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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

  • 22 Nov 2022 8:00 AM | Anonymous member

    By Catherine Barnwell & Jacinthe Pepin

    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!

    Catherine: When I attended the Association of Canadian Archivists [ACA] Conference for the first time in 2021, I had been working in the field for about a year and a half. I participated in a panel session focused on “Acknowledging Emotions in Archival Education,” led by Elizabeth Bassett, Ted Lee, Christina Mantey, and Jennifer Douglas. Though I was still unfamiliar with much of archival theory, acknowledging the emotional aspect of archival work seemed like a novel approach that helped me make sense of some of the realities I experienced (and still experience) in my daily work on the reference desk.

    It seemed that there were parallels to be drawn between this perspective of archival work and the health field, but more specifically with nursing practice and theory. The concept of care is primordial to the discipline of nursing – and has been used in recent years by some thinkers to describe the affective relationships that are at the heart of archival work (Caswell & Cifor, 2016). This led me to ask what archivists could learn from research in nursing regarding person-centred care. Consulting existing frameworks for person-centred care from the field of nursing, and opening a dialogue with our colleagues in that discipline, could be the firsts steps in identifying the building blocks of a person-centred framework for archivists.

    First, Jacinthe, can you tell me a bit about yourself and your field of research?  

    Jacinthe: Early in my academic career, I was asked to reflect and write on the nature of nursing. With colleagues, we gathered responses given by nurse scholars and theorists in both French and English. A recurrent answer to the question was that nursing is both an art and a science, a relational and scientific practice, and that “le soin” [care] is the main focus of the nursing discipline together with the person and family’s health experiences (Pepin et al., 2017). Person-centred care/nursing and family-centred care/nursing are among the well-known frameworks guiding the clinical nursing practice.

    C: How would you define care in the field of nursing? And what is person-centred care?

    J: Many definitions of care can be found in the nursing literature but invariably, the patients and families and their health are at the centre of what we mean by care: listening to patients describing their specific health situations and contexts, evaluating patients’ health and their health projects or suggested treatments with them in relation with their values, beliefs, and habits, and joining reflection and knowledge to action in life transitions and life-threatening situations. McCormack and McCance (2006) were among the first authors to propose a person-centred nursing framework, whose processes include “engagement, sharing decision-making, having sympathetic presence, providing for physical needs, and working with the patients’ beliefs and values” (p. 476). What the authors call the care environment includes power-sharing and the potential for innovation and risk-taking.

    Further, in their Clinical Best Practice Guidelines, the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario [RNAO] (2015) raised the ethical perspective where health-care providers demonstrate “person-centred-care attitudes and behaviours that are respectful of the whole person and their preferences, are culturally sensitive, and involve the sharing of power within a therapeutic alliance to improve clinical outcomes and satisfaction” (p. 7). With events such as the death of the Atikamekw woman Joyce Echaquan in a health care milieu in Quebec, cultural safety and cultural humility are now at the forefront of what we mean by patient- and family-centred care. How do you envision the place that care occupies in the field of archives?

    C: It strikes me that these definitions, though they emerge from an entirely different field of research and practice, resonate with the Reconciliation Framework for Canadian archives in response to the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission [TRC] (The Steering Committee on Canada’s Archives, 2022). Among the strategies proposed for improving professional archival practice, the framework includes “providing First Nations-, Inuit-, and Métis-led cultural competency training” for archival staff (p. 35) and ensuring that reference archivists are trained to provide trauma-informed services to researchers consulting “emotionally distressing archival material” (p. 38).

    When I think of the place that care occupies in archival work, I think first and foremost of my interactions with researchers in my role as a reference archivist at The Archive of the Jesuits in Canada. Of course, care is not limited to the relationship between archivist and researcher: it extends to all types of interpersonal relationships that form the fabric of our work. As Marika Cifor and Michelle Caswell (2016) write, archivists have “affective responsibilities” towards creators and donors of archival material, users of archival material, the people who are documented within the records, as well as broader communities (p. 24-25). For example, at The Archive of the Jesuits, I work with many researchers looking for genealogical information. Notably, The Archive holds material that speaks to encounters between Jesuits and various Indigenous communities across North America since the 17th century, including materials regarding the residential school operated by the Jesuits in Ontario. Ensuring that these archival documents are made accessible to Indigenous researchers and communities, and ensuring that researchers feel safe and welcomed in the reading room, is a priority.

    Are culturally competent care and person-centred care currently being integrated into nursing curricula? If so, how are they being taught?

    J: In nursing, actions are gradually being implemented throughout Canada to meet health-related recommendations of the TRC: 22 (integration of Indigenous healing practices into nursing care), 23 (recruitment and inclusion of Indigenous professionals and cultural safety education for all health professionals) and 24 (requirement for all to learn about Aboriginal health issues, including the history and legacy of residential schools, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples). At the last national day for Truth and Reconciliation, the Faculty of Nursing at Université de Montréal, together with the Centre intégré universitaire de santé et de services sociaux [CIUSSS] Centre-Sud-de-Montréal, held a Cercle de parole with Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants to share health experiences in the hope of regaining trust; this was an event open to our students and to all nurses and health professionals. Our planning committee included Indigenous and non-Indigenous members of the Faculty and the CIUSSS. Only through collaboration and power-sharing can we create authentic learning activities.

    In proposing a person-centred care framework for nursing as well as for archives, one key concept would be cultural safety, which includes cultural humility.

    C: It’s interesting that the Cercle de parole event brought together students, academic researchers, and nurses who practise in different clinical environments.

    In addition to my position at The Archive of the Jesuits, I worked as a research assistant under the supervision of Anne Klein at Université Laval in 2021-2022. This project, focusing on the archives of the Québécoise playwright Pol Pelletier, entailed taking stock of her documents and compiling an inventory, with a view to assembling her fonds and preparing it for donation. Since I was unfamiliar with the history of theatre in Quebec, we decided to survey the documents together so I could better understand their context and meaning. Our method of working evolved as Pol began to understand the how and why of archival practice, and as I began to understand her artistic career and the makeup of her archive. Some days we had the stamina to go through many files; other days, one of us would be tired, or had something else on our mind. Some files also touched upon heavier topics that demanded more mental and emotional energy. The nature of this project required that I be attuned to Pol and to her needs and wants. This experience speaks to Caswell and Cifor’s (2016) proposition to rethink the archivist’s role as that of a caregiver.

    J: It seems that the relationship you are developing with Pol is one of true presence, of journeying with her as you go through her files: it reflects engagement from both of you towards the same goal. McCormack and McCance (2006) wrote that engagement is a marker of the quality of the nurse-patient relationship and is one of the patient-centred care processes. Nurses often find it hard to not be able to spend as much time with their patients and families as they see would be required. It could even lead nurses to lose some of the meaning they find in their work, since care is so ingrained in nursing.

    C: Engagement could be a second building block for a framework of person-centred archival practice. This would inevitably look different in different working contexts. In the case of the project with Pol Pelletier, we had no hard deadlines. Building upon the work of Christian Hottin (2003), who considers that the acquisition process can be viewed as the establishment of an interpersonal relationship, we were able to first spend time getting to know each other, which then facilitated the process of working through her archives together. However, I am conscious that archivists working within institutional settings would have to balance engagement with donors or researchers with the myriad of other tasks they have to accomplish within their work hours.

    Another interesting aspect of the project surrounding Pol Pelletier’s archives has been the possibility of integrating Pol’s own ideas about her archives into my way of working. When I began to compile the inventory, the archival decisions I made were not based on institutional policies, but rather were rooted in my conversations with Pol and reflected the particularities of this work environment. Together, we brainstormed what the “final product” of this project would look like: for instance, where she would like her archives to be kept and what type of researchers would use them – historians, but also artists and the general public. We have not yet arrived at the final stages of transferring the fonds to a repository, but these discussions between Pol and myself have been vital to the development of the project and of my own archival practice.

    J: Interesting. In her Strengths-based approach to nursing and health care, in which person-centredness is a pillar, Gottlieb (2013) insists on collaborative partnership where knowledge and decision-making are shared. It requires that partners set goals jointly and work together to determine a course of action that is right for the patient or family. Sharing decision-making almost inevitably leads to patients’ and families’ satisfaction with care, involvement with their own care, feeling of well-being, and feeling culturally secure, all of which are person-centred outcomes (McCormack and McCance, 2006). Equally important is the context in which the nursing practice takes place; a care environment that supports person-centred practice is one that allows for risk-taking and innovation together with patients and families. We mentioned earlier that cultural safety is essential to person-centred nursing as well as archival practice. I would add that by learning cultural safety with Indigenous communities, we are also enriching the person-centred practices that we adopt with all people and with other diverse communities.

    C: In addition to cultural safety and engagement, sharing decision-making to work towards person-centred outcomes is a third building block that archivists could borrow from nursing frameworks.

    In the ACA 2021 panel session mentioned earlier, one of the key points that emerged was that archivists sometimes feel unprepared to deal with difficult or emotionally charged situations. This aspect of archival work, as Jennifer Douglas and her research team highlighted, is not necessarily approached in archival education, though there are now concerted efforts to integrate trauma-informed practice, for example, into archival work (The Steering Committee on Canada’s Archives, 2022; Wright & Laurent, 2021). As culturally competent care and person-centred care have been integrated into nursing education, the concepts of person-centred archival practice that we have begun to draft here could become part of a more holistic and humanistic archival science curriculum. 

    Thank you for sharing your theoretical knowledge of person-centred care frameworks, Jacinthe. It seems we have only begun to touch upon the possibilities for dialogue between our two fields of research and practice. As you said earlier about nursing, archival practice is not a “hard science”: it is a relational practice that is inevitably shaped by the people who create, use, and are documented within records, and the relationships among them.


    Caswell, M. & Cifor, M. (2016). From Human Rights to Feminist Ethics: Radical Empathy in the Archives. Archivaria, 81, 23-43.

    Gottlieb, L. N. (2013). Strengths-Based Nursing care: Health and healing for person and family. Springer Publishing.

    Hottin, C. (2003). Collecte d’archives, histoire de soi et construction de l’identité : autour de deux fonds d’archives de femmes. Histoire et Sociétés, 6, 99-109.

    McCormack, B. & McCance, T.V. (2006). Development of a framework for person-centred nursing.

    Journal of Advanced Nursing, 56(5), 472–479.

    Pepin, J., Ducharme, F., Kérouac, S. (2017). La pensée infirmière (4e édition). Chenelière éducation.

    Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario. (2015). Person- and Family-Centred Care. Toronto, ON: Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario. 

    The Steering Committee on Canada’s Archives. (2022). Reconciliation Framework: The Response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Taskforce. 

    Wright, K. & Laurent, N. (2021). Safety, Collaboration, and Empowerment: Trauma-Informed Archival Practice. Archivaria, 91, 38-73.


    Catherine Barnwell is an archivist at The Archive of the Jesuits in Canada. She has also worked as a research assistant with professor Anne Klein at Université Laval, focusing on acquisition and donor-archivist relations through a case study of the archives of Québécoise playwright Pol Pelletier.

    Jacinthe Pepin is a professor at Université de Montréal’s Faculty of Nursing who was until recently the scientific leader of an interdisciplinary research team funded by the Fonds de recherche du Québec, Société et culture (FRQSC, 2013-2025) that focused on health care professionals’ learning. She also happens to be Catherine’s mother.

  • 15 Nov 2022 8:00 AM | Anonymous member

    By Itza A. Carbajal

    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!

    At first glance the child appears insignificant in archival practice - not yet a finalized preservation-worthy version of itself, full of unknowns and unfulfilled potential. Or the child appears as the part of a whole, with children as study subjects representing bountiful sources of information for research or scholarly advancement. But where is the child as a member of our community, one that contributes their own learned experiences, hurdles, and growth for other children to lean on? For this ACA blog post, I ask the archival community what it would mean to include the child as a person into the archive. To see the child as a person means to view the child not only as a mere subject for analysis, but also as a creator whose work is worth preserving and as a user whose participation merits attention, resources, and inclusion. This inclusion, like many others of underrepresented and neglected populations, asks the archival community to abandon previous principles such as exceptionality, rarity, or order in hopes of centering the needs of the child subject, user, and creator - no matter how messy, incomplete, or insignificant their stories might seem. Like other epistemological shifts where attention moves away from the objects (i.e. records) to the people behind or within the object, this post calls for concern for how and why the archival field should pay attention to its literal future.

    I begin with a brief exploratory review of existing archival literature on children available through one of the longer standing American archival academic journals, the American Archivist. Then I will assess the types of records currently found in the country’s prominent archival institution, the National Records and Archives Administration (NARA). The combination of literature and available collections, while limited to only two institutions, helps situate the current conditions of child visibility in the American archival context. For purposes of this post, I define children or the child as a human being under the US legal age of 18 years old. Child then also refers to babies as well as adolescents with the precaution that generalization across ages (and other demographic markers) should be avoided as children exist as a diverse population of people from various backgrounds, abilities, races or ethnicities, and other demographics. The grouping of all these youth categories under the age of 18 as children rests on the assumption that archivists take different classification approaches when describing or discussing a young person or young people. When searching for literature or collections and materials, the following list of terms were used: child, children, kid, kids, youth, adolescent, adolescents, baby, babies, toddler, toddlers, teen, teens, boy, boys, girl, and girls. These terms themselves denote the constantly changing perception of childhood and adolescence as well as the complexities of describing people of multiple ever shifting identities.

    The Child as Subject

    As an archival subject, the child can be found in family portraits or as part of news stories and artistic sketches. We might find the child frolicking in the background of a home movie or noted as a dependent in some government form. Children might be found in school yearbooks or as study participants mentioned in a published book. In the National Archives and Records Administration catalog, children appeared in roughly 15, 927 photographs or other graphic materials. These ranged from photos of children with animals, children in school, children with adults, or children in promotional materials. Textual materials on the other hand showed children as evidence of atrocities or historical events from Native boarding schools and programs for impoverished children to children’s discussions with President Nixon or efforts to establish child labor laws (McCracken, 2015). Like other objectified people, children can be commonly found as subjects of research, from photographs of deceased children to those with medical conditions serving as at times unwilling participants (Jordan, 1960; Mifflin and Pugh, 2011). Children also show up as members of other marginalized groups such as those of early immigrant communities, incarcerated youth, and survivors of violent acts. (Daniel, 2010; Farley and Willey, 2015; Holden and Roeschley, 2020). These children as subjects remain part of a larger whole of ignored or harmed populations such as women and domestic abuse survivors. Rarely do we see the child expressing their lives, their accomplishments, their valuable memories as simply a child contributing their knowledge rather than as an object in need of study. In most cases, we tend to encounter the child through an adult self, recounting what they now see as memorable through the lens of their adult perspectives. 

    Figure 1: Letters from Children re: Nuclear Bombs

    The Child as Creator

    It may then come as little surprise that the child as an archival creator does not get a chance to appear as an active subject when archival institutions still heavily rely on adult donors. Few instances exist where an archival collection boasts of its young creator, with even the most famous of children waiting until adulthood to find merit in sharing their life stories. The instances where the child creator emerges may be part of an art project intentionally using child artists or as unwilling contributors producing objects and records for or with adults. For example, in the NARA catalog, children appeared in materials such as letters detailing their reactions to nuclear bombs or as signatories to a scroll pledging allegiance to George Washington as part of the US Constitution Bicentennial commission (Commission on the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution, ca. 1987; President Reagan, 1982 – 1983). Given NARA’s focus on government records, many records created by children are those directed towards presidents such as the letters on nuclear bombs to Reagan or the drawings sent to Ford (President Ford, 8/1974 - 1/1977). Few records created by children exist within this archival institution’s collection, likely a result of both children’s resource restrictions such as a lack of owning documentation equipment like cameras and lack of consideration of the child as an active contributing citizen. Luckily, as technological use and access increases, more children now gain access to creating records from photographs to videos and social media posts. 

    Figure 2: Letters from Children re: Nuclear Bombs

    The Child as User

    Overall, the child has received a relative amount of attention as a user given the field’s increased concern for diversifying their user base beyond the traditional historical scholar. As an archival user, the child normally exists as a student, part of a larger group of children first corralled by the ever-watchful eye of an educator and then by the archivist. Given the age limitation for children noted in this post, this section did not consider articles primarily focused on college students despite its dominance in discussing the topic of student users. More generally, archival literature looks at student users, specifically those in grades K-12, in relation to increased incorporation of primary sources into educational instruction and teaching standards (Gilliland-Swetland, 1998; Hendry, 2007; Garcia, 2017). Despite the lack of records about children by children, institutions like NARA provide many archival materials that aid in the advancement of the child as a student. For example, by creating supplemental teaching units archival institutions encourage younger users to explore archival materials when needing to accomplish educational goals (Corbett, 1991). Exploration has also extended to children, especially high school students, to explore personal and family history through archival materials (Culbert, 1975). Sadly, unlike libraries, archival spaces do not provide safe kid or teen spaces, oftentimes forcing the child to act more like an adult than is necessary. This has limited the expansion of the archival child user since current expectations of users may require subject expertise, specific cognitive or tactile skills, as well as resources like mobility or technology access, all assumed characteristics of the established adult user. 

    Figure 3: Letters from Children re: Nuclear Bombs 

    Ultimately, the child remains to be included fully in archival practices and in archival scholarship as a subject, creator, and user. But a word of caution must be said  before we proceed to rush these people into this field. As childhood studies warns us and feminist thought has reminded us, the child cannot be treated as a mere object of passive, patronizing care. Rather the child, in order to avoid ongoing victimization, objectification, and marginalization, must be welcomed as an active agent seen as capable of contributing, critiquing, and questioning the very field that wishes for their participation. Otherwise, the care we claim to afford others remains merely a care for our own image and sake. 


    Commission on the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution. (ca. 1987). Scroll. Records Relating to Publications, Reports, and Meetings, 1985 – 1991Record Group 220: Records of Temporary Committees, Commissions, and Boards, 1893 – 2008 (6850912), National Archives and Records Administration, United States.

    Corbett, K. (1991). From File Folder to the Classroom: Recent Primary Source Curriculum Projects. The American Archivist, 54(2), 296–300. 

    Culbert, D. (1975). Family History Projects: The Scholarly Value of the Informal Sample. The American Archivist, 38(4), 533–541. 

    Daniel, Dominique. 2010. “Documenting the Immigrant and Ethnic Experience in American Archives.” The American Archivist 73 (1): 82–104.

    Farley, L., & Willey, E. (2015). Wisconsin School for Girls Inmate Record Books: A Case Study of Redacted Digitization. The American Archivist, 78(2), 452–469. 

    Garcia, P. (2017). Accessing Archives: Teaching with Primary Sources in K–12 Classrooms. The American Archivist, 80(1), 189–212. 

    Gilliland-Swetland, A. (1998). An Exploration of K-12 User Needs for Digital Primary Source Materials. The American Archivist, 61(1), 136–157. 

    Hendry, J. (2007). Primary Sources in K-12 Education: Opportunities for Archives. The American Archivist, 70(1), 114–129. 

    Holden, J., & Roeschley, A. (2020). Privacy and Access in the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children Records. The American Archivist, 83(1), 77–90. 

    Jordan, Philip D. 1960. “The Challenge of Medical Records.” The American Archivist, 143–51. 

    Juliani, R. (1976). The Use of Archives in the Study of Immigration and Ethnicity. The American Archivist, 39(4), 469–477. 

    McCracken, K. (2015). Community Archival Practice: Indigenous Grassroots Collaboration at the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre. The American Archivist, 78(1), 181–191.

    Mifflin, Jeffrey. 2011. “‘Visible Memory, Visual Method’: Objectivity and the Photographic Archives of Science.” Edited by Mary Pugh. The American Archivist 74 (1): 323–41. 

    President (1974-1977 : Ford). (8/1974 - 1/1977). AR 4: Paintings – Drawings. White House Central Files Subject Files on Arts, 8/1974 - 1/1977Collection: White House Central Files Subject Files (Ford Administration), 8/9/1974 - 1/20/1977 (4504963), National Archives and Records Administration, United States. 

    President (1981-1989 : Reagan). (1982 – 1983).[Letters from Children re: Nuclear Bombs]. William P. Barr's Office Files, 1982 – 1983Collection: Records of the White House Office of Policy Development (Reagan Administration), 1/20/1981 - 1/20/1989 (135838336), National Archives and Records Administration, United States.

    Yaco, S. (2010). Balancing Privacy and Access in School Desegregation Collections: A Case Study. The American Archivist, 73(2), 637–668. 


    Itza A. Carbajal is an American doctoral student at the University of Washington Information School focusing on children and their records. Carbajal’s proposed dissertation analyzes how records embody childhood trauma and whether archival records may provide release or relief from traumatic memories. She is also on the board of the Children’s Photography Archive (

  • 8 Nov 2022 8:00 AM | Anonymous member

    By Krista Jamieson

    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!

    Let me start with a story. A few years ago, I was doing groceries with my partner. We exchanged a few polite words with the cashier, asking how her day was. When she finished ringing us up, she watched as we exchanged a few words about points cards and our grocery budget. It was probably all a very familiar sight to her, and it was certainly unremarkable from our perspectives. Seeing us act as family in this very mundane way, the cashier asked, “Are you sisters?”

    The cashier saw something that seemed familiar (a family grocery trip) and tried to make sense of what she was seeing. Unfortunately (for us), she wildly misinterpreted what was happening. This particular example will likely only be a familiar experience to other queer women (more on the “gal pal” phenomenon in a bit), but most people can relate to what went wrong: a stranger missed a very important contextual clue and as a result made some pretty poor assumptions. Maybe as a kid you wore glasses and people assumed you were a bookworm. Maybe you’ve been misgendered by strangers emailing you. Maybe someone on social media has put words in your mouth because they don’t understand where you’re actually coming from or what you’ve actually experienced in your life.

    These moments are unfortunate, but you’re there to correct them. Records in archives are created by, about, and for people during their lives. They are then given to archives for strangers to look at, with no one there to correct the misinterpretations of those strangers. So instead of an awkward laugh and a brief explanation that my partner is, in fact, my partner, this misinterpretation turns into a musing in a book. Or worse, the signal that I am a queer person is completely dismissed, allowing for the assumption that I am straight – a false narrative that all of my records are then contextualized by. And maybe that doesn’t matter in a given context: I’m not sure my being queer is relevant to the work I do on file format characterization for digital preservation. But maybe it is relevant in more subtle ways. Maybe being queer informs how I define the concept of family in metadata standards I write. Maybe being queer informs my response to a pandemic because I relate public health crises to the AIDS crisis. Those things may not be explicit in records because my records are created for my own purposes rather than with a public audience in mind. The friend I’m writing to knows those things about me, so I don’t need to explain them.

    The idea that context is important is far from new in archives. In fact, context is king in archives. We know that out of context, some records become meaningless. It is the entire rationale behind the ideas of provenance and original order, two of the fundamental principles of archival arrangement in Canada. We know that the creator is important to understanding a record, and we know that we may only be able to understand a record based on other adjacent records. By keeping records together, maybe we (or someone) can make sense out of nonsense.

    At this point I expect more than a few people to be thinking, “Okay, but Krista, we already describe creators! That’s what biographical histories are for!” And you’re not wrong. But I don’t think we always write biographical histories in a way that a) genuinely combats this problem or b) acknowledges the magnitude of how this problem lands differently depending on who people are. Beyond listing a name and some biographical details that a researcher could discover in the records themselves, there aren't very specific details about how a biographical history ought to be written. I would argue that your standard biographical history isn’t particularly useful to understanding the creating context for most records. Unless you have detailed information about how someone’s high school shaped them, knowing what high school they attended doesn’t really help to figure out how the person thought, what influenced them, what they valued, or how they worked. So maybe being able to answer those questions about who someone isis actually what we should focus on in our biographical histories so there is less space for wild misinterpretation at a personal level. One way to write a contextualized description of someone is to provide a social location for them. That is, where does the person sit in society? Where do they fit in with norms and where don’t they? Where can we assume normative things to fill in contextual gaps and where can’t we? What fills in those gaps instead?

    Moreover, we name archival fonds for the “creators” of the records, but when we look at the content on the microscale, the supposed creator isn’t the author or the sole author of most of the content (I mean, just look at the copyright clearance necessary if you want to know how many authors the “creator” of a fonds is hiding) and is often not the decision maker for what made it to the archive and what didn’t (Douglas 2018). When we turn to the influences authors have, what they’re writing about, and who they’re writing about, we can also see that no author is an island. No one creates records in a vacuum. Context extends beyond individual authors to the context authors lived and created in. Here is where we get things like Tom Nesmith’s 2006 concept of “societal provenance.” And then we come to a level of complexity around worldview and how that frames the very notion of authorship. Krista McCracken and Skylee-Storm Hogan (2021) trouble the concept of provenance on this ground when they argue for Indigenous communal ownership of information by, for, or about Indigenous peoples, regardless of the supposed provenance of who wrote it down. Archival theory within a Western archival paradigm being what it is (and I am explicitly not making a claim that it is universally appropriate or better than other forms of knowledge and memory keeping), I think one small step we can take to do a little better, to acknowledge the true complexity of provenance and context, to account meaningfully and helpfully for the factors that shape our lives, what we create and what we collect, is to capture some of that complexity in our descriptions.

    This lack of real context for who people are also lands differently for some marginalized groups, and I’m going to speak for myself as a queer person and use the "gal-pal" problem to illustrate this, though it applies far beyond this one illustration. I think (hope?) by this point that most people have at least heard of issues where historians, archaeologists, and other researchers have ignored signs of queerness. Sometimes this develops out of a desire to avoid applying modern concepts of identity onto people from different times, places, and cultures (it can be frustrating, but I get it). Sometimes it’s out of a softer homophobia: they don’t want to “offend” the family or their readers (which assumes being queer is inherently offensive). And sometimes it is out of brash homophobic insistence that queer people could not possibly exist, despite all the evidence to the contrary. There are lots of examples of this: Skeletons in burial sites buried as a married couple, called “lovers” until DNA shows they are two men or not a cis man and cis woman. All of a sudden, the "very clear evidence" that this was a couple is rewritten to the pair having been close friends or brothers. Because they’re between people of the same sex, the love letters between historical figures that speak of burning lust and intense emotional attachment take on false interpretation; lust and emotion are treated as a stylistic flourish. There is a history of researchers going out of their way to deny and erase queerness, even when it’s extremely obvious. Coming back to my example, queer women couples have often been referred to as “gal pals” or similar so people can avoid acknowledging that they are in a relationship with one another. It’s a form of intersectional erasure, a kind of invisibility unique to queer women’s relationships (as queer men’s relationships tend to be hyper-visible). And, yes, this continues today when people ask if you are sisters and is something so prevalent that it’s become a bit of a joke among many queer women.

    I’m not saying that researchers should label and out every queer person they come across in their research -- that would be taking things too far in the other direction -- but I am saying that getting more personal contextual information from creators themselves while we can (no one is immortal here!) is a good thing to do. It is especially important to get clarity from people who have been historically marginalized and erased so that future researchers don’t repeat the same problematic practices, ultimately to the detriment of their understanding of a person’s life, work, and records.

    Specifically, if we want to bring the complicated, messy reality of records creation and knowledge recording to our description, we need to situate the people who contributed to record creation (Haraway 1988). What is the worldview someone is working from? What is the context of their life beyond the superficial? What communities do they belong to? How were they influenced in their life to become the person they were? Where and how can their knowledges be attributed? These things both are and are not individual factors. Some of them are cultural, situational, and demographically systemic. Others are about more personalized family histories and influences such as professional training and mentorship.

    This is a very high-level description of something that can be complicated and difficult to conceptualize, let alone implement. But if we really understand that archives are just some of the records left to us by living, breathing, complicated, fallible people and if we care about how those people are represented and that people are not misrepresented or erased by the strangers looking at their records, we have to do more to ensure we’re doing right by them, by all the authors whose works are in the fonds, and the communities and people those records represent.


    Douglas, J. (2018). A call to rethink archival creation: Exploring types of creation in personal archives. Archival Science, 18(1), 29-49.

    Haraway, D. (1988). Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective. Feminist Studies, 14(3), 575-599.

    McCracken, K. & Hogan, S.S. (2021). Community First: Indigenous Community-Based Archival Provenance. [Special issue on Unsettling the Archives.] Across the Disciplines, 18(1/2), 23-32.

    Nesmith, T. (2006). The concept of societal provenance and records of nineteenth-century Aboriginal-European relations in Western Canada: Implications for archival theory and practice. Archival Science6, 351-360.


    Krista Jamieson is a queer archivist living in Hamilton, Ontario. She has an MLIS from McGill University and an MA from the University of Amsterdam in AV archiving. She is currently the Digital Preservation Business Lead for the Bank of Canada and a part-time PhD Candidate in FIMS at Western University. 

  • 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. 

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