sovereignty, and anti-imperialism. It is impossible then to disconnect the Convention from Third World instruments on cultural heritage or from political proposals at the UN like the New International Economic Order and the New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO). While the latter calls for equity in the global flows of information, the former calls for people-centred development. Hence, the Convention brings togethers archives as well as property and debt into a single framework and instrument. It calls for the repatriation of both property and archives from the colonizing state to the newly decolonized state, as well as for the cancellation of the debts of newly decolonized states from the colonial era.

    Image 2: UNESCO headquarters in Paris where I conducted archival research on the Vienna Convention in the summer of 2018. Source: UNESCO/Wikipedia (April 2010).

    These efforts and initiatives unfolded at a time when bloody struggles for decolonization and liberation were taking place globally, when the martyrs and prisoners of the Third World Project were counted in the millions, and when liberation movements that were not state actors had special status within the UN system. It was also a time when the Third World Bloc enshrined in international law the right of all peoples to live free from foreign interference and to resist colonialism. The Bloc also lobbied for status and recognition within the UN for national liberation movements that were not state actors, including the African National Congress and South West Africa People’s Organisation (Namibia) then struggling against apartheid South Africa’s bid for regional domination, as well as the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN). Significantly, national liberation movements recognized by the Arab League and the Organization of African Unity had status at the 1983 conference where the Convention was adopted, as did the UN Council for Namibia. The accordance of special status to Third World liberation movements is one example amongst many of the tension between the aspirations and visions of decolonization within the Third World Project, and the reality of the western nation state model and global system of nation states that those aspirations and visions would be increasingly constrained by and neutralized through. Ultimately defeated by the neoliberal counterassault, the Third World Project failed to end imperialism, constrain Global South elites, ward off the power of finance capital, or realize the full promise of the national liberation movements and their call for unity. It succeeded, however, in ending direct colonial rule in many countries and territories. It also succeeded in what Angela Davis refers to, when speaking of the civil rights era in the ‘60s and ‘70s, as “chang[ing] the terrain of struggle [… and …] reconfiguring the landscape on which we now try to increase the measure of freedom all communities enjoy.” (3) It succeeded in galvanizing hundreds of millions of people over decades across all the continents of the world to work to different degrees in varied arenas with diverse visions to realize an end to colonial rule and imperial domination. Such visions, as Sajed aptly put its, “function as latent ideals of the unfulfilled potential of Third Worldism, which are still worth keeping in mind and striving towards.” (4)

    Image 3: Picture of Mr. Amadou Mahtar M'Bow of Senegal, Director-General of UNESCO from 1974 to 1987. He was the first Black African to head a United Nations agency and remains to this day the only Director-General of UNESCO not representing a Global North state. M’Bow is an important figure of the Third World Bloc at the UN, which supported his election to UNESCO. Source UNESCO/Wikipedia (Nov. 1974).

    The Vienna Convention is itself a latent ideal and unfulfilled promise, a legal instrument that has yet to come into force but one that provides what is likely the most radical vision of global archival repatriation ever debated on such a grand scale. It is a vision that is still worth keeping in mind as we continue discussing displaced archives today in the wake of Third World political decolonization. Let us consider the text of the Vienna Convention in more detail to illustrate this point further:

    • The Convention begins in the preamble with the statement: “Considering the profound transformation of the international community brought about by the decolonization process,” and firmly situates the question of archives in relation to decolonization and self-determination.
    • Throughout, the Convention also makes distinctions between newly independent states and other instances of state succession, which reflects Third Worldism’s insistence that there are unique needs when western colonialism and occupation have been a factor.
    • Article 21 states that “The passing of State archives of the predecessor State entails the extinction of the rights of that State and the arising of the rights of the successor State to the State archives which pass to the successor State, subject to the provisions of the articles in the present Part.” (5) This transfer of archives to the successor state is to take place without compensation, as per Articles 22 and 23.
    • For decolonized states specifically, Article 28.1 stipulates that all archives by or about a territory be transferred to the new state from the preceding state’s national repository, including archives that had once belonged to the territory that were incorporated into the colonial archives and those created within the colonial archives about the territory. Article 28.4 also calls on the former colonizer to assist with the in-gathering of archives that are not in its national repository but were dispersed in the colonial era. Furthermore, the Convention insists in Article 28.7 that with formerly colonized states, agreements on archives “between the predecessor State and the newly independent State […] shall not infringe the right of the peoples of those States to development, to information about their history, and to their cultural heritage.”

    Overall, Article 28, which is focused on newly decolonized states, is undergirded by the principle of territoriality, that is of territorial pertinence, provenance or origins. It is also undergirded by the principles of retroactive sovereignty and of functional pertinence. Territorial pertinence is defined by the Society of American Archivists (SAA) as “[t]he practice of placing documents with content relevant to a region in a repository within the region. […] For example, under territorial pertinence, records relating to a newly formed country would be transferred to the new country.” This principle is related to that of retroactive sovereignty, which “means that the archives produced by administrations and institutions in charge of managing the business of the territory that has become a newly independent state are devolved to the new state.” (6) The Society of American Archivists also distinguishes territorial pertinence from that of territorial provenance, whereby “the records would remain with the agency that created them.” In line with territorial pertinence, the Convention calls for records that belonged to the formerly colonized territory to be returned there if they had been incorporated into the colonial state’s archives. This is related to the principle of territorial origin, “according to which the archives produced by the territory before it became dependent, and then incorporated in the archives of the annexing or supervising state, are bound to the successor state.” (7) The Convention also states that whatever records the colonizer had created originally in its national archives should be transferred to the newly independent state when they are vital to its ability to operate. As Kecskeméti explains, “[t]he functional pertinence principle […] means that the transfer of power and responsibilities must be accompanied by the transfer of archives that are necessary for administrative continuity to be ensured.” (8) 

    At the same time, the Convention does not foreclose the possibility of acknowledging and incorporating into agreements the claims and perspectives of others depicted in the records. For example, Article 28.7 outlines that agreements on archives between the former colonizing state and the newly decolonized state “shall not infringe the right of the peoples of those States to development, to information about their history, and to their cultural heritage.” I read this provision as making room for the needs of people living outside of the decolonized state (e.g. Algeria, Ghana, Benin, Trinidad & Tobago) within the boundaries of the state that colonized it (e.g. France, Britain, Spain). They can serve as the basis for negotiating resolutions that incorporate the needs and perspectives of people residing in the latter, while still facilitating repatriation. When colonialism is involved, joint or shared heritage, or reproduction, are solutions that should be framed in a way that addresses the core of the problem, namely how archival colonial legacies help perpetuate the power imbalance between North and South. A decolonized reframing of joint/shared heritage also has the potential to help work out solutions in cases where there are multiple claims over records, including when there are competing claims by Global South communities, movements and societies.     

    While I cannot give these principles the extensive treatment they deserve today, I will point out that the Convention centres land and place insofar as archives by or about a colonized territory belong to that territory even when not created in it, even when not in the custody of its governing authority, and even when located elsewhere. It calls for “repatriating the power of the knowledge held in archives” (9) by reconstituting memory, history and collectivity through an in-gathering of records pertaining to a place, as part of de-fragmenting the knowledge, people and sovereignties which were dispersed through many repositories, archives, custodians and states by colonial violence. I term this framework provenance in place, insofar as archives are to be kept together based on the place they pertain to and in that place, rather than solely arranged by creator. The Convention’s call (particularly in Article 28) for global archival decolonization seeks to operationalize the principle of self-determination in archives by connecting archival ownership and custody to the issue of whose land has been or is colonized by whom. These are powerful ideas even if the Vienna Convention never received the requisite 15 state signatories to come into force largely due to the political opposition and machinations of western states and archivists. Due to the global dynamics of power between North and South, the Convention and the Third World voices behind it have been given too little consideration, if not misrepresented and erased, in archival studies. The Convention’s history has generally been written by the white men who opposed it. Nonetheless, the Association of Commonwealth Archivists & Records Managers took a firm position about the return of displaced archives from Britain to Third World decolonized states in part by referencing the Convention, noting that the Convention “has continued to inform thinking about archives within the international archival community.”

    A committee of western archival experts called together by the ICA in 1995 criticized the Convention for adopting territorial pertinence because it violates the dominant creator-centric conception of provenance: “The ownership of archives cannot be determined by or on the basis of the information contained in them, but only by their provenance.” (10) This statement evidences the tendency to conflate or collapse ownership and provenance, which is why reconceptualizing provenance is often at the core of arguments for archival repatriation. More recently, Kecskeméti, who opposed the Convention for political reasons, considers the principles of territorial origin, retroactive sovereignty and functional pertinence to be “based on provenance.” (11) Indeed, much has changed between the ICA’s 1995 criticism of the Convention for being in violation of provenance and 2017, when Kecskeméti wrote about the principles undergirding the Convention based on a more expansive understanding of provenance. Since the turn of the last century, a range of archival scholars from Bastian and Nesmith to Hurley and Drake have been thinking more expansively of provenance, about how to locate the pluralistic histories and dynamic relationships of records, or whether to discard the notion altogether, as captured in concepts like societal provenance, parallel provenance and community of records. Nonetheless, the fundamental theoretical validity of the western theory of provenance continues to be accepted almost universally. This more expansive yet still creator-centric understanding of provenance is reflected in major descriptive standards like the ICA’s ISAD(G): General International Standard Archival Description and the Canadian Rules for Archival Description.

    Building on that more expansive thinking about provenance, however, my research into the Vienna Convention invites us to consider the possibility of reconceptualizing provenance partly by centring place as context and origin even when that means de-coupling provenance from respect des fonds. Of course, place is not the only important aspect of the provenance of archives, but it is one that is too often disregarded, minimized or elided altogether. This tendency to elide place is a common colonial move, one that frames place as simply backdrop, or abstractly as timeless and decontextualized space, to divert attention away from the question of who is occupying and controlling whose land. This tendency has led indigenous and anticolonial thinkers around the world to highlight the importance of centring place in challenging and dislodging colonial and imperial projects, all of which require the remaking of political geography. The Vienna Convention reflects this anticolonial ethos albeit within a restrictive statist framework. The extensive archival and documentary trail of the debates and activities associated with its crafting can enrich our thinking about displaced archives and our dominant archival paradigm beyond the horizon of the west and its legal traditions. Given its statist focus, however, it is important to consider how we can bring contemporary theories, frameworks and practices about community archiving, diasporic archives and Indigenous Data Sovereignty to bear on these discussions and our interpretations of the Convention. 

    Future Directions: Rethinking Provenance in Archivy

    This text has traversed vast historical periods, and physical and conceptual terrain, from the archival fictions produced about archives and archivists to forge white nationalist states like France and Canada, to the insurgent histories of the Third World Project and the decolonizing ethos of the Vienna Convention. My singular goal has been to unearth hidden histories and produce critical knowledge that can aid in the project of creating a more liberatory archival landscape and world. My anticolonial rethinking of place and archives, which I gloss under the term provenance in place, asks us to attend to the relationship between records, their place and the people of that place. This intellectual intervention serves as a strategic move whereby an understanding of provenance that takes place as seriously as creator, if not more, supports claims that archives removed from a place by colonizers through colonial violences should be returned to that place (as origin and context). Provenance in place is about creating archival regimes and infrastructures that begin by asking, what land(s) do the archives pertain to? What people and nations are connected to that land historically and today? And among them who, if any, has been or is dispossessed or colonized, and by whom? Most importantly, it is to ask, how can the archives support efforts to end that dispossession and colonization today, and to undo the archival legacies of such colonization in the past?

    (1) This text is based on research outlined in the following publications: J.J. Ghaddar (2022) “Provenance in Place: Crafting the Vienna Convention for Global Decolonization and Archival Repatriation,” in James Lowry, ed., Disputed Archival Heritage, Volume II (New York: Routledge); Ghaddar (2021) Provenance in Place: Archives, Settler Colonialism and the Making of a Global Order. Thesis (University of Toronto); and Ghaddar (2020) Total Archives for Land, Law and Sovereignty in Settler Canada. Archival Science 21(1): 59-82.  

    (2) This section is based on Ghaddar, "Provenance in Place: Crafting the Vienna Convention."

    (3) Angela Davis (2008) Angela Davis: How Does Change Happen? University of California Television, around 39 to 44 minutes.

    (4) Alina Sajed (2019) Re-remembering Third Worldism: An Affirmative Critique of National Liberation in Algeria. Middle East Critique 28(3): 243–60, 16.

    (5) Article 25 provides the caveat that, “Nothing in the present Part shall be considered as prejudging in any respect any question that might arise by reason of the preservation of the integral character of groups of State archives of the predecessor State.”

    (6) Charles Kecskeméti (2017) “Archives Seizures: The Evolution of International Law,” in James Lowry, ed., Displaced Archives (London, New York: Routledge), 14. Emphasis in original.

    (7) Ibid.

    (8) Ibid.

    (9) Evelyn Wareham (2001) “Our Own Identity, Our Own Taonga, Our Own Self Coming Back": Indigenous Voices in New Zealand Record-Keeping. Archivaria 52: 26-46, 46.

    (10) ICA, Committee on Legal Matters (1995) Reference Dossier on Archival Claims. Compiled by Hervé Bastien, Committee Member, for the Council of Europe, 53.

    (11) Kecskeméti, “Archives Seizures”, 14.

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