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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

  • 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.

  • 21 Jul 2021 10:00 AM | Anonymous member

    In 1975, Indonesia invaded the former Portuguese colony of Timor-Leste (East Timor). Its armed forces continued to occupy the territory until 1999, when a United Nations-sponsored referendum saw the country set off on the path to regaining its independence.  

    How did Timor-Leste (East Timor) win its independence from Indonesia, the regional power, after 24 years of occupation? The Timor International Solidarity Archive aims to help answer that question by locating, digitizing and disseminating archival records on Timor-Leste and the international solidarity movement that campaigned for its right to self-determination during the period of military occupation and crimes against humanity (1975-1999).  

    Screenshot of home page of the AtoM platform of the Timor International Solidarity Archive.

    This project presents numerous challenges in moving past open sources into finding and making available the files of solidarity movement activists. In this blog post, we explore the challenges and two successful efforts to disseminate solidarity movement records, undertaken in Brazil and the United States.  

    We started our research by gaining a greater understanding of the multiplicity of actors involved in the historical circumstance we were examining. The more we deeply understood the history of East Timor and its particularities, the more we discerned that different stakeholders (solidarity groups) played key functions in the independence process. To map the transnational solidarity movements was crucial for the understanding of the blind spots of East Timor history, and the archives were our primary source to achieve this goal. 

    Mapping the Movement : map of the world with member groups of the International Federation for East Timor identified with red dots, 1999

    One of our first challenges was to start extracting important information from the large number of documents on location at Bishop’s and to deeply understand the linear nature of the historical process. In terms of examining the historical archives, we reviewed documents from different contexts and backgrounds, including in the first stage East Timor; Indonesia; Portugal; Canada; United States and United Nations; in different languages (initially English, French, and Portuguese), and from different perspectives (institutional; individual; collective). All these documents provided different lenses to analyze how the transnational solidarity movement was structured and its basis for supporting the independence process of East Timor. 

    To critically engage with the literature and the documents regarding events in East Timor was also an important part of the research process.  Archival records themselves don’t give all the answers, of course. Thus, it was necessary to contrast the primary sources with other research in the field. Most important was to understand how to read archival “silences” and to position the documents within larger perspectives. Here we draw on the challenges identified in such collections as Basements and Attics, Closets and Cyberspace: Explorations in Canadian Women’s Archives, edited by Linda Morra and Jessica Schagerl.

    After establishing a method to compile the essential documents, we were confronted with our next challenge: to use this research as a knowledge-sharing platform that allows other researchers to use this data in their fieldwork. Discussions of digitization practices and the impact of IT resonated in our research as we progressed. Thus, our next step was to direct our efforts to the creation of a solid archival database, entirely online, and to simplify the access of these documents for researchers from all over the world who want to critically engage with the historical perspective of East Timor and the transnational movements that support the country. 

    In 2018, Juliana Brito Santos Leal began working with David Webster as a Research Assistant for this archival project. Juliana was tasked with describing and uploading various documents created by solidarity activists from around the world that were active during Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor. Juliana worked on multiple collections: Canada Asia Working Group, East Timor Alert Network, etc.  

    Another challenge was to have access to new material in São Paulo (Brazil) regarding Clamor por Timor. As a Brazilian, Juliana consulted the archivist responsible in Portuguese by email and asked about the possibility of getting access to the digitized material. This claim was denied because the material wasn’t digitalized yet. Juliana asked if it was possible to go in person to collect the material in the period of one week. Juliana was going to spend in Brazil. The response was negative until Juliana had the permission of the archive's supervisor, who usually goes there once a week. After several calls and e-mail, while Juliana was already in Brazil, the archivists indicated that they do have the files of Clamor por Timor, but they didn’t know exactly how many and where they were in between the 32 boxes of Grupo São Domingo. Juliana then came back to Canada without having accessed the records.  

    After watching our effort, the archive’s director suggested that we ask for a research assistant that works there to find all the documents regarding Clamor por Timor and organize them in one single place. After that, the research assistant could ask for the digitization of the records and for the transfer of the digital files to us. This kind of service, however, was not “institutionalized.” They were only offering it because we couldn’t be there in person to separate and make copies of the documents. Thus, the archival institution charged us for this service. There was a risk: pay and then discover we only have a few pages of the relevant document. We decided to take the risk, and received 1649 pages of documents. 

    These files have now been summarized in English by Katrina Kramer, another project participant at Bishop’s University. At the same time, we selected the Access to Memory platform (AtoM) originally developed with the advice of the International Council of Archives, and began to digitize and describe materials. This began with solidarity group newsletters and has continued with an extensive digitization and description process beginning with the files of the East Timor Alert Network of Canada. For instance, it is now easy to search ETAN records on the web site by keyword, to narrow down by leaflets, or to track the story in other ways. 

    Screenshot of the Timor International Solidarity Archive AtoM platform

    Parallel to Juliana’s work in obtaining Brazilian records, David worked to obtain an important activist collection then stored in a basement in unorganized form, boxing and carrying out an initial categorization along with Arnold Kohen, the activist whose records these were. We then organized the shipment of the records.  

    The following year, Émilie worked closely with the Arnold Kohen collection. Kohen worked as a reporter and activist for East Timor for over 20 years. He was one of the most connected Timor advocates. His collection ranges from 1975 to 2007 which covers the complete occupation of East Timor by Indonesia and the years after.  

    His materials consisted of fifteen banker’s boxes. During 2018, Émilie went through twenty-five years of documents varying from letters to the U.S. Congress, support from various Catholic and Protestant bishops and clergymen from around the world and many newspaper articles bringing awareness to Timor. It was a true education in understanding how a prominent activist worked and what he believed in.  

    It took time to get used to the Access to Memory archival platform, but it is now functioning well. It allows for multiple collections to be displayed at once. For Kohen’s collection, we were able to break everything down by year which kept all of the documents together using the same structure selected by Kohen. For example, a letter written in 1982 would be found in the Humanitarian Project collection, under the 1982 file, classified under documents.  

    For many of the solidarity groups, their documentation is sorted in the same way which makes the platform perfect for sharing and learning about activism throughout the years.  

    Working with the files of activists who you have never met is a valuable way to understand historical processes. Emilie feels as if she now knows Arnold Kohen. We have all found similar experiences in digitizing, describing and disseminating these new archival records. It is our hope that this documentation provides information and access for people to learn through an online archival platform.  

    Juliana Brito Santos Leal, Émilie Labbé and David Webster

    Juliana Brito Santos Leal holds a MA in International Relations at Universidade de Brasília (UnB), in Brazil, and is an MA Candidate in Applied Human Rights at the University of York (UoY), United Kingdom.  

    Émilie Labbé is a recent history graduate from Bishop’s University about to begin her Master’s degree at Concordia University who has worked on the Timor International Solidarity Archive for the last two years.  

    David Webster is a History professor at Bishop’s University and coordinator of the Timor International Solidarity Archive. His most recent book is Challenge the Strong Wind: Canada and East Timor 1975-99

  • 7 Jul 2021 10:00 AM | Anonymous member

    With another wave of COVID-19 gripping provinces across Canada, and additional restrictions being implemented to blunt its devastating effects, archives – like many institutions – remain closed to researchers for the foreseeable future. In some cases, archivists themselves have limited access to their holdings, and are required to work predominately (if not exclusively) from home.

    Without the ability to process new collections and with many research requests on hold, the archival staff at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library have taken this opportunity to work on several projects meant to increase the accessibility and discoverability of online holdings. Often left on the backburner as reference services and collections processing take precedence, projects such as revising finding aids and tidying metadata can all be undertaken safely from home, yet can enhance users’ experiences when interacting with online archival interfaces.

    With the closure of the Fisher Library in March of 2020, one of the first tasks undertaken was evaluating our online finding aids and determining which ones required substantial revision. In most cases, old typescript finding aids, often with handwritten annotations, were scanned and uploaded online so users did not have to wait for them to be retyped and uploaded (especially since some finding aids can be over 100 pages). However, optical character recognition (OCR) is severely limited when reading handwriting, which hinders discoverability. Likewise, scanned typescript finding aids pose accessibility challenges for those using screen readers or those who have other vision impairments. Since many of our users have commented on the benefits of keyword searching our collections, especially when looking for a specific name or title, it was particularly advantageous to identify the dozens of finding aids in need of attention, and revising them to allow for Ctrl-F/Command-F searching. Additionally, LinkedIn’s online course for creating accessible finding aids provided basic training to ensure that those with screen readers or other assistive technologies could navigate our finding aids more effectively. While not all our finding aids have been revised, more and more are being reworked as this pandemic drags on. For institutions with much older finding aids, this is also an opportunity to revise any outdated and offensive terminology in archival descriptions – especially those that have been created by the archives. Finding aids pertaining to Indigenous Peoples, the LGBTQ+ community, and other marginalized groups should be examined more critically, and revised in a manner which fosters an atmosphere of inclusivity and reduces the risk of making people from these groups feel unwelcomed or attacked.

    During the closure, we have also been taking time to enhance the metadata for our online holdings, in hopes that it will improve discoverability. The Fisher Library is fortunate to have a number of its holdings digitized and available through the Internet Archive. The collection of famed art historian Otto Schneid, whose work on Jewish artists was confiscated by the Nazis in 1939, recently had its call numbers and file titles updated so that researchers can more easily map the digital copy to the exact box and folder contained in the library. Additionally, the metadata for of collections on Access to Memory (AtoM) is currently being tidied and standardized to ensure greater consistency across our own records, which will better reflect both the hierarchical structure of the records as well as their provenance.

    While neither of these projects are likely to be seen as more pressing than clearing a backlog of accessions and making them available to researchers, the closures make it difficult for archivists to physically access the archives, and researchers will not be entering our reading rooms in the foreseeable future. Instead, we have been afforded an opportunity to work on projects that are often neglected, but that can significantly improve our online presence. The librarians, archivists, and staff at Fisher are all engaged in countless other projects as we continue to work from home; hopefully this project report can offer ideas to other archival institutions who continue to work from home.  post may give other archives project ideas.

    Kyle Pugh

    Kyle Pugh is an Archivist Assistant at the Wellington County Museum and Archives, and an Academic Library Intern in the Archival Unit at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library. Kyle recently completed his Master of Information at the University of Toronto. He presented at the 2020 ACA Conference on the student panel, looking at archival collections from hate groups.

  • 7 Jun 2021 10:00 AM | Anonymous member

    ACA 2021 Virtual Conference - June 7-11, 2021

    [Dark blue and red banner of the ACA Virtual Conference 2021 - Home Improvement. Featuring drawings of a house, a hammer, a nail, a construction barrier, and a ruler]

    The ACA 2021 Annual conference is right around the corner! In the Field: The ACA blog is featuring the profile of a few members who will be presenting at the conference, June 7-11, 2021. Today we are featuring the profile of Sofie Tsatas, MA student in Information Studies at McGill University.

    Can you tell us your school and program of study?
    I am currently pursuing my Master’s degree in Information Studies at McGill University.

    What is your presentation about?
    My presentation, which is titled “Decolonized Listening in the Archive: a Study of how a Reconstruction of Archival Spaces and Processes can Contribute to Decolonizing Narratives and Listening,” looks at ways in which we can decolonize archival practices and spaces, and how that would impact musical records created by Indigenous artists. My research draws upon the book Hungry Listening by Dylan Robinson, as well as the art and musical exhibit Soundings (2019-2021), curated by both Robinson and Candice Hopkins, which focuses on the question “how can a score be a call and tool for decolonization?” From 2018-2020 I did a Master’s degree in Musicology at the University of British Columbia and I wrote my thesis on the music of Buffy Sainte-Marie, a Cree musician. Writing this thesis resulted in a lot of much needed reflection regarding my role as a settler and uninvited guest residing on Turtle Island (North America) and I realized that I wanted to continue working towards decolonizing efforts in my current degree, particularly regarding musical records. While there is still much for me to learn, this research has been very rewarding!

    What brought you to the field of archival studies and/or practice? 
    I’ve always loved information, and while my music history degree seemed like a good fit at the time to satisfy my need for musical research and analysis, I realized that working more closely with particular historical records and documents was much more suited for me. I remember once reading personal letters from the composer Clara Schumann (1819-1896) addressed to her husband Robert for a school project a few years ago, and how amazing it felt to sit with these records and read something so intimate of someone I never knew. As an archivist, I can do this every day!

    What kinds of archival futures are you invested in? Where do you see change happening? What changes are needed? Where do you hope the profession will be in 10 years? 
    I’m interested in continuing work and research in decolonizing archival practices and spaces. I would love to work in community and participatory-based archives with Indigenous Nations, focusing on musical records. Through this research I’ve learnt that there are some amazing platforms out there that are Indigenous-led and based in Indigenous notions of stewardship and record-keeping that are still not yet implemented in many archives. I want to help implement these systems and I think that in doing so, the role of the archivist will change in some ways.

    Are there any other sessions at the conference that you’re excited to attend? 

    I am especially interested in the “Creating Trust and Transparency: Building Trauma-Informed Archives” Forum and the “Stories We Tell: Narratives of Inclusion” Session!  Everything looks so amazing and I’m excited to hear some of my friends and professors speak as well! Like Isabel, I am new to the field so I am also looking forward to the virtual meetup.
    Is there anything else you want to tell us?

    Fun fact about me: I manage a Bookstagram account (Instagram for books!) called @readingwithsof because I love to read! It is also the most welcoming online community I’ve ever been a part of and I am so happy to be able to share and talk about books in a safe space! 

  • 3 Jun 2021 10:00 AM | Anonymous member

    ACA 2021 Virtual Conference - June 7-11, 2021

    [Dark blue and red banner of the ACA Virtual Conference 2021 - Home Improvement. Featuring drawings of a house, a hammer, a nail, a construction barrier, and a ruler]

    The ACA 2021 Annual conference is approaching fast! In the Field: The ACA blog is featuring the profile of a few members who will be presenting at the conference, June 7-11, 2021. Today we are featuring the profiles of Kelsey Beauvais and Laura Hernandez, Archivists at Library and Archives Canada. 


    Title of your presentation to the ACA 2021 conference? 

    An exercise in digital curation: Enhancing archival description and digital processing for the Prime Minister Papers Project. 

    Can you walk us through your academic and professional path?

    Kelsey Beauvais: I went to Laurentian University following my passion in history and completed an Honours Bachelor's degree. I already knew by this point that I didn't want to be a teacher - which seemed to be the only profession and career advertised at the time. My love for historical research and passion in exploring oodles of primary sources lead me to continue my education with a Master's degree at Université de Rennes 2(Year 1)/University of Ottawa (Year 2). 

    [Portrait of Kelsey Beauvais, wearing dark-rimmed glasses, a salmon-pink scarf and a black t-shirt]

    Laura Hernandez: I completed an Honours History and Anthropology Bachelor's degree at Western University. I wanted to either become a museum curator or continue my academic path towards a PHD. I decided to continue at Western's Public History Master's Program at Western in the end as it was best suited for me. 

    [Portrait of Laura Hernandez, wearing black-rimmed glasses, and a grey and light green shawl]

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

    We both have what is perhaps considered non-traditional paths to archival practice and we often joke about being "accidental archivists". 

    Kelsey: It's been an up and down journey in the search for a career. I've worked with heritage organizations and mainly supporting GLAMs, but it became clearer to me that I was searching for a niche where I could work more closely with historical sources. This really stood out for me while I was working at CCUNESCO as a Program Officer and coordinating the Canada Memory of the World Register; where my values, interests, knowledge and skills came together at a crux in archival practice. Enter the most amazing opportunity as an Archivist with LAC on the PM project! 

    Laura: I had multiple jobs in museums since I was a teen, but I always found myself enjoying the research side of things. A big recession hit right after finishing my Masters but I was lucky to get a job with a private firm in Ottawa as a historical research analyst. I worked there for nearly a decade on historical litigation research projects including co-managing TRC research work. That helped me get a foot in the door at LAC, first as an archival assistant in Government Records, then as an archivist for this project! 

    What do the theme of the ACA 2021 conference, “Home Improvement: Building Archives Through Change,” means to you in terms of overall archival orientations and practice? 

    There is a delicate balance in respecting and understanding what's been done in the past and why, versus understanding and accepting that practices and even archival concepts need to evolve over time. They call it archival science for a reason, there are trial and errors, we come up with solutions and innovations that work for a particular record, project or situation that may not be feasible in the future. Best practices, methods, and concepts will always be a work in progress as society changes and evolves. In order to move Archives forward, we must root ourselves in principles, but be open to change and most importantly, to sharing our lessons learned and solutions. 

    Can you tell us about your research approach and perspectives?

     The idea behind this presentation arose from informal conversations and brainstorming on how to process databases/data sets. While the records were suitable for preservation, we felt these were too valuable and complex to leave in their current state. This meant we needed to explore ways to create additional access points for these while maintaining their integrity. Our overall approach has been a practical and agile one particularly when it comes to description: maximizing what is already available (metadata), using this to supplement contextual information, and adhering to best practices to ensure the authenticity/integrity and long term preservation of the records. The bulk of the research came afterwards as we sought to validate our belief that archivists can have a greater role in digital curation allowing us to collaborate with other areas and to innovate in order to enrich descriptions of records when feasible. 

  • 1 Jun 2021 10:00 AM | Anonymous member

    ACA 2021 Virtual Conference - June 7-11, 2021

    [Dark blue and red banner of the ACA Virtual Conference 2021 - Home Improvement. Featuring drawings of a house, a hammer, a nail, a construction barrier, and a ruler]

    The ACA 2021 Annual conference is approaching fast! In the Field: The ACA blog is featuring the profile of a few members who will be presenting at the conference, June 7-11, 2021. Today we are featuring the profile of Michelle Phan, recent graduate at the University of Toronto iSchool. 

    Can you tell us your school and program of study? 

    I am a recent graduate from the Master of Information program at the University of Toronto’s iSchool, where I specialized in dual streams of Critical Information Policy Studies and Archives and Records Management. 

    What is your presentation about? 

    My presentation, titled ‘Towards the Rebel Archive: Seeing Prison Abolition through embodiment, ‘value’, and process is based on approaching social justice based archival literature from the perspective of prison and police abolition. In my research, I seek to disseminate the impacts of prison abolition as praxis in the archives and observe the participatory model from the abolitionist perspective.  

    My presentation will be an amalgamation of a series of research projects conducted based on sex worker advocacy networks such as Butterfly Network here in Toronto, as well as an annotation project conducted by Nigel Poor and the incarcerated men of San Quentin State Prison in California. 

    What brought you to the field of archival studies and/or practice? 

    I was hesitant to return to academia and archival studies for a long time because of the very visible gaps between theory and practice, particularly in the use of the term ‘decolonization’. Meanwhile, I began to engage more in critical race theory, particularly the works of Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Angela Davis, Katherine McKittrick, and Kelly Lytle Hernandez. Hernandez highlights the rebel archive in her work and this concept is what drew me to the broader frameworks of archival theory.  

    What kinds of archival futures are you invested in? Where do you see change happening? What changes are needed? Where do you hope the profession will be in 10 years? 

    Archives should be ultimately interested in Black liberation and Indigenous sovereignty. Reciprocal and relational praxis is imperative to the way communities want to be represented.  

    I continue to think to Jenn Cole’s words on relinquishing knowledge by “knowing that sometimes waiting is the work” (2019, p. 71) in changing what is valued in archival practice. I hope that a shift towards practice as process/progress encourages archivists to take time to think through decision making processes.   

    Are there any other sessions at the conference that you’re excited to attend? 

    I’m looking forward to so many panels! Black Archives Matter, At Home in the Community Archives: How the ArQuives: Canada’s LGBTQ2+ Archives Has Evolved in Collaboration with Their Volunteers, Towards Acknowledging Emotions in Archival Education, and Dionne Brand reads from The Blue Clerk.  

  • 27 May 2021 10:00 AM | Anonymous member

    ACA 2021 Virtual Conference - June 7-11, 2021

    [Dark blue and red banner of the ACA Virtual Conference 2021 - Home Improvement. Featuring drawings of a house, a hammer, a nail, a construction barrier, and a ruler]

    The ACA 2021 Annual conference is approaching fast! In the Field: The ACA blog is featuring the profile of a few members who will be presenting at the conference, June 7-11, 2021. Today we are featuring the profile of Isabel Carlin, Master student at the University of British Columbia iSchool. 

    Can you tell us your school and program of study?

    I'm in the dual Master of Archival Studies and Master of Library and Information Studies (MAS/LIS) program at the University of British Columbia iSchool.

    What is your presentation about?

    My presentation, "Home Archives: Online Political Record-keeping in the Diaspora" is about digital recordkeeping practices at Sulong, which is a Filipinx-Canadian student organization at UBC. I've been a member of Sulong since January, 2020, and since the COVID-19 pandemic we've had a huge increase in membership and, consequently, a proliferation of new electronic records within the organization. This presentation is an opportunity for us as an organization to think through the material and political implications of our digital technology usage, and a way for me to learn about how archival theory applies to real-world communities and situations.

    I've been particularly intrigued by the general theoretical trend towards immateriality in discussions of electronic archives — what 'is' a digital record, how are archival bonds made 'real' in a virtual environment, what is originality, etc. It's true that digital records are different from physical records for many reasons, and those reasons are deserving of study. At the same time, I want to explicitly situate workers and infrastructures in our discussions of digital technology, in alignment with the leftist analysis that Sulong brings to its work.

    What brought you to the field of archival studies and/or practice?

    My undergraduate degree at University of Toronto was in Indigenous Studies, History, and French Studies, which ended up creating a pretty cool intersection of post-/anticolonial studies situated across the globe (here on Turtle Island, in Southeast and East Asia, and in former French colonies in North Africa and the Antilles). Discussions of colonial and imperialist power, particularly in the context of research ethics, led me to think about the ethics of data storage and collection and, more broadly, knowledge systems. I applied to the UBC iSchool thinking about how hegemonic archives have been used as tools of imperialist power, and I'm currently grappling with what I feel is a lack of leftist, materialist archival theory, which I hope to contribute to in my future work. 

    What kinds of archival futures are you invested in? Where do you see change happening? What changes are needed? Where do you hope the profession will be in 10 years?

    I'm interested in anti-imperialist and revolutionary archival futures. As a member of a movement for liberation in the Philippines, I know that archives will continue to be useful as we carry our ancestral stories of resistance; today, for example, I still know the name of Gabriela Silang, an Ilocana revolutionary hero who led uprisings against Spanish colonialism in the 1700s, because the Filipino people continue to remember our struggles of resistance. I'd love to see a greater recognition of non-Western ontologies in archival theory, and to see how archives embedded in activist communities (like Sulong!) can leverage the tools of Eurocentric theory and practice for revolutionary aims. 

    Are there any other sessions at the conference that you’re excited to attend? 

    I have to say, all of the sessions look incredible. I wish I could attend all of them!! I'm especially excited to attend the BIPOC Archivists Forum, and the Stream A sessions on Wednesday (The Home in Transition, Under Construction, and the workshop on Incorporating Indigenous Ways in Archival Policy and Procedure Development). I also can't wait to attend the virtual meetup on Tuesday, since I'm so new to the field — really looking forward to meeting other archivists.

  • 25 May 2021 10:00 AM | Anonymous member

    ACA 2021 Virtual Conference - June 7-11, 2021

    [Dark blue and red banner of the ACA Virtual Conference 2021 - Home Improvement. Featuring drawings of a house, a hammer, a nail, a construction barrier, and a ruler]

    The ACA 2021 Annual conference is approaching fast! In the Field: The ACA blog is featuring the profile of a few members who will be presenting at the conference, June 7-11, 2021. Today we are featuring the profile of Greg Bak, Associate Professor at the University of Manitoba. 

    [Portrait of Greg Bak, smiling, in front of a light blue and light green wall]

    Title of your presentation to the ACA 2021 conference?

    I am part of two ACA presentations. The first is “Reflecting and Imagining Visions for Archival Education”, which is a roundtable discussion among students, recent graduates and archival educators from several archival Master’s programs across Canada. The second is a traditional paper given as part of the panel “We Sing the Archive Electric: A/accessible and Open Source Digital Archives on Indigenous Lands.” My paper will address the colonialism inherent in Manitoba’s generation of hydrocelectricity within the context of the wastefulness of current digital preservation techniques and infrastructures.

    Can you walk us through your academic and professional path? 

    My path was neither straight nor narrow! In 2001 I left Dalhousie University with a PhD in History that examined sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English ideas about Islam, as well as an MLIS. Over the course of a decade I worked in various library, digital information management and digital archiving positions, before landing at Library and Archives Canada, where I worked as a Senior Digital Archivist and Acting Manager for the Government Records Digital Office. In 2011 I was hired by the University of Manitoba to teach and research digital archives in the Joint Master’s Program of the Department of History. At UManitoba I’ve mostly taught archival studies, although I also offer the occasional undergraduate course in history of digital cutlure.

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

    This one is easy: my love of history and information management. I fondly remember working as a digital information manager at a health agency in Ottawa and dipping into Archivaria as I was prepping for my interview at LAC. I don’t know how or why I turned to this article in particular, but I recall reading Rick Brown’s “Records Acquisition Strategy and Its Theoretical Foundation: The Case for a Concept of Archival Hermaneutics” and feeling like I’d found my home. I love archival studies for its deep engagement with theory, anchored by the specific needs of archival practice.

    What does the theme of the ACA 2021 conference, “Home Improvement: Building Archives Through Change,” mean to you in terms of overall archival orientations and practice? 

    Such a timely conference theme! So many changes. For my paper on the colonialism inherent in the hydroelectricity used in digital preservation, I hope that the changes include an increasing awareness of the environmental and other impacts of current digital preservation practices. For my contribution to the roundtable on archival education, I hope that the change that we are building is one of increasing diversity in the archival workforce, and in archival theory. The latter is just as important as the former.

    Can you tell us about your research approach and perspectives? 

    Since I don’t work in an archives at the moment, and haven’t for a while, my research involves thinking through archival theory and practice as historically and culturally contingent. I enjoy collaborating with others and have often contributed to group-authored publications. I firmly believe that collaboration allows us to see multiple perspectives and makes us all smarter. Or at least me!

  • 20 May 2021 10:00 AM | Anonymous member

    ACA 2021 Virtual Conference - June 7-11, 2021

    [Dark blue and red banner of the ACA Virtual Conference 2021 - Home Improvement. Featuring drawings of a house, a hammer, a nail, a construction barrier, and a ruler]

    The ACA 2021 Annual conference is approaching fast! In the Field: The ACA blog is featuring the profile of a few members who will be presenting at the conference, June 7-11, 2021. Today we are featuring the profile of Annaëlle Winand, PhD candidate at the École de bibliothéconomie et des sciences de l’information de l’Université de Montréal.

    [Black and white portrait of Annaëlle Winand in front of a "Creature from the Black Lagoon" poster]

    Title of your presentation to the ACA 2021 conference?

    What’s in Between? Archive(s) and the Unarchived and Unarchivable Space of Found Footage Cinema

    Can you walk us through your academic and professional path? 

    Back in Belgium, where I am from, I studied history. After I graduated, I taught for a very short time in secondary school before deciding to go back to university to specialize in archival science. I was then hired by the Archives of the University of Louvain-la-Neuve where I worked as an archivist for a little more than two years.

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

    I always tell the same (true!) story: at some point in my life, I declared that I wanted to work with “dead things”… How wrong was I? More seriously, while studying history, I was always working in and with archives. When I decided to re-orient my career it felt quite natural to study the very material I have been involved with for so long. The Archives were also a place I liked, and I was curious about what felt like “behind the scenes” of such institutions.

    What do the theme of the ACA 2021 conference, “Home Improvement: Building Archives Through Change,” means to you in terms of overall archival orientations and practice?

    The theme clearly resonates with archivists trying to be more introspective, asking what we should do about the power dynamics that exists at the core of our work. But it also asks the question: what is home? What archives have we been building so far? Does it need improvement, renovation or, more radically, foundational work? I am truly looking forward to discussing these important questions during the conferences.

    Can you tell us about your research approach and perspectives?

    My work emerges from the “exploitation” framework studied by Yvon Lemay and Anne Klein, which places the uses of archives as an integral part of their trajectory. What especially interests me is the non-traditional uses of archives (or material that is called archives) and how they reveal blind spots in archival science. My dissertation, for example, explores the notions of the unarchived and the unarchivable through absence, invisible, forbidden, and unthinkable.

  • 29 Apr 2021 10:00 AM | Anonymous member

    The COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenging time for all, archives notwithstanding. A large part of outreach and access to archives involves physical appointments to view archives and collections. Like many other archives, I had in-person archival launches planned for the spring of 2020 that were postponed indefinitely due to the global pandemic. The launch of the S. J. V. Chelvanayakam Fonds, organized by a faculty member, the donor, and myself, was planned to have several multidisciplinary international scholars and community members who would interact with the archive and plan a talk around their findings. Through grants, we intended to fund the speakers’ travel and accommodation. Several months after our library shut down in-person services in March 2020, it was apparent that we needed to adapt our planning to fit around the long-term restrictions that many countries were facing. 

    The S. J. V. Chelvanayakam Fonds is a personal and professional collection that was created in Sri Lanka. The archive was safeguarded and brought with the family when they immigrated to Canada. It was apparent that this fonds would attract many scholars from around the world, and not just Toronto. 

    The event, held in February 2021, served a dual purpose: announcing the acquisition of the archive and opening the digitized portion of the collection. Four months prior to the event, we selected which digitized files were relatively low risk to release online to the public. This was done in consultation with members of the community and our international Tamil Advisory Group. Three months prior, the faculty member selected our potential speakers and researchers. The finding aid was released online as well as the approved digital professional files. In the final two months prior to the event began the logistics and promotional planning which entailed a great deal of work. For the logistics planning, I found planning a clear timeline, schedule, tasks, and roles of participants, using a tool like Excel or other planning tool, was immensely helpful to track all of the details. 


    Pre-registered: 287 

    Attended: 196  

    Number of attendees who registered in advance and attended: 122 

    Number of attendees who registered day-of and attended: 74 

    Countries attended: 8 (Canada, France, India, Netherlands, Norway, Sri Lanka, UK, USA) 

    Total time of event: 183 minutes 

    Average attendee time: 105 minutes 

    We expected that this launch would garner international interest and planned accordingly. We chose to plan the webinar launch at 9am EST, a time at which we hoped that many people from Sri Lanka could join, which is 10.5 hours ahead of EST. Luckily, our institution has access to the Zoom webinar feature which allows for an unlimited number of people and we also used the Interpretation feature so we could make the event bilingual in Tamil, the other language of the fonds. Of course, this launch was not planned in a silo. We had the benefit of working with our Informational and Technology Services department, who helped us set up the Zoom webinar registration according to our preferences, as well as hosting a trial webinar one day prior to the event that proved to be essential with the organizers, speakers, and interpreter. We had a number of staff on hand to assist day-of, with such tasks as fielding questions in the Zoom Q & A box, and also switching the cameras between speakers. After creating promotional posters and emails, our communications team and alumni relations helped spread the word of the event through social media and listservs 

    There were both advantages and disadvantages in having an online archival launch. A clear advantage is that the budget was significantly less than what would have been necessary for an in-person event. As we wanted to invite several international scholars and speakers, there was no need to pay for flight and hotel costs. One of the greatest obstacles overcome by an online launch is breaking the barrier of access: we had a significant number of 196 attendees who attended from eight countries. One of the disadvantages is not being able to provide technical support to attendees, or the event not reaching possible attendees due to lack of technical knowledge or access to Zoom. We tried to overcome this by making registration information very clear. We sent out many reminders to pre-registrants, which included the Zoom link to the webinar, including one final reminder the morning of the event. As you can see from the statistics, however, 74 people still registered the day of the event, which proves that day-of mass communication of the event is essential. To overcome any technical obstacles for attendees, we had slides during the first five minutes of the webinar demonstrating how to turn on the Interpretation feature and how to ask a question. Every five to ten minutes, these instructions were repeated in the chat to new participants and for reminders.  

    We did not know what to expect for an online archive launch but the feedback we received greatly exceeded our expectations, most likely thanks to our speakers who used the archive creatively and thoughtfully in their presentations. Our attendees were engaged all throughout, seeing as how many attendees stayed throughout most of the 183 minutes of the webinar. The attendees also asked thought-provoking questions during the Q & A period. Based on my experience organizing this online archive launch, online events can be as engaging as in-person events. In this scenario, we reached a wider audience than would have been possible at a physical archive launch. If you are curious about hosting an online archives event, please take a look at our webinar recording for the S. J. V. Chelvanayakam Fonds.

    Tanis Franco

    Tanis Franco is the Archivist at the University of Toronto Scarborough where they acquire, process, and facilitate access to archives and digital collections in the Archives and Special Collections unit. Franco has over 9 years of experience working with archives in university and cultural heritage settings and holds a Master of Information Studies from McGill University and a Master of English Literature from Concordia University.

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