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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

  • 1 Nov 2022 8:00 AM | Anonymous member

    By Lexy deGraffenreid and Ben Mitchell

    As guest editors of the special issue of Archivaria on person-centred archival theory and praxis, we, Jennifer Douglas, Jessica Lapp and Mya Balin, are pleased to share a series of blog posts that reflect on the nature and enactment of person-centred approaches to archival materials and work. These blog posts complement the articles in the special issue, presenting a variety of perspectives on how centring the person in archival processes happens and why it matters. We're grateful to the authors for sharing their research and experiences!

    Introduction & Background

    Adopting a person-centred archival praxis that privileges the language, culture, and preferences of those represented within collections has been a priority for Special Collections at Penn State since mid-2019. We aim to utilize an ethic of care, in which archivists prioritize the voices of those documented by and within records over traditional practices that prioritize documents themselves as well as the paradigms of predominantly white collectors and institutions. However, developing and implementing a more person-centred praxis is ongoing and has been evolving over a series of years. Due to the COVID-19 shift to remote work, Special Collections undertook a high-level audit of finding aids to evaluate completeness and to assess the presence of offensive language. This audit identified a broad array of obfuscating or offensive descriptive practices, which decreased the discoverability of archival records and perpetuated silences surrounding marginalized communities within our collections. This audit further identified that additional assessment was needed to understand the depth and breadth of these concerns.

    Before further assessment, archivists determined that we needed to reconsider legacy archival practices and recentre the practice of archival description onto the perspectives and preferences of marginalized records creators and/or subjects. Our premise was that archival description should be accessible to and discoverable by the people and communities whose experiences are reflected within our collections. Moving towards a person-centred praxis required both self-reflection and adopting external expertise. As we do not have a community advisory group, it was necessary to take the time to research and pull in community-driven expertise and resources to better inform our descriptive practices. In summer 2020, in order to research more inclusive practices, we launched the Inclusive Description Working Group, which ultimately decided to author a style guide and resource guide for inclusive description. During summer and fall 2020, the working group began to compile resources such as community-driven thesauri, toolkits, and current projects to build an in-depth resource guide to ground the intended style guide in existing recommended practices and to be used as a learning resource. At the outset of the project, due to competing priorities and limited staffing, the working group decided to recruit an archival studies graduate student, Ben Mitchell, to conduct research and help draft the guide. In this next section, we will discuss developing and authoring the style guide as a working group after recruiting our graduate student to help develop the guide.

    Developing the Guide

    The project began with an extensive literature review. The literature review consisted of three major components. First, the working group worked independently to collect resources for review. These resources largely consisted of policy statements and style guides from similarly sized institutions, controlled vocabularies, active communities, and academic articles. These resources were compiled into a spreadsheet and served as the base for the literature review. In the following weeks, Ben reviewed the resource guide, selected a limited number of resources, and began to construct the literature review. The literature review was primarily structured around Archives for Black Lives’ guidelines. The group decided to focus on six general guidelines: 

    1. Language, Power, and Politics

    2. Accessibility and Audience 

    3. Voice, Tone, and Expertise 

    4. Cultural Humility, Identity, and Naming 

    5. Violence, Oppression, and Challenging Content 

    6. Archival interventions (choosing mediation or not) 

    These guidelines would go on to form the backbone of the style guide, with additional, more technical categories for punctuation, formatting, etc. The working group examined the selected resources through these six lenses to inform the style guide. Most of the writing was done by Ben, but the group met weekly to make edits and discuss the findings.  After final edits were made, the group began drafting the style guide itself. The writing process for the style guide followed the process for the literature review. Again, Ben did the majority of the writing, with continuous feedback and edits from the rest of the group. Each week, Ben drafted one to two guidelines for the style guide from the literature review. This work largely consisted of summarizing and transitioning the academic language of the literature review into the more technical language of the style guide. The style guide was designed to be easily understood, quick to reference, and to have minimal jargon.

    In addition to meeting as a group for edits, Ben also met with individual group members to assist with the writing process. The group recognized the individual strengths and competencies of specific members and decided they would lend these skills to the writing process. For example, one member of the group had experience with controlled vocabularies, one member had experience with standardizing grammar, and so on. This way, the perspectives of the whole group could be included while retaining a singular voice for consistency.

    After this process was repeated for each section of the style guide, the entire group met one more time for final review and edits. The process was designed to be highly iterative with editing done consistently throughout each stage. Furthermore, the style guide was specifically designed to be updated and edited based on evolving social conditions and changing archival standards. 
    Adoption & Implementation 
    The ultimate purpose of both the style guide and resource guide is to embed more inclusive practices programmatically into description workflows. The adoption of the guide’s practices happened alongside its drafting. Several collections requiring reparative redescription were prioritized as a result of the audit and served as useful test cases for researching and adapting people-first description methods. The guides formally launched in summer 2021 when Ben Mitchell presented them to all employees at a Special Collections employee meeting. The Interim Co-Head of Collection Services then implemented the guide across the Collections Services Team (a subset of the overall Special Collections Library charged with overseeing collection ingest, accessioning, description, and management) by introducing it in trainings alongside the local accessioning manual and processing manual. The expectation is set team-wide to consult the guide and implement more person-focused, inclusive practices for any accessioning or processing projects which document a marginalized person or group. 

    Implementing the guides has had positive impacts across the Collection Services Team’s work. It is employed from the point of accessioning as a way to use more inclusive language in all parts of the collections services workflow to ensure that our minimally processed finding aids are person-centred in the potentially years-long interim between accessioning and processing. This care is especially necessary because our extensible accessioning guidelines indicate that collections under five linear feet are considered completed at the point of accessioning and many of the recently acquired collections documenting Black life or the LGBTQIA+ experience are small collections of less than five feet. For collections documenting marginalized persons or communities, the priority is to centre the voice of that community rather than to accession collections rapidly but insufficiently. This prioritization allows for a fuller, more robust minimal finding aid which is hoped to be more discoverable to researchers. Adopting this people-centred approach to extensible accessioning and processing forces archivists to recentre their praxis onto an ethic of care which prioritizes elevating the voices of marginalized creators and records subjects over traditional archival practices that minimized or excluded them through insufficient or obfuscating description.  

    Ultimately, the adoption of the style guide will have an impact beyond Special Collections. The University Libraries’ most recent strategic plan includes the charge to “ensure equity of access by evaluating current descriptive access points within library catalog records, digital collections metadata, and archival description; create a plan to perform remediation on legacy descriptive practices; and identify and utilize alternative authority sources and a local style guide/thesaurus.” Members of the Inclusive Description Working Group form part of the action team assigned to this charge and the Guide is being used to inform broader projects around assessment and remediation across the library’s access points to create libraries-wide description that is more responsive and inclusive of marginalized voices. Recentring archival description on the experiences and preferences of people and their communities is not a single project. It requires an ongoing, iterative, and sustained program that is adaptable to the stated needs of the people whose voices we hope to centre. By creating and implementing this Style Guide to Inclusive Description and associated resource guide, and by adopting its recommendations in practice, we hope to build the scaffolding of a more diverse, people-centred repository that represents the diverse experiences of our community.


    Lexy deGraffenreid is the Head of Collection Services at Penn State University’s Eberly Family Special Collections Library. Ben Mitchell is a STEM Librarian at the University of Rochester, but previously served as the Special Collections Discovery Assistant at Penn State.

  • 25 Oct 2022 8:00 AM | Anonymous member

    by Rebecca Murray with Renée Belliveau

    I’ve had the pleasure of sharing a virtual table with Renée over the past two years on the ACA Communications Committee, but we didn’t start talking about her books and writing until this summer. It’s been a unique pleasure to work with Renée professionally and to read her writing. I had the opportunity to ask her a few questions after reading her most recent novel, The Sound of Fire, this summer.

    Rebecca: Your novel, The Sound of Fire, is a beautiful blend of historical fact and creativity. You’ve written a really strong account of the tragic fire that raged on the Mount Allison University campus in December 1941. You show many perspectives including that of the fire (which we’ll get to), but I’m curious what elements or perspectives, if any, were missing from the narratives found in the archival or published record?

    Renée: There were many perspectives missing from the archival holdings at Mount Allison University, which were understandably focused on students and faculty. I unfortunately did not have access to accounts by physicians and nurses who attended to the wounded, or by parents and community members. However, I was able to imagine what they might have experienced that harrowing night.

    This is one way in which the fictionalization of the story was helpful. Rather than focus solely on the perspectives for which we did have archival records, I was able to include others who were affected by this tragedy. Usually there were records that gave me flashes of inspiration, such as the many telegrams sent by frantic parents eager for news of their sons, or newspaper mentions of the medical professionals who cared for injured students at the Amherst, NS hospital. My job was simply to breathe life into them.

    Mount Allison campus, ca. 1904. Mount Allison University Archives -- 2007.07/51

    Rebecca: I’ve read a lot of Canadian literature recently and the elements and the landscape really prove themselves to be pivotal characters in our country’s stories, time and again. Sackville, New Brunswick is, in my mind, known for its proximity to the marshlands and of course any story set in the east conjures up some imagery of water or shorelines no matter the setting’s proximity to the coast. Your focus on the fire is of course apt and points to danger (an obvious one in this case) in the otherwise idyllic landscape. How did you go about incorporating this perspective into the story, and what kind of mood or zone did you have to get into to do this? I presume the writing process was different from the other perspectives you wrote.

    Renée: The voice of the fire came to me unexpectedly near the end of my first draft. I had not intended to anthropomorphize the fire itself, but as soon as I wrote the words down, I knew I had found the central thread that would allow me to bring so many disparate perspectives together.

    I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I was inspired by novels like Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, which is narrated by Death. I remembered Zusak saying in an interview that he endeavoured not to make Death sound malicious. I had the same intention when writing from the perspective of the fire. I wanted it to be more of an observer than a villain.

    While the book is in third-person narration, when the voice of the fire appeared, it was in first-person. It was also much more poetic, so I did have to put myself in a different mindset to expand that perspective (usually by reading poetry). But I had spent the entire novel shifting perspectives and adopting different voices, and Fire was simply an extension of that.

    Mount Allison men’s residence fire, 16 December 1941. Mount Allison University Archives – 2007.07/962.

    Rebecca: You’ve chosen to highlight so many voices rather than just focus on a select few. You also chose to come back to some voices time and again, whereas others seem to have their moment and we don’t necessarily hear from them again. How did you make these choices? How many narrators or perspectives is too many? I think many readers are used to a duo or perhaps trio of narrators, especially in current historical fiction, but you’ve surpassed that — without causing confusion. How have readers responded to this and is it something you think you could take on again?

    Renée: I’m so glad to hear you didn’t find it confusing! Not every reader agrees, but this narrative structure was inspired by the archival records themselves. There were so many voices speaking to me from the archives that I never imagined writing it any other way. The book intentionally lacks in depth in favour of breadth. I wanted to show how many people had been impacted by this fire, and how it had affected them in different ways.

    As with all historical research, there were contradictory accounts in the archives, which, to me, is as important as the story itself. By including all these voices, I was able to dive deep into the nature of truth.

    I did initially compile a list of all the perspectives I wanted to include in the book, but writing was a much more fluid experience. From one day to the next, I got to choose which voice I wanted to embody. It was a very intuitive process. I didn’t focus on the number, but my editor and I did eventually cut or combine a few of them for the sake of clarity.

    There is a long tradition of writers using this interconnected format in short story collections, and I would gladly take up the challenge again in that medium.

    Rebecca: As archivists, we know records are not neutral: there’s bias in the historical record, there’s bias in the published record (for example newspapers). And certainly, for the characters in your novel, they have their own personal biases and perspectives as the tragedy unfolds. How did you balance your professional training, your creative spirit and your (presumed) desire to tell an honest account of what transpired during that horrific night?

    Renée: Throughout my research I was faced with contradictory accounts of what happened that night, and I also encountered recollections that were refuted by the records themselves. That, I think, was the most interesting part of this project.

    There is a slogan pinned to the wall of the Mount Allison University Archives which reads, “The truth is in here somewhere.” It is part of our job as archivists to find the “truth”— but truth is malleable, and memory is fallible. The experience of writing this book really made that clear for me, and fiction enabled me to play on that a bit.

    Spoiler alert: I was recently asked why I did not make up a cause for the fire, which was deemed accidental. I was not willing to take so much creative license. There is always room for interpretation, but as an archivist, I wanted to remain faithful to the written record.

    Rebecca: Do you think that being an archivist helps or hinders the historical fiction writing process?

    Renée: I think it helps, especially with the research process. Not only are our technical and research skills invaluable, but as an archivist, I approach the records with so much respect for the individuals depicted in them.

    Archivists are not supposed to interpret records, but I see my writing as an extension of my work as an archivist. By writing about history in an approachable way, I am doing outreach and inviting readers in.

    Rebecca: Do you have other projects on the go that you’d like to share?

    Renée: My current novel-in-progress was also inspired by voices I encountered in the archives, but I’m approaching it differently. Although I fictionalized the characters in The Sound of Fire, I was surprised by how many readers were able to correctly identify the real individuals who inspired them. This time, I’m writing about a larger historical event and supplementing my archival research with plenty of literature so that I can draw on the experiences of many rather than a few and envision new characters entirely.

    I’m also continuing to focus on Canadian history. Archivists throughout the country know how many fascinating stories are hidden in our collections!

    Rebecca: Do you have advice for any other aspiring authors in the archival or information science world?

    Renée: The magic is in the details, and archival records are full of details that are glossed over in history books. Take note of what sparks and sustains your interest!


    Renée Belliveau is a writer and archivist from Sackville in the Siknikt district of Mi’kma’ki (New Brunswick). She is the author of The Sound of Fire, a novel based on the true story of the devastating 1941 fire at Mount Allison University, and a memoir about her father’s battle with cancer entitled Les étoiles à l’aube. She holds degrees from Mount Allison University, the University of Waterloo, and the University of Toronto. Follow her on Instagram: @reneecbelliveau

    Rebecca Murray is a Senior Reference Archivist at Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa, Ontario. She is an avid reader and Editor of the In the Field blog.

  • 11 Oct 2022 8:00 AM | Anonymous member

    Emma Metcalfe Hurst is in the final year of her MASLIS the UBC iSchool. Her areas of interest include community and artist archives, intellectual property rights, and public programming. She currently works as an archivist at VIVO Media Arts Centre and Karen Jamieson Dance. 

    Item E-04633 - Alert Bay. BC Archives. [ca. 1917].

    This post is a continuation of
    Archival Research, Indigenous Protocols, and Documentary Filmmaking: A Case Study of British Columbia – An Untold History, a two-part blog post that reflects on my experience as an archival researcher for the documentary TV series, British Columbia – An Untold History, and the three key steps – education, relationship-building, and identification – that led to the creation and implementation of an Indigenous Protocol in the production of the series. This post concludes by sharing some individual observations that point to some challenges, setbacks, and changes that arose in doing this work in hopes of using it as a guide for future consideration and improvement in documentary filmmaking practices.

    Read Part 1 here.


    One of our first undertakings as a team was to look for existing literature on using Indigenous archival materials, and more specifically within film and media contexts
    . The On-Screen Protocols and Pathways: A Media Production Guide to Working with First Nations, Métis and Inuit Communities, Cultures, Concepts and Storiesserved as our foundation, specifically Chapter 5. Working with Archival Materials,which was written by Marcia Nickerson with contributions from Alanis Obomsawin, Loretta Todd, Jesse Wente, Lisa Jackson, Gregory Younging, Hank White, Jean Francois Obomsawin, Stephan Agluvak Puskas, and Alethea Arnaquq-Baril (amongst others), as a commission for imagineNATIVE, the world's largest Indigenous Film and Media Arts Festival. The guide is intended to be used by “screen-storytellers and production companies wishing to feature First Nations, Métis or Inuit people, content or concepts (traditional or contemporary cultures, knowledge or intellectual property) in their films, television programs and digital media content” (Nickerson, 2019, p.6) to:  

    • Provide decision-making guidelines for communities, content creators, funding bodies, and industry partners; 

    • Share best practices developed by Indigenous screen storytellers; 

    • Educatescreen content creators, production companies and gatekeepers about Indigenous worldviews, cultural and property rights, and the protection of Indigenous cultural practices; and finally, 

    • Encourage informed, respectful dialogue between communities, content creators, and production companies (Nickerson, 2019, p.6).  

    Other related resources that were consulted were shared in the course syllabi of FNEL 480A: Endangered Language Documentation and Revitalization with Dr. Candace Kaleimamoowahinekapu Galla and ARST 585: Information Practice and Protocol in Support of Indigenous Initiatives with Dr. Tricia Logan, offered through UBC’s iSchool and First Nations and Endangered Languages (FNEL) Program. These texts include: 

    The Series Producer, Leena Minifie, also hosted a mandatory Indigenous Protocol training session to review the protocols and procedures laid out by imagineNATIVE’sguide, and expanded on the concepts by educating on local Indigenous cultural protocols, storytelling practices, consent processes, and governing structures. Conversations around anti-discrimination and anti-oppression within archival research were also part of the training. The session was not only attended by the team of archival researchers, but also by the producers and editors to ensure knowledge and resources were being equally distributed to the filmmaking team at large to build awareness, understanding, and compliance across all levels of the production.


    The colossal task of contacting First Nations groups and individual community members in BC was originally initiated by the Series Producer, Leena Minifie, and Lead Researcher, Jennifer Chiu, to begin relationship-building and to determine who (if any one individual person or a group) has the authority within the community to give consent to the use of archival materials that depict members and ancestors of their Nation. This work occurred prior to my arrival as an archival researcher, but my understanding is that once the archival materials had been selected for use in the final cut, a dialogue began again with the Nations / individuals to clear permissions for use if they contained “Indigenous Content” and / or were designated as “Culturally Sensitive Materials,” based on the definitions listed above. Efforts to consult with the Repatriation department at the Royal BC Museum (RBCM) and the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre to discuss protocols for access and dissemination of culturally sensitive archival materials were ongoing at the time of my departure. A consultation meeting with Lou-ann Neel, Acting Head of Indigenous Collections & Repatriation Department and Curator of Indigenous Collections at the RBCM at the time, also took place to discuss, compare, exchange, and identify gaps in our methodologies.


    It was imperative that the archival researchers included descriptive metadata for all of the archival materials entered in the internal database system in order to identify and retrieve all of the Indigenous materials selected for the series. This process followed a high-level to low-level identification strategy. After retrieving all of the Indigenous materials from the database, myself, the licensing and permissions specialists, and the series producer developed and applied a classification system that determined the “cultural sensitivity” of an item based on how much metadata (specifically date, location, and Nation) was available to identify and describe it,3 as well as other visual indicators (to the best of our knowledge) that would fall under the definition of “Culturally Sensitive Materials,” meaning: images that depict Indigenous masks and carvings, traditional regalia, sacred ceremonies (such as potlatch), places (such as gravesites), and the institutionalization of Indigenous peoples including hospitals and Indian Residential Schools and students – with particular attention paid to the date of the creation in respect to survivors. We identified three classifications of images in this process: those that were “complete” and included all of the associated metadata that we needed for context and to seek consent from the Nation or authoritative consenting figure; those that were “incomplete” due to missing some essential information and which required further research and consultation; and those that were “exempt” and completely unusable due to a lack of attainable information (commonly referred to as “orphan images” in the field of archives) and the high cultural sensitivity of the content. This classification system was included in the metadata of each individual item in the database and informed next steps for clearing licensing and permissions, as well as the final selection of archival materials for the series. 


    Item : CVA 137-2 - [Indigenous fisher]4 catching salmon in the Fraser Canyon. City of Vancouver Archives. [ca. 1893].

    Typically, resources such as labour and time to take on a project of this scale are often extremely limited. Institutions generally don’t have employees who can devote sustained attention to and assistance with a multi-part project of this size, and most documentary film projects don’t have a whole team of twelve archivists to work with. Imbalances of labour were also present in that BIPOC employees were often tasked with performing extra emotional labour through relationship- and trust-building with Indigenous communities, educating others, imparting information as designated authorities with specialized cultural knowledge, in addition to their regular responsibilities. The fast pace and quick turnover demands of the film industry also felt at odds at times with archival research and consent processes, which asks for sensitivity, self-reflexivity, and meaningful relationship-building; all of which takes (and should take!) time.5 More conversations and consideration in the early stages of the project for Indigenizing description, such as incorporating Indigenous languages into descriptive metadata, would have also been welcomed. Indigenizing description would have also provided an opportunity to subvert the racist and bigoted language that we often found used to describe and locate archival materials and documents. Overall, the main hindrance of the project was time (always at a premium) and labour (always restricted by budgets).

    While the clearance work was still ongoing when I left the production, I believe the success of the project was in its refusal to accept current industry standards in documentary film production; the efforts made towards rethinking “best practices” in documentary filmmaking which is primarily concerned with intellectual property rights and ownership (copyright and fair use) by instead seeking consent directly from the Nation communities represented in the archival materials; and the implementation of new strategies and educational opportunities with the support of the Director and Producers which sought to remediate harmful practices of the past. By challenging industry standards in documentary film production through the development and implementation of an Indigenous Protocol, this archival research process has laid the foundation for others to reference and to carry on. In the future, I would encourage directors, producers, and archival researchers to consider how this framework of direct community consent and cultural sensitivity may also be applied to other racialized groups (under)represented in archives and historical documentary contexts.6

    Thank you to Hans Ongsansoy and Leena Minifie for the editorial feedback and support on the original paper.

    End Notes

    3 - After my work with the series was complete, I came across the CFLA-FCAB’s Indigenous Matters Committee’s Red Team-Joint Working Group on Classification and Subject Headings and the National Indigenous Knowledge and Language Alliance (NIKLA)’sFirst Nations, Métis, and Inuit Indigenous Ontology Google Doc Spreadsheet (2020) which would have been a useful resource to consult for this work.

    4 - Title changed to address outdated and racist language in the original title.

    5 - Kimberly Christen’s article “Towards Slow Archives” (2019) puts forth the idea and practice of “the slow archives” as a decolonizing approach which creates a temporal disruption to make space for listening, critical reflection, relationship-building, and intentional acts.

    6 - Over the last decade, archival literature has addressed the concept of permission and consent, specifically in the areas of community archives and Indigenous archives. See for example: “Archival Consent” (2018) by Julie Botnick; “The Role of Participatory Archives in Furthering Human Rights, Reconciliation and Recovery” (2014) by Anne J. Gilliland and Sue McKemmish; and “Come Correct or Don’t Come at All:” Building More Equitable Relationships Between Archival Studies Scholars and Community Archives” (2021) by Michelle Caswell et al.

    Sources Cited

    Local Contexts. “About.” Last modified 2022.

    Local Contexts. “TK Labels – TK Culturally Sensitive.” Last modified 2022.

    Museum of Anthropology. “The Collections.” Last modified 2022.

    Museum of Anthropology. “Guidelines for the Management of Culturally Sensitive Materials.” 2020.

    Nickerson, Maria. ON-SCREEN PROTOCOLS & PATHWAYS: A Media Production Guide to Working with First Nations, Métis and Inuit Communities, Cultures, Concepts and Stories, May 15, 2019.

  • 4 Oct 2022 8:00 AM | Anonymous member

    Emma Metcalfe Hurst is in the final year of her MASLIS the UBC iSchool. Her areas of interest include community and artist archives, intellectual property rights, and public programming. She currently works as an archivist at VIVO Media Arts Centre and Karen Jamieson Dance. 

    Poster for British Columbia: An Untold History, produced by 1871 Productions Inc. and Screen Siren Pictures for Knowledge Network.

    Developing an Indigenous Protocol for a documentary is an ongoing, multi-step process where a one-size-fits-all approach does not apply. Despite the compressed deadlines that are standard in the television and filmmaking industry, as well as the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic during production, telling a collaborative and culturally sensitive story requires the time and care that an Indigenous Protocol mandates. I learned this first-hand while working as an archival researcher for the documentary TV series British Columbia: An Untold History, produced by 1871 Productions Inc., a subsidiary of Screen Siren Pictures, which aired on Knowledge Network. In this role, a pressing set of questions came forward that brought to bear on the project as a whole: How might one undertake ethical research in colonial archives and how can that approach be reflected in the filmmaking and production process? In this two-part blog post, I share how education, relationship-building, and identification became pillars of our project team's approach. In the second part, I provide a framework and suggestions for what can be done better the next time the cameras roll.

    From February through October 2020, I worked as one of six archival researcher student interns and one of twelve researchers (in total) in the archives department for British Columbia – An Untold History.1 The series covers a wide ranging history of the province now known as “British Columbia” through a multi-narrative and story-telling approach. The project also includes an interactive digital media timeline that supports the series by sharing additional stories, personal accounts, archival photos, and documents. Both the TV series and digital media timeline were created and conceived of as online educational tools for secondary and post-secondary schools, memory institutions, and educators throughout the province and beyond.

    During my time with the production, I did a significant amount of archival research in online databases of both large institutions, as well as regional and community archives, to source archival materials that supported the stories included in the documentary series and the digital media timeline. I also worked with the personal archives of individuals featured in the series. Communicating and building relationships with individuals, as well as professional archivists and local historians by exchanging stories, archival materials, knowledge, and resources was a meaningful and necessary part of this work.

    In this project, archival photographs, moving images, and textual documents are used to tell a history of the emergence of British Columbia, which joined confederation in 1871. Needless to say, it was essential for us – not only as archival researchers, but also as a production team as a whole – to think critically about the ways in which we were sourcing and using archival materials, and the people who are inextricably connected to and represented in them. Because archival records have long been used as tools to uphold power, it was imperative for us to begin by acknowledging that archives are not neutral and neither is the act of working with them – especially for a historical documentary; a filmic genre that typically declares authority and proclaims fact. It was also important for us to recognize that the majority of archival records we gathered either overtly or covertly document and legitimize the creation of the colonial nation state of “Canada” and “British Columbia,”2 and that the majority of these records continue to be housed and preserved by state-funded and operated institutions, instead of with the communities who were documented – if they were documented at all. Many of these archival records are also deeply connected to Indigenous nations and peoples who preceded European colonization in the Pacific Northwest of “British Columbia,” who endured and resisted intentional acts of genocide, cultural assimilation, and displacement from their lands by the state and foreign settlers. Additionally, racialized immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers – many of whom experienced government-sanctioned exploitation, discrimination, marginalization, and extradition – also suffered and endured, as evidenced by historical records and personal accounts. With all of this in mind, I sought to approach this work experience by asking: How might one undertake ethical research in colonial archives, and how can that approach be reflected in the filmmaking process?  

    MAP 537 Lower Mainland, B.C. : land subdivision. [1870?], copied [197-?]. City of Vancouver Archives.

    Within the context of documentary filmmaking, my attempt to answer these questions lay in the disruption of industry standards, focusing specifically on the licensing, rights, and clearances department which dictates how archival materials are acquired and used in film. Under the leadership of the Series Producer, Leena Minifie, an Indigenous Protocol initiative was developed and implemented with assistance from myself, the series’ licensing and permissions specialists, and others to function as an internal system for identifying and clearing items-for-use that contained “Indigenous content”which meant: images that depict Indigenous people, ceremonies, sacred places, and traditional practices. In the first episode, about half of the images that were collected for use and identified as “Indigenous” could be categorized as “Culturally Sensitive Materials” today. The Museum of Anthropology’s Management of Culturally Sensitive Material Guidelines define “culturally sensitive materials” as “items that, owing to their power, require special care and handling and/or may only be viewed by certain people” (Museum of Anthropology, 2020). Additionally, MOA acknowledges that culturally sensitive materials “may have a non-material side embodying cultural rights, values, knowledge and ideas which are not owned or possessed by MOA, but are retained by the originating communities” (Museum of Anthropology, n.d.). Local Contexts, an international consortium of information practitioners dedicated to “[supporting] Indigenous communities to manage their intellectual and cultural property, cultural heritage, environmental data and genetic resources within digital environments” (About, 2022) suggests using a “Culturally Sensitive” Traditional Knowledge label on materials to identify “cultural and / or historical sensitivities” (TK Culturally Sensitive, 2022). This can include materials that “[have] only recently been reconnected with the community from which it originates, that the community is currently vetting and spending time with the material, and / or that the material is culturally valued and needs to be kept safe” (TK Culturally Sensitive, 2022). Cultural sensitivities for a material may “...arise from legacies of colonialism [...], the use of derogatory language or descriptive errors within the content and/or content descriptions” (TK Culturally Sensitive, 2022). In consideration of these two definitions, it was important for us to recognize the implications of using such archival materials in the documentary, and to lay out the necessary steps to determine whether or not it would be ethically sound to do so.

    Developing the Indigenous Protocol for the series was an ongoing, multi-step process where a one-size-fits-all approach did not apply. In many ways, it was ever-shifting due to the specific informational and cultural needs of each item and subsequently, each individual Nation, Band, or Tribe. The ever-expanding network of professional and personal connections continued to build upon previous work – work that was not always visible or that I was privy to. For these reasons, in the second part of this blog post, I will share three steps – education, relationship-building, and identification – that were undertaken to my knowledge and based on my first-hand experience to help develop the Indigenous Protocol for the series. It is also important to recognize prior thinking and work that influenced the development of this protocol. Lastly, I will conclude with a few individual observations that point to some challenges, setbacks, and changes that arose in doing this work in hopes of using it as a guide for future consideration and improvement in documentary filmmaking practices.

    Thank you to Hans Ongsansoy and Leena Minifie for the editorial feedback and support on the original paper. 

    End Notes  

    1 - Prior to working on the documentary series as an Archival Research student intern, I assisted with archival research to develop stories to pitch to Knowledge Network, beginning in December 2018.

    2 - See for example, Rachel Alpha Johnston Hurst’s article “Colonial Encounters at the Turn of the Twentieth Century: ‘Unsettling’ the Personal Photograph Albums of Andrew Onderdonk and Benjamin Leeson” (2015) which addresses the role of photography as a documentary tool to fictionalize and validate colonial settlement of British Columbia at the turn of the 20th century. 

    Sources Cited

    Local Contexts. “About.” Last modified 2022.

    Local Contexts. “TK Labels – TK Culturally Sensitive.” Last modified 2022. 

    Museum of Anthropology. “The Collections.” Last modified 2022.

    Museum of Anthropology. “Guidelines for the Management of Culturally Sensitive Materials.” 2020.

    Nickerson, Maria. ON-SCREEN PROTOCOLS & PATHWAYS: A Media Production Guide to Working with First Nations, Métis and Inuit Communities, Cultures, Concepts and Stories, May 15, 2019.

  • 22 Sep 2022 8:00 AM | Anonymous member

    Amy Tector works at Library and Archives Canada and is adjunct professor at the University of Ottawa and a sessional instructor at Carleton University. Amy’s debut novel, The Honeybee Emeralds, was published in spring 2022. Her second novel, The Foulest Things, is the first in a loose trilogy centered on murders and mayhem in the archives. Follow her on Instagram @amytectorwrites.

    Rebecca Murray is a Senior Reference Archivist at Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa, Ontario.  She is an avid reader and Editor of the In the Field blog.

    On what felt like the hottest day in Ottawa this summer, local author and archivist Amy Tector biked to meet me at a coffee shop just west of downtown.  Our sandalled feet bobbed under the tiny table, and our cold drinks perspired in the heat despite the air-conditioned store.

    Amy’s most recent novel, The Foulest Things, (to be published September 27th, 2022) is a murder mystery set in Ottawa.  The protagonist is Jess Novak, a newly employed archivist at the Dominion Archives.  She’s working through a series of farm ledgers that have just been acquired through auction (there’s a great side story about a cardigan mishap), and she stumbles across letters that date from the early days of the First World War, linking the past to the present.  I asked Amy about her choice to use letters as the connection to the past and as a way to shed light on a contemporary mystery.

    Amy told me that almost everything she’s written has been influenced in some way or another by A. S. Byatt’s Possession (which, no, I haven’t read but have added to my list!) Amy admitted that writing the letters was tricky; she needed to convey information specific to the storyline yet be natural and channel the character.  Amy wrote The Foulest Things at the same time as she was completing her PhD in literature with a focus on representations of disability in Canadian novels of the First World War.  Immersed in the perspectives of young men from that era, she was able to take what she’d learnt from these works and use that as inspiration in her own writing.

    The letters play a key part in the contemporary mystery, and it’s a popular theme in the historical fictionesque genre to use historical letters as a way to dip into a historical perspective or storyline without devoting every second or third chapter to that perspective or narrative.  Amy’s done it in a really thoughtful and creative way, giving the protagonist another layer of historical detail to absorb as she balances placating her mother, trying to stay on her boss’s good side, and keeping her snoopy colleague at bay.  Not to mention having a social life!

    Before I had finished reading The Foulest Things, I already knew that Jess Novak was a great protagonist and that she’d speak to a lot of professionals in the GLAM sector.  I noticed a lot of parallels between Jess and magazine intern Alice Ahmadi in Amy’s debut novel, The Honeybee Emeralds.  On the surface Alice and Jess are very different, but they both seem to fall into a story they couldn’t have seen coming, each grappling with secret histories while trying to figure out who to trust, how to make it to work on time, and still enjoy life as young women in the bustling metropolises of Ottawa (ahem) and Paris.  I think of Alice at the safety deposit box (you’ll need to read to find out more!) and Jess with the file folder of letters and can’t help but feel that they’re living through similar experiences.  I asked Amy to tell me a bit about her choice to put young female professionals at the front of these stories.

    Amy spoke of drawing inspiration from her students (she teaches at Carleton University) and of enjoying being in the classroom as a way to keep in touch with youth.  She told me, though, that the similarities between Jess and Alice were not planned and that hearing my thoughts was one of the lovely things about talking with readers - hearing about their reactions to her book, the things they loved the most, that have stayed with them, has really touched her as a writer.

    I think that many archivists could probably relate to Jess or Alice in that we’ve probably all got a special box, collection, or memory that we can recall from those early moments in our career.  Something that shaped our work, touched us deeply, and that perhaps has given us that touchstone from which to continue our work over the years.  Am I the only one with an email folder or One Note tab of good memories related to my work?  It’s not exactly a safety deposit box at a historic bank in Paris. Maybe it’s a little closer to Jess’s file folder?  Something that caught our fascination, that puzzled us, that drew us further into the line of work that surely revealed more surprises than we could have anticipated when we started.

    I asked Amy about her thoughts on the relationship between being an archivist and a creative writer.  She agrees that there’s definitely something there.  The potential for storytelling as a result of our work, our interactions with records and researchers, opens the door to something more.  She spoke of opening a box and looking at records, such as photographs, and asking herself: What's in here?  What can I learn?  Archival records are amazing sources for feeding creative and artistic interest, whether it's writing or another medium.  Archives are rich repositories of stories, many of them waiting to be told.

    I asked Amy if she had any advice or for other aspiring authors, especially those in the GLAM sector.  She said, “Believe if you write that you are a writer - no caveats needed.”

    Amy really emphasized the importance of finding a group of people to share writing with.  She said she’s been with the same group for almost 20 years and has learned from both the critiques she’s been given and that she herself has given to others.

    She also recommends The Shit No One Tells You About Writing podcast, which focuses on the craft of writing and the publishing process with a focus on the Canadian context.

    As busy as she’s been writing and editing, Amy’s also been reading a lot!  Her favourites this year include Letters to Amelia (Lindsay Zier-Vogel), which is chock full of archives content (including historic love letters!); The Final Look (Dianne Scott), a novel set on Toronto Island in the 1960s, which Amy found fascinating; and Dark August (Katie Tallo), a murder mystery set in Hintonburg.

    Amy has three forthcoming titles (Keylight Books): The Foulest Things, Speak for the Dead, and Honor the Dead.

  • 2 Aug 2022 8:00 AM | Anonymous member

    Olivia White is a Digital Preservation Archivist at Simcoe County Archives. Olivia completed her Master of Information and Master of Museum Studies at the University of Toronto. She is passionate about ensuring the stories within archival records can be preserved and shared far into the future.

    The 15th annual Archives and Technology Unconference (TAATU) occurred via Zoom on June 14, co-chaired by Allie Querengesser and Andréa Tarnawsky. The event encourages anyone interested in IT and digital culture to contribute, as there is no minimum IT experience required. This was my second time attending the Unconference as a new professional, and I appreciated the breadth of resources shared during the conversations.

    With about 45 people in attendance, the session began with an icebreaker on Slido, which asked “What are you looking forward to the most about this year’s ACA Conference?” The most common replies related to connecting with others, particularly in person, and learning and listening to the discussions.  

    Figure 1: Screenshot of Icebreaker #1 on Slido, depicting a word cloud with participants’ responses

    A second icebreaker on Slido occurred later in the event, asking participants “Which tech skill or knowledge would you most like to have or improve on?” Coding in scripting languages, such as Python, was the most selected answer. 


    Figure 2: Screenshot of Icebreaker #2, depicting a ranking of participants' responses 

    Lightning Talks

    There were 9 five-minute lightning talks on a variety of topics.

    Peter Van Garderen:
    “Yes, #web3 stinks but hear me out…”

    Peter began by acknowledging the known concerns about Web3, particularly regarding the volatility of cryptocurrency and the common criticisms of NFTs. Peter discussed the potential of applying the functionalities of Web3 towards alternative uses. For example, Peter stated that the concept of registering unique documents to create NFTs could be used for representing assets such as land records.

    Kelsey Poloney:
    AtoM Import Tool for Formatting Bulk Descriptions at Simon Fraser University Archives

    Kelsey discussed the app they created that enables users to convert legacy CSV files into the Access to Memory (AtoM) template for ingest. Kelsey also provided links to additional apps they created: an
    image scanning resolution calculator, and an extent calculator using measurements of box sizes used at SFU.

    John Richan and Sarah Lake: Bitcurator at Concordia University Archives and Special Collections

    John outlined the process of establishing an internship to introduce and explore the application of the
    Bitcurator software at Concordia University Archives to improve upon workflow gaps. Sarah detailed their experience using digital preservation tools, designing workflows, and creating documentation while participating in the internship. 

    Rebecca Dickson:
    “What’s up with COPPUL’s WestVault?”

    Rebecca talked about the Council of Prairie and Pacific University Libraries’ WestVault, which is a “distributed digital preservation storage service that uses the LOCKSS platform” (Slide 3). Rebecca also discussed infrastructural challenges, and the current activities of the Preservation Infrastructure Working Group.

    Paul Hebbard and Andréa Tarnawsky: Crossing Fonds: Pollinating Access and Interpretation research project

    Paul and Andrea outlined the project’s goal to design a “replicable, open-source digital archive ecosystem that allows generous interaction, study, and exhibition” (“Project Goals,” Hebbart and Tarnawsky’s slides). Paul and Andrea also highlighted
    Wikidata and IIIF, and provided spreadsheets containing a growing list of open-source tools and platforms.

    Elizabeth-Anne Johnson: DANNNG (Digital Archival traNsfer, iNgest, and packagiNg Group)’s resources

    Elizabeth-Anne presented on the history of DANNNG and its resources, such as their Disk Imaging Decision Factors document, and Digital Archives Technical Glossary. Elizabeth-Anne also discussed DANNNG’s forthcoming Tool guide for those with all levels of experience performing digital forensics.

    Kelly Stewart: Industrializing Digital Preservation: Artefactual introduces Enduro

    Kelly introduced Enduro as a tool designed by Artefactual “to aid automation of Archivematica and surrounding workflows” (Artefactual Labs). Enduro performs metadata verification, monitors the ingest project, logs AIP storage, and other automated functions (Enduroproject).

    Corinne Rogers:Using Diplomatics for… Machine Learning? Applying AI to Archival Problems

    Corinne presented upon the InterPARES Trust AI research project aimed to “generate new knowledge on the uses of [Artificial Intelligence]” (“About the Research”). Corinne discussed how diplomatics and deep learning are being applied to digitized notarial parchments from the Middle Ages in Milan to generate a list of the surviving documents of Milanese notaries from the 12th and 13th centuries.

    Anna Dysert and Kelli Babcock: Updates from the AtoM Foundation

    Anna provided an
    AtoM Foundation update, detailing the sustainability of AtoM and community involvement as its overarching goals. Kelli provided an update for AtoM 3 by outlining the activities of the AtoM Foundation Roadmap Committee and the proposed design principles of AtoM 3, such as using archival terminology and its suitability for Linked Open Usable Data (LOUD).

    Group Brainstorming Sessions

    Email appraisal

    Several tools and resources were provided by participants in the discussion surrounding email appraisal, including:  

    Finally, the complexities surrounding archiving MS Team messages was discussed, as they are stored in a strange location in Online Outlook. It was proposed that the decisions made in MS Teams would likely be documented elsewhere, and thus their preservation may be rendered redundant.

    Conciliation of Record and Data Lifecycles

    The difficulties of coping with different lifecycles for records was discussed, as well as the need for digital preservation management to begin early in the records management lifecycle.
    The Relational DataBase Archiving Interest Group Mailing List was presented as a potential resource.

    In conclusion, the Unconference provided an excellent virtual collaboration space to share ideas and keep updated about current activities and research projects related to IT and digital culture.

  • 19 Jul 2022 8:00 AM | Anonymous member

    Faythe Lou is a settler on Katzie, Semiahmoo, and Kwantlen lands. She holds a Master of Archival Studies from the University of British Columbia and works for the City of Richmond. She is passionate about local history and currently volunteers as a member of the Surrey Heritage Advisory Commission. 

    From June 15 through 18th, I attended my first Association of Canadian Archivists (ACA) conference. This year, it was hosted at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in a hybrid format. I attended primarily in-person. UBC is on the unceded territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) First Nation, and I felt privileged to be welcomed into the space by the Musqueam people who generously shared their elements of their culture with us to open and close the conference. For those who haven’t attended an ACA conference, I highly recommend it! I graduated in the spring of 2020, and as you can imagine, my first two years in the field have been non-traditional, unprecedented, even. While my coworkers have been extremely welcoming and supportive, to be honest, working in half-empty offices and from home, alone, has been a bit isolating. Being immersed in the theory and surrounded by other archivists again brought me back to being in grad school in the best way. Now, with a couple of years of experience under my belt, I also felt like I could engage more deeply with the material and think more fully about the practical applications to my work. 

    Attending the ACA Conference, I really felt like a professional archivist! However, being a professional is strange. It comes with connotations of snobbery, gatekeeping, racism, and classism. In a way, feeling like a professional means that I’ve absorbed all the theory, complete with the colonial, racist, sexist, and heteronormative assumptions that come with it. Maybe being a professional archivist also means being a little bit of a know-it-all. 

    A couple of presenters with backgrounds in history remarked off-handedly in the beginning of their presentations that they felt intimidated to present at an archivists’ conference - after all, what could they tell archivists about archives? The theme of this year’s conference, Unsettled: Redefining Archival Power challenged us to be unsettled: to transform the way we view ourselves as professionals and our role in our community. Dominique Luster’s invitation to squeeze our top and bottom lips together and listen was a call that hit the room hard. She further advised to be more “interested than interesting.” To unsettle ourselves, we may need to get comfortable with not being the experts in the room. In fitting with the theme, various presentations discussed how traditional archival theory and practices have been actively harmful to people, communities, and records. Francis Garaba, in his presentation about decolonizing archives, called for a new start. He noted that decolonizing is really the act of re-humanizing the world. It is now widely accepted that archives reflect the inequitable power structures that existed and persist to today, which shapes which people and communities can access their past.  

    For many historically marginalized people, especially non-English speaking women, and other historically marginalized people, this means invisibility in the archives. In Laura Ishiguro’s animated and enthralling plenary, she discussed her own research journeys - adventures in finding and often not finding things while doing archival research. She took us through her research into the 1868 Barkerville fire, noting what records were in the archives but also all the evidence that was absent. She discussed how she’s coming to reconceptualize those absences as abundance. Archives are often the archives of those in power. Therefore, to analyze what isn’t there can tell stories about the lives of these marginalized people as they navigated the complex power structures of their times. During the session’s question period, one participant bemoaned the push towards digitization, often encouraged and demanded by historians, as causing archivists to focus their output on creating more content - sometimes at the expense of context. Ishiguro pointed out that academic historians too are pressured to produce more and more, forcing historians into a structure of work that punishes browsing, which can often lead to deeper understandings of the records. 

    For other historically marginalized communities, they are over-documented in government archives. One of the sessions I found the most interesting was “Lost and Found: Reconsidering Chinese Immigration records at 100 years since the Chinese Exclusion Act.” The speakers, June Chow, Catherine Clement, Henry Yu, and Emilie Létourneau discussed the types of records that document this history of Chinese immigration to Canada and the challenges with accessing and preserving them. I enjoyed how the speakers discussed how they’ve grappled with key archival concepts, like the significance of the creation of the records. Through decades of the Head Tax and the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1923, Chinese Canadians were over-documented by the government. Government officials insisted on documenting heights, weights, and even moles of each person. Clement discussed the Paper Trail to the 1923 Chinese Exclusion Act Project, which seeks to identify these records and build a digital collection. Most of these records are still in private family records, not in governmental repositories. June Chow discussed how the digital archive will use reparative description for the project. For example, the records will be arranged and described in one big series, rather than using the arbitrary division and numbering used by the government when issuing certificates, which traditionally would have resulted in multiple series. In this way, June explained, families which were separated by unjust policies will be reunited in this archival setting. The way the speakers grappled with archival theory in their work and adapted practices to do right by the people in their records is a great example of how archival practices can be used to uphold unjust power structures, but it doesn’t have to be this way. 

    In Ted Lee’s presentation, he discussed a series of articles and letters published in Archivaria in the 1980s, triggered by George Bolotenko’s 1984 article “Of Ends and Means: In Defence of the Archival Ideal.” Lee pointed out that within the many heated exchanges, the only person who wrote in to Archivaria to denounce the whole exchange was not a seasoned professional, but a student. When you’re a student or a recent graduate, you often feel like your main purpose in the workplace is to absorb and learn. While that’s true, you often lose sight of what you can offer - new insights and perspectives. As a UBC grad, an added bonus of an in-town conference was the opportunity to connect with classmates that I hadn’t seen since we all went home and stayed home in March 2020. During the breaks, it was great to discuss our journeys since graduating. We talked about the stress associated with precarious employment. Of course, the personal implications of precarity include financial instability, the inability to make big life decisions, and the lack of mental and physical health support. However, we also discussed the professional repercussions for the field as a whole. In a conversation with another new grad who found a permanent position around the same time as me, they confessed that it feels like they can engage in the ideas at the conference more fully now. You hold your breath when you’re precarious - you’re afraid to admit you’ve ever made a mistake at work - even if it’s just that you would maybe describe an item differently if you did it now. The conference theme called for us to be unsettled, but when you are precarious, your whole life is unsettled. We have to push for our field to support stable positions that enable archivists to engage in this challenging work.  

    There were many other projects that I found very interesting. In the Poster Lightning Round, Kim Stathers and David Pettitt from the University of Northern British Columbia shared their Rules of Archival Description (RAD) Physical Description Builder tool - a public and open-source tool that allows those who aren’t familiar with the descriptive standard to answer a series of questions in order to build a RAD compliant physical description. It’s public - I highly recommend checking it out! I also enjoyed hearing about Concordia University’s work to establish an Acquisitions Advisory Committee, first internally, and now beginning to branch out to the external community as well. Alexandra Mills talked about how acquisition is often an opaque and mysterious process to those outside the institution. By seeking out sustained external engagement, Concordia will be able to better reflect and serve its community. Alexandra noted that depositing records in an archival repository can cause a psychological distance between the community and its records. By involving the community in all aspects of archival functions, from acquisition to arrangement and description, Alexandra noted this distance could be bridged. I look forward to following the progress of Concordia’s Acquisitions Advisory Committee, as this could be a model that other institutional archives can look to implement. These are both examples of practicing archivists daring to imagine doing things differently. By sharing these projects with the conference attendees, their ingenuity will reach out further in the archival realm.  

    Overall, I had a great experience at my first ACA conference. I was lucky that it took place so close to home for me, as I could attend in-person, but the hybrid format allowed participants to attend from anywhere in the world. Additionally, many sessions were recorded and will be available to attendees for three months following the conference. As there were so many interesting concurrent sessions, it’s a huge benefit to be able to view the recordings afterwards. After a long day at the conference, when I couldn’t find anything to watch on Netflix, I even thought, “Maybe I should watch one of those sessions I missed..?” I didn’t, but I look forward to doing so over the next few months. 

  • 5 Jul 2022 8:00 AM | Anonymous member

    By Kailey Fukushima, Jordan Kerr, and Emma Moros

    Kailey Fukushima is a dual master’s student in Archival Studies and Library and Information Studies at the University of British Columbia. She earned her Master’s of Arts in English from the University of Victoria in 2020. Kailey is currently the ACA@UBC webmaster and communications executive.

    Jordan Kerr is a dual master’s student in Archival Studies and Library and Information Studies at the University of British Columbia. She earned her BA (honours) in history and sociology from the University of Victoria in 2021. Jordan is the former events coordinator and current publicity executive for the ACA@UBC.

    Emma Moros is a former communications professional and current student at UBC, pursuing a dual Masters of Archival Studies and Library and Information Studies. They were the communications executive for the ACA@UBC from 2021-2022 and are now a co-coordinator.


    The student-run University of British Columbia Chapter of the Association of Canadian Archivists (ACA@UBC) hosted its 13th annual Symposium and Seminar in an all virtual format on April 28-29, 2022. ACA@UBC welcomed twenty-seven dynamic speakers from around the world to discuss our central theme, “Transforming Archival Education.” This year’s conference theme asked archival communities to challenge and broaden their understanding of who archival education can serve and how, asking how does someone learn to be a good archivist, and what does being a “good archivist” mean? Seminar and Symposium topics ranged from decolonizing archival education, to working with non-archivists in archives, to teaching technology in archives.

    Of particular note in this year’s event was the inclusion of student lightning talks as well as the flexible virtual format. During the student talks, four archival students spoke about their ongoing projects and explained how their work could support or expand archival education. Even though the virtual format had some limitations, it allowed us to include speakers and attendees who may have been unable to join an in-person event due to reasons such as distance, cost, travel, time, and conflicts with care responsibilities. Informal community-building was still possible in a new format via our dedicated conference Padlet, and some attendees even hosted their own small in-person listening parties!


    The ACA@UBC Seminar took place during the first day of the two-day event, and attendees heard from ​​Jessica Bushey, Lisa Darms, Karen Suurtamm, and Ashlynn Prasad about their experiences working with non-archivists in the archives, and best practices they have identified for doing so. The role of emotional connection of donors and archival users to archives was a prominent point of discussion in this panel, which Jennifer Douglas, Anna St. Onge, Nicola Laurent, and Emily Larson expanded on during the “Preparing for Emotional Archives'' session. They spoke about emotional labour in the archival profession and the importance of community support and trauma-informed education and training for archivists. In the “Decolonization of Archival Practices and Education” panel, Tamara Rayan, Elizabeth Shaffer, Jesse Boiteau, and Danielle Robichaud came together to discuss decolonizing approaches to archival work and education. This included the colonial history of archives in Canada, the need for archival students to learn about decolonial theory and practice throughout their coursework, and examples of decolonizing work in Canada and Palestine. Krista McCracken, Moska Rokay, Marika Cifor, and Tomoko Shida concluded the day by speaking about “Unlearning Archival Education” and discussing how their work and academic experiences in other disciplines expanded and shaped their archival work.


    After a full day of interactive panel discussions, we returned on April 29 with a more familiar conference-style presentation format for the ACA@UBC Symposium.

    Graduate students Whitney Thompson, Nigel Town, Josh Wilson, and Charlotte Leonard kicked off the Symposium with 10-minute lightning talks in the “Student Voices” panel. Whitney Thompson presented her creative class project, Provenance--a Twine-based interactive fiction game that teaches players about fundamental archival concepts.  Next, Nigel Town discussed their co-op at the Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre, focusing on their contributions to the Women of Change exhibit. Josh Wilson then discussed his research on how critical theory could help build capacity for liberatory archival futures based on structured interviews he conducted with practicing archivists. Charlotte Leonard wrapped up the panel with a presentation on her work as an archivist for the Karen Jamieson Dance Company, with a special focus on the Coming Out of Chaos: A Vancouver Dance Story project. Attendees gave us positive feedback about this year’s inclusion of students’ voices and experiences, and we hope to feature similar opportunities in next year’s conference! 

    After “Student Voices,” we launched into two panels of traditional 20-minute conference-style presentations. First, Elaine Goh and Mpho Ngoepe presented on “Teaching non-Western Archives.” Elaine gave a critical review of Singapore’s archival histories, traditions, and systems of education. Mpho explained some disconnects among traditional archival concepts and South African modes of cultural documentation (e.g., showcasing African rock art archives) and then reflected on contemporary attempts to decolonize and Africanize archival curricula. The next panel, “Teaching Tech in Archives,” featured Richard Arias-Hernández and Walker Sampson. Richard discussed his pedagogical approach to teaching technology in archives, emphasizing community-engaged practices and experiential learning. Walker followed by reflecting on the challenges that video game archives pose to conventional archival practices and how the process of play can be preserved in video game archives. These two panels sparked lots of thought and discussion among our virtual audiences. 

    Our final panel of the day featured Rebecka Taves Sheffield and Sam Winn on “Teaching Community and Personal Archives.” After giving brief 10-minute introductions, the speakers opened the floor up for an interactive Ask Me Anything (AMA) session. Audience members asked questions about the role of community ownership of oral histories, death positivity in personal memory work, and self-care when engaging with emotionally-charged community and personal records, ending with a reflection on the values that community and personal archival practices might bring to traditional archives and recordkeeping. 

     After another full day of thought-provoking presentations, we wrapped up the Seminar and Symposium with closing remarks from our co-coordinator Kisun Kim and our faculty advisor, Professor Luciana Duranti. Luciana tied together many strands of thought from both days of the Seminar and Symposium, relating them to the broader history of recordkeeping and gesturing towards hopeful possibilities for the transformative futures of archival practice. 

    Key Takeaways 

    As we reflect on the many insightful discussions and presentations given by our twenty-seven speakers in the wake of our thirteenth annual ACA@UBC Seminar and Symposium, we wish to refer back to our guiding questions: how does someone learn to be a good archivist, and what does being a “good archivist” mean? The events of this year’s Seminar and Symposium offer an answer to this broad question.  Learning to be (and being) a good archivist requires flexibility in our ever-shifting professional and academic positions. It is essential to facilitate discussions between students, professionals, and academics because we are forever switching between these roles and learning from one another. In closing, if our Seminar and Symposium is any indication, the archival discipline is heading towards an exciting transformation– one we as students are thrilled to be a part of.

    On behalf of the ACA@UBC Executive Team of 2021-2022, we want to conclude by thanking everyone who helped make the ACA@UBC Seminar and Symposium a success. To all of the speakers, thank you for the generous gift of your time and for spurring so many thought-provoking discussions. Thank you to all of our student volunteers for moderating the panel discussions, presentations, and the chats, and to Dr. Luciana Duranti, our faculty advisor, for her supportive guidance during the planning of the event and for providing closing remarks. Thank you as well to the live captioning team who helped us with virtual conference accessibility. We are also deeply grateful for the generous support of the Association of Canadian Archivists, ARMA Vancouver, the Archives Association of British Columbia, and the Alma Mater Society of the University of British Columbia, which made this event possible.

  • 13 Jun 2022 8:00 AM | Anonymous member

    The ACA 2022 Annual Conference is approaching fast! The ACA blog, In the Field, is featuring the profiles of a few conference presenters. This post features R.L. Gabrielle Nishiguchi, Archivist at Library and Archives Canada.

    Q: What is the title of your conference presentation?

    Gabrielle: Decolonizing an Archives: The Japanese Canadian Internment Photographs

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

    Gabrielle: I am a government records archivist in the Society, Immigration, Employment, Indigenous and Government Affairs Section, Archives Branch, Library and Archives Canada (LAC). Before coming to LAC, I worked as a historical research consultant at the CBC, Parks Canada, and the Department of National Defence. My MA is from the School of Canadian Studies at Carleton University. I also have a Hon. BA in English Literature and a BSc (Cell Biology) from the University of British Columbia.

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

    Gabrielle: From 1941-1949, the Government of Canada took unprecedented actions taken against Japanese Canadians, including forced removal, internment, confiscation and sale of property and post-war deportations.Archival government and private records from the 1940s preserved by the then National Archives of Canada and used by community citizen activists were critical in building the Japanese Canadian case for Redress.By preserving the records that hold our government accountable in the face of injustice, I viewed our national archives to be one of Canada’s key fundamental democratic institutions and I wanted to work there.

    Q: What does the theme of the ACA 2022 conference, “Unsettled: Redefining Archival Power,” mean to you in terms of overall archival orientations and practice?

    Gabrielle: With respect to my own institution, redefining archival power means that Government of Canada (GC) archivists cannot remain neutral when describing records because neutrality re-enforces the prevailing dominant narrative. To my way of thinking, GC archivists must actively facilitate the creation of space for the emergence of minority narratives and voices that need our assistance to be recognized. This is not remaining neutral. This is choosing sides.And all power shifts are unsettling.

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

    Gabrielle: Learning how colleagues in other archives and memory institutions are having the hard and complex discussions about decolonization and how they are effecting change.  

    Caption: A group of Japanese Canadian deportees, who had been interned during the Second World War, waiting for a train to take them to a ship bound for Japan. Slocan City, British Columbia, 1946. Credit: Tak Toyota (c047398), Library and Archives Canada.

  • 10 Jun 2022 8:00 AM | Anonymous member

    The ACA 2022 Annual Conference is approaching fast! The ACA blog, In the Field, is featuring the profiles of a few conference presenters. This post features  June Chow, Master of Archival Studies candidate at the University of British Columbia (UBC) School of Information.

    Q: What is the title of your conference presentation?

    June: Our panel will speak on Lost and Found: Reconsidering Chinese Immigration records at 100 years since the 1923 Chinese Exclusion Act. It’s timely to discuss these records created through the discriminatory immigration legislation, and to share work to address the traumas embedded within them.

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

    June: I’m local to Vancouver; I did my Bachelors at Simon Fraser University and had a first career in major gifts fundraising at UBC. Over my time at UBC Library, I helped steward Dr. Wally Chung and his monumental gift of the Chung Collection benefiting academia and the Chinese Canadian community at large. It brings valuable donor relations and person-centered perspectives to my work and research on community archives.

    Q: What does the theme of the ACA 2022 conference, “UnSettled: Redefining Archival Power,” mean to you in terms of overall archival orientations and practice?

    June: Working in community archives and challenging how things are normally done, one can feel simultaneously powerful and powerless which is very unsettling. I’m not sure if it’s a symptom of pursuing graduate studies in a pandemic, but there seems to be a certain ‘TBD’ orientation tied to many issues across the archival field. I don’t yet know if it’s a characteristic of the profession, but maybe it should be to ensure adaptability.

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

    June: I study and practice community archives within Chinatown contexts, in complement to existing heritage and activism work. There’s not a lot of scholarship on Chinese Canadian archives, and very few Chinese Canadian archivists, speaking from here in Vancouver. Our panel is a small step towards addressing this gap. It’s a chance to examine the institutional and community roles and responsibilities that are being redefined together in the pursuit of archival access, accountability and equity. Maybe we’ll be able to build a better model for doing this work moving forward.

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

    June: I’m looking forward to the networking and social events! After attending school in a pandemic, it will be nice to get some face time. 

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