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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

  • 19 Apr 2022 8:00 AM | Anonymous member

    The ACA McGill University Student Chapter invites you to join us for an immersive series of blog posts titled PeepShow and Tell: Sex in Archives. Through interviews with researchers and professionals working firsthand with explicit materials, we hope to illuminate the intrinsic value of sex and sexuality within the field of archiving and why these materials deserve to be preserved. 

    Ezell Carter, co-editor for this piece, is a graduate student with the School of Information Studies at McGill University and the Co-Coordinator of the ACA McGill University Student Chapter.

    For this post in our PeepShow & Tell Series, we got the chance to work with Steven Frost, a prominent mixed media artist and Assistant Professor of Media Studies at the College of Media Communication + Information, University of Colorado Boulder.  In our discussion, we dive into how Steven’s research with sexually explicit archives influences their work and how preserving and providing access to these materials gives researchers an intimate glance into the lives of others.  

    What are some of the unique opportunities researching sexually explicit content provides you with? How does the material, specifically historical, archived pieces, affect your work? 

    Sexually explicit archives are fascinating because in my experience you get to see people’s private fantasies in a way that is uncommon in popular culture. Historically, as well as today, people often hide their fetishes from the public out of fear that they may lose their home, job, or damage their reputation. Sexual archives become a place where the ephemera of people’s private lives are collected with the intention of being discovered by other like-minded people. 

    At the Leather Archives and Museum (LA&M) in Chicago, I was particularly drawn to clothing, DIY sex toys, hand-drawn pornographic comics, and personal correspondence between play partners. The archived correspondence gave context to a lot of the unusual toys I was finding and allowed me to experience the stories of queer spaces that have long since been replaced by mixed-use high rises and micro-breweries. 

    As a queer person who came of age in a period of increased cultural acceptance, I often compared my own experiences to an inaccurate image of older queer people living quietly in the shadows, but the archive gave me an opportunity to understand queer joy as it was experienced before queer rights were nationalized and queer culture was consumed as pop. Objects, letters, and images in an archive can give voice to the lives and desires of a generation of people that we will never have the chance to know. 

    Digging through archives inspired me to create what I call "ghost collaborations." My "ghost collaborators" are people I would have loved to have known and worked with as an artist but because of their passing, only artifacts of their lives and desires remain. I try to get a sense of these folx through the materials in their archives and create “ghost collaborations” inspired by them. This way of manifesting people in my practice started when looking at the Jim Kane collection in the LA&M but has since transformed into collaborations inspired by the archives of long-departed family members like my Great-Aunt Helen and sometimes celebrities like Liberace. (Figure 1) 

    Figure 1. Jim Kane Papers PERS 0003, Jim Kane Collection, Box 5 of 9, Leather Archives & Museum (LA&M), Chicago, Illinois, United States (Photograph provided by Steven Frost) 

    What is your favourite part of working with these sorts of materials?  

    Jim Kane’s personal correspondence provided me with a picture of an individual who was not just a practitioner of BDSM but part of a larger international queer culture when many were localized by geographical limitations. Among his archive are thank you letters from Étienne/Stephen (Dom), Robert Mapplethorpe, and Tom of Finland. One such undated letter recalls Jim’s first of many encounters with artist Tom of Finland. 

    Dear Jim, 
    Many thanks for the dinner party which you gave me when I was in San Francisco. It was a pleasure meeting you and exciting to see your special room downstairs, which gave me lots of ideas for future drawings. 
     You looked great in your leathers, high boots and breeches are to be the best I know and so I repeat them also in my drawings again and again. As you see in the enclosed prints. Thanks for the inspiration and my best regards. 

    Tom [of Finland] 

    Kane’s “Special room” was his dungeon, which was the topic of much of his correspondence.From Finland’s letter, it seems he presented it to invited guests, not unlike a suburban homeowner showing off their romper-room. There are no pictures of his dungeon but there are many fictional and non-fictional accounts of the activities that took place there. Kane outfitted the space himself with pulleys, tables, cages, and various other stages for his practice.  

    Kane was constantly reconfiguring the room and outfitting it with new or improved equipment after feedback from friends and sexual partners. An anonymous letter from one of Kane’s guests asked that he put more padding on a table so that he could keep his “mind in the act” and not on the pain in his shins. 

    The “special room” was for Kane's extra-domestic space not unlike the proverbial “workshop” which was popular in the years following World War II. In that time the workshop was reintroduced to domestic spaces. Some historians site the shift in labor from the home/farm to the workplace/office as the impetus for its rise in popularity. Hobbyist culture sprung up not because of the need for homemade coffee tables but because of a desire to introduce the handmade back into the home. Kane’s dungeons and others like it created a space that was surrounded by a new self-determined sense of place. A dungeon was not a bedroom where heterosexuals made children. It was also unlike the backroom of a bar or a cruising spot in a public park where gay men metfor anonymous sex. Kane’s private dungeon was a space one had to be invited into. It functioned as a domestic and public setting where all participants were consenting and taking pleasure in the sexual acts. (Figure 2) 


    Figure 2. Artist – Steven Frost, Headmaster No. 2 

    What inspired you to look to archives for your research? 

    I have always been interested in the power and history of personal items like clothing and small collections. It was because of this that I was asked by the editors of Headmaster magazine in 2011 to create a sculpture based on something in the archives at the Leather Archives and Museum in Chicago. Queer history was already part of my studio practice, but this assignment gave me an opportunity to formalize my experience. I have since visited the One Archives in LA, corresponded with archivists at the Smithsonian, designed a graduate course around oral history archives, and made library funding/advocacy a focus of my personal time. 

    What is uniquely interesting to you about this research and these materials?  

    Eleven Pink Alley in San Francisco was the home of Jim Kane until 2004 when he passed away at age 75. It was the private center of the San Francisco leather scene for much of the nineteen-seventies and eighties. He was friends with Tom of Finland, Chuck Renslow, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Sam Steward (aka Phil Andros whom I have a portrait of on my right thigh). Although Kane passed away years ago, I got to know him through his archive. A collection of his writings, letters, leather devices, and artwork are stored in the LA&M.There is also a collection of his letters at the University of Michigan. Kane’s collection has fascinated me and found its way into my studio practice. The act of digging through the six boxes was not unlike the act of sorting through boxes of family portraits in my basement. He in many ways is a lost relative in a broader queer lineage. 

    Figure 3. Artist – Steven Frost, Headmaster No. 2 

    The first box I looked through in Kane’s Archive was his straps and belts.(Figure 3).  There were two large file boxes full of these. Through my preliminary research, I knew only that Jim was a pillar of the San Francisco leather community. I had no idea how much of a leather celebrity he was. The director of the LA&M gave me a pair of white gloves. I had sorted through archives before and thought these were to protect the objects from the oils on my hands. The gloves in this case were for my protection. The buckles in the collection had become patinated. They looked forgotten. I laid them out on the pristine table in the LA&M’s reading room. There was a collection of belts, crops, cat-of-nine-tails, and dog collars both homemade and manufactured. These were all the trappings of a leather practitioner. Among these objects were two belts with carpet tacks laid in two planter’s rows along with them. The tacks, now rusted, were encrusted with a dark gloss I assumed was dried blood. I couldn’t imagine how a practitioner wore these objects on their body. In a separate box, I found a folded note. 

    Joseph = JK used the belt blanks to make when he called “tack straps.” He would measure the distance between nipples first – then punch holes, then add tacks. He made one and used it on me in 1973. All these tack straps are used and bloody. He typically gave them to those on whom they were used. 

    Why is archived material, specifically that of a sexual nature, so important in your opinion? Do you feel it actively influences culture, politics, and community identity? 

    Sites like the Leather Archive and Museum present a truly queer history. Individual stories, experiences, and expressions are valued over grand narratives. In their mission, the Leather Archives and Museum states: 

    The compilation, preservation, and maintenance of leather lifestyle and related lifestyles [including but not limited to the Gay and Lesbian communities], history, archives, and memorabilia for historical, educational, and research purposes. 

    Outside of the LA&M’s association with the gay and lesbian communities, it distinguishes itself as a place of queer context. It creates a space for individuals who may not have biological offspring to pass on narratives that are not part of a heteronormative model. These narratives are often related to sexual practices, but they tell a larger story of people creating communities based on the sharing of knowledge and the creation of safe spaces for their practice. 


    You can find more information about artist Steven Frost and their work here: 

    Images courtesy of Steven Frost 

  • 14 Apr 2022 8:00 AM | Anonymous member

    For the next few weeks, we at the ACA McGill University Student Chapter invite you to join us for an immersive series of blog posts titled PeepShow and Tell: Sex in Archives. Through interviews with researchers and professionals working firsthand with explicit materials, we hope to illuminate the intrinsic value of sex and sexuality within the field of archiving and why these materials deserve to be preserved. 

    Ezell Carter, co-editor of this piece, is a graduate student with the School of Information Studies at McGill University and the Co-Coordinator of the ACA McGill University Student Chapter. 

    Mary Hague-Yearl is a published writer, speaker, curator, and instructor working within the history of medicine; she is also the Head Librarian of McGill University’s Osler Library of the History of Medicine. We recently discussed why sexuality and its presence in archives is vital, and how the lack of knowledge and resources, particularly in regard to female anatomy, have very real consequences for our health. 

    Can you tell me more about these pieces and how they add to the Osler collection? Did you acquire any of these items yourself? 

    The portable kit of obstetrical tools has been in the library for a few decades. They belonged to Dr. William Wright (Class of 1848), Canada’s first medical graduate of colour, who practised medicine locally and taught materia medica at McGill from 1854-1883. In terms of reproductive health, they are important for a few reasons: one is that they are very much male tools and reflect a history of medical professionalization, which marginalized female practitioners. At the same time, they are a reminder of the lack of attention given to women’s health. These tools are from about a century and a half ago, yet the speculum is clearly a speculum; forceps have barely changed since modern ones were popularized in the 18th century. (Figure 1)


    Figure 1: Portable kit of obstetrical instruments. 19th-century. From the estate of William Wright, Prof. of Materia Medica at McGill, 1854-1883 and also Canada’s first Black medical graduate, McGill, 1848.  

    As for the Predictor home pregnancy test kit and the 3D printed clitorises, those are recent additions to the library’s holdings. In a way, they are connected to the Birth Control Handbook (not shown here), published under the auspices of the McGill Students’ Society in 1968. This publication proved to be so popular in Canada as well as the US, that it ran into several editions (including in French). Montreal has been an important location in the recent history of reproductive health and sexual education. The Predictor, which was the first effective commercially-available home pregnancy test kit, was invented by graphic designer Margaret Crane in New York, but it was test-marketed in Montreal in the early 1970s. (Figure 2)


    Figure 2: Predictor home pregnancy test kit. Designed by Margaret Crane. 1971.  

    Today, important initiatives continue locally, such as SEX-ED+, which aims to make anatomically-realistic models of genital anatomies available for sexual education; being realistic means having a variety of shapes and sizes. We don’t yet have their models in our artifacts collection, but the 3D printed clitorises reflect the emphasis upon knowing what one’s anatomy looks like. (Figure 3) In some ways, the Predictor and the 3D printed clitorises are both about demystification, or providing women with direct access to knowledge that is important for their own health.  

    Figure 3: 3D printed clitorises. 2021. Printed at UVic for the Perfecta Colloquium (organized by Prof. Hélène Cazes, May-June 2021), under the direction of Dr. J. Matt Huculak. Design is available on Thingyverse thanks to Odile Fillod and Melissa Richard.   

    Do you find the sexually explicit nature of these pieces create unique archival difficulties compared to less erotically charged records (in terms of cataloging, exhibiting, and context)?  

    I don’t consider any of these objects to be sexually explicit. We do have a (modern) sexually explicit bookplate in our copy of Vénus la Populaire (1727) and there is some other content that is clearly playing with ideas of arousal, but I don’t see the items featured here in that light. They provide information or are associated either with a service or with basic anatomical knowledge.   

    Given that each of these items is a tool I don’t see them as posing a challenge for cataloguing. One can treat them in a matter-of-fact way, stating what they are, their provenance, their intended use, etc.  

    What do you think the collection is missing? Is there a perspective, group, or type of record underrepresented, or something you wish the collection had more of? 

    The items chosen here are mainly artifacts. It would be useful to have a better record of how, why, by whom they were created – documentation of the process that resulted in their appearance. What is harder for us to get at is work that is being done beyond the confines of the medical establishment (whatever “establishment” means). This means that we don’t have much reflecting underrepresented individuals or groups; since we are speaking of sexual health, we must acknowledge that the voices in our library are overwhelmingly white and cishet. What are communities producing and publishing for themselves? We would like to include those voices.  

    What are your thoughts on the preservation and presentation of sexually explicit items in archives? Do you feel they have a part to play in the shaping of culture, politics, and memory?  

    Of course, sexuality is a central part of the human experience for many people so it should be included. Some items truly are sexually explicit, and if they are telling a story that is important for history, there is really no difference in bringing in that material and bringing in something else. If such stories are part of the experience of someone whose papers we are acquiring, then to omit material simply on the basis of its being sexual in nature, would be to edit the record in a way that would go against supposed archival objectivity. 

    And lastly, what about these materials is unique/interesting to you?  

    In terms of items here, I’d have to go with the 3D printed clitorises. My answer here is far from objective. I am glad our colleagues at UVic sent us the clitorises because they should be ordinary and mainstream, but as a society we’re not there yet. They are a reminder that basic anatomy can be deemed “inappropriate”. How many individuals can properly label female external genitalia? How many women (self-defined) would be able to identify those as clitorises? Knowing the proper anatomical terminology shouldn’t be embarrassing. The scale of ignorance around female bodies has very real health consequences. The clitoris may play a role in sex, but that doesn’t mean that identifying it or seeing a model representing the clitoris, reflects anything other than providing basic anatomical information. The 3D printed models are a reminder of important work that is being done to normalize female anatomy; one hopes that such work will help to break down the stigma that too often has a negative impact on health.    

    You can learn more about Dr. Hague-Yearl and the Osler Library of the History of Medicine here:  

    Images courtesy of Dr. Hague-Yearl and the Osler Library of the History of Medicine .

  • 12 Apr 2022 8:00 AM | Anonymous member

    The ACA BIPOC Forum is an annual informal networking event hosted during the ACA annual meeting. This space facilitates connections between BIPOC archivists, students, and other memory workers. The ACA 2021 BIPOC Forum planning committee included Moska Rokay, Tamara Rayan, Laura Hernandez, Melissa Adams, Erin Brown, Lara Maestro, and Lisa Uyeda.

    The first Forum for Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour Archivists (BIPOC Forum) was created by members of the student and alumni-led Diversity Working Group (DWG) at the University of Toronto Faculty of Information (iSchool). The intentions for this first BIPOC Forum were to create a space for BIPOCs in the Canadian archival field to connect with one another to discuss issues of race, diversity, and strategies to navigate the field. Moreover, as a result of the facilitators all being students and alumni of the University of Toronto, a secondary purpose for this first BIPOC Forum was to inspire the creation of other diversity working groups within Faculties of Information across Canada, but the content of the Forum was primarily focused on Toronto. Recognizing the need for racial justice in the profession, in October 2019 the DWG applied to the Association of Canadian Archivists (ACA) 2020 conference. However, by the time the conference rolled around in June 2020, George Floyd had just been murdered. The rest of the archival profession had sobered up to the reality of racial inequality in the field and BIPOC archivists needed a means to come together to feel solidarity during a traumatic time. The BIPOC Forum became timelier than ever. Due to a boost in promotion by the ACA and opening up of subsidized spots for BIPOC archivists to attend the Forum for free, 60 participants from across Canada and the United States came forth to share this one-hour of space together, the first of its kind.[1]

    Following the ACA's Equity Commitments Report on October 6, 2020, the ACA made a commitment to "provide meeting spaces and networking opportunities for BIPOC professionals to connect and meet (virtually and in-person at the annual conference).” In line with the report, the ACA 2021 conference Programme Committee reached out to potential moderators for the 2021 BIPOC Forum, a clear deviation from the year before. Many of the moderators of the first Forum were happy to return. With a total of six moderators, up from the previous year’s three, and considering the moderators were no longer solely students and alumni of the University of Toronto, this year’s Forum was uniquely positioned to address BIPOC experiences in Faculties of Information and the profession across Canada. Unfortunately, just as the year before, the months leading up to the conference were mired by difficult times for BIPOC communities as a result of multiple traumatic events: the horrific discovery of 215 unmarked Indigenous graves at a Kamloops residential school, the deadly attack on a Muslim Canadian family in London, Ontario, the senseless bombing of Gaza, and rampant Asian hate crimes instigated because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet again, the 2021 BIPOC Forum became a critical space for BIPOC communities to come together in solidarity and healing, and brought increased awareness to the larger archival profession of the pains felt by their BIPOC colleagues." This time around, the Forum was 2 hours long and consisted of multiple Zoom breakout rooms of small group-led discussions on racial equity, diversity, and inclusion in archival education and the profession as a whole led by one of the six moderators.

    As part of the 2021 Forum, the BIPOC Forum planning committee created the BIPOC Forum Participant Survey for those expressing interest in being involved in the creation and management of a network or community of BIPOC Archivists and Memory Workers in Canada. Below are highlights from the survey. 

    24 participants responded. Most were new professionals, followed by seasoned archival professionals, and those somewhere in between. A few respondents were students and others were looking for work. 

    We asked participants what type of institution they worked with and the top 2 responses with 4 respondents each were government archives and libraries. Others indicated they work with university archives, community archives, non profits, and corporate archives. The comments indicated that others worked in records management, special collections, museums, library and information studies programs, and for First Nations. Overall, 11 individuals indicated they work with a large institution, 6 a medium sized institution, and 3 a small institution. 

    Our first question asked, “How would you like to create a network or community of BIPOC Archivists and Memory Workers in Canada?” The top two responses show that folks would like to see the annual BIPOC Forum at the ACA conference continue and are interested in the development of an ACA BIPOC Special Interest Group. The other responses indicate that folks would like to stay connected more frequently and informally through communication channels such as a listserv, Slack, Discord, or Facebook. A few folks also suggested collaborating with other BIPOC-specific associations in or related to the profession, including those in the USA. 

    Our most important question asked, “Why do you want to join this community? What would you like to see come out of its activities?” The open-ended responses were detailed and meaningful. Most BIPOC respondents expressed the importance of staying connected and supporting one another in a profession where many feel alone because we are under-represented. Folks would like to see the continuation of a safe-space for BIPOC professionals to come together to listen and learn from one another, discuss their work, work environments, and experiences in the profession, work through issues together, and mentor new professionals. Many expressed the importance of building a community, both within the BIPOC community and the profession as a whole, that will encourage and foster new BIPOC professionals. The responses acknowledge that institutions, including Faculties of Information across Canada, need to begin meaningful and actionable EDI work. This includes keeping the concerns of BIPOC folks top of mind across the profession, in schools, and addressing representation in archives and beyond. Lastly, respondents would like to see a strong, collaborative community in all areas of the profession that actively fosters and supports BIPOC professionals and those interested in entering the profession. 

    To conclude the survey, participants provided feedback on the BIPOC Forum in general. We greatly appreciate everyone’s kind words of thanks and feel so honoured to have helped provide a safe-space that brings our community together. We recognize that the sessions are never long enough, that meeting once a year is too infrequent, and continuing the forum is really important and necessary. We thank the participants for providing comments that will help guide the next session, including: most folks enjoyed the small breakout room discussions and noted the benefits of connecting with one another; the facilitators were great; the polls were good additions; the information shared was valuable and insightful; a student focused group could be valuable with working professionals to be involved as mentors; folks hope to meet in person next time or in the future; and a recommendation to host a second session at the end of the conference. 

    As for next steps, we aim to continue this important work by planning a third installment of the BIPOC Forum at ACA 2022. As the first two BIPOC Forums have shown, there is a continual need for BIPOCs in our field to meet and hold space for one another. To ensure that we are fully representing our growing and changing community, we are seeking new voices for next year’s planning committee. If you are interested in being an organizer or moderator, please send an email to Moreover, we understand that hosting these spaces once a year is far too infrequent for our community’s needs, so we are planning to host more regular community check-ins on a smaller and more informal scale. Additionally, we recognize the need for BIPOC students to have leadership and guidance from members in the field who represent and understand their own lived experiences. For this reason, we are exploring mentorship options with the ACA Mentorship Program to match BIPOC students and early career archivists with BIPOC professionals. Finally, we are also exploring the option to create a Special Interest Section with the ACA so that we can continue the work that the DWG started, but on a national level, and continue to enact racial justice in the field.

    [1] For further information about the impact of the first BIPOC Forum, please see this piece the facilitators authored in Off the Record: Martin, Stefanie, Tamara Rayan and Moska Rokay. “45 Years Later: The First BIPOC Forum at ACA.” Off the Record, v.36, no. 3 (Summer 2020): 16-18.

  • 8 Apr 2022 8:00 AM | Anonymous member

    For the next few weeks, we at the ACA McGill University Student Chapter invite you to join us for an immersive series of blog posts titled PeepShow and Tell: Sex in Archives. Through interviews with researchers and professionals working firsthand with explicit materials, we hope to illuminate the intrinsic value of sex and sexuality within the field of archiving and why these materials deserve to be preserved. 

    Jay Bossé, the co-author for this piece, is a graduate student with the School of Information Studies at McGill University and Co-Coordinator of the ACA McGill University Student Chapter Blog Series PeepShow & Tell: Sex in Archives. 

    For this post, we spoke with Patrick Keilty, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Information and Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies at the University of Toronto. He is also the Archives Director of the Sexual Representation Collection (SRC), administered by the Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies. Professor Keilty's research pertains primarily to the politics of digital infrastructures in the sex industries and the materiality of media in erotohistoriography (Patrick Keilty, n.d.). 

    To read the full post please visit our website.

  • 5 Apr 2022 10:00 AM | Anonymous member

    Olivia White is an emerging archival professional working towards a Master of Information and a Master of Museum Studies from the University of Toronto. She has undertaken roles in archives and heritage organizations, and is passionate about ensuring the stories within archival records can be preserved and shared far into the future. 

    The University of Toronto (U of T) student chapters of the Association of Canadian Archivists and Librarians Without Borders (LWB) worked diligently to produce the 7th Annual Human Library to great success! With about 15 participants and nine professionals in attendance, the event provided an excellent opportunity for students to have small-group discussions about the day-in-the-life of an information professional.
    With a tradition towards an in-person event, the Human Library has pivoted to an online setting for the past two years. The virtual environment notably expands the scope of professionals and participants beyond the Greater Toronto Area, permitting a geographically diverse group of attendees. As a student in my final year at the University of Toronto’s iSchool, I have attended the Human Library annually for three years. This marks my first year attending as an Executive Member of the ACA UofT Student Chapter, and I enjoyed seeing behind the curtain as to how the event is produced.

    Events Coordinator Sophia Dodic spearheaded the event, aptly coordinating timelines and preparing documentation to keep the event planning on schedule. ACA Student Executives Camille McDayter, Steve Kim, and Ursula Carmichael, as well as LWB Student Executive Allison Kaefring were integral during the event planning sessions in which we devised communication strategies and divided the work for reaching out to professionals. 
    As Communications Coordinator, I promoted the event on our social media sites, the iSchool’s discord server, through iSchool newsletters, and in-class announcements. We also posted information on dedicated Facebook groups, listservs, and Slack channels, and had support from Professor Karen Suurtamm to spread the word. With the ever-presence of Zoom fatigue, our early registration numbers were lower than average, but more participants signed up closer to the event date. 
    During the event, we paired professionals to “host” a breakout room based on their professional experiences, which established a meaningful dialogue between attendees. Participants could jump around to different breakout rooms, but many chose to stay within one group to gain a comprehensive understanding of an information professional’s duties. Students received a Human Library handbook with biographies provided by the professionals to determine which rooms to join and guide their conversations. 
    One component of the Human Library that I have always enjoyed is hearing about the everyday rewards and challenges of the information professions. Many professionals also provide resources to learn more about topics of interest – I always come away with a few websites to bookmark for future research. It is also interesting to hear about the journey of iSchool alumni into their current positions. 
    After the event, we circulated a feedback form for attendees to describe their experience to improve upon the delivery of the next Human Library. Finally, we were also pleased to offer two complimentary student member registrations for the upcoming ACA Conference through a raffle for student attendees. With another year of the Human Library completed, it is my hope that this long-running networking event can continue in the future, allowing emerging information professionals to discover the inner workings of archives, records management and library environments. 

  • 29 Mar 2022 8:00 AM | Anonymous member

    For the next few weeks, we at the ACA McGill University Student Chapter invite you to join us for an immersive series of blog posts titled PeepShow and Tell: Sex in Archives. Through interviews with researchers and professionals working firsthand with explicit materials, we hope to illuminate the intrinsic value of sex and sexuality within the field of archiving and why these materials deserve to be preserved.

    Ezell Carter, co-author of this piece, is a graduate student with the School of Information Studies at McGill University and the Co-Coordinator of the ACA McGill University Student Chapter.

    For our first post, we spoke with Matthew Lawrence, a graduate student with the School of Information Studies at McGill University and the co-founder of Headmaster magazine, “The Art Magazine for Man-Lovers,” alongside his partner Jason Tranchida. We asked Matthew to tell us more about Headmaster, their engagement with archives, and how sexually explicit collections have shaped culture overall.

    Can you tell us about your magazine, Headmaster, and what inspired you to start it?

    The art journal Headmaster launched in 2010 as “the biannual art magazine for man-lovers.” The first issue was 88 pages, perfect bound, and printed on 70lb paper in an edition of 1000, a format we left virtually untouched for six years. We spent weeks agonizing over paper selection and then finding a printer that would let us do press proofs. Even now we drive to the printer so we can check each page as it comes off the offset printer, saying things like “can we bump up the magenta here?” or “this needs five percent less yellow.. Many people would not find this rewarding, but we do.

    For the past decade, I have edited the art magazine Headmaster with my partner Jason Tranchida. Each issue of Headmaster features nine or ten original projects, based on assignments written specifically for each artist. Released occasionally—issues are numbered, not dated, and the “biannual” idea did not last very long—Headmaster is intended to be sexy and smart, topical without dating itself too quickly.

    What can I find in an issue of Headmaster?

    We have given assignments about an array of subjects: the planet Neptune, the lax public nudity laws in Seattle, the titling of porn videos, the architecture of discotheques. But we always keep returning to specific moments in queer (primarily gay male) histories, and that can lead to some fun archival research work. Once an artist is interested, we develop their assignment for a week or two and then give them roughly 6-8 weeks to complete their project, whether that is a comic style photo novel project about dithyrambs or a cut paper tug of war (to name two recent examples). We work with photographers and writers, but also with artists working in fiber, video, music, and other genres that are not traditional two-dimensional paper works. The most recent issue features an astrology project by House of Rice, Vancouver’s only all-Asian drag family.

    What is one of your favourite projects from Headmaster?

    There were originally three Headmaster editors. The third, Matthew Underwood, stepped back after the first few issues but remained close to the project, creating his own project for Headmaster No. 7. At some of our launch events, he live mixed pornographic VHS tapes under the pseudonym VJ DILF.

    Headmaster No. 7 was field trip themed, and we sent our former co-editor Matthew Underwood to investigate the records of the Gaylactic Network, “a national organization for gay people and their friends, who are interested in science fiction, fantasy, horror and gaming.” In the early 1990s, the group’s geographically disparate members waged a letter-writing campaign to demand queer representation on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Underwood’s project includes a reproduction of a thoughtful but cagey letter from staff research consultant Richard Arnold explaining why gay and lesbian identities would not be an issue by the 24th century. (Figure 1)

    Figure 1. Artist – Matthew Underwood, Headmaster No. 7

    How does the world of archives enter into your work with Headmaster?

    Brown University holds the administrative records, newsletters, correspondence, and promotional material for the Gaylactic Network’s first three decades, and we were fortunate enough to visit the collection with Underwood, who was so charmed by the fan-made comics, memorabilia, and newsletters that he decided to present the materials essentially as is, arranged neatly atop the visually disorienting grid of a transparent Photoshop layer. 

    The sexual content of Headmaster varies from issue to issue, though generally the most explicit projects tend to be illustrated and not photographed. I enjoy the discovery process, and personally get excited when uncovering historical and creative moments that I did not know about previously. For instance, we gave the homoerotic writer Michael Wynne an assignment inspired by calling cards produced for Paresis Hall, an all-male brothel that existed on New York’s Bowery at the beginning of the twentieth century. We found a collector and reprinted some of his postcards for the issue, even though Wynne’s story was completely contemporary. Artist Dean Sameshima used vintage magazine imagery to advertise his own version of utopia. (Figure 2) In a more startling use of appropriation, artist Nicholas Galanin (Tlingit/Unangax̂) blended colonial imagery of Indigenous destruction with clueless white sports fans wearing feathers and headdresses.

    Figure 2. Artist – Dean Sameshima, Headmaster No. 5

    We began Headmaster at a time when many mainstream periodicals were dying out, but when a wave of underground queer periodicals was beginning to crest: titles like Christopher Schulz’s bear-focused photo project Pinups (which could be disassembled and turned into an almost life-sized poster), Darren Ankenbauer’s raunchier Handbook, or Jessica Gysel’s lesbian-centered Girls Like Us. That wave has largely subsided, partly due to the shuttering (at least in North America) of independent bookstores and other outlets that sold erotic niche zines and magazines.

    What strikes you the most about this work and how it is received?

    Well, as one example, our debut issue features a painting project by Sholem Krishtalka, an artist now based in Berlin who at the time managed Toronto’s Glad Day Bookshop. With the 2009 closing of New York’s Oscar Wilde Bookshop, Glad Day had recently taken the title of North America’s oldest gay bookstore. We learned about the store and about Krishtalka and thought we could maybe interview him, completely unaware that he was primarily a visual artist. After sending a cold email and getting a positive response, we asked him to paint some of his favorite images from vintage periodicals sold in the store. One of the most striking is a white page that simply says “’Homosexuals are child molesters.’ That’s what they’ll be saying.” (Figure 3)

    Figure 3. Artist – Sholem Krishtalka, Headmaster No. 1

    I visited New England last week and, scanning through radio stations, listened to a few minutes of a call-in show on one of the area’s many conservative talk radio networks. (This is one of the bluest parts of the country, mind you.) A caller used the words “grooming” and “indoctrination” to describe an interaction between a child and a hair stylist who asked for clarification when asked for “a girl’s haircut.”

    Headmaster remains a labor of love for us. I am studying at McGill University in the Master of Information Studies program with a focus in archiving. I want to move into the archival field and realize that my dream job would be one where I could incorporate my experience in publishing, art, and queer histories. That’s where I hope to go. That’s where my journey with Headmaster has led me.


    You can find more information about Matthew Lawrence and Headmaster magazine here: and here:

    Images courtesy of Matthew Lawrence and Headmaster Magazine

    Matthew Lawrence is a graduate student with the School of Information Studies at McGill University and the co-founder of Headmaster magazine alongside his partner Jason Tranchida.

  • 15 Mar 2022 1:00 PM | Anonymous member

    Andrew Chernevych is Head Archivist at the Galt Museum & Archives, Lethbridge, Alberta. He also serves as a Director-at-Large at the ACA and as a board member of the ICA's Section of Local, Municipal and Territorial Archives (SLMT). 

    The social isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic was the last straw. Being an archivist in a small urban centre, a town or a municipality means you’re on your own—professionally speaking. Chances to talk to a fellow archivist are precious and rare. It’s a difficult situation to be in, especially for a young professional. The pandemic made things worse as conferences and workshops got cancelled. How does one hope to challenge oneself and grow professionally under these conditions?

    The pandemic upheaval, however, has brought to life developments that can remedy the problem. One of them is the rapid proliferation of virtual meeting platforms, particularly Zoom. Almost overnight, virtual meetings have become a new normal, upending the culture of professional communication. And this has opened new doors for connecting—notably for archivists in small communities. 

    The first virtual meeting of local archivists took place in June 2021. Fourteen participants from Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia joined a Zoom event to get to know each other and share experiences. Each participant had the chance to introduce themselves, their institution, and share their interests and challenges. It was novel, exciting and perhaps a bit overwhelming. For me, it was quite eye-opening to see so much diversity—in institutional settings, in roles and backgrounds, and in perspectives on archival work. The hour flew by fast. 

    The consensus was that such meetings are useful and that participants would like to make them regular. It was agreed to keep it informal and to have the chair position rotated among the members. It was also suggested to have themes for future meetings —with a focus on a particular subject such as volunteers, grants, digital records, etc. A volunteer facilitator was to take care of scheduling, meeting hosting and note-taking. The group was to be called the Network of Regional Archives or NoRA for short. 

    Since the summer of 2021, we have had two more NoRA meetings. In the fall, we discussed archival databases and most recently in January we delved into a discussion about volunteer programs. Both meetings featured brief presentations by members, Q&A periods and informal discussions. Big thanks to Philip Pype of the Esplanade for chairing both sessions. Personally, I learned a lot. For example, Tara Hurley of Kelowna Museums offered cautionary tales of unethical behaviour of volunteers, while Corine Price of Lloydminster Museum outlined limitations of work-from-home volunteering. 

    The purpose of the group is to provide networking opportunities and a forum to exchange ideas and experiences. Unlike the Society of American Archivist’s Lone Arrangers Section, the NoRA has no formal affiliation or organizational structure. A participant doesn’t have to become a member or take on any commitments. Anyone is free to attend as many meetings as one wishes. It’s open to everyone—one doesn’t have to have “archivist” in their title or have an archival education. In fact, many Canadian lone arrangers have neither. The NoRA collective currently includes a librarian, a museum CEO, a collections technician and an archives manager. We are open to all “small-place” heritage professionals who work with archival records.

    If you would like to participate in future meetings, please contact Andrew Chernevych ( to be added to the NoRA email list. The next meeting will take place in late March or early April; the theme will be announced soon.

  • 8 Feb 2022 10:00 AM | Anonymous member

    Josephine Baker is MA Student in Economics, a Heilbroner Fellow, and a Sawyer Seminar Research Assistant at the New School for Social Research.

    A collage of colonial banknotes

    [Assortment of Colonial Banknotes]

    The Project

    Beginning in fall 2021, faculty at The New School launched a Mellon-funded Sawyer Seminar titled Currency and Empire: Monetary Policy, Race, and Power. The goal of the project was to interrogate the connections between monetary systems and (neo)imperial power through deep interdisciplinary engagement. Housed at the Heilbroner Center for Capitalism Studies, and with generous funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Currency and Empire has rolled out a suite of initiatives and programming. Through seminars, reading groups, and our online archive mapping project, faculty members and graduate students involved with the work of Currency and Empire explore the relationship between monetary systems, the production and consolidation of racial difference, and imperial power. 

    The seminar series, which began in fall 2021 and will continue through spring 2022, has organized meetings around a variety of topics, such as Categorizing Currencies, Colonial Genealogies of Political Economy, Hierarchical Systems of Currency, and the Technopolitics of Money Management. In addition to the seminars, the project hosts informal reading groups every other week. The aim of the reading groups is for participants to build a common language through discussion. Reading group topics have included Theories of Money, Neoliberalism and Monetary (Dis)orders, and Monetary Futures - A Vernacular Archive. The reading group has been a great way to build scholarly community as all attendants are encouraged to participate and play a role in deciding future topics and readings.

    The seminars and reading groups both take place via Zoom and are open to anyone interested in the topic. To register for events or join our mailing list you can visit our website To follow our ongoing work please join us on Twitter @EmpireCurrency and on Facebook @EmpireCurrency.

    The Archive Mapping


    As part of the Currency and Empire project, I have had the pleasure of building an interactive data visualization for mapping archival resources related to the topic of Currency and Empire. The goal of the archive mapping is to create a collective open-source resource to help those interested in the topic explore relevant collections. The archives included span from the more formal – the archives of national banks – to the informal or “vernacular”. The map works by displaying the archives and their themes both by network and geographically. Users of the mapping can apply filters to visualize connections and find specific resources. When scrolling over an archive marker, users see a brief description of the archive and its contents as well as a link to the archive’s website. Thus, the mapping is not simply a list of archives, but a central location for the exploration of archives related to currency and empire.

    An oval shaped data visualization with coloured dots along the perimeter and different coloured lines connecting them at various intersecting points.

    [Currency and Empire Archive Mapping Network Visualization]

    Visualizing the Data

    The data visualization is built using a combination of programming in R and visualizing in Tableau. The visualization helps understand archives through their connections to categories of imperial powers, currency types, general themes, and other archives. One dashboard maps the archives by location and allows users to filter by these categorical variables. The other dashboard illustrates the connections between these archives and their themes via network mapping. Lines connect archives such as the Egyptian National Library’s Car al-Kutub collection or the Banco De Mexico’s numismatics collection to themes like numismatics and counterfeiting, currencies like shells, bonds, and virtual currency, and related imperial powers.

    Contributing to the Project

    One aim of this archive mapping project is to create a collective aggregation of resources. For this reason, the archive mapping is an open-source resource. Information about relevant collections or archives can be submitted via a brief submission form on our website. From here, I integrate the suggested archive into the database for the visualization and update the visualization to include it. By engaging in this type of interaction with participants and archival communities, we can expand the scope of the mapping beyond the knowledge of our team. We encourage those submitting to contribute not only by directing us to new archives, but also by suggesting additional themes or currencies related to their submission. Part of our motivation in contributing this blog post is to encourage ACA community members who are aware of interesting resources related to the topic of currency and empire to consider submitting them so we can continue to expand our database and create a more comprehensive mapping. Expanding our database means that seminar participants and site visitors will be able to explore a more diverse and extensive set of resources in their consideration of the topic.

    Some of the wonderful submissions we have received include:

    • The Baroda State Archive which was described by Shweta Banerjee in her submission as “both formal and vernacular. This is the archive of the Baroda State which was indirectly ruled by Britain. Finance and currency was a site of contestation between the Baroda State, the Colonial state, and merchant-bankers.”
    • The Tunisian Museum of Currency and Money which is held by the Tunisian Central Bank and includes a collection of banknotes and coins as well as tools used to create and destroy currency.


    My participation in Currency and Empire has allowed me to grow as an economist. The interdisciplinary approach to the study of money’s connection to imperialism is a crucial perspective for all scholars, but particularly economists, to consider. Furthermore, work on the archival project has allowed me to advance my personal awareness of the scope of collections relevant to the study of monetary orders. Archives are critical to the study of currency and empire and are essential to understanding the historical context of monetary regimes and imperial power. My hope is that the archive mapping project will help others to expand their knowledge of the collections and records available.

  • 29 Sep 2021 10:00 AM | Anonymous member

    About the Association of Canadian Archivists (ACA) Mentorship Program

    The Association of Canadian Archivists (ACA) offers a Mentorship Program that connects emerging archivists with working archivists to help “advise and guide them on career and professional development.” It provides mentees with a mentor to whom they may ask questions about the archival profession. It begins in January and lasts for one year, unless the mentor and mentee both decide to continue. For more information about eligibility and the ACA Mentorship Program in general, please visit the ACA's Mentorship Program's web page. 

    Experiences Within the ACA Mentorship Program: A Mentee’s Perspective (Alesha Grummett-Roesch)

    I heard about the ACA Mentorship Program from a friend of mine who had participated in the program the year before and enjoyed her experiences, which made me eager to have the opportunity to participate. I decided to apply because I thought that it would be a great chance to network, that it would provide a one-on-one opportunity to speak with a working archivist, and that it would allow me to learn more about the archival community in general.  

    The ACA paired me with Rebecca Murray, a Senior Archivist in Reference Services at Library and Archives Canada (LAC). This was the first time that I had participated in a mentorship program, so I was not entirely certain about what to expect. One of the first topics that Rebecca and I discussed was how we wanted to communicate and how often. We decided to have monthly meetings and communicate via email in between the meetings, if needed. Before the meetings, we would plan a few topics that we wanted to discuss, such as her work experiences within LAC, interview tips, the ACA conference, and courses that I took as a graduate student at the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto. 

    I enjoy meeting with Rebecca each month to talk about archives. I feel that I learn something new each time. One of the things that surprised me most is the great network that Rebecca has. For example, a few times she invited some of her friends and former colleagues to join our meetings, so that I had a chance to learn more about other archivists’ experiences and get advice from them. I also attended a Reference Archivist team meeting, which was a wonderful opportunity. I was able to learn more about what it is like doing reference work, something that I did not learn much about during my graduate studies. Overall, I have really enjoyed being a part of the mentorship program. It has been an extremely well-supported environment and my mentor has gone far above what I expected. I look forward to seeing what the remainder of the year within the ACA Mentorship Program brings. 

    Experiences Within the ACA Mentorship Program: A Mentor’s Perspective (Rebecca Murray )

    I applied for the ACA Mentorship Program without any prior knowledge of what it might entail. It’s been my first opportunity to be part of a formal mentorship program. I have to admit there was a bit of imposter syndrome at the start – surely I’m not old enough or experienced enough to be a mentor, I thought. 

    My experience with the program has shown me that I do have something to share, even with less than ten years of formal work experience in an archive. I also hadn’t anticipated how much I would learn too. I don’t have formal education in archives or information studies, so being paired with Alesha has been a great opportunity to learn about her education and what she’s learned about the archival profession in a Master of Information program. This was only further cemented during the ACA conference when I had the chance to listen to students and new grads speak about the gaps in archival education and how they view the profession. 

    In inviting other archivists and historians in my network to join us during our monthly chats, I also learned about different types of archives and gained perspective on differences between the private and public sectors. Although we’ve been meeting once a month through any number of online platforms, Alesha and I have also become regular correspondents on any number of topics (mostly) related to archival work. 

    A really interesting and unique thing about this year is that we attended a virtual meet up for all mentees and mentors.  Although not all attended, it was a great chance to “meet” archivists from across the country doing all sorts of different work and to hear about their experiences within the program. 


    The program is not only a one-year opportunity to get advice on a myriad of topics from an archivist, it’s also an opportunity to network and to gain perspective on the range of archival work and institutions in Canada.  It’s a great opportunity for experienced archivists to give back to the community and to (hopefully!) help inspire and encourage the next generation of information professionals. 


    About the 2021 Mentorship Program

    The 2021 ACA Mentorship Program saw a record number of participants. According to Jamie Sanford, the Mentorship Coordinator, there were “36 mentors and 46 mentees,” as some mentors agreed to mentor two mentees. All mentees were matched with a mentor. If you are interested in becoming a mentor or mentee, please fill out the mentor or mentee application by November 15, 2021.

    Alesha Grummett-Roesch and Rebecca Murray

    Alesha Grummett-Roesch is a recent graduate of the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto. She completed her Master of Information, focusing on Archives and Records Management, in June of 2021. 

    Rebecca Murray is a Senior Archivist in the Reference Services Division at Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa, Ontario.  She is also a member of the ACA’s Communications Committee. 
  • 15 Sep 2021 10:00 AM | Anonymous member

    This past March, the University of Toronto Archives and Records Management Services (UTARMS) launched our Oral History Collection on Student Activism. Having worked on the project over the previous 18 months, to tweak the final lines of code and publish it was exciting, a relief, and a chance to reflect on the long series of questions and discoveries that developed throughout. For myself, the process helped to draw out ideas around transparency, responsibility, and context. It was also a reminder of the creative joy of bringing an initial idea to fruition.

    The project was conceived as a component of UTARMS’ documentation strategy, in particular to respond to the limited record of student voice within our holdings. This was driven by a recognition, by both archivists and researchers, that the fundamental role the social, administrative, and intellectual life of the institution has been shaped by students. Creating this collection carried multiple goals: to provide distinct entry points and perspectives for researchers, as well as to develop a deeper understanding of the barriers in documenting these critical aspects of the University’s history.

    The first step in the project involved the hiring of  a student with a background in oral history to conduct research, interview participants, and help further develop the scope of the project. Through her oral history experience, research interests, and attention to issues on campus and beyond, Ruth Belay brought incredible vision to the project overall. Additional goals then emerged through our discussions together, with current student groups, participants, oral historians and others.

    [Screenshot of Interview with Norman Kwan conducted by Ruth Belay and Daniela Ansovini on the website of the University of Toronto Archives Online]

    One key question highlighted by student groups centered on how such a collection could serve current students and their organizations, with particular attention to the specifics of knowledge transfer in an environment heavily affected by the turnover of each cohort. As Ruth guided the interviews, different aspects of this surfaced, from intentional succession planning to the nitty gritty of navigating the University’s resources and structures.

    Ensuring continued connections to student groups beyond the interviews’ content emphasized the need to consider how we approached these relationships more generally. It became an opportunity to not only uncover concerns, but to build a more critical understanding of both the limitations of and the possibilities created by our position as an institutional repository. One result of this has been to more fully adopt approaches responsive to specific interests, for example, implementing methods to support recordkeeping and preservation of student group records outside of the archive. Another has been to challenge how UTARMS might activate the interviews and engage future students for whom the content might directly address. What connections can be made through the interviews’ content to continuing and relevant conversations through time? How are we gathering feedback and direction from student groups themselves?

    Another aspect of the project which grew from a theoretical understanding to practical application surrounded the ethical principles that guide oral history’s attention to transparency. Expectedly, we began with our consent form, ensuring participants were continuously able to direct the interview, dictate access and use, and were well informed of the intent of the project and the eventual context in which the interviews would exist.

    However, like all else, this expanded as we dug into the specifics. For example, were there differing understandings of archives by participants that obscured an understanding of how the material might be used? Ruth and I became more conscious of how we described the archival research environment and the extent to which we control how information is used in this way. In holding copyright to the interviews, what might use by the University itself look like, and how could we confirm clear consent regarding this? We added a specific clause to the consent form for participants to opt in to any promotional uses of the content by the University.

    Working with participants, each with specific concerns, we adjusted the consent form, adapted aspects of the project and confirmed with interviewees when these represented marked shifts in the process. This process also highlighted the degree to which we wanted to open our method and the context of the project to researchers by outlining our methodology and inviting questions, concerns, and reflections.

    The level of consultation and flexibility that the project demanded has encouraged my own willingness to embrace the evolving and individualized nature of archival work overall (in particular, my own focus and work with private donors). Oral history’s prioritization of the narrator and their experiences extends beyond what is recorded to a commitment to protect their continued autonomy through the process itself. Far from throwing standards, policy, or requirements out the window, for me, it has served as a model to ask better and deeper questions. 

    I have drawn a lot of satisfaction from the lessons learned through managing this project, sometimes tough or unexpected, but fruitful. That said, what was immediately fulfilling was to hear the richness of the interviews themselves. Our questions centred on activism and participants generously seized on this theme, weaving in the personal, pragmatic, and reflective. Mentorship, the role of educational institutions and the responsibility they hold, as well as the many facets of equity surfaced as underlying ties between the interviews. In both listening to these interviews and connecting with all of those who were a part, it has been a motivating project that highlighted the expansive nature of our relationships and the value of questions asked.

    Daniela Ansovini

    Daniela Ansovini is an Archivist with the University of Toronto Archives and Records Management Services (UTARMS) where she is responsible for the private records of individuals and organizations affiliated with the University of Toronto. An aspect of her current role is dedicated to re-visioning UTARMS' collections strategy for private records.

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